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Interview With Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; GOP Unveils Health Care Bill Changes; Trump Defending Trump Jr.; Revised Senate GOP Health Care Bill in Peril Hours After Debut; Amid Trump Turmoil, Bill Clinton & G.W. Bush Talk Leadership. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 13, 2017 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:03]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the president in Paris and under more pressure in the Russia investigation.

Calling for testimony. A powerful Senate Republican wants answers from Donald Trump Jr., asking him to appear before his committee. Will the president's eldest son be the first Trump to testify under oath in the Russia probe?

Increasingly optimistic. Senate GOP leaders are putting an upbeat spin on the prospects for their revised health care bill. But, tonight, the just unveiled legislation already is in peril.

And snub the press? President Trump calls on a Chinese journalist instead of an American reporter, breaking tradition for overseas trips and defying a prompt by the French president. New fuel tonight for Mr. Trump's tense relationship with the U.S. news media.

We want to welcome our viewers here in United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off tonight. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, new calls for President Trump's son to testify before Congress. The commander in chief is digging in, defending Donald Trump Jr. and his 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer.

During a rare news conference in Paris, Mr. Trump pressed his claim that most people would have agreed to the meeting where Don Jr. was expecting to get Kremlin dirt on Hillary Clinton. The president arguing it was politics as usual and that in the end nothing came out of it.

But the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee may not see it that way. GOP Chairman Chuck Grassley says he is sending a letter asking to Donald Trump Jr. asking him to testify before the panel and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein says she hopes that happens as soon as next week.

Also under fire, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who met with the Russian lawyer as well. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is demanding his security clearance be revoked immediately. She says Kushner's failure to initially disclose multiple contacts with the Russians is "arrogant and a crime."

And on Capitol Hill, the newest version of the Senate GOP health care bill is already in jeopardy. Just hours after its release, at least two Republicans say they will vote no despite tweaks designed to bring the party together. One more Republican no would sink the bill. But tonight Senate GOP leaders say they are optimistic.

This hour, I will talk about those stories and more with Senate Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First, to CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny with the president in Paris.

Jeff, the president says his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer was standard politics. He's using that line time and again, it seems -- Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Jim.

The president did try to explain this as business as usual. For good measure, he also said zero happened at that meeting. But that did little to dissuade Republicans on Capitol Hill from believing him. They in fact want to know more about the June 2016 meeting.

That is why President Trump's son is likely heading to Capitol Hill next week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

[18:05:08]

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZELENY: Now, Jim, an unusual moment at the end of that news conference.

When the French president said there was time for one more question from an American journalist, at that point, President Trump called on a Chinese journalist from Phoenix TV of Hong Kong, simply a break in protocol which is normally, as you well know, Jim, two questions from the local press here in France and two questions from the traveling press.

A spokeswoman for the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the president can call on whoever he chooses, but, Jim, yet another sign this White House eager to avoid questions about Donald Trump Jr. and the Russia cloud which has followed him all the way here to Paris -- Jim.

ACOSTA: They pulled a fast one on us again.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

Now to Capitol Hill and the new push to get answers from Donald Trump Jr. about his meetings with a Russian lawyer.

Let's go to CNN senior congressional reporter Manu Raju.

Manu, the Senate Judiciary Committee wants Donald Trump Jr. to testify. And now we are hearing from the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee as well. What can you tell us?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Mark Warner, the Democrat who is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, did tell us earlier today that the panel has actually made a new request for documents from not just Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, but also Donald Trump Jr.

He said they sent letters asking for information. This is another request that they have sent Jared Kushner. We know they have been in contact with the Kushner camp to get information about contacts he may have had with Russian officials. There are concerns from Warner that Kushner was not forthcoming in his initial documentation.

This is the first of what we know of a publicly disclosed request to Donald Trump Jr. It is uncertain if there have been private requests made to him in the past. Mark Warner made his request pretty clear just moments ago.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: We have made a series of document requests. And we expect to be receiving those very shortly. We also, as recently as this week, have put out requests to Donald Trump Jr. And I'm going to take him at his word, just as I will take Mr. Kushner at his word, that they want to cooperate with the committee.

RAJU: What kind of records are you asking for?

WARNER: I think it's not appropriate to go through the type of documents requested, but we feel it is very important that we have all of the appropriate information, so we can ask the right questions.

It is very troubling to me, and in the case of Mr. Kushner, that we now have three meetings with Russians that he at least omitted from his initial filing with reports.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Jim, Warner would not be specific on when the committee wants to interview Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. He would not say when I asked him about whether or not he was going to try to do this before August.

But I did catch up with Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who said the committee is interviewing at least six witnesses a week. And right now what we know is this week they have interviewed some Trump campaign associates. They have not disclosed the names yet.

But one person we do know coming before the House Intelligence Committee, Michael Caputo, former Trump communications adviser, that committee having a classified session tomorrow afternoon, Jim.

ACOSTA: Manu, you spoke to Judiciary Committee chair, Senator Chuck Grassley today. He wants Donald Trump Jr. to testify as well, which is rather remarkable coming from a fellow Republican. What did he tell you?

RAJU: Yes, that's right.

The first time we heard a Republican chairman of one of these key committees actually call on Donald Trump Jr. to testify, and Grassley telling me earlier today that he actually sent a letter, planned to send a letter requesting Donald Trump Jr.'s presence at his committee.

[18:10:05]

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: What would you want to ask him or what do you want to learn about?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Well, pretty much because our oversight of the Justice Department.

And I think it has just -- it's raised a lot of questions. But the real way that I feel comfortable inviting him is ever since President Trump was elected, it seems like every conversation that has come from somebody in the family where there has been some sort of issue, they seem to always to be very, very open.

And I just think that he would welcome the opportunity to say whatever he wants to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Jim, both Grassley and Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, are not ruling out the threat of subpoenas if Donald Trump Jr. does not agree to come before the committee.

Feinstein actually telling me she wants him to come before the committee as soon as next week. But one question is will this interfere in any way with Bob Mueller's investigation? That is one reason why Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, who Grassley also wants to interview, it's uncertain if he will come before the committee next week because Grassley and Feinstein are trying to work through any conflicts that may exist with Bob Mueller's own investigation, Jim.

ACOSTA: Manu Raju, thank you very much.

Let's get more reaction to all of this from Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, the state of Maryland.

Senator Cardin, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Jim, it's going to be with you.

ACOSTA: You just heard Manu Raju reporting. And we also want to talk about what the president said earlier, but Manu Raju reporting it sounds like Donald Trump Jr. is going to have to testify before the Senate. Is that what you want to see as well?

CARDIN: Oh, absolutely.

I think the American people need to have an explanation. What he did is extremely troubling. When some foreign government person tells you they have information that they want to give you in regards to the U.S. election, first thing that should go through your mind, I better call the FBI. This looks like it's going to be problems.

Instead, Donald Trump Jr. accepted an appointment and met with the person. That is wrong. And I think it is right that the Judiciary Committee wants to have a public hearing on this.

ACOSTA: And you heard the president in Paris earlier today say that, well, this is standard politics. Anybody would take that meeting, many people would take that meeting.

What do you make of that?

CARDIN: No, this is not standard politics.

I can tell you that if you are approached by someone from another country that is trying to interfere in your elections, you know that is not permitted and your first reaction is, first of all, I'm not going to take the meeting, but secondly to notify law enforcement. No, this is not standard operating procedure.

ACOSTA: And when you hear the pushback from the White House, Republican side of the aisle, president's supporters that there is no crime that has been committed here, are you ready to say that at this point?

CARDIN: Well, I'm not ready to say.

I think that is what the investigation that Mr. Mueller is doing is all about. He is looking at criminal activities. I'm not going to draw any conclusions. I want to make sure that he has all of the facts. He's qualified to make those types of judgments. I don't think those of us that are in Congress should speculate.

ACOSTA: And President Trump was adamant today that this Russian lawyer is not a government lawyer. There's no question that, I suppose, she was working on behalf of the Kremlin or she was purporting to work on behalf of the Kremlin. It sounded like it.

What do you believe? What do you know in all of this?

CARDIN: We know this lawyer has been very actively engaged on behalf of the Russian government.

The lawyer has been here in the United States to try to discredit Magnitsky and the sanctions that the United States Congress passed as a result of the Magnitsky tragedy in Russia.

We know that she advertised that she was on behalf of the Russian government, had information. So, no, this is clearly a connection to Moscow.

ACOSTA: And when you hear the president earlier today say, well, Loretta Lynch, the former attorney general under President Obama, they let her into the country, what was your response to that? President Trump said that earlier today. This is how this Russian lawyer got into the country.

CARDIN: Getting into the country is certainly not relevant to meeting with a person to get information to use in a campaign from another country.

We let foreigners in our country. That's not unusual. What is unusual is a campaign accepting information from a foreign agent that could be used against your opponent.

ACOSTA: And one of other things that we heard from the president -- it wasn't at the news conference, but it was one of these off-the- record chats that he had on Air Force One overnight with reporters.

The White House mysteriously somehow decided today that they were going to take this off-the-record chat and make it on the record. And one of the things that the president was asked about was whether he would have Vladimir Putin over to the White House.

He said he would like to have Vladimir Putin over to the White House, maybe not right now, but at some time in the future.

[18:15:00]

What do you make of that? So soon after this investigation has really just taken on a great deal of speed, all these questions about his son. Is this a good time to have Vladimir Putin over to the White House?

CARDIN: Mr. Putin attacked our country and our free election system and tried to influence our election.

He is continuing his campaign in Ukraine, occupying Crimea, his activities in Eastern Ukraine, his occupation in Georgia. He's continuing to be unhelpful in Syria supporting the Assad regime that has committed war crimes.

No, you don't reward that type of a leader with a meeting in the White House. What you do is as you know, look, let's change your behavior. Let's get together and talk about what you are going to do. Let's not have a photo-op at the White House.

ACOSTA: And do you think that the president was tough enough on Vladimir Putin during this meeting over in Germany that they had? Apparently, the president said, well, he asked Vladimir Putin a couple of times, did you meddle in our elections? He sounded as if he was satisfied with the answer, didn't press him further on that.

What do you make of that?

CARDIN: I wasn't present, nor were there any reporters or any reports as to what exactly did happen.

We were pleased that he brought up the Russian meddling in our elections. But from the reports that came out of it, it looks like he said to Mr. Putin, I'm satisfied.

No, we're not satisfied. You attacked our elections. Mr. Putin denied it. And the president said, I am satisfied with his denial, it gives the impression to Mr. Putin, it's OK to do it again.

So, no, I'm not at all pleased by how that conversation looks like took place.

ACOSTA: And what do you think is going on? Why is it that the president can't really just get in Vladimir Putin's face on this?

CARDIN: We're not exactly sure.

ACOSTA: Why is he still talking about inviting him to the White House?

CARDIN: I think Democrats and Republicans know that Russia is doing things that are very much against our interests.

We have to be tough. The Senate passed by a 98-2 vote additional sanctions against Russia, 98-2 in the United States Senate. It's now in the House of Representatives. We expect them to act.

We want to take tough action against Russia. We don't want to have a photo-op by the president with Mr. Putin.

ACOSTA: OK, Senator, we will have more to talk about this, including some health care developments up on Capitol Hill as well over in the Senate.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:40]

ACOSTA: We're back with Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

We are talking about President Trump, his news conference today in Paris, and the Russia investigation.

And aside from Russia, the president made some interesting comments about Chinese President Xi. He seems to be heaping praise on President Xi just about every chance he gets.

And I am just curious what you make of that, because the president has put so much of his North Korea policy, he's invested so much of it in this relationship that he is developing with President Xi, which is fascinating, in that during campaign we heard him rail against the Chinese so much.

What do you make of that?

CARDIN: Well, first of all, we have seen no signs that China has done anything to help us in regards to isolating North Korea.

The North Korea situation is extremely serious. They are trying to develop the capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon to the continental United States. That is extremely serious.

We would like to have China's full cooperation. We don't have their full cooperation. And President Trump does nice things to China. It seems like the two countries that have the most that we are concerned about, China and Russia, are the two leaders that Mr. Trump embraces.

Our traditional allies seem to have a really rough relationship with the president.

ACOSTA: And speaking of our traditional allies, they are all in support of the Paris climate agreement.

Let's listen to what the president had to say about that earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Something could happen with respect to the Paris accord. We will see what happens. But we will talk about that over the coming period of time. And if it happens, that will be wonderful. And if it doesn't, that will be OK too. But we will see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, Senator, over at the White House just a short while ago, they had this big ceremony where the president announced he is pulling out of the Paris climate accord.

What do you make of him saying today, we will see what happens, something could happen?

CARDIN: Well, I hope the president is changing his mind. I hope he gets back into the agreement.

ACOSTA: Do you think he is changing his mind?

CARDIN: Well, it takes a couple of years to formally withdraw from the Paris -- the framework from which the Paris agreements were reached.

So, there was no immediate legal aspects to his withdrawal. He has, though, been sidelined from the international discussions in regards to climate change.

Our businesses are at a terrible disadvantage. America's leadership has been severely weakened as a result of what the president has done. I hope he does change his mind, because the United States needs to be part of this international effort. We need to be in the leadership. It is in our business interests, it's in our environmental interests and it's in our political interests.

ACOSTA: And speaking of being on the sidelines, you have been on the sidelines in the health care debate in the Senate as the Republicans have been crafting this alternative to repealing and replacing Obamacare.

You think that this could pass? You think they could get the votes?

CARDIN: Well, first of all, I have talked to a lot of my Republican colleagues.

I think they're on the sidelines too. I'm not sure how many people are actually dealing with actually drafting this bill and how many people know exactly what was in it until the leader released it today.

Yes, I think it could pass. I would urge people who have an interest in this to recognize that what the Republican leader is trying to do is to bring this up next, to try to use reconciliation, which is a process of which it could be off the floor in about 30 hours, plus action on amendments.

So, it is possible we will vote on it next week. Do I think he has the votes today? No, I don't think he has the votes today. But I am concerned that we could see the pressure mount.

[18:25:00] ACOSTA: You think this could become law?

CARDIN: I think it could pass the Senate. Yes, I think he could get his way and could get it through the Senate.

At this stage, he doesn't have the votes. I hope he doesn't get the votes.

ACOSTA: Senator Cardin, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

CARDIN: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Just ahead, more on the president's defense of his son. Does he see a conflict with what we are hearing from his former -- I should say his nominee to be the new FBI director?

We are standing by to hear from former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as well. They're talking about leadership together. There they are on stage at this moment. And will President Trump, will his name come up in all of this? That is what we are waiting to watch and see if that develops over the next hour or so. We will bring that to you live.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Tonight, President Trump is dismissing his son's controversial meeting with a Russian lawyer as standard politics, but Senate investigators want Donald Trump Jr. to testify about that meeting and why he seemed to welcome an offer of damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Supposedly, from the Kremlin.

[18:30:35] Let's bring in our analysts and specialists. And Jackie Kucinich, let me ask you, the president was asked about all of this earlier today. He seems to be trying to brush this off as standard politics, that anybody would take this meeting. Let's listen to more of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer. It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast. Two other people in the room, they -- I guess one of them left almost immediately and the other one was not really focused on the meeting.

I do think this. I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research, or even research into your opponent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: You covered politics for a while. People take these meetings all the time? These sorts of meetings? If offered? JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Don't take my -- I mean, don't take my word for it. Take it from the president [SIC] who's going to -- Christopher Wray, who's going to be the next FBI director, for all intents and purposes, once the Senate votes on him. He said -- and Trump dodged that question today -- whether, because Christopher Wray said that if anyone -- if a campaign gets this kind of information, they should call the FBI. They did not do that.

Now, the president has also said, I think, that, you know, this -- he -- they were new to politics. Paul Manafort was in that meeting. Paul Manafort is not new to politics. He's the opposite of new to politics. He would have known to do this.

And it also doesn't help the president that they changed their story several times. Initially Donald Trump Jr. said this was about adoption. And it was only until "The New York Times" was going to publish these e-mails that he released his e-mails, and we found out the subject line was -- was something so obvious. It was, like, "Hillary Clinton Opposition Research with Russia." I mean, it couldn't have been -- you couldn't make it up, how obvious it was. So there's just a credibility gap here.

ACOSTA: And Phil Mudd, what did you make of the president's answer on that? About this?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, look, he's -- this is his son. I respect his defense of his son. But the only way you take this meeting is if you're sleazy. Let's cut to the chase.

In the business I'm from, you call this the fruit of the poison tree, Jim. And that is there's information that Donald Jr. wants. That's the fruit. He had six days to consider one question. Where did that fruit come from? The time between when that first e-mail happened and when the meeting happened.

He knew, based on that e-mail or he suspected the information originated with the Russian government. Where would the Russian government get that information, negative information about American political candidate? I'd say they got it maybe via espionage. Do you think it's OK to go into a meeting, knowing that a hostile foreign government might have acquired information about an American candidate based on espionage?

It is OK to do opposition research. It's not OK if the origin, the tree that provided that fruit is the Russian security service.

One quick final point, Jim: if that's OK, why isn't it OK to wiretap Trump Tower? Why can't the KGB wiretap them and provide the information to the Democrats, if any opposition research from the Russians is OK? I don't get it.

ACOSTA: And Ron Brownstein, you covered politics for a long time.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

ACOSTA: Do -- do campaign operatives get offers from foreign governments like this? Does this happen all the -- Is that kind of information falling out of the tree, falling out of the sky during campaigns that you've covered?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, not like this. And to me the most extraordinary thing about this whole episode is how ordinary it seems to Donald Trump Jr. I mean, just think about the way this is presented to him in the initial e-mail: "This is part of the Russian government's effort to support your father." Your father's campaign.

And he doesn't react to that by writing back, "What are you talking about?" Or "Wait a minute. That is -- that's problematic." He says, "Let's schedule the meeting, and when can we have this information released that would be most advantageous for the campaign?" It really does not feel...

ACOSTA: He said, "I love it."

BROWNSTEIN: ... from those -- right, "I love it." From the e-mails, it does not feel like this is the first time the idea that the Russian government wanted his father to win had kind of crossed his desk. I mean, there's not even a raised eyebrow there.

And the idea that, you know -- and even if -- even if you did not know what you were getting beforehand, once you sat down in the meeting, you did. And no one felt compelled at that point to call the FBI. And no one has felt compelled to correct any of the administration -- Trump surrogates and later administration officials, including the vice president, who said there were no meetings. So there are a lot of questions to answer.

[18:35:08] ACOSTA: And Rebecca Berg, one thing that the president's son won't be loving is a congressional hearing where he's compelled to testify. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, says he has to come testify. And he'll send a subpoena if he doesn't comply.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Although Don Jr. has said, you know, he wants to work with Congress. He wants to do whatever they want to help them out. He says, "I did nothing wrong, so nothing to hide." He's praising his own transparency as is his father, although it was forced transparency, as we've discussed.

ACOSTA: But what's that going to be like here in Washington if we're all -- I mean, we thought it was extraordinary enough when Jim Comey was testifying on Capitol Hill. To see the president's son go up to Capitol Hill and testify about this.

BERG: It will be...

ACOSTA: It's going to rock this city.

BERG: ... an extraordinary moment. I mean, we've talked about Jared Kushner, potentially, going behind closed doors to talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee. But a public testimony, the country watching the president's family having to answer these very difficult questions from lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike. I mean, it's not only must-see TV; it's historic. So it will be a very big deal.

ACOSTA: And Phil, you know, the e-mails that we're talking about, these four pages of e-mails, that's just potentially the tip of the iceberg. You're hearing members of Congress -- we've had some on today -- saying what about text messages? What about the cell phones? What about the servers? This is a lot that this family may have to produce in a limited amount of time.

MUDD: And that's one of the questions I would have if Donald Jr. were ever to testify. You only touched the tip of the iceberg. You talked about the picture around Donald Jr.: text messages, phone messages, e- mails. I'd have a bunch of other questions that I don't the Senate can get to or the House can get to if they're going to question him.

The first is associates. I want every secretary, every special assistant, every friend. I want to know what anybody said to him or he said to them about this meeting. I want their e-mail correspondence.

And then I want one other level, Jim, and that is what we call in the intel business one hop. For example, WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks releases DNC, Democratic National Committee information. They have e-mail and phone addresses. So does Donald Trump.

I want to know in the middle, one hop from each of them, whether there are any common phone numbers, any common e-mail addresses that suggest that Donald Jr. talked to somebody that talked to WikiLeaks. If he goes and testifies, I don't think that the Congress or the Senate will be able to do the kind of analysis to ask him the tough questions.

ACOSTA: And one thing that we've overlooked, maybe not overlooked but not really covered enough in all of this, is that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, was also in that meeting, Ron Brownstein.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes, right. And in part of the pattern in his case of meetings with Russians that failed to make it into his disclosure. There's another kind of line of inquiry here as the McClatchy Newspapers bureau noted yesterday, is that -- is that Jared Kushner oversaw the digital operation of the Trump administration. And one of the things, according to the "McClatchy Report," which is logical, that investigators are examining, is whether that was a point of collusion, ultimately, between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, in that there was a great deal of fabricated news that was targeted to the social media of voters in key areas of the country.

It's a little hard to believe that somebody sitting in a basement or on a bed in Moscow knew that Macon (ph) County was the place you wanted to kind of, you know, reach people through their Facebook pages.

So I think, you know, there are a lot of different lines in this that ultimately, nothing of course, has been proven but that Jared Kushner is going to at some point in probably multiple venues have to answer.

And just to add one quick point on that. You know, whatever we think about this meeting today, it is probably going to look a lot different after people have testified under oath in multiple venues and, as Phil said, after a great deal of other information has been added to the picture.

ACOSTA: And one thing that to -- we don't want -- again, this is a past when it comes to this press conference today -- is that the president took one question from an American journalist, and then the other question, which potentially could have been used for follow-ups on what the president was saying about his son in these e-mails and meeting and so on, instead, that question went to a Chinese journalist who works for Phoenix TV -- there he is right there -- asking a question about president's policy when it comes to China, which I suppose is important.

But Jackie, this appears to be an attempt once again by the White House. You know, some days they call on conservative news media, friendly news media, people who are essentially in the tank for this president to avoid these questions. And then today at a news conference where the French president gets to call on two French reporters, and the American president is supposed to call on two American reporters, one of the questions goes to a Chinese journalist who works for a Chinese news outlet, Phoenix TV.

[18:40:05] No disrespect to Phoenix TV, but this is not your place. This is not your moment to be asking this kind of question.

What do you make of that? It just -- it seems like they don't have -- they never run out of options at this White House to take us out of the equation, the American press.

KUCINICH: Well, you know -- you know better than I do that this White House really loves to tweak the press. This is why cameras haven't been allowed -- I think -- have we had one this week that's been on camera?

ACOSTA: No.

KUCINICH: No. And yet, they talk about transparency. So it just -- any opportunity, even a foreign trip that's this consequential, they'll take their time to tweak the media. It's just -- it's one of the things where you're like do you have better things to do?

ACOSTA: Right.

BERG: Although it also might have been sort of a dual strategy. Right? President Trump realizes, recognizes that he needs China as a partner right now, especially when it comes to issues like North Korea that are becoming more pressing by the day. It's possible he wanted to be able to send a message to China at the same time.

ACOSTA: That's true. But my thinking is -- on this is that, you know, we get so many, or so few, opportunities to question this president, to ask this president about things that are going on in the country right now, and this investigation is so important. And his own son has been brought into this. And one of the -- one of the two questions -- it's not like we've got 10 or 12 questions at this news conference. He's only held one solo news conference in the six months he's been in office. And he holds these two-plus-two news conferences with a foreign head of government. And we only get one question?

KUCINICH: It's consequence free trolling. Because no one's going to stand -- very few people are going to stand up for the American news media and say they're being treated unfairly.

ACOSTA: Right. Ron, you want to jump in here?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I would say that it's actually revealing, I think, of a broader strategy and somewhat -- and reinforced by what he did say today when he brought in Loretta Lynch, the former attorney general, much the way they did in the Comey firing, and saying, well, the real scandal was that Loretta Lynch asked him to call the Clinton investigation a matter not an investigation.

Clearly, that's not an argument really meant to address the underlying concerns about the Comey firing or the current Donald Trump Jr. meeting. It's really an argument meant to provide a talking point to advocates for the president on FOX or on Rush or on Hannity.

And what it basically tells you, I think, goes along with what we're seeing in terms of their posture towards the president, which they are not -- this is not a presidency that is designed at this point, in policy or style or strategy, to reach 51 percent of the country. It is really about stoking and mobilizing what was 46 percent on election day and now in polling is probably somewhere closer to 40 or below.

They don't feel they need to reach the viewers of much of the mainstream media because they are not trying to reach them in policy either.

ACOSTA: Well, the president said on Air Force One -- and I'll wrap this up before we go to break -- but the president said on Air Force One in this off-the-record conversation that became on-the-record -- the White House decided it was on the record -- that this is a witch hunt and that his voters don't care about this because they see it as a witch hunt, too.

And you know, we're talking about the president's son revealed this earlier this week. How is that -- I don't understand how that's a witch hunt.

All right. We have to go to a quick break. Just ahead, the Donald Trump Jr. drama. The president's response and the distraction from his agenda. Stand by for new information. And the president's party struggling to move forward on repealing and replacing Obamacare. We're tracking teh reception to revised Senate bill that was just released. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:48:13] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Tonight, top Senate Republicans are scrambling to lock up support for their revised health care bill unveiled just hours ago. They say they're increasingly optimistic about its prospects, even though the legislation already is in jeopardy.

Let's check in with CNN's Ryan Nobles.

And, Ryan, first explain what's in the Senate's newest version of their health care bill. We actually have some details now.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, finally, Jim. And this is a 172-page bill. So, it's difficult to go this is a big bill, so it is different to go through every fine point. But here are some of the highlights that people are talking about today.

And it's important to point out, this is not dramatically different from the bill initially released by senators and that's because of this top line. It keeps the original steep Medicaid cuts in place. That's a big problem for moderates and it's one of the things Mitch McConnell is being forced to deal with right now.

It also has a version of the Cruz Amendment. This would allow states to offer parallel health insurance plans like Affordable Care Act plans but they would not have the Obamacare regulations attached to them. It also adds money to the state stabilization fund. This is an effort to drive down premiums. This is something that Rand Paul hates.

It also avoids -- or I'm sorry. It maintains the taxes on wealthy Americans. This was something that was in the original bill and then was actually taken out after.

Now, there are other taxes that this bill repeals. This is the highest end one that will remain in place and it also boosts funding to combat the opioid crisis, some $45 billion in the bill. So, Jim, right now, senators to trying to figure out if this is enough to bring them to a yes. Right now, it looks like the vote is going to be very close.

ACOSTA: And there are critics already on the Republican side. Does this bill have a chance of coming up to a vote and passing? We had Senator Cardin on earlier. He thought that it did. It will be close, I guess.

NOBLES: Jim, it's as close as it could possibly be. We already have two senators who have said they are not going to vote yes on the motion to proceed.

[18:50:00] That is the vote that takes place to get the vote to the floor to begin debate, and that's Susan Collins of Maine, who is a moderate, and then you have Rand Paul of Kentucky who's on the conservative end. And there's nothing that displays the divide better than the fact that you have these two senators on opposite ends of the spectrum who say that they can't even vote for the bill to be up for debate. Mitch McConnell is going to have to hold on to every single other Republican senator if he hopes to push this bill forward.

ACOSTA: All right. Ryan Nobles, thank you.

Just ahead, more on the fall-out from Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer and his father's efforts to diffuse the crisis. Will Bill Clinton or George W. Bush bring up the Russia investigation tonight? We're monitoring an event featuring both former presidents. Stand by for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:09] ACOSTA: Tonight, as the White House is consumed with the Russia investigation, two of the president's predecessors are speaking out on a pertinent subject, leadership. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush together tonight and showing bipartisanship in a rare public conversation.

Just a short while ago, former President Bush was asked about Bill Clinton's friendship with his father, Bush 41. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MODERATOR: That was your relationship with President Bush 41. But how did you come close? Because you --

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Well, I got a different take on what I think is one of the most --

MODERATOR: All right.

BUSH: -- one of the most unique relationships and important relationship in U.S. political history. I think it starts with Bill Clinton being a person who refused to lord his victory over dad. He was humble in victory, which is very important in dealing with other people.

And I think dad was willing to rise above the political contest. In other words, it starts with the individual's character. And both men in my judgment displayed strong character. And therefore, their friendship was able to be formed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Fascinating. Let's talk about that with CNN special correspondent Jaime Gangel.

It's fascinating, Jaime, to hear President Bush there talk about his father sort of putting politics aside in dealing with former President Clinton and juxtaposing that with what we see today, president of the United States accusing Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower and so on. What a change.

JAIME GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It feels very different, doesn't it? It's sort of through the looking glass.

Their relationship is really pretty extraordinary, Jim, because after all, Bill Clinton in a bit early fought campaign defeated his father. And so, the fact that these two families have become so close that former President Bush 43 jokes frequently, and he did tonight, that Bill Clinton is his brother from another mother.

The two men really like each other. It is genuine. When you ask one about the other, they will get a twinkle in their eye.

The camera does not lie. They like to gossip. They laugh a lot together. They are both boomers. They are both former Southern governors.

But I think they really do have a special connection in part of this former presidents club that, well, let's just say it will be interesting to see how Donald Trump fits into that down the road.

ACOSTA: Yes. That's one way of putting it. It is a small club. And we do like as Americans to see our ex presidents get along with one another. I think that's just fair to say.

And, Jaime, have either of these men talked about whether they talked to President Trump?

GANGEL: So, you know, I reached out to both of their offices before the event this morning, and I said, do you think they're going to talk about President Trump today? And they said what they have frequently said, it was no. Both of them have been, exempt for rare occasions, extremely disciplined and restrained about talking about Donald Trump, so much so that they don't usually say the words Donald Trump.

There are two occasions. President Bush was concerned about State Department funding and PEPFAR funding. But he just talked about the policy that he thought it was important to continue the policy. And President Clinton tweeted out after the climate change that he disagreed that he didn't want President Trump to walk away from it, but didn't use his name. Just in the tweet said, you know, the climate change is real and he shouldn't have walked away.

So, they are very careful about talking about the president -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And what makes this -- what makes this relationship work so well, do you think? You see they're both getting applause right now. What makes that relationship work so well, do you think?

GANGEL: You know, I think there is a genuine connection. Earlier on the program, one of them said, sometimes you click with a person and sometimes you don't. I think that, you know, when President Bush 43 was in office, he asked Bill Clinton and his father, President Bush 41, to be tsunami czars together. The two men went out after the terrible sue that my in Southeast Asia brought attention to it, raised money. They did the same for Katrina.

And I think that they all really get along. You know, it's -- it is a genuine thing. They spend a fair amount of time together. They talk a lot. So I think there was a personal connection that worked.

ACOSTA: And it's good to see after all those wars between the Bushes and the Clintons, they can sit on the same stage together. Time heals all wounds.

Thanks very much, Jaime Gangel.

GANGEL: Thanks. ACOSTA: I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching.

Erin Burnett starts right now.