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Republican Health Care Bill on Brink of Failure?; New Revelations Emerge in Trump-Russia Meeting. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 14, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go live to CNN's Jessica Schneider at the White House.

Jessica, what more are you learning about this meeting?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, we have learned that that Russian-American lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, he has confirmed to multiple news outlets that, yes, in fact, he was at this June 2016 meeting that involved now a multitude of people.

We know that it was led, perhaps, by Donald Trump Jr. It also involved campaign chair Paul Manafort, as well as the president's son- in-law, now top adviser Jared Kushner.

So, these details starting to trickle out. This is a story that began last Saturday with "The New York Times" and we have continued to get drips of details throughout the week. Now, this particular person, Rinat Akhmetshin, he's of concern because Senator Chuck Grassley actually raised some concerns about him in a letter dating back just a few months ago when he wrote to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, requesting the immigration information about him.

And, in that letter, Senator Grassley actually called Rinat Akhmetshin, he said he was acting as an unregistered agent for Russian interests apparently with -- quote -- "ties to Russian intelligence."

Well, in those news reports and the interviews he's given to multiple news outlets, Akhmetshin says, no, he has no ties to the Kremlin, no ties to Russian intelligence. He does say that he served as a Russian soldier for two years. He was a Russian citizen. He is now an American citizen, but, of course, this also concerning because this was not initially disclosed by Donald Trump Jr.

So far, we have seen two different statements from Donald Trump Jr., one on Saturday, one on Sunday, and, in that, he only mentioned his meeting with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, never mentioning another person.

Of course, in that interview as well with conservative host Sean Hannity on Tuesday night after the e-mails were released, Donald Trump Jr. said that was it. Everything in the e-mails were all everyone needed to know. Well, now, of course, it has come out that this additional Russian-

American lobbyist was also in that meeting. The White House right now not responding, of course, or not issuing a comment, of course. The president is on his way back to the United States on Air Force One.

We do know, however, Ana, that a White House official tells us that top aides, of course, are aware of this yet-again changing story as it pertains to this meeting back in June 2016.

And, of course, as you can imagine, Ana, these top aides not happy about what has become yet a third version of this meeting -- Ana.

CABRERA: And we have had a lot of different statements that have come out all as these details have been revealed. The president, we brought to our viewers live, did just land back in the U.S., in New Jersey, where he's going to be spending the weekend at one of his properties.

Jessica Schneider, we will wait and see if they issue a statement now that he's back on American soil. Thank you.

I want to discuss this new development further with my panel, "Washington Post" national security reporter Devlin Barrett, former Nixon White House counsel and CNN contributor John Dean, and CNN political analyst and Politico's White House correspondent Tara Palmeri.

Devlin, your reaction first to this breaking news. CNN reporting more people in this room than had been previously disclosed.

DEVLIN BARRETT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, right, it just goes to show you that there's a lot of evidence to gather here as the special counsel tries to figure this out.

It's another set of witnesses that may have information that's important to the investigation. You know, I think you don't look at one meeting existing solely in a vacuum. I think you have to look at the entire arc of behavior.

But, certainly, the more people who are in the room, the more likely you are to get a clear sense of what was and wasn't said in that meeting.

CABRERA: John Dean, we still have a lot to learn about the individual and why he was there, Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, but bottom line here, the White House, the Trump family, they still haven't been totally transparent about this meeting.

What could that mean, legally?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, it's striking that they haven't learned by now to release as much information as they have sooner rather than later.

It keeps the story alive. It raises suspicion. Legally, we know so little about the meeting, it's hard to say. My first thought was, is this one of the names that Jared added to his list on his SF-86 form, his security clearance form, or is this another missing name?

Anyway, the fact that they just hold back until it's forced out is just sure signs of covering up, rather than trying to get it out and disclose it.

CABRERA: Is there a legal term that you would use, then, in terms of if you were to look at this very much from a legal perspective about crimes that could be involved here?

DEAN: I'm not sure there's a crime involved in this meeting, per se. It's a part of a pattern.

It shows a mental state that, if crimes do surface -- because Don Jr. is not in government and had to fill out no forms, and has given no testimony on this, it doesn't look like he has any immediate legal jeopardy.

It's the others who are more in jeopardy there. He will be, if he doesn't testify fully about the meeting when called to appear before Congress or a grand jury, but, right now, I don't see a legal jeopardy on this meeting.

[15:05:08]

CABRERA: Again, Tara, we have not heard from the White House since this new revelation came out, but I understand you have some insight into how Jared Kushner, who was at the meeting, how he thinks the White House should be handling this story.

Of course, he is a member of the administration, one of the president's top aides. Tell us about this.

TARA PALMERI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: My sources in the White House say that Jared has been putting a lot of pressure on the press and communication shop to really fight more aggressively against the Russia story, specifically the Don Jr. meeting.

Meanwhile, these staffers, a lot of them, you know, on government salaries, feel very uncomfortable about being aggressive with this story. All we have seen is Sarah Sanders -- well, we haven't actually seen her, but we've heard her at the podium with very simple statements, saying, I refer this to outside legal counsel.

But he thinks they should be more aggressive, they should be fighting for changes to the Chyrons in the cable news shows. He believes there be op-eds out there, that surrogates should be armed and out immediately fighting against the story, that there are ways for the press shop to be involved, while not being legally culpable.

But, like I said, there's a lot of concern. People are telling me, you know, knowing less is more. We don't want to know anything about this Russia investigation. We don't want to talk about it, because a lot of these people, they're going to be stuck with tons of legal bills if they know too much.

CABRERA: And on that front, should they be saying less or more, John Dean?

DEAN: Well, their lawyers will tell them to say less. I remember well in Watergate that, while the press secretary never got himself indicted, his statements where he was reflecting did come to play in both the impeachment proceeding and in some of the criminal trials.

So, these things can have implications when they make public statements. So that's why the lawyers will tell them to zip it and don't talk about it.

CABRERA: Meantime, Devlin, you are reporting about the challenges facing Trump's legal team in dealing with the president, specifically, when it comes to the Russia investigation. Lay it out for us.

BARRETT: Right. Well, the president is a very tricky legal client. That may actually be an understatement.

He doesn't really take legal advice oftentimes. And he, you know, in some ways, makes legal problems worse with some of his public statements and his tweets. You know, so our story sort of lays out the different ways in which that's creating a problem, but everything Tara and John are saying is absolutely right and frankly feed into this problem of people keep -- in the White House, some people keep reacting and responding to this as if it's simply a P.R. problem.

And the challenge the lawyers is explaining to folks, no, no, you have a legal problem now. And there's going to come a time, and we may have already reached it, for some of you where the legal problems are more important than the P.R. problems right now.

And so that's the tension that you're seeing and those are the arguments and disagreements and different points of view that are being tossed around internally, and some of that tension and some of that disagreement, you're seeing come outside, bubble up.

CABRERA: I want to read just one little portion of that article that you wrote, one of the authors of this article.

It says: "He won't follow instructions, he won't compartmentalize, he won't discipline himself."

And you give the example, Devlin, after one meeting in which they urged Trump to steer clear of a certain topic, he went out and sent a tweet about the very thing before his legal counsel arrived back at their office.

So, John Dean, if you were advising the president, if you were one of his lawyers dealing with this, what would you do?

DEAN: I guess you can just keep repeating the problems and the implications they have for him and try to explain them.

The White House counsel today does not really represent the president, per se. Really, they represent the office of the president, and they could speak out and say, Mr. President, you're hurting the office. And we have a duty to represent that office well. So, they're really in a bind when he does this sort of thing. And,

apparently, a lifetime of doing this is not going to be changed very quickly.

CABRERA: Devlin, you also have some new reporting about the White House pushing the RNC to pay for legal fees associated with the Russia investigation?

BARRETT: Right.

There are folks around the president who would like the Republican National Committee to help pay the president's legal costs. Obviously, this is not going to be a small legal bill. It's not a small legal bill now. It's only going to get bigger.

And there's apparently what's been described to us euphemistically as a robust discussion of the differing points of view on that. So it hasn't been resolved, as far as we can tell, but there is a desire on the part of some people close to the president so have the national committee pay his legal bills. And I think that's going to be a heavy lift for them to convince the RNC to do that.

CABRERA: Tara, overall, the president just arrived back.

What are you hearing about the mood in the White House following the latest revelations?

[15:10:02]

PALMERI: For the past week, White House staffers have been telling me that they thought it was kind of conspiracy the entire time, the Russia investigations.

But to actually see Don Jr.'s e-mails and to read through the back and forth, it's starting to really feel real to a lot of people, and I think they're taking it a bit more seriously.

To some people, they're hearing on TV, they're hearing from legal experts that this could be a smoking gun, so people are naturally very nervous. And they are feeling uncomfortable in their positions and wondering, what is the next step? They also -- one aide said to me, how much longer can we say that this is just a conspiracy?

CABRERA: John Dean, how exposed would White House staffers be if they were involved in the initial response that omitted information and, in fact, wasn't 100 percent accurate when we first learned of the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had with the Russian lawyer and now it turns out a few others?

DEAN: I think their most immediate jeopardy is to become witnesses, to have to go to the grand jury and testify about something that happened in a meeting, some exchange or information they have been given.

They don't look like they're principals unless they somehow become active in what is an obstruction of justice to try to impair the investigation. But I would think, by now, they have read enough in the newspaper to know about that crime that so haunted Watergate, the obstruction, which no one knew about until Watergate. They certainly knew about it after Watergate.

So I think that's really just being a witness and getting drawn in and knowing how to deal with that and seeking the comfort of counsel as to what they should or should not do in those circumstances.

CABRERA: What if they can't afford counsel?

DEAN: Well, that's a problem. A lot of people in the White House, during Watergate, that happened. It happened during Iran-Contra. It happened during the Lewinsky -- it seems to be one of the jeopardies of going to work there. It's like a student loan maybe. You have to take it and deal with it later.

CABRERA: All right, John Dean, Devlin Barrett, and Tara Palmeri, thank you all.

A conservative icon calling the Trump team pathetic over the Don Jr. meeting -- why he says this is collusion. We will discuss.

Plus, one more no-vote, that's how close the Republican health care bill is from failing. Hear what the president is doing to try and save it.

And from a white-knuckle handshake to an everlasting one, it just goes on and on and on, Trump and Macron's French connection. It's still going on -- straight ahead.

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[15:17:06]

CABRERA: Mitch McConnell's new health care bill is being met with widespread resistance from Senate Republicans and annoyance and frustration, apparently, from the White House.

An official tells CNN -- quote -- "If they don't get this done now, I don't know when it will happen."

But just a day after the revised version was released, two Senate Republicans are already saying they will vote against it. That leaves zero margin for error.

I want to go to CNN national politics reporter M.J. Lee. She's on Capitol Hill giving us the whip count, staying on top of the latest from these seniors.

If any more oppose them, M.J., this bill is not going to pass. Are you hearing anything definitively from the Republicans who previously opposed the initial version?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana the group of senators that Mitch McConnell should be and is most worried about is the senators who come from the states that expanded Medicaid. These senators have made their concerns about this bill very, very

clear. And, as we saw yesterday, when this revised bill came out, McConnell decided not to make changes to address the concerns that these members have raised.

We are talking about Senate Republicans like Dean Heller, Shelley Moore Capito, Rob Portman and others. And we saw them going into meet with Mitch McConnell yesterday after the bill was revised, which is obviously a clear sign that he is trying to talk to them and trying to convince them to get on board and get behind this bill.

Now, when these members came out, a number of reporters were staking out this meeting, and their message was essentially that they need to think about this more and they need to have more conversations. So, clearly, at this point, this is a group of senators who are undecided on whether they can get behind this bill.

And just a reminder for our viewers on how steep the cuts are that we are talking about here, the Congressional Budget Office projected last week that some 15 million people would lose their coverage under Medicaid than compared to the current law.

So this is many millions of people that we are talking about and these Senate Republicans are very, very worried about what this means for their own constituents.

CABRERA: Meantime, the president just arrived back from his Paris trip. Before he left, he said -- quote -- he would be "very angry" if this bill doesn't pass. Any more from the White House today?

LEE: Well, obviously, President Trump is out of the country, but he did tweet earlier today to make his priorities clear, to remind Senate Republicans that this is very, very important for him that they get health care done.

He said, in part: "After all of these years of suffering through Obamacare, Republican senators must come through, as they have promised." He also said, "Whenever that bill is ready, I will be at my desk, pen in hand."

Now, we also know my colleague Dan Merica at the White House is reporting that President Trump did make calls to a couple of these Senate Republicans while he was in Paris. We are told that Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, is one of those senators that he called.

Of course, he has been very firmly opposed to this bill. It would be very surprising if he actually moved over to the yes column.

[15:20:05]

We are also told that Vice President Mike Pence called Senator Mike Lee yesterday. He is someone who is undecided. So the lobbying will continue in the next couple of days as Mitch McConnell looks for those 50 yes-votes -- Ana.

CABRERA: Worth noting, Lee and Paul both on the conservative side there of this divided party.

Thank you very much, M.J. Lee.

Let's talk more about the political implications.

With us now, CNN political commentator, Republican strategist and former RNC spokesman Doug Heye.

Doug, can Republicans effectively come up with a compromise within their own party that doesn't lose more than two people?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In theory, yes. In practice, it is very difficult to do.

One of the things that we have seen, not just this year, but in past years, is that the struggle that Republicans have -- I worked on this in 2012 to 2014, where we had trouble even putting language together to present to members -- is these pendulum politics of where we put some provisions to make the right happy, then we have to swing back to the moderates, and these pendulums going back and forth essentially turns into a sword of Damocles, which hurts all Republicans, because we've been stymied and unable to do anything at all.

CABRERA: It seems like Mitch McConnell at this point has swung more to the right to appease those conservatives, like Ted Cruz. He included the Cruz amendment. Does that surprise you?

HEYE: It doesn't surprise me.

Ted Cruz has obviously been very vocal on this issue, but also note that the Cruz amendment is really in brackets at the end of the bill. It's fluid language. We don't know how exactly that will play in when -- if this bill goes to the House floor.

And that's also an important thing. We don't know if the bill's going to go to the floor yet. The vote that we're talking about votes of passage, but votes for the Senate to even consider this.

CABRERA: And that's what they couldn't even get to, to begin with in that first.

Now, we heard from Ohio Governor John Kasich today. He came out strongly, calling this current bill unacceptable. He also said that Republicans could face the same fate as Democrats dealing with Obamacare if they don't come out with a health care reform plan that is bipartisan.

He comes out with this statement. His senator, Ohio Governor -- Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who's there, what is he to do after the governor of his state says this?

HEYE: Yes. It obviously makes things more difficult for him. It's also one of the reasons that we see opioid funding included in there, which is a really important issue in Ohio.

But this shows also that governors are very important to this process. We talk about Dean Heller, who has been a holdout in the past.

CABRERA: In Nevada.

HEYE: In Nevada.

Brian Sandoval, that Republican governor, has also been very critical of previous Senate moves on this. So they will have an outsized influence compared to how they usually do.

CABRERA: Over/under, will there be a vote?

HEYE: We just don't know yet.

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: What's your take? I'm asking what do you think's going to happen?

HEYE: I don't know. And this is why. For this to pass, it's not enough for the president to put it on Mitch McConnell. He can't just be with pen in hand at his desk. He needs to be working these phones constantly.

The only dynamic that's different between last year when we couldn't pass anything and five years ago when we couldn't pass anything and today is a President Donald Trump. If we're going to get across the finish line, Donald Trump has to make it happen.

CABRERA: All right, Doug Heye, thank you so much.

HEYE: Thank you.

CABRERA: All right, more on our breaking news. Even though Donald Trump Jr. suggested he revealed everything there was to reveal, we are now learning more people attended that meeting with the Russian lawyer and we will talk about his credibility now. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:25]

CABRERA: Count it, 29 seconds. That is how long President Trump shook the hand of French President Emmanuel Macron. The two first families were saying farewell after Trump's whirlwind 30-hour visit.

You just got to keep your eyes on this video. These handshakes are becoming more than just a diplomatic courtesy with these two leaders. They're still shaking hands. There they go. They're still doing it. He kisses the cheek of the French president's wife. They're still holding hands. He joins her hand. They're still going there.

Nic Robertson, CNN's international diplomatic editor, is joining us now.

The actions certainly speaking louder than words there, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Oh, really.

Look, this all began -- we were talking before President Trump arrived about that sort of bone-crunching handshake that he had with President Macron a few weeks ago. And here we are at the end of what appears to have been a successful visit for President Macron, and certainly President Trump as well, the optics looking good.

This was the optics. And here we are again talking about the handshake. There were so many handshakes. There were pats on the back, holding each other's arms, and this handshake here at the end, you really did get the sense that they had had a good conversation, a good time, and it was sort of difficult getting to the end of the party and parting ways.

So, I think from President Macron's point of view, this was successful. For President Trump, of course, many issues at home to deal with, but coming here, he has got a better sense of the French president and a better sense of their differences and their commonalities.

So, probably something out of this beneficial for President Trump, certainly an ally it seems in Europe that he will be able to pick up the phone and call more easily than he might have been able to do a few days ago -- Ana.

CABRERA: Good to hear. Nic Robertson, our thanks to you.

Much more on our breaking news, learning more people attended Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer, at least eight people now, we're learning -- more in just a moment.

Plus, a conservative icon says the Trump team's response to the Don Jr. meeting was -- quote -- "pathetic." Hear why he says this was collusion.

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