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Republicans Struggling on Health Care; Interview With Oklahoma Senator James Lankford; President Trump Speaks Out on Russia Controversy; Trump Tonight: I Learned of Son's Russia Meeting A Couple Days Ago; Senate GOP to Reveal Revised Health Care Bill Tomorrow. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 12, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: no loyalty pledge. The president's choice to lead the FBI promises independence from the White House and support for the special counsel's Russia investigation. Can Christopher Wray avoid the traps faced by the bureau's fired chief, James Comey?
Furious and frustrated. GOP insiders say the president is blaming his enemies for the firestorm surrounding his son. Mr. Trump is speaking out tonight about Donald Jr.'s e-mail exchanges and his meeting with the Russian lawyer.
Party fears. More Republicans speaking out about the Don Jr. drama, anxious that another shoe could drop at any moment. Tonight, one top GOP senator is threatening to subpoena a key player in the controversy.
And another plan? Senate Republican leaders are just hours away from unveiling new health care legislation with members of their own party in revolt, the August recess on hold. Will it revive hopes for passage or be dead on arrival?
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ACOSTA: Breaking news tonight, President Trump is speaking out about the new Russia controversy surrounding his son. Mr. Trump says he was unaware of Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer until a couple of days ago, telling Reuters that he doesn't fault Don Jr. for seeing the lawyer after being promised Kremlin dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Right now,President Trump is getting ready to fly to Paris and leave behind a White House in crisis. A top Republican tells CNN the Trump team is paralyzed and the president is frustrated and furious after the Donald Trump Jr. e-mail bombshell.
Tonight, CNN has obtained exclusive video of Donald Trump at a 2013 event with two Russians who are central figures behind that controversial meeting involving Mr. Trump's son, as the Russia investigates moves deeper into the president's inner circle.
His choice to replace fired FBI Director James Comey is promising independence from the White House. At his confirmation hearing, Christopher Wray said he doesn't believe special counsel Robert Mueller is on a witch-hunt, as Mr. Trump claims. Wray told senators it is highly unlikely he will meet alone with Mr. Trump, as Comey did.
He also said he would refuse a loyalty pledge if the president asked. In the midst of all of this, President Trump seems to be trying again to shift the focus by slamming Hillary Clinton. In a new Christian Broadcasting interview, the president suggests Vladimir Putin would have preferred Clinton had won the White House because Mr. Trump says he's stronger on the military.
This hour, I will talk about those stories and more with Republican Senator James Lankford. He is on the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees in the Senate. And our correspondents and specialists, they are also standing by.
But first we will get to the new interview with President Trump in a moment.
Let's go to CNN's Dianne Gallagher with more on the president's FBI nominee.
Diane, Christopher Wray raised questions about the Russia investigation today and the new e-mail evidence, didn't he?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.
At times, it appeared to be the only topic, Russia there, Jim. But it appears the committee must have liked what Christopher Wray had to say in response to those sharp questions, which came at him from both sides of the aisle. With senators praising him during the hearing, some already offering support for his confirmation.
GALLAGHER (voice-over): Christopher Wray, President Trump's pick to lead the FBI after the firing of James Comey, facing senators today.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR NOMINEE: If I am given the honor of leading this agency, I will never allow the FBI's work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice, period, full stop.
GALLAGHER: The Russian firestorm engulfing Washington dominated questions from both Democrats and Republicans.
SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: Do you believe that the Russians were involved in trying to influence the 2016 election?
WRAY: I have no reason to doubt the intelligence community's assessment. GALLAGHER: Including questions about the recently disclosed e-mails
from the president's son, Donald Jr., about a meeting between a Russian attorney and him, Trump's son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You're going to be the director of the FBI, pal. So here's what I want you to tell every politician. If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.
WRAY: To the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.
GALLAGHER: Wray breaking with President Trump, who tweeted as recently as this morning that the investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia is a witch-hunt.
WRAY: I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch-hunt.
GALLAGHER: While he lauded past working relationships with both special counsel Robert Mueller and fired director James Comey, Wray, a former assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush in charge of the Criminal Division, maintained he has the ability to remain independent.
WRAY: No one should mistake my low-key demeanor as a lack of resolve, as some kind of willingness to compromise on principle, because anybody who does would be making a very grave mistake. And there isn't a person on this planet whose lobbying or influence could convince me to just drop or abandon a properly predicated and meritorious investigation.
GALLAGHER: And that, according to Wray, includes the commander in chief.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: If the president asked you to do something unlawful or unethical, what do you say?
WRAY: First, I would try to talk him out of it. And if that failed, I would resign.
GALLAGHER: The president has denied it, but fired FBI Director James Comey testified under oath that, during a private dinner, Mr. Trump requested total loyalty from him.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He asked specifically of loyalty in the context of asking me to stay.
WRAY: No one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point during this process, and I sure as heck didn't offer one.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: As you recall, Director Comey contemporaneously made memoranda to reflect his conversations with the president and others. Would you do the same?
WRAY: If a conversation that I had suggested to me that I ought to create some record, I wouldn't hesitate to do it, and I have done that before at various stages of my private practice, for example.
GALLAGHER: Wray testifying that in the two times he's met with President Trump, they have never discussed the Russia investigation.
WRAY: I can assure you that if anything had been said that made me remotely uncomfortable, I would not be sitting here today providing testimony in support of my nomination.
GALLAGHER: Wray may have finished the day with positive reviews, but Chairman Chuck Grassley definitely does not feel the same way about the acting director, Andrew McCabe.
He took time out today during Wray's hearing to tick off a series of complaints about McCabe, arguing that he was too partisan and too close to the Clintons. Jim, of course, this isn't Grassley's first attack on McCabe. He also sent a letter to the deputy attorney general raising concerns about his independence.
ACOSTA: OK, Diane Gallagher, thank you very much.
Now to the breaking news, President Trump offering new comments about his son's meeting with the Russian lawyer last year and the fallout.
CNN's Jessica Schneider is at the White House for us tonight.
Jessica, tell us more about this new interview with President Trump. Very interesting.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting, Jim. You know, no public schedule for the president over the past four days, but he did grant two interviews today, the most recent with Reuters, it being the first time that the president has addressed other than Twitter Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer and subsequent e-mails that came out just yesterday.
The president really reiterating what his lawyer and deputy press secretary have said over the past 24 to 48 hours, that he didn't know anything about that meeting. In fact, this is what the president told Reuters just a short time ago.
President Trump saying: "I didn't know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this. I think many people would have had that meeting."
The president expressing the same sentiment that Donald Trump Jr. did when he went on the conservative talk show host Sean Hannity's show last night, Donald Trump Jr. saying in the interview he took the meeting because it is something he thought he should do as a businessperson. He said, as a businessperson, it is something if someone came to you with information, you would take it. Donald Trump Jr. also attributing it to his political noviceness, the
fact that he didn't know that he shouldn't take this meeting. So, the president finally addressing that in that Reuters interview, also President Trump touching on his two-hour meeting with President Putin last week.
He talked about the fact that he pressed President Putin on whether or not Russia did in fact meddle in the 2016 election. Reuters reporting that the president has said this. The president saying: "I said, did you do it? And he said, no, I did not. Absolutely not. I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not."
But, of course, the president there not addressing somewhat of the controversy that existed last week when Russia's foreign minister said that the president accepted Russian President Putin's denial of that. The chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has subsequently said, no, the president did not accept the denial. So, not addressing that in the Reuters interview, Jim, but the president still talking about his discussions with Putin last week as well as his eldest son's meeting with that Russian lawyer back in June 2016 -- Jim.
ACOSTA: That's right, Jessica, not a definitive answer from the president there on whether he accepted Vladimir Putin's words on this.
The president also spoke on camera today, Jessica, about that meeting with the Russian president. Tell us about that interview.
SCHNEIDER: He did. He sat down with televangelist Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
It was a wide-ranging interview, as far as we can tell. But in the transcript or some of the clips that have been distributed thus far, it does not appear that Pat Robertson asked the president about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with that Russian lawyer.
However, President Putin was a topic of discussion. The president said that he thought it was beneficial to sit down with the president of Russia, to open up that dialogue, saying that nothing bad could come out of speaking with the president of Russia.
But then, of course, as President Trump often does, he pivoted the conversation to his old rival in the presidential contest, Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we're the most powerful country in the world. And we are getting more and more powerful because I'm a big military person.
As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That's what Putin doesn't like about me, and that's why I say, why would he want me? Because, from day one, I wanted a strong military. He doesn't want to see that. And from day one, I want fracking and everything else to get energy prices low. And we have tremendous energy. We're going to be self-supporting. We just about are now. We're going to be exporting energy.
He doesn't want that. He would like Hillary, where she wants to have windmills, OK? He would much rather have that because energy prices will go up and Russia, as you know, relies very much on energy.
There are many things that I do that are the exact opposite of what he would want. So, when I keep hearing about that he would have rather had Trump, I think probably not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: So, two interviews with the press there today at the White House. The president will be leaving the White House in just about an hour.
He will take off for Paris tonight. And, of course, tomorrow he will hold that press conference in Paris with the French president, Emmanuel Macron. It is very likely that at that point the issue of Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer could come up and the president, Jim, may finally have to address it in a public forum -- Jim.
ACOSTA: We will see what kinds of questions are asked. Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.
Let's get more on all of this with Senate Republican James Lankford, a member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.
Senator, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Glad to be with you.
ACOSTA: You heard Jessica Schneider's report there that the president essentially said to Reuters, well, other people would have held this meeting.
Would you have held a meeting with a Russian lawyer who was promising support from the Russian government for your campaign?
LANKFORD: I would have had a lot of questions about a foreign government contacting me or anyone saying they are connected to a foreign government to be able to have a meeting.
I understand that for Don Jr., who is a political novice, as he mentioned before, first time to be around a campaign, but for him to be able to contact Paul Manafort, who is not a political novice, and to be able to ask him to be a part of that, Paul Manafort should have raised the flag immediately and said this is a concern.
And he's been in politics for a very long time.
ACOSTA: And he would have obviously known that was wrong. And he was in that meeting.
President Trump says he learned about these e-mails and the meeting -- quote -- "a couple of days ago." Do you believe him?
LANKFORD: I don't have any reason not to believe him on that based on what we have already seen. There is obviously a lot of questions that are there.
What came out initially was, yes, this meeting occurred. We met with them, it was 20 minutes, it was absolutely nothing. Jared Kushner left early because they were getting absolutely nothing that they thought they were getting out of it. And so, if it ends up actually being no content, that would make sense that there's no reason it should ever get to the candidate at that point to his level of attention.
ACOSTA: The reason why I ask the question is because we have this exclusive video that we have been running during THE SITUATION ROOM. It shows then businessman Donald Trump with the Agalarovs, with Rob Goldstone, this very interesting character who apparently set up the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and that Russian attorney.
So, it does appear in this video that he knows these men...
ACOSTA: ... who are connected to the Kremlin, or at least the father in that situation is connected to the Kremlin. Does that raise concerns with you as to how much the president knew about all of this?
LANKFORD: No, that was publicly available. Obviously, there wasn't video out before. But it was publicly known that that family was at Las Vegas at the Miss USA Pageant.
They were part of that. They were the sponsors then in the Miss Universe Pageant in Russia, so he was establishing a business relationship there having them there early. That part doesn't bother me.
What I want to know about is what happened in the meeting, what documents were exchanged, was anything given to them, was there follow-up after that? Those are reasonable questions. The fact that they met in 2013 at a pageant event and they maintained a business event for the next year or later the same year to be able to be at a pageant in Russia is old news.
ACOSTA: The video does show a lot of familiarity. And one would think that Don Jr. would have told his father, you know, remember those guys we had that great dinner with in Las Vegas a few years back. By the way, I'm meeting with somebody that they say we should be talking to. But I'm curious, when you look at the content of those e-mails and the
e-mails essentially promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, does that in your mind amount to collusion? There are questions about whether collusion is a crime, not a crime, and so on, but doesn't it meet the definition of attempted collusion?
LANKFORD: No, what it tells me very clearly and reminds us all again is that the Russians were reaching out trying to find every way to be able to penetrate into the United States electoral system.
We know that now. That, we were still learning at that same time period. In early June of that time period, there was nothing out in the media about Russia, about e-mails, about the hack of the DNC. None of that was known at that point, what Russia was already doing.
But it does tell me this was an unwise thing for them to be able to meet with someone from a foreign power to be able to talk about it. Understand why they were doing it. Basically, this the Russian government baiting them to be able to say, hey, we have this secret information, don't you want this?
ACOSTA: But I guess my question is, if this is not collusion, what is collusion? You have an e-mail from, you know, somebody saying, there's a Russian lawyer coming to town. She has information on the Clintons that you really need to see. Shouldn't we sit down with these people, somebody who is connected to the Russian government?
I don't know -- how would you have more of a situation that meets the definition of collusion?
LANKFORD: So, you're all over the place on even how to define collusion.
What I have tried to zero in on is, this confirms what we already know, that the Russians were reaching out to us. What I have said from the very beginning of this investigation in the Intelligence Committee -- and I can't take this investigation like anyone else watching it TV or anyone commenting on it. I have to take it from the legal perspective of it, because we have to walk through all the facts.
We have to get all the facts out, because the essential thing is did any American cooperate with a foreign government to try to influence our election?
ACOSTA: And do you think you want to see more e-mails because Donald Trump Jr. released four pages of e-mails? Do you think it is incumbent upon the White House, incumbent upon Donald Trump Jr. to provide any and all e-mails that pertain to this meeting, other meetings that may have involved Russians possibly connected to the Kremlin?
LANKFORD: Sure, absolutely. He was very forthright to be able to come out and say let me get this out there and dump this out there, whether he knew "The New York Times" was going to dump it or whatever it might be. He got it out there.
That would be helpful to be able to get everything out. One of the things that has been the great frustration is the drip, drip, drip of information. Get it all out. Let's resolve it, because let the facts go where the facts need to go.
ACOSTA: Has that been a mistake over at the White House that they haven't done that?
One would think that they would have said months ago anybody who has anything involving any kind of contacts with the Russians, we need to get that out there. And for it was the president's own son. Here we are six months into the administration. You're trying to repeal and replace Obamacare. You're trying to do tax reform. You're trying to do all of these things.
All of that is affected by what's happening with this investigation.
LANKFORD: Obviously, Congress can do work on a lot of things at once.
But I serve on the Intelligence Committee, so this consumes a lot of time. This meeting was known because it was turned in, in the background checks in April, actually, for Jared Kushner. So, it was a known meeting at that point. Getting the e-mails and getting the details of that meeting was not known.
ACOSTA: And do you think that this opens up the question of text messages? We heard so much about e-mail servers in the last campaign. But do we need to see Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mail server?
LANKFORD: I'm not sure we're at that point at this time.
I would say we need to get all the facts and the information out and to be able to push it. He's a private citizen, though he's the son obviously of the president. So, it's a little different relationship than someone who is a federal employee who has been engaged with that.
The first thing that we want to be able to do is get all the facts out, meet with him face to face. Let's get the details out, very reasonable. I have these same questions with Jared Kushner and with Paul Manafort. We need to get all perspectives of that meeting.
ACOSTA: And all three should testify publicly under oath in front of the Senate, you would like to see that on the relevant committees?
LANKFORD: I don't have an issue with a public meeting with any of them. I would, quite frankly, rather have a private meeting initially where we can press on some of these same issues.
We can have a more open dialogue when the cameras are off. But I'd like to have all of those, have a stenographer there to be able to record every word.
ACOSTA: OK. But at some point, would it be helpful to have the president's son testify publicly about this, do you think?
LANKFORD: I'm not sure that resolves it. At some point...
ACOSTA: Does this rise to the level of, boy, the public really needs to see, get to the bottom of this?
LANKFORD: This would be very similar to a Jim Comey-type conversation that would be very public. I have no problem again with Don Jr. being able to talk about this.
The more important factor is we get all the facts as our committee and that he actually sits down with Robert Mueller, if he chooses to be able to meet with him as the special investigator to be able to determine if there's any criminal issues there.
I would rather get to the facts than anything else in public.
ACOSTA: All right, Senator, we tackled a lot. We have more to tackle coming up after the break. Stay with us. We will be right back.
ACOSTA: We're back with Republican Senator James Lankford and the breaking news.
President Trump defending his son's decision to meet with the Russian lawyer last year after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. In a new interview, he says that many people would have done the same thing. As this new controversy unfolds, the president's choice to be FBI director is promising to keep his distance from the White House.
Listen to Christopher Wray being questioned at his confirmation hearing earlier today. He's rejecting the president's claim that the Russia investigation is a witch-hunt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: I'm asking you, as the future FBI director, do you consider this endeavor a witch-hunt?
WRAY: I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch-hunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And you're meeting with Christopher Wray tomorrow. You're scheduled to meet with him tomorrow.
What do you make of his testimony today, and do you believe him that he will keep distance from the president, keep a proper distance from the president, something we did not see between the president and James Comey?
LANKFORD: Well, I think he will.
I don't think there is any question on that. He made that very, very clear today. His main job today was to be as clear and as straightforward as he could be, no drama and to be able to just press through the day, which he did.
He dealt with an awful lot of questions dealing with Russia and with the president. I have a lot of questions to be able to deal with him on things like gangs and transnational crime and fraud and all the things that the FBI already also does.
ACOSTA: And getting back to Russia, today, the deputy White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, she was asked whether President Trump sees Russia as a friend or foe. She could not answer that question.
Do you have any question in your mind if Russia is friend or foe?
LANKFORD: They're not a friend. They don't share our same values. We do have to work with them in some places based on the vacuum that happened in Syria. Russia ran into that vacuum.
We're going to have to work with Russia to be able to resolve the issue of Assad to get rid of Assad. There are places we are going to have to work with them, but they're no friend of the United States.
ACOSTA: Why is that a difficult question for the White House to answer, do you think?
LANKFORD: I would have to say, just ask the White House, because that seems to be a pretty straightforward question.
Does the cease-fire in Syria provide a foundation for the administration to find common ground with Russia? What do you make of the news that came out of the G20 summit that the president and Syria -- or the president and Russia have agreed to this limited cease-fire? We don't know if it's going to hold indefinitely or spread to the rest of the country.
What do you make of the progress or apparent progress being made there?
LANKFORD: I hope we can actually make progress.
One of the stipulations we have to have is Assad has to be removed. You can't have Assad at the end of this whole chaos. You still have 10 million refugees that won't go home, not based on whether there is not an active war or not, based on their lack of trust for that leader.
Russia stood behind Assad, so whatever we're working with Russia on, that is appropriate to do, to do de-confliction, try to bring the battle to an end, but that also needs to include removing Assad. ACOSTA: But do you believe Russia has a long-term -- or I should say
do you think the Trump administration, do you think the White House has a long-term strategy for dealing with Syria and how much should it involve Russia?
LANKFORD: It's going to have to include Russia. We have got to be able to work with them in that space again.
We left that space as a void. Russia rushed into that space when no one else was taking that on. They went in and propped up Assad when everyone else was saying Assad is going to be gone any month now. Once Russia asserted, and propped him up, started working with Iran to be able to do that, then that changed the dynamic dramatically.
ACOSTA: Does the president have a plan? Do you have faith in the president's plan in Syria?
LANKFORD: You know what? Again, you would have to ask the White House.
I have had some conversations with some of the White House specifically about Syria and where they're headed on that. I would say you can't ignore the reality of Russia being on the ground and being part of the solution.
But at the end of the day, the Iranians are assuming that the Americans are going to leave and the Russians are going to leave and Iran is going to run Syria. That's really what they're shooting for.
So, any long-term look has to be able to look at, will Iran still be the leader of Syria? We can't have that either.
ACOSTA: Thanks, Senator James Lankford. Thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.
Just ahead: Rocked by bombshells on Russia's election meddling, the White House is described by one top Republican as paralyzed. President Trump now says he only learned a couple of days ago about his son's meeting with the Russian lawyer.
And GOP lawmakers say that meeting involving top Trump campaign figures is very damaging, as one powerful senator warns of his subpoena power.
ACOSTA: Breaking news, President Trump is speaking out about the new controversy involving his son, telling Reuters he was unaware of Donald Trump Jr.'s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer until a couple of days ago.
[18:37:41] Meantime several Republican lawmakers are deeply troubled by the latest revelation, and one powerful senator says he wants former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was also at that meeting, to appear before the committee.
Let's go to CNN's senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju.
Manu, you spoke to the Senate judiciary chairman. What did he tell you about Paul Manafort? This is very key.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is very key. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, telling me earlier today that he wants Manafort to appear in a public session next week.
Now, this is significant, because the House and Senate Intelligence committees have been trying to get Paul Manafort to come before their committee. They've been exchanging records and documents, but we've been expecting that to happen in a classified setting.
But Chuck Grassley says there's a hearing next week in which Manafort would be a perfect witness; and he plans to call him, even threatening subpoena power. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Has he agreed to testify in an open session?
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I don't know whether he -- we're going to invite him. And if he doesn't invite [SIC], under our new rules, Senator Feinstein and I have the power to issue a subpoena.
RAJU: Before the August recess?
GRASSLEY: Well, if it works into this next hearing, that's scheduled for next week on the -- on FARA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, just moments ago, Jim, the senator's office actually put out a statement, saying that he wants him to appear before his committee, but he actually is going to have discussions. Senator Grassley's office is going to have discussions with the special counsel's office, Bob Mueller, to make sure that bringing forward Paul Manafort does not conflict in any way with the special counsel's investigation. And they want to try to reach some sort of accommodation, because Grassley wants to hear from him.
And also, Jim, Grassley telling me earlier today that he does want to hear from Donald Trump Jr., as well. That's something that he's having discussions with. It's unclear when that may happen. But clearly, a lot of interest in light of that meeting, which both Paul Manafort and, of course, Donald Trump Jr. were at with that Russian lawyer, Jim.
ACOSTA: That is very important, Manu. If we're going to see the president's son testifying up on Capitol Hill or at least meeting with senators behind the scenes.
You also spoke with several Republicans, top Republicans on the Hill today. How are they reacting to this news coming out of the White House? It sounds like they are troubled by this.
RAJU: They are. You know, you have a mix of reactions from folks who want more information like the Chuck Grassleys of the world, who are trying to push forward on the investigative front, and others who are frankly alarmed as this drip, drip, drip of information continues to undercut the Republican agenda, just as they're trying to move forward some key items like the president's health care plan. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[18:35:19] SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's sucking the oxygen out of the room. Everybody knows that. I think it's very difficult when you have this overwhelming barrage of new information that unfolds every few days.
RAJU: This meeting with the Russian operative, knowing that there was an effort by the Russian government to help his father's campaign?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that was certainly problematic at the very least. It's very damaging. And that's why we have Bob Mueller on the job to determine whether or not, you know, any laws were broken.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not in the business of advising the White House, but I would say as much as you can, focus on the things that need to get done. Message on these sorts of things and try to avoid the distractions. And I think that would help us a lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Well, what Republicans are trying to do, Jim, is sort of compartmentalize, ignore all the controversies coming out of the White House and try to focus on their agenda.
But it's hard to do that the -- what's happening in the White House is really overshadowing what they're trying to do, particularly as they're trying to move this health care bill, Jim. Because as you remember, when the White House, the Obama White House was trying to pass the health care bill in 2009, 2010, they had a major megaphone coming out of the White House.
But right now there is virtually no messaging operation coming out of the White House on this -- key time as they're trying to push this health care bill, as they're mired in this Russia controversy that continues to develop day after day, Jim.
ACOSTA: Yes, it's hard to compartmentalize when you're running out of compartments, with all these drips raining down on Washington. Manu Raju, thank you very much.
Let's bring in our correspondents, analysts and specialists.
Go to Gloria Borger first. President Trump telling Reuters, "I think many people would have held that meeting with the Russian lawyer."
Obviously, you love your son, you want to defend your son...
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.
ACOSTA: ... but wouldn't you, in this case, say, "Son, what were you thinking?"
BORGER: Yes, and maybe, you know, maybe that's what he's saying privately, and maybe he's trying to defend his son publicly. As you say, he is a father, and he doesn't, you know -- I think this isn't -- this isn't easy for him.
But I think, in talking to somebody who does talk to the president regularly, I think he remains angrier at the media than anything he might feel in anger at all towards Donald Trump Jr.
And I think that he believes that we're creating this conspiracy, I was told, and that he believes that, when everything comes out in the open, people will see no culpability. And that what we're trying to do is create a conspiracy that doesn't exist.
And one of his friends I spoke with today said to me, "Look, so then I say to him, 'Well, why don't you take the tact that perhaps you should go out there and say, Let's get this all out in the open. Everybody cooperate. Let's get it all out in the open'," and then the president refuses, because his instinct is, this source said, he wants to fight. He believes that this is all garbage. And that, in fact, Mueller, the special counsel, is out to get him.
Rebecca Berg, it's always blame the media, it seems, when they're in a jam like this. But it's hard to blame the media when the e-mails come from your own son.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is.
ACOSTA: And we have this new video that shows it's not just the son who's had contacts with these Russians. There's businessman Donald Trump himself a few years back, meeting with this interesting character, Rob Goldstone, and the Agalarovs. They're all in Las Vegas, having dinner, drinking wine.
I think there you also see the president's personal attorney in one of the shots here, Michael Cohen, who's apparently going to be cooperating with congressional investigators.
How is this our fault, Rebecca?
BERG: Well, it's not, quite plainly.
BERG: The White House could try to explain away interactions like that, certainly. I mean, these became business partners of Donald Trump's. This might have been absolutely nothing and just a dinner. But it might have been something more than a dinner. And at this point we don't know. And the e-mail conversations that have now come to light suggest that
there was more there, that this preexisting relationship was a basis, an opening, perhaps, for Russia to try to influence the Trump campaign.
And so to answer your question, Jim, it's not the media's fault; but Donald Trump, when he gets outraged at the way something is being portrayed in the media, he doesn't like to take responsibility for that. He doesn't like his allies to have to take responsibility for that. It's our responsibility.
ACOSTA: And, Jim, it looks like in this video the Russians do play the long game.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They do. And let's just take the fact, it's false to say it's just the media, because you have the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Republicans and Democrats in those committees, looking into these very same questions, when pressed repeatedly.
[18:40:05] He fired an FBI director, apparently because he was not happy with how he was conducting the investigation. The new one today promised to pursue this investigation, right? And not because the media is pushing him to; because he said, "That's my legal duty. That's my duty to the Constitution."
And you have Robert Mueller, of course, appointed by the deputy attorney general.
So it's just -- it's a falsity, right? I mean, the media is covering the story. But the fact is, you have Republicans and Democrats investigating this, as you have successive directors of the FBI.
ACOSTA: Phil Mudd, let's get -- let's get you in on this. When you look at this video, given your experience in this area, what goes through your mind?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'm looking at this in the context of all the data that we're not seeing. We're seeing snippets including this video, including e-mails over the last weekend.
The reason I think that we should be watching Robert Mueller closely, potentially into next year, because he's got a lot of information, is that what we're seeing, Jim, including this video, I'm going to estimate is at a maximum 1/10, one half of one percent of the entire investigation.
We're doing snippets at dirt. So let's spend a moment doing multiplication tables. If you multiply this by 10, 20, 30 people who might be interviewed, we're not seeing those interviews, we're not seeing the financial records, the e-mails, the text messages. We're not seeing the scheduling of where they went and who they scheduled on their calendars.
If you want to tell me then these bits we're seeing, including this video, that that 99.9 percent of what Robert Mueller is seeing doesn't expose more dirt, boy, you're a better man than I. I cannot imagine that. I think we're seeing the tip of the iceberg.
ACOSTA: It sounds as though we might be having conversations about servers again, Phil. All right, thank you very much. We'll talk more about this on the other side of the break.
This, some very interesting video coming in, exclusive video of Donald Trump, then businessman Trump, meeting with those Russians that were talking to Donald Trump Jr. We'll have more on all of this when we come back.
[18:46:39] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: And we're back with our analysts as President Trump is speaking out in new interviews about Russia and his son's controversial meeting last year with the Kremlin-connected lawyer. Let's talk about this some more.
Pretty interesting exchange earlier today with the man who has been tapped to head the FBI, Christopher Wray, and Lindsey Graham about this meeting. Let's play that and get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If I got a call from somebody saying the Russian government wants to help Lindsey Graham get reelected, they've got dirt on Lindsey Graham's opponent, should I take that meeting?
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Well, Senator, I would think you'd want to consult with some good legal advisors before you did that.
GRAHAM: So, the answer is, should I call the FBI?
WRAY: I think it would be wise to let the FBI know --
GRAHAM: You're going to be the director of the FBI, pal. So, here's what I want you to tell every politician. If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.
WRAY: To the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state, or any non-state actor, is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.
GRAHAM: All right. So, I'll take it we should call you and that's a great answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: That is a great answer. Jim Sciutto --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a great question.
ACOSTA: And a great question, yes, good moment from that hearing today. Jim, you know, it is kind of amazing to hear the questions at this
committee hearing today. Can you promise that you won't meet behind closed doors with President Trump? This whole experience has shaped the way this man is being vetted to run the FBI.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they were running through, in effect, all of James Comey's experiences, right? They asked him straight up, were you asked for a loyalty pledge, as James Comey said that he was. He said, no. If you were told to follow through on a legal order, would you follow through on that order? He said no. Would you go so far as to resign?
I mean, all these kinds of things that arose out of James Comey's own experience with Donald Trump as president, on this exchange there, clearly, he didn't want to go there, right? He didn't say he knew the question was about Donald Trump, Jr. He didn't want to go there. Eventually, he got there. It was a simpler answer to say, absolutely, if, you know, foreign government contacts you, absolutely pickup the phone and call the FBI. Eventually he got there.
But listen, this is Washington so he's aware of the politics.
BORGER: And, by the way, it was a Republican asking the question.
BORGER: It wasn't a Democrat leading him to that answer.
SCIUTTO: I love that line, pal, listen, pal. You're going to head the FBI, yes.
BORGER: And also, Ben Sasse, another Republican senator, you know, said to him, like I want you to make you a pledge to us that if anybody comes to you and tries to shut down an investigation of yours, this is another Comey moment. If anybody comes to you and wants -- you'll tell us. You're going to come to our committee and you're going to tell us.
And he said yes eventually, he got there. And he said yes. Again, you know, they -- it's all about what happened with Comey. It's all about the president firing Comey. And I think that he was prepared for these, but --
ACOSTA: And, Phil Mudd, did that answer satisfy you? Does Christopher Wray make you feel comfortable about how he'll respond to President Trump? Because undoubtedly -- I mean, I suppose you might be able to believe that President Trump won't try, but I would think that some overtures at some point would probably be made.
[18:50:00] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: He should be confirmed. It satisfied me. Everyone I've spoken to respects the man.
I think the answers were clear in some ways, and I smile at this unlawyerly (ph). I thought he was very well-defined. There was one part of the story I think we're missing that we should touch on. And that is the biggest story is not just what happened in that room. Let me spend a second on an intelligence officer's optic.
Once you take that meeting, if the Russian government is aware that you took that meeting, remember, this is June, 13 months ago, well before the election. They're saying these guys will take information from us. Why don't we turn our massive intelligence apparatus on to the Democrats, including, for example, cell phone coverage, vacuum up as much nasty stuff as we can because we know already if we get it, they'll take it?
It's not just that they took the meeting. It's that they sent a signal saying why don't you collect more stuff like this because we think it's OK to take it.
ACOSTA: And, Rebecca, can the White House credibly say, no, we're not going to hand over e-mails and servers and cell phones and text messages if Donald Trump Jr. says I don't want to -- I mean, I'm just putting out those four pages. You're not getting anything. Can they credibly say that now?
It seems to me once these e-mails are out, it opens up the universe to all these other things.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You can't say no to warrant and you can't say no to a subpoena, or if you're in contempt of Congress, or you're facing Mueller with a warrant. So, no. I mean, they're not going to be able to say no to forces more powerful than us at this table.
Could they say no to us, the press and the public? Yes, as they have been saying. But as lawmakers have been saying on Capitol Hill, it's kind of only a matter of time before all of this comes out and we know what the real story.
BORGER: And, you know, this is why Trump is so upset about Mueller. Now, never mind the fact if he hadn't fired Comey, it wouldn't set off this chain of events that led to the special counsel that, indeed, this was a bunch of self-sabotage on the part of the president.
But one of the reasons he's so upset about Mueller is that he knows there is no limit to what he can ask for. And, however, most people on Capitol Hill have so much respect for Mueller, they don't think he's going to go on a fishing expedition beyond what he ought to investigate. But the Don Jr. thing does open up a lot of doors and does -- he will be asking for questions. But why shouldn't he? Why shouldn't he?
ACOSTA: And as you heard Christopher Wray today say at that hearing today, he does not consider this to be a witch hunt. That puts him diametrically opposed to what the president has said and tweeted over and over again.
Guys, thank you very much. We run out of time. But stay with CNN for breaking news on the Russia investigation, including a special report, "White House in Crisis" that airs tonight at 11:00 Eastern, 8:00 Pacific.
Just ahead, more on the breaking news: the president's new reaction to his son's e-mail bombshell and Senate GOP leaders are ready to reveal new revisions to their health care bill. But do they have the votes to get it passed?
[18:57:20] ACOSTA: Tonight, Senate Republicans are hours away from releasing revised health care legislation. They are still facing an uphill climb to put down a GOP revolt and get a bill passed.
CNN's Ryan Nobles is following the negotiations.
Ryan, do we know what's in the revised bill yet?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jim, even most Republican senators haven't seen this entire revised bill and they won't until tomorrow morning when they have an all GOP senators meeting and then the bill will be unveiled to the entire public.
But we are getting some sense of what could be included in this bill. Let's show you some of the highlights. First, $45 billion is expected to be added to this bill that's going to help fight the opioid crisis. There's also going to be a lot more money put in there to stabilize the insurance market. This is actually something some conservatives and Rand Paul in particular are not happy with.
We don't expect there to be any big changes to Medicaid from the initial version of this bill that was unveiled a couple of weeks ago, and we do expect they're going to stay away from repealing these taxes on wealthy Americans. This is something to keep the moderate wing of the party in check. But, Jim, we spent a lot of today talking to senators from both the conservative and moderate wings of the party. There still seems to be quite a bit of distance between these two sides, and there aren't too many people optimistic that whatever is revealed here tomorrow morning is going to bring those two sides together.
ACOSTA: And that's obviously critical in all this, Ryan. What is expected to happen after the bills are released? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have the support yet to bring this to a vote? They don't want a repeat of what they had happen a few weeks ago.
NOBLES: No, they don't, Jim. And I think a lot of these members will be waiting to see how the Congressional Budget Office ultimately scores this is bill and we won't get that score until the beginning of next week. So, you might see many of these members hold off on any kind of initial reaction to this bill until the CBO score comes out. But there aren't too many people that believe the CBO score is going to dramatically alter what we know about the fundamentals of this bill.
But there is still an effort by Mitch McConnell to bring it to the floor in some capacity. Right now, though, there are a number of senators who say they won't even vote to move the bill to a vote, to even begin the debate. So there is a lot of hand wringing that still needs to be done by Senate leadership here on Capitol Hill.
ACOSTA: And, of course, Ryan, what they don't want to see from that Congressional Budget Office is anything close to 23 million Americans going without health insurance if this repeal and replace bill somehow becomes law and is signed by the president of the United States.
Ryan Nobles up there on Capitol Hill, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.