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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
GOP Unveils Health Care Bill Changes; President Trump Praises France; Interview with Sebastian Gorka; Interview with Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired July 13, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The president suggests meeting with a hostile nation for dirt on your political opponent just politics as usual.
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump goes to Paris, in Vladimir Putin's shadow, as a Republican senator says he wants the president's son to testify.
The do-over of the do-over. Senate Republicans unveil their updated health care legislation. It still might not get enough votes and most senators are finding out what's in the bill at about the same time you are.
Plus, he says he's no hero, but he served in the company of heroes -- why the first living soldier to earn the Medal of Honor since Vietnam is giving it away.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We're going to begin today with some breaking news in the politics lead.
As President Trump today soaked up all the pageantry of his visit with the French president in Paris, there were major happenings here at home concerning the investigation into his campaign and Russia and on the issue that could make or break his domestic agenda, health care reform.
The updated version of the updated bill that could not get enough votes in the Senate last time is now out. We will have much more on that coming up in the show.
Meanwhile, the president's son now has the attention of the United States Senate. The Republican Senate Judiciary chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, now says he wants Donald Trump Jr. to testify.
CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is traveling with President Trump in Paris.
Jeff, today, the president again defending his son's meeting with that lawyer who has been linked to the Kremlin. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, he did
He mounted a fatherly defense of his son, saying he's a good man, but a legal defense, it was not. He did say that zero happened in that meeting, it was standard practice and procedure. But the reality is, Jake, it is not standard. That's one of the reasons that Senator Chuck Grassley, as you said, a Republican, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wants to talk to the president's son next week.
Now, all of this happened as the president defended this, but he left thing one thing out today that he usually says. He didn't call it fake news or a hoax.
ZELENY (voice-over): A change of scenery for President Trump on a whirlwind trip to Paris, yet no escape from the Russia cloud hanging over the White House. At a press conference today alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, Mr. Trump offering a vigorous defense of his oldest son.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a son who's a great young man. He's a fine person. He took a meeting with a lawyer from Russia. It lasted for a very short period, and nothing came of the meeting.
ZELENY: That meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was described in an e-mail to Trump's eldest son as a Russian government lawyer, is now part of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election.
TRUMP: I think it's a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken.
ZELENY: But many disagree. Republicans, Democrats, and Mr. Trump's own nominee to lead the FBI say the Russian offer to help take down Hillary Clinton and aid the Trump campaign should have raised red flags.
TRUMP: Zero happened from the meeting. And, honestly, I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do.
ZELENY: Never mind the press. It's Congress and the Justice Department now trying to learn more about the meeting, attended not only by the president's son, but his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Republicans are calling on Donald Trump Jr. and Manafort to testify next week on Capitol Hill. The deepening Russia investigation comes as the president visits Europe for the second time in less than a week, this time invited by President Macron to celebrate Bastille Day and the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I.
EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: It's a necessity to work together.
ZELENY: The two leaders pledged cooperation in today's fight against terrorism.
TRUMP: We also renew our resolve to stand united against these enemies of humanity.
ZELENY: Mr. Trump received a stately welcome with one hug and pat on the back after another. It's the fourth time the two men have met, a relationship that began with this tense handshake in Brussels in May.
A striking tableau of two new presidents who have swept onto the world stage this year in very different ways, Trump, 71, and Macron, 39, separated by a generation and much, much more. President Trump's decision to withdraw from the global Paris climate agreement hung over the meeting, but Macron still pressed him on the issue in their closed-door meeting at Elysee Palace.
TRUMP: Our occasional disagreements are nothing compared to the immortal bonds of culture, destiny, and liberty that unite us.
ZELENY: The Parisian pageantry was striking, considering how often Mr. Trump used the City of Light as a punchline during his campaign.
TRUMP: I have friends that used to go to Paris. They don't go anymore. They say no, Paris isn't Paris.
ZELENY: And since taking office.
TRUMP: I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.
ZELENY: Yet he sung a far different tune today, flattering Paris and the new French president, whom he once rooted against.
TRUMP: I really have a feeling that you're going have a very, very peaceful and beautiful Paris. And I'm coming back. You better do a good job, please. Otherwise, you're going to make me look very bad.
ZELENY: Now, Jake, the president has said he will be flexible on foreign policy and other matters. Perhaps this is one of the latest examples of that. He is soaking up the limelight here in Paris, the city he railed against so often.
Now, of course, it's beneficial for him as well as the new French president. As we speak, Jake, they are having dinner together in the Eiffel Tower -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny in Paris traveling with President Trump, thank you.
For more on the role of the U.S. on the world stage, let's bring in Sebastian Gorka. He's a deputy assistant to the president.
Mr. Gorka, thanks for joining us.
I would like to start with some issues relating to Russia. By a vote of 98-2, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would impose new sanctions on Russia. Now the House is talking about making a few technical fixes having to do with things like licensing, but the Trump administration's made it clear that you have broader concerns about the legislation.
If the House passes the bill and keeps in the part that basically lays out congressional review over the president before he can lift any sanctions on Russia, will President Trump veto it?
SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I will leave the president to make that decision.
The fact is, we have seen some positive movement with regards to the relationship between our two nations. The fact that we have a cease- fire now that has been effective for more than five days, the president just announced in Paris the extension into another region for a new possible cease-fire, these are all very positive signs.
So, let's not prejudge. Let's not steal anybody's thunder. These are the two most powerful nuclear nations in the world. As Rex Tillerson has said just last week, we should have better relations. Let's see if it's possible and not prejudge.
TAPPER: We will get to the cease-fire in a second. I do want to ask you.
Last year, the Barack Obama administration seized the diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York of the Russians because, in the view of the national security apparatus, the compounds were being used for intelligence-related purposes that might have plausibly connected to the interference campaign by the Russian government.
The Trump administration is considering returning those compounds to Russia. Why?
GORKA: Well, look, because we, we want to give collaboration, cooperation a chance.
The fact is, we may not share the same philosophy, we may not share the same type of statesman view of the world, but the fact is there are some issues of common concern. And if we see good faith -- remember, more than 400,000 people have been killed in Syria. That is horrific.
If we can see acts of good faith come out of the Kremlin with regards to things such as a cease-fire, then perhaps there is a chance for what Rex Tillerson wants to see happen, which is an improvement in relations between our two capitals.
TAPPER: I guess one of the issues that a lot of people on Capitol Hill, Republicans, as well as Democrats, are wondering about is why the possibility of a reward when there is still this issue, this cloud of Russia's election interference hanging over the relationship?
As you know, leading Trump administration intelligence officials were recently asked before the Senate Intelligence Committee if Russia interfered in the U.S. election. They were asked as a basic yes-or-no question. Here's their response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do, yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Senator.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And those aren't Obama holdovers. That's President Trump's intelligence officials, yet President Trump a few days ago said -- quote -- "Nobody really knows for sure who interfered in the election."
Why does President Trump continue to second-guess the assertions being made by his own intelligence chiefs?
GORKA: Jake, I would ask you the question, do you wish us to have bad or deteriorating relations with the nuclear power that is the Russian Federation? In whose interest is that?
TAPPER: Well, it's not really up to me, but I guess...
GORKA: I'm just curious. I'm curious.
TAPPER: One of the points is -- well, we don't dole out rewards to countries -- the United States doesn't dole out rewards to countries just because they possess a nuclear weapon. We're not going to...
GORKA: That's not what I said.
TAPPER: ... reward China. We're not going to reward Pakistan for...
GORKA: Not what I said.
GORKA: Look, let's go back to the president.
The president said, I don't if you recall, the last press conference he gave in Trump Tower, as he was actually leaving the press conference, some -- when a reporter shouted out, what about the Kremlin, what about relations with Russia, and the president gave a very, very important answer that really has shaped the pragmatism of this administration, because, remember, we're not looking to create new enemies.
That's a very dangerous way to look at the world. And the president said, in theory, I would like to have better relations with Russia, because it's is a geopolitical, geostrategic nation.
But he went on to say, right now, back then, it doesn't look very likely. And if that's the case, so be it. So he's a pragmatist. He's the most successful real estate magnate in New York. He looks at the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.
That was the last eight years of disastrous, ideologically-tinged lack of statesmanship out of the White House.
GORKA: We look at Russia as a country that we don't have perfect relations with, we don't even have better relations with than other nations, but perhaps they could improve.
Do we wish to escalate matters with Russia? I don't think that's a good idea, Jake.
TAPPER: So, you don't think it's weak at all to let Russia go after having interfered in the 2016 election with no punishment at all?
GORKA: The last thing you can say about Donald J. Trump after the last 35 weeks is that he's weak. Look at what we have done in Afghanistan.
TAPPER: So what's the punishment?
GORKA: ... pound bomb. Look at the 59 cruise missiles in Syria.
TAPPER: So, what's the punishment for Russia?
GORKA: Look at what we did at the G20. Let's talk about facts. Let's not conjecture.
TAPPER: I'm asking you about Russia. What will the punishment be for Russia.
GORKA: Yes, I will. Look at G20. Look at G20.
We sat down. The president had a two-hour-and-15 minutes discussion with Vladimir Putin. He pressed Vladimir Putin on multiple occasions with regard to the question of election tampering. The president was not in a court of law. He pressed, he pressed. The president of the Russian Federation denied, and, at that point, you have to move on because...
GORKA: ... people are dying in Syria. That's why, Jake.
TAPPER: Why do you have to move on?
GORKA: Jake, do you not care -- do you not care about the devastation...
TAPPER: Of course I do.
GORKA: ... the half-a-million people killed?
Well, we have got life-and-death issues.
TAPPER: Russia is killing some of those people.
GORKA: Life and -- we have got life-and-death issues.
And if we can create a cease-fire, which we did, with Israel, with Jordan involved, that's what we have to do. We have to move on. We have to move on in the interest of U.S. national security and saving innocent lives.
TAPPER: Well, I want to move on to the cease-fire, but I will say, just because you say you have to move on and not punish Russia doesn't mean that you actually have to do it.
But I know you want to talk about the cease-fire. So, let's talk about the cease-fire, because President Trump today mentioned the cease-fire in one region of Syria. He said he was working on another cease-fire in a different part of Syria, as you mentioned.
What region would the second cease-fire impact?
GORKA: So, we're not -- again, we have to be careful here. It's early days. It's only the fifth day. So, we're going to go into a region that is still violent, still problematic, but we are buoyed by the last five days of the successful cease-fire.
We're not going to go into details right yet. It's fresh. It's very fresh. We have to consult with all of those involved, but at the end of the day, we're talking about a cease-fire that has to gradually increase. The territory of the peace has to increase until, at the end of the day, it's not just about saving lives. It's about some kind of political resolution.
So, again, this is not the Obama White House. We don't give our game play away, but we are interested in expanding the zones of cease-fire safety. TAPPER: Coalition military officials have made it clear that they're
not going to have any role in monitoring the first cease-fire that you mentioned.
So, without them monitoring it, how do you guarantee that Bashar al- Assad won't violate the cease-fire?
GORKA: Well, I think we guarantee it by continuing to do the very powerful things that we have done already.
Remember, this is an administration that in just 24 weeks has managed to support the Iraqi liberation of Mosul. That's determination. We have used cruise missiles against Assad. We sent a very clear message. The vice president, the day after the cruise missile strike, asked me personally, do you think the world got the message that we sent to Syria?
And I said to the vice president, yes, Mr. Vice President, the whole world got it.
So, Assad knows the determination of President Donald J. Trump and he knows this is not a man to test.
TAPPER: But there's no way to monitor it, is what you're saying?
GORKA: Well, the fact is, we're not here to solve everybody's problems in the front line. The president said...
TAPPER: No, you have a cease-fire. You have to be able to monitor a cease-fire.
GORKA: Doesn't have to be us. It can be other actors.
TAPPER: Let's move on to the fight against ISIS, which, as you note, has been defeated in Mosul, a major accomplishment obviously for the Iraqi and coalition forces.
Today, President Trump said we need to consolidate the gains there, ensure the victory stays a victory.
What specifically is the plan to stabilize Mosul? Is the U.S. planning a long-term stay-behind force there?
GORKA: The president was clear all through the campaign. And he's reinforced this after January the 20th that we are not here.
This is not the Bush administration and this isn't the Obama administration that cut and run. We are not here to fight other people's wars for themselves. He thinks it's fundamentally un- American to invade other people's countries and occupy them.
What we're interested in -- and that's why Riyadh was that pivotal moment. [16:15:02] The president went into the heart of the Muslim world, the
hijabs, the land of Mecca and Medina, and he said to the arrayed, more than 50 Arab Muslim leaders, you have to sort your situation out. You have to drive the extremists and the terrorists from your places of worship, from your communities. We are here to help. We will stand shoulder to shoulder --
TAPPER: Right, who's going to maintain the peace though obviously? It's a big important question.
GORKA: Local actors, local actors.
TAPPER: Who specifically.
GORKA: Right now, these are the details that we're working out at the NSC, with our colleagues, with our bilats, with our liaison services. It is a matter of process that we are dealing with, as we speak right now, Jake.
TAPPER: As you know, winning the peace is almost as important as winning the war.
TAPPER: One last question for you, sir, "The New York Times" is reporting that White House strategist Steve Bannon has asked forces behind two giant defense contracting firms, specifically Erik Prince and Steven Feinberg to pitch a plan to increasingly privatize the U.S. waging war in conflict in Afghanistan.
How is that not a conflict of interest? To have people who could stand to make billions of dollars on privatizing a war, pitch it to General Mattis or others?
GORKA: Well, look, I'm not going to confirm any details of meetings that are taking in confidence.
But if you look at Erik Prince's track record, it's not about bilking the government. It's about the opposite. It's about saving the U.S. taxpayer money. It's about creating indigenous capacity.
This is a former operator. This is a man who hires former operators, first tier, special operations forces, retired individuals, not to go and fight there, instead of somebody else, but to help the Afghans, to help local indigenous forces protect their own territory. So, this is a cost-cutting venture.
We open the door here at the White House, the outside ideas. Why? Because the last eight years, in fact the last 16 years, Jake, to be honest, disastrous. The policies that were born in beltway by people who've never worn a uniform, the people that were in the White House like Ben Rhodes calling (INAUDIBLE), they helped create the fire storm that is Middle East and is today.
So, we are open to new ideas because the last 16 years have failed national interests and the American taxpayer. TAPPER: There were plenty of people who wore a uniform who advised
President Obama and President Bush. I mean --
GORKA: Not people as influential as Ben Rhodes who had a master's degree in fictional writing.
GORKA: That is disastrous.
TAPPER: Well, I'm sure he'd put his graduate degree against yours any day of the week. But, Sebastian Gorka, I appreciate your time. Thanks so much.
GORKA: Any time. I'll be glad to debate him on your show.
TAPPER: All right.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, will join us to respond to what you just heard from Sebastian Gorka at the White House.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
[16:21:47] TAPPER: We're back with breaking news on our politics lead. CNN has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Russia case, has brought on a senior FBI official who oversaw the Hillary Clinton e-mail server investigation to help manage the ongoing probe. That is according to two U.S. officials briefed on the matter.
Joining me now to talk about this and much more is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California.
Thanks so much for joining us, Congressman.
As you just heard, White House advisor Sebastian Gorka just acknowledged that the Trump administration is considering returning those two Russian diplomatic compounds that have been seized in December. He said he wants to do it or the White House is considering doing it to give collaboration and cooperation a chance. Your response?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it'd be a terrible mistake. These are facilities that the Russians were using to spy on the American people. Why on earth we'd want to give them back, reward the Russians for their continued denial of their involvement in our election, it makes no sense whatsoever. I don't know why this supposedly consummate negotiator that they want to build up our president to be would go into that discussion with Putin, number one, conceding even before he got into the meeting the idea that we have no idea whether the Russians were responsible when in fact we know all too well. And even to ask Putin those questions, did you do it, Vladimir,
suggests that we don't know that he did it. That is, I think, among the worst negotiating strategies, not the best. That didn't project strength. That, in fact, projected weakness and to go further, I think the Russians would interpret and quite correctly as another sign of weakness.
This is why it's so important for the Congress to step up to take up in the House, the bill that passed in the Senate 97-2, to prevent this president from taking unilateral actions to reward the Russians for their continued hostility.
TAPPER: So, let me you, I mean, Gorka in the interview made it pretty clear that the Trump administration is not going to punish Russia at all. They want to -- it seems, this is my terminology, not his, but start with a clean slate and try to forge ahead with a better relationship, not punish the Russians at all for what every major U.S. intelligence official, Trump and Obama administration, has said was election interference.
SCHIFF: Well, and not only that. Of course, in the light of the last few days, we now know that the Trump campaign itself was very directly told that the Russian government wanted to help Donald Trump's campaign and was willing to give them dirt on Hillary Clinton which they were only too happy to receive. So, perhaps the very first people in the country that got the message about the intent of the Russian government in terms of interfering in our political affairs was the first family itself. That should have informed the president going into that meeting along with everything our intelligence agencies have said.
And for the president today, Jake, to defend Donald Jr. by saying, first of all, well, this attorney wasn't a government attorney when that's how she was purported to be --
SCHIFF: -- and to go on to say, well, lots of people would have taken that meeting, is equivalent of saying, lots of people will do really unethical things, and so we did too. And we're OK with that.
It's not OK.
[16:25:00] And for the president of the United States to suggest that American people should accept the help of a foreign hostile power to interfere in our elections that somehow that's OK, that's appalling. Whether it's illegal is another question. But it ought to be appalling to anyone with ethical standards.
TAPPER: You hypothesized a couple days ago in a press conference that the meeting, assuming that there was no intelligence or information shared, which is what Don Jr. and the lawyer in question say, that it might have been what intelligence officials call a dangle. A way to suss out, to see if the Trump campaign might be interested on dirt about Clinton from the Russian government.
Do you have any knowledge of other meetings that took place after that one that would have been follow-ups to it?
SCHIFF: You know, I can't comment on what evidence we've been presented. Certainly we want to find out if there are other meetings. That's very much a part of our investigation.
But, you know, I think this is exactly what's taking place here. The Russians used their oligarchs, they used cutouts to deliver messages, to find out information, to see who'd be willing to work with them, to see who'd be willing to engage in an elicit relationship.
And here are the messages that the Russian government got back, they got a message back from the president's son: we would love to get information from Hillary Clinton as part of your effort to help my father.
We also got a message the following month from the president himself, then-candidate Trump, speaking openly saying, hey, Russians, if you're listening, hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails, you'll be richly rewarded.
So, clearly, the message got back to Moscow that the Trump campaign would welcome their help and indeed, the Trump campaign got their help with these daily dumps of information damaging to Hillary Clinton. So, that's a pretty vivid portrait and one that's deeply disturbing and, obviously, we have to take precautions to make sure this never happens again.
TAPPER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
TAPPER: Senate Republicans unveil the revised bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. What's in? What's out? How would it impact the cost of your health insurance? All that next.