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CNN: White House Aides Exposed To Scrutiny Over Don Jr. Response; New Questions About When Trump Knew Of Don Jr. Meeting; Trump Defends "Good Boy" Son Over Russian Meeting; Senate GOP Can't Lose One More Vote On Revised Bill; Trump Campaign Digital Chief: I've Been Called To Testify; Interview with Rep. Mike Quigley. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired July 14, 2017 - 11:00   ET






MOOS: -- New York.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: They won't like me for saying that.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The mystery continues. Thanks for joining me today. I'm Pam Brown. "AT THIS HOUR with Kate Bolduan" starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Pam. Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan. Welcome to AT THIS HOUR.

As new questions swirl over what the president knew and when about his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer, now, we are learning when some of his White House staff caught wind, at least.

White House aides appear to have known weeks ago about that meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer. A source close to Jared Kushner's legal team said aides and his lawyers started strategizing in late June how to handle the release of those e-mails connected to the meeting that we've learned Kushner was forwarded.

And because of that coordination, those White House aides could now be facing scrutiny of their own.

CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is live in Paris where the president just left to head back to the states. So Jeff, what does this all mean now for this White House?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, there has been one phrase and one answer that has been used virtually every time questions are asked of the White House about anything regarding this Russian investigation.

Its' I refer you to outside counsel. The reason for that is, the White House aides and spokespeople do not want to get ensnared in this ongoing investigation. That may have changed last weekend.

Because when the president was flying home from Germany where he was attending the G20, "The New York Times" was first to report the existence of what we all know now about that meeting in June of 2016 with the Russian government lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., as well as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.

And on that Air Force One flight, we are told several staff members helped with the response to that and brought them into the fray, if you will, of crafting a response to when they actually knew about that meeting.

We are told, as CNN's Evan Perez and Sara Murray reported, our colleagues reported this morning, the people close to Jared Kushner have been strategizing and planning for how to respond to the release of all of these e-mails for several weeks, dating back to mid-June.

So now there is potential that Bob Mueller, the special counsel here could bring in White House aides who were involved in the crafting of this response to ask them about the central question here, who knew about that meeting, when and why and at what point.

That is a central question that House and Senate investigators also want to know. It's ultimately going to lead to the question of when did the president know about the meeting?

Now he has said and the White House has said that he only learned about it last weekend when that "New York Times" story came out. There is growing suggestions and evidence that people inside the White House had known about it for weeks and were crafting this response.

So Kate, that's why there's some new worry in the west wing today about it. Many of them will be brought into this widening investigation -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Did they keep the president in the dark or is the time line off and what we're learning about when the president knew. Two important questions today. Great to see you, Jeff. Thank you so much.

With me right now, White House reporter for "The New York Times," Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Justice Department, Michael Zeldin, and former CIA operative, Mike Baker, all here. Great to see you, guys.

So Julie, what Jeff just laid out is why the time line of the Don Jr. meeting and who knew what when is becoming increasingly more and more important.

If aides were working with Kushner back in June and the president didn't know about the meeting until a few days ago, that would mean the White House kept the president in the dark. Do you see that with this White House happening?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, listen, there have been instances in the past where this question has arisen and there's been a real effort to insulate, as Jeff was saying, the legal issues and the Russia investigation from the rest of what's going on in the White House.

The problem for them now is that with this new timetable emerging and learning that Jared Kushner's aides and others were sort of knew about this weeks ago and were crafting a response, that sort of Chinese wall is showing signs of coming down.

It does raise the question of whether these aides who were working on this issue briefed the president about it and if not, why not. This is obviously a very serious issue of, you know, a year ago this meeting having happened.

There's a clear connection to the allegations that the president is facing and people around him and in his campaign are facing. So when did he learn of it? If they did keep it from him, why did they do that?

BOLDUAN: They are not only involved as the top aide, Jared Kushner, his son.

DAVIS: It's his son-in-law.

[11:05:03]BOLDUAN: And his son-in-law, exactly, Julie. Michael, the fact that White House aides were strategizing with Kushner's legal team on how to respond and the aides as Jeff was laying out, they help craft Don Jr.'s response aboard Air Force One coming back from the G20, did that open a whole bunch of people to the Mueller investigation? From the legal side of it, what do you see?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, probably they would be witnesses if Mueller thought the crafting of that message was an important component to his investigation of Don Jr. and that meeting or Jared Kushner and that meeting.

I think more significantly, what we have learned today bears on the credibility of these witnesses. I thought for a long time that this case is going to come down in the end to an evaluation of who to believe. They are hurting themselves with the constant, changing stories.

I thought for a long time, in the end, legal jeopardy may well be best framed in terms of who is going to tell the truth under oath. When you have these evolving stories, it's hard to remember what you said yesterday and the day before yesterday and the day before yesterday.

When you get into a grand jury and you have to tell a consistent story that is truthful, they are putting themselves in a difficult position to remember all that which they have said over the evolving period of time. I think there's jeopardy for these guys from a truth standpoint and credibility standpoint, and then for these collateral aides just as witnesses.

KEILAR: Yes, and remember, that first statement that came from Don Jr. that was crafted with the help of some White House aides, that was about -- the meeting was only about adoption. That clearly was not the whole story that they put out first.

Mike, let me ask you this, in light of all of this news coming out about who knew what when, Democrats are calling on Jared Kushner to lose his security clearance. Democrats don't have say in that happening, but who does?

MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Yes, that -- first of all, that would be the president. He would have that say. It would be his inner circle that would have a conversation about that. If there was some egregious evidence about the sharing of classified information or mishandling of classified information, it's on the table.

I don't see this happening. This idea of him losing his clearance is something someone is throwing against the wall to see if it will stick. Michael makes a very good point in terms of we are seeing this constant series of self-inflicted wounds from a group of people who seemed incapable of understanding a couple of things.

One, the importance of getting ahead of the message and being consistent in what you are saying. The other, just coming out with the story. Tell what happened. Say what happened. I suspect if they had done that some time ago, we would be talking about something completely different right now.

BOLDUAN: Again, because the story continues to change, almost daily, that is what becomes the story. Julie, one of the strange things, I don't know how you rank it on the strange scale today, a strange element of how the president responded to this, as he spoke to reporters on Air Force One for an hour on the way to Paris. The White House staff made off the record conversations. That happens. That's not the important part about this.

DAVIS: Standard.

BOLDUAN: Yes, pretty standard. This is important part, though, the president wanted it on the record, he said it as it has reporters were at a pool spray of the bilateral meeting, what is going on there?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, this is a president who doesn't handle anything like prior presidents and Air Force One and talking to reporters is no exception. It does happen from time-to-time, particularly on foreign trips, the presidents come back on Air Force One. The ground rule is, it's off the record.

We always push for it to be on the record. Particularly with this president, since he's held so few news conferences, there's a need to push back against those things. He wanted to stay and have a conversation.

The reporters in the press pool engaged in that conversation. We are willing to honor those ground rules. He said, why didn't you use what I said yesterday? And my colleague, Maggie Haberman, responded, well, it was off the record.

He made it very clear then that he wanted actually to be on the record. So, you know, the folks who had been in the press pool went back to Sarah Huckabee Sanders and asked for that to be done. They released on excerpts of what was discussed.

But in those excerpts, he talks about this timetable, he only learned about this two or three days ago. He also made some strange suggestions about maybe I knew about this issue of adoption or heard about a meeting previously, but nothing about Hillary Clinton and nothing about dirt.

[11:10:02]So this does sort of raise and sort of heighten the question of when he learned about it and when he learned about the issues that arose. You know, as Mike said, it really does amplify their problems when their stories keep changing time and again.

This is the fourth iteration of the explanation that the president and people around him have given for this. The fact that it was off the record and then on the record, it makes it all seem a lot more murky than I think in this situation you would want it to be if you're in the White House.

What they need to do is come out with a clear account of events. Let's not also forget that the reason that we are here now is because Jared Kushner's initial disclosures about his meetings with foreign officials were not complete. He's had to go back and reverse the disclosures and this meeting was part of that.

BOLDUAN: And Mike, one thing that we have --

ZELDIN: Kate, may I add something?

BOLDUAN: One second, Michael. Mike, one thing that we have heard from the president consistently now, it does seem, on the plane and off, is that anyone would have taken that meeting. I haven't spoken to a political operative that has told me they would have taken that meeting. As a former intelligence officer, what do you say to that?

BAKER: Well, I worked in operations in the agency for a long time. After that, I had been involved in commercial collection of information and intelligence around the world for over a decade.

What I would say is that anybody who wouldn't entertain taking a meeting with someone who says they have derogatory information on the other side when there's a campaign going on is blowing smoke. They would entertain it.

The difference being is that a disciplined group with experience would have done vetting. They would have looked at the situation before they dropped themselves into this meeting and they wouldn't have been in the position of not knowing what was going on.

So, I would -- I would argue that, look, the Democrats were out, operatives were out trolling in Ukraine and Russia looking for dirt. That's how the Trump dossier came up. Nobody is going to clear their hands in the world of opposition research on either side in campaigns going back for generations.

But again, we go back to the same problems. Self-inflicted wounds, lack of discipline, vet the meeting before it happens. Understand what it was all about, and frankly, I wouldn't have taken the meeting after you would have done that, but that's all hindsight.

BOLDUAN: Well, and also it seems that Donald Trump Jr. seems to think that he wouldn't have taken the meeting in hindsight. He said very clearly, he would have done things a little differently. Julie, Michael, Mike, thanks guys. I really appreciate it.

Also right now, President Trump is in the air about to land in the U.S. after his trip to France. One of his top priorities is also up in the air and may not ever land on his desk. The revised version of the Republicans Obamacare replacement plan is in jeopardy this morning.

One more no from a Republican and the bill won't make it to a vote. Now, the wheeling and dealing is on once again, but is it headed anywhere fast?

CNN's Ryan Nobles and M.J. Lee have it all covered on Capitol Hill. So Ryan first to you, what has changed in this iteration of the bill?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, that's part of the problem I think for the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is that while there are some significant changes in this bill, it's not the dramatic overhaul some of these senators, especially the ones that are holding out were hoping for.

It's a 172-page bill. Let me give you some of the top lines. One big thing is that they are going to offer an option for folks to buy cheaper plans that also include fewer benefits. That's something that conservatives have been pushing for.

Conservatives also want an option for you to use your health savings account to pay for premiums. That's something that's not currently allowed under the law.

There is going to be $45 billion set aside to combat substance abuse in the opioid crisis. That's something in particular Senator Rob Portman of Ohio is pushing for.

But here is the big problem. The changes to Medicaid stay in place. There aren't going to be more cuts, but the deep cuts originally proposed are still on the table. That has many moderates, Susan Collins among them, very concerned.

But moderates on the other hand are happy with the fact that that high-end investment tax that was part of Obamacare won't be repealed. That would be a tax that would help wealthy Americans. They are going to keep that in place.

But overall, Kate, no huge changes. That's part of the reason that Mitch McConnell is fighting to save this bill. BOLDUAN: Yes, and the fight is on. M.J., it comes down to math. Has Mitch McConnell been able to change any minds? Do you see any indication of that now?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, you are absolutely right. It is all about the math. This could, literally come down to one senator, Mitch McConnell wants to have a vote on this bill next week. But already, we have two Senate Republicans who have come out and say that they will vote no on the motion to proceed.

That means they are a no on even bringing up the bill for a vote. That's Rand Paul and Susan Collins, not to mention many more who are still undecided. What this means, Kate, is that Mitch McConnell needs to spend needs to spend the next couple of days making sure that there are no more defections.

[11:15:04]The single most important issue, as Ryan touched on a little bit, is Medicaid. Members like Dean Heller, Shelley Moore Capito, Rob Portman, Lisa Murkowski, they all huddled inside McConnell's office yesterday afternoon after the bill was unveiled.

A big sign that this is the group that McConnell is working to win over, and the big thing that they are going to be watching next week is this updated CBO score from the Congressional Budget Office.

If this updated score does not have good headlines and a lot of folks are not very optimistic then that is certainly not going to help them change their minds and get to a yes.

BOLDUAN: I would say not. Past history is any evidence of anything. Great to see you, guys. Thank you so much.

All right, so not only is there pressure amongst each other on Capitol Hill, the president is applying even more pressure on Senate Republicans. In a series of four statements that he put out on Twitter this morning, the president is putting it all on Republican senators right now.

Saying, they must come through with what they have promised, adding, that he is ready with pen in hand to sign a bill.

With me now, CNN political commentator and former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, Doug Heye. And importantly, Doug, you spent a few years on Capitol Hill as well. Does this kind of pressure and those tweets that you see from the president there, does this kind of pressure campaign from the White House? Does it help?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this is more about getting ready to lay blame in case this bill is not able to get through. Let me take you back to 2014 when I worked on Obamacare every day and very unsuccessfully.

We worked every day to try and put some kind of a replacement language together. We were unable to do so. We were dying to have a Republican president that we could work with. House leadership, Senate leadership right now know that for the first time, if they can pass this through, they have a Republican president. The president doesn't have to just put pressure on it. It's up to him to get this through.

He is the one dynamic that's new in the Republican Party and in Washington, D.C., from where we were a year ago when we were unable to do things, and five years ago when were unable to do things.

BOLDUAN: Let's be honest, President Trump, very clearly ran on this as well. I mean, isn't -- isn't this on him as well? Do you see him -- do you see him taking any ownership of this right now?

HEYE: Right now, no. It's not a problem that he was in Paris. That's fine. You can do those things. With his Twitter account that he can apply pressure on individual senators and have his legislative staff --

BOLDUAN: Do you think they don't want him to? Would it be different if he applied more pressure or buy-in like he did in the House negotiations or like Obama did with Obamacare? Do you see it (inaudible)?

HEYE: That's the real difference. Barack Obama spent every day of a year and a half working on the Affordable Care Act. President Trump has not been as involved yet. He needs to be.

He needs Mike Pence who has got longstanding relationships and great relationships on the House and Senate side to do so and his White House staff to be involved. This is the only dynamic that's new in town. It's all hands on deck, regardless of small hands, big hands, or whatever.

BOLDUAN: Doug, don't start.

HEYE: But also if you are Donald Trump and you haven't had a major legislative victory, this is the biggest legislative victory that you can have. He has to drive this home.

BOLDUAN: It seems there's a moment here. Let's see if he grabs it. Great to see you. Thank you so much, Doug.

HEYE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right, so intelligence sources say two Russian compounds on American soil were used to spy on the U.S. But is the White House right now considering giving those compounds back to Moscow? The backlash is already severe. We'll talk about it.

Plus, a conservative legend now regretting his defense of the White House over Russia calling Trump apology is pathetic. Why he says the campaign absolutely colluded.

And word of a confession in the disappearance of four men and the gruesome discovery of human remains buried 12 feet underground. Why the suspect's wealth plays a role here. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BOLDUAN: New this morning, the digital director for the Trump campaign says he had agreed to meet with the House Intelligence Committee about the 2016 election. Brad Parscale put out a statement on Twitter a short time ago and saying this in part, "I'm unaware of any Russian involvement in the digital and data operations of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign."

He also added that he looks forward to sharing everything he knows with the committee. Joining me now a member of that committee, Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. Congressman, thanks so much for the time.


BOLDUAN: Thank you. So Brad Parscale agreed to meet with your committee for an interview. What do you want to know from him?

QUIGLEY: Look, what I want to know from all the Trump team is what, exactly, took place. Who talked to whom and when? The problem with this is we have seen changing narratives. Initially, when something is brought out, there's a blanket denial that any discussions took place or there's cooperation at all.

Then there's a slow, slow movement toward acknowledging maybe there was a discussion and maybe more people were in the room. It's clear the only way we are going to find out exactly what took place is when the entire team comes before Congress and swears under oath.

BOLDUAN: Do you know when Brad Parscale is going to come before the committee?

QUIGLEY: Yes. We have an agreement with our Republican colleagues not to get into who's going to testify and when because of the pressure that others face when they talk about doing this. So, a blanket agreement makes more sense and makes the investigation far more effective.

BOLDUAN: Brad Parscale says he will be speaking before your committee. Anyway, there has been reporting that the committee is looking into whether the digital operation, which he was part of helped guide Russia's voter targeting and kind of their fake news efforts during the election. Basically, they helped coordinate with them. Do you think they did?

QUIGLEY: I think that there was coordination. I think you are starting to see public evidence of that coordination, not just the meeting with Trump Jr., but others as well. You know, Roger Stone suggesting he had a relationship with Julian Assange and Wikileaks and he knew Podesta was next in the barrel --

BOLDUAN: But actually the Trump campaign's digital operations? QUIGLEY: Look, I don't want to get into the specifics in terms of digital operation or any specifics that are not in the public domain at this point in time. I think you are seeing clear pattern of people in the Trump campaign coordinating with Russians.

[11:25:13]And I think what we are learning with the Trump Jr. meeting is when you meet with any Russians, you are meeting with Russian intelligence, and therefore President Putin.

BOLDUAN: CNN is now reporting that White House aides were made aware of the meeting with Don Jr. -- they were made aware of the meeting in late June, weeks ago, as they were helping strategize with the Kushner legal team on how to handle the disclosure that he was facing.

Additionally, sources are saying that the president's aides were involved in crafting the initial statement that Don Jr. put out. Do you think they have exposed themselves? Could they now be pulled into this investigation?

QUIGLEY: Look, any sort of investigation, when people talk to the subjects in question and they helped them craft their answers or how they are going to respond, they bring themselves into this. Obviously, people aren't listening to their attorney's advice.

I don't know that the president of the United States is listening to people's advice. For me, that's not for me to decide. The fact of the matter is, once they do this, they become subject, in my mind of the investigation.

At this point in time, if the president wants to end what he calls a witch hunt, the best thing he can do is tell the entire team, the team he has surrounding him now and the team that was surrounding him during the campaign, talk to Congress.

Talk to the American people under oath. Tell them exactly what took place and when it took place. There is a cloud over the White House now and it will never be lifted until everyone speaks, tells us exactly what happened and the truth comes out.

BOLDUAN: Russia sanctions, there's a big fight going on in the Hill over that. One of the president's aides was on CNN yesterday and he seems to leave open the possibility of handing back over to Russia the compounds that Obama shut down as part of the sanctions effort before he left office.

Sebastian Gorka was asked specifically why the Trump administration is considering that. Here is what he said.


SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: 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.


BOLDUAN: The House is fighting over Russia sanctions bill right now. What do you say to that?

QUIGLEY: Yes. This is ludicrous. Obviously we want some sort communication and cooperation in the future with Russia. We have common names to get on the same page in Syria and how to address ISIS. But, Russia has to earn our trust back. They have to pull out of Ukraine.

They are going to have to stop moving the fence in Georgia and for anyone to expect us to understand and trust them and give them back locations in which they were spying on us is simply absolutely ludicrous and against the best interest of the United States.

BOLDUAN: Let's see where that goes. Congressman, appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

QUIGLEY: Thank you. Take care.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

New questions coming up about a Republican operative who was hunting for Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails. He was recently found dead. The coroner, now calling it a suicide, according to reports. Hear what was written on a note he left behind.

Plus, a conservative icon calling the Trump team pathetic over the Don Jr. meeting. Why he now thinks this is collusion.