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Report: Lobbyist with Alleged Russian Intel Ties Says He Attended Trump Jr. Meeting. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 14, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:06] JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Full House. We're learning there were more people in that Trump team meeting with the Russian attorney than Donald Trump Jr. ever acknowledged. Possibly eight people altogether. And what were the documents allegedly brought to the meeting by that Russian lawyer?
Mystery man. A Russian-American lobbyist with alleged ties to Russian intelligence says he was at that secret meeting with the Trump team. We're learning new details about him.
No foul play. Republican activists who seemed to operate under a cloud of mystery is listed as a suicide under strange circumstances. He left a note behind reading "no foul play" just days after he told a reporter that he'd tried to acquire Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails from Russian hackers.
And on the edge. President Trump spent time on his flight home from Paris calling GOP senators, pressing them to support the latest Republican health care bill. But that bill is on the edge, one vote away from going nowhere.
Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ACOSTA: There are more stunning developments tonight about the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had with the Russian attorney on the premise of acquiring negative information about Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. has already said his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort were present at the meeting just days after his father clinched the Republican nomination.
Now we're learning there were more people in the room, possibly eight altogether, including a Russian-American lobbyist with alleged ties to Russian intelligence. He tells the Associated Press that he was there. The lobbyist tells the A.P. that the lawyer brought documents to the meeting connected to the Democratic National Committee.
President Trump is at his New Jersey golf course after returning from Paris. When he finally gets back to the White House, he may find it in further disarray, a White House official saying it's not good that the story about the meeting keeps changing.
And the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, is calling the latest developments deeply disturbing and is already calling for that Russian-American lobbyist to testify. Schiff says his panel must investigate whether the lobbyist has ties to Russian intelligence.
I'll talk with Congressman Ruben Gallego of the Armed Services Committee. Our correspondents, specialists and guests are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
We begin with CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll in New Jersey where the president just arrived. Jason, a lot of fast-moving developments while the president was away on his Paris trip -- Jason.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Jim, with each stage becoming more and more clear that the public was misled about this meeting, misled about a couple of things.
First of all, initially, what the meeting was about, and now who exactly attended that meeting. All this as the White House is dealing with more fallout of that meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and that Russian attorney.
As President Donald Trump returns to the United States after a morning Bastille Day parade in Paris, he lands amid a firestorm swirling around his son and top aides over a meeting with a Russian lawyer held during his presidential campaign.
In addition to Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and publicist Rob Goldstone, the Trump Tower meeting included additional people despite the president's statement Thursday.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast. Two other people were in the room. They -- I guess one of them left almost immediately, and the other one was not really focused in the meeting.
CARROLL: The president's son says he has shared everything.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: I'm more than happy to be transparent about it, and I'm more than happy to cooperate with everyone.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: So as far as you know, as far as this incident is concerned, this is all of it?
TRUMP JR.: This is everything. This is everything.
CARROLL: But the Associated Press reports that Washington-based Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin also attended the June 26 meeting and that Akhmetshin focused on lobbying Washington to overturn U.S. sanctions against Russia.
CNN has learned at least two others were in the room: a translator and a representative of a Russian family connected to the entertainment industry.
In April, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote a letter to the Homeland Security Department, describing Akhmetshin as "a Russian immigrant to the United States who has been accused of acting as an unregistered agent for Russian interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence."
Akhmetshin denied to "The Washington Post" that he served as a Russian intelligence agent saying, "I never worked for the Russian government. I served as a soldier for two years. At no time have I ever worked for Russian government or any of its agencies. I was not an intelligence officer, never."
Akhmetshin also told the Associated Press that the Russian lawyer brought materials with her concerning alleged controversial actions by the Democrats.
[17:05:04] Sources say the meeting came to light after Kushner's team discovered the e-mails while preparing to turn over documents to Senate Intelligence Committee investigators.
On June 21, Kushner's lawyers amended his security clearance form known as the SF-86, the third such change to list the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer.
Two days later, Kushner met with the FBI to be interviewed for his security clearance. Kushner's team also discussed whether they should immediately go public and disclose the meetings and e-mails and tell Trump.
Well, it's not clear what Kushner told the president. Trump told reporters Wednesday on Air Force One that he was not told the meeting was about obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump's attorney telling CNN--
JAY SEKULOW, DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: He was not aware of the meeting, did not attend the meeting and was only informed about the e- mails very recently by his counsel.
CARROLL: Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out the e-mail exchange on Tuesday as the "New York Times" prepared to publish their story. The result: a scramble by White House aides to respond to the meeting controversy that may have exposed those aides to scrutiny by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to explain what they may have learned about the meeting and when.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: In terms of those who work here who have been asked to cooperate, they've made very clear through their attorneys that they are willing to cooperate.
CARROLL: And Jim, Akhmetshin, that Russian -- that Russian lobbyist, Russian-American lobbyist, took a familiar line of defense with regards to that particular meeting. He basically told the Associated Press that he didn't feel as though it yielded any substantive results, and at the end of the day, he told the Associated Press he didn't think it was such a big deal -- Jim.
ACOSTA: Jason Carroll, thank you.
So who is this Russian-American lobbyist who acknowledges he was at the meeting with the Trump team? CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has been digging into that.
Jim, what are we finding out?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this -- what's key about him, really, is he was a well-known person in these circles. Like the lawyer who was in the meeting, this is a lobbyist. He's registered as a lobbyist. He'd been pushing, like the lawyer, for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, which is -- which is an act that impose severe economic sanctions on Russians who have been accused of human rights abuses and is a priority -- the repeal of that act is a priority for the Kremlin.
In filings when he had to register himself as a lobbyist, he was accused of being working on behalf of the Kremlin. So not just working for his own interests but working for Russian government interests, as was the lawyer. So that's one thing. The lobbying tied to interests pushed by the Kremlin. That's an issue.
You, of course, have the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, who raised questions about his past. Did he have a past in Russian intelligence? As Jason Carroll noted, he has denied that. He's denied that to multiple media outlets today, said that he served in the Soviet army, but so did many, many millions, he said, of young Russian men. So denying that.
But remember, this was a question raised by the Senate Judiciary Committee right up to the Department of Justice just a couple of months ago. It's a question we asked the ranking Democratic member on the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, about today. He said he doesn't know for certain but he says it's something that they are certainly going to pursue as a question.
And -- and this is crucial, Jim -- the possibility raised by members of that committee that he will be called as a witness, subpoenaed -- and this is an important point -- because he's a dual national and has U.S. citizenship, he can be subpoenaed to call -- to come before that committee as a witness and, of course, when he does, Jim, he will be under oath.
ACOSTA: And Jim, do we know why he wasn't listed as being at the meeting? Do we know why that is?
SCIUTTO: We don't know, just as we don't know, Jim, why the original reason for this meeting was concealed in the first White House explanation of it, when it was revealed on Saturday that this was about adoptions. In fact, it was not. It was about damaging, incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
So it is -- I've been counting, Jim, as I'm sure you have, the number of stories and explanations over the course of the last few days. It's at least five stories over the course of the last week, really six days, coming from Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump supporters as to why this meeting took place and who was at the meeting.
ACOSTA: When you have five different stories, you don't really have a story, do you, Jim? Jim Sciutto, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Gallego, a member of the Armed Services Committee and an Iraqi War veteran.
You just heard -- Congressman, thanks for joining us. You just heard Jim Sciutto talking about Rinat Akhmetshin. What do we know about this individual? And what concerns you about the fact that, apparently, he was at this meeting?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: What concerns me, No. 1, is that there is something going on here when Jared Kushner purposely left them out of his disclosure form. If this person was not somebody that we should feel threatened by, why are you hiding it on your disclosure form? So one, that tells there's something going on, too.
Two, we know that there -- in the room there was at least some element of the Russian spy agency there. Former KGB-ers, former counterintelligence agents, and the word "former" is a very loose word when it comes to the Russian agency. Once you're a Russian spy, you're always going to be a Russian spy.
GALLEGO: Lastly, who are the other two people? We haven't been -- you know, we now know that we have Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner in a room with people that have ties to foreign intelligence, particularly Russians. Who are the other two people? They have not identified who they are. They should tell us who they are.
And clearly, there's already been some certain violations when it comes to the disclosure that Kushner essentially not just filled incorrectly but outright lied. And that really calls into question a lot of things.
ACOSTA: And we should mention that Mr. Akhmetshin has denied that he's a Russian spy, so we should make that clear. But in April, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, asked the Department of Homeland Security secretary for more information on Akhmetshin. We can put this up onscreen. It says, "Mr. Akhmetshin is a Russian immigrant to the fact, it has been reported that he worked for the GRU," which is a Russian military intelligence agency, " and allegedly specializes in 'active measures campaigns,' i.e., subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda."
This information was, I guess, talked about back in April well before this disclosure came out and all these questions. What does that mean for you?
GALLEGO: Well, I mean, the GRU -- the GRU has been engaged in what we call hybrid warfare all throughout Eastern Europe and now, obviously, in the United States, where they're trying to destabilize democracies by using disinformation.
The fact that this person, who has engaged in that kind of work, has experienced that kind of work, found themselves in a private meeting with the campaign manager for the Trump campaign, with the son-in-law and with the actual son, and then everyone denied it, lied about it and covered up tells me, one, you've already committed a crime. You covered up this meeting that should have been disclosed.
Two, what are you trying to hide? And why did you have to go through so many different and weird lies to try to hide this meeting, if it was as innocent as they say that it is?
ACOSTA: You're saying crimes were committed, in your view?
GALLEGO: At this point, in my view, something was committed. Why are you trying to hide these meetings? If it was truly a meeting about adoption, why did Jared Kushner go through the many, many violations he did to avoid disclosing this on his forms to get a security clearance? Why have they created all these concoctions and lies to cover up who was in those meetings? It just doesn't make any sense.
We -- and what we know in terms of the time of the campaign, soon after these meetings is when a lot of the leaking started.
ACOSTA: Jared Kushner says he was only in that meeting for a few minutes. Or at least that's the story we're getting from the White House. What do you make of that? The president made issue of what he believes to be the fact: that Paul Manafort was looking at his phone during the meeting. He talked about that on Air Force One with reporters.
GALLEGO: Look, there's going to be -- there could be a lot of things that happen in a few minutes. You could pass information. You could pass this. You could just shake hands. There could be a lot of agreements.
Also this could also just have been a straight set-up, the Russian government trying to see if they were interested, if the Trump campaign would be interested in that. And clearly, they were.
The e-mails that we saw from Don Jr. back and forth between Goldstone and a couple of the campaign operatives, or I should say between Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, he uses the words "I love it," "If this is true, I love it." So essentially, you're saying, "I love the fact that the Russian intelligence agency has gathered information on an American citizen and is trying to influence the election."
He knowingly took that meeting realizing that that was what could have occurred. Whether it occurred or not, that's not a question. But the fact that he was willing to do it is just as bad.
ACOSTA: And the president, and what he's been saying about this. He only found out about this a couple of days ago. Do you buy that? GALLEGO: Yes. I hope that's true, because I think he's going to find
himself in a lot of trouble. At the same time, the president did encourage this also. Let's not forget this is the same, you know, president who announced in the middle of a campaign, for the Russians to start hacking Secretary Clinton's e-mails, you know; encouraged Roger Stone and a bunch of other operatives to start leaking different information; and used WikiLeaks as a possible tool and a weapon against Secretary Clinton. So there is a lot for him to answer. I don't know--
ACOSTA: The pushback we hear from the Trump campaign people, Trump world, Michael Caputo, who testified or talked to the House Intelligence Committee earlier today, you know, basically said, how can -- how can the campaign be involved with collusion when there are so many press reports about it being disorganized? They're saying that we can't have it both ways. We can't say the Trump campaign was disorganized and be involved in collusion.
GALLEGO: Certainly. I mean, you've had really bad bank robbers. They still failed to rob a bank, but they're still considered bank robbers. Just because you're disorganized, just because you are haphazard doesn't mean that you still wouldn't be able to attempt something like this.
As a matter of fact, the more disorganized you are, the more likely you are to do some shortcuts. Much like all of Donald Trump's career when it comes to business and everything else, he's always tries to take the shortcut instead of doing it the proper way. So let's not be surprised.
[17:15:09] But again, let's just actually look at what we know right now. Roger Stone, we know that Guccifer, we know there's been -- there was Guccifer feeding information to WikiLeaks, who was then turn around -- was basically being amplified by Roger Stone, who was also on the campaign. All these things point to some level of coordination and collusion. How far it goes? This is why we have a special counsel now.
ACOSTA: All right, Congressman, stand by. We have more to talk about on this, lots of unanswered questions about this Russian investigation. We'll have more on that coming up in just a few moments.
ACOSTA: Our breaking news. More bombshell revelations about the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and two other top campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. We're learning there were more people in the room, including a Russian-American lobbyist with alleged Kremlin intelligence ties who tells the Associated Press that he was present.
[17:20:11] We're back with Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman Gallego, there's been talk of impeachment, talk of treason. Isn't that getting a little too ahead of the game here at this point?
GALLEGO: Well, absolutely. I mean, first of all, treason is a very high standard, and it's very clearly defined by the Constitution how far we can go with that.
But again, we need to be focused on--
ACOSTA: Would you prefer if your Democratic colleagues would stop using that language?
GALLEGO: Well, I think it's--
ACOSTA: Does it muddy the waters and make it difficult for you to--?
GALLEGO: It just makes it confusing for people. If there's illegal acts that have occurred, they're still illegal. Whether it's treason or not, that's a different story, and that's not a story where we need to go.
We have a special counsel. We need to let the special counsel do its work. We need to make sure and protect that special counsel from the president and the executive. We need to make sure the president doesn't pardon people involved prior to the special counsel coming out with their decision and their judgment.
And I think that's where the red line is. If we do see clear obstruction of justice happening by the Trump administration or by Donald Trump himself, or if he starts pardoning people that clearly were involved in some kind of nefarious collusion with foreign agents, then I think at that point, we really do have to start talking about impeachment. But right now the most important thing we can do is protect the special counsel so he does his work, and I believe if he does his work, the outcome is going to be just.
ACOSTA: And what is -- what's happening with this Russia sanctions bill? It sounds like it's very popular in the Senate. It's being held up in the House.
GALLEGO: Yes, well, it's being held up, because Speaker Ryan is holding it up at the behest of the Trump administration. The--
ACOSTA: Why are they doing that? In your opinion?
GALLEGO: In my opinion, I think the Trump administration, for some reason, does want to fulfill at least some type of promise or agreement with Russia about lifting some of these sanctions.
I think that's absolutely incorrect for us to do. We still have not had full exposure to what they did during our elections and the fact they're also trying to undermine other western democracies. And what we should be doing is putting more pressure on them, not less.
And the fact that Paul Ryan is -- is stepping in the way of that really, you know, questions -- brings me question about where his leadership is. ACOSTA: And you're familiar with border issues. I want to ask you a
completely unrelated topic here. President Trump on Air Force One talked about this wall that he's promised to the American people, talked about it throughout the campaign. He did say at one point during these remarks, "Well, it may not be a wall across the entire border. It may just be hundreds of miles of border." But he did say he wanted it to be a solar wall and have solar panels on it. There was a report on this previously, and it was described by some that maybe this was just a joke. At the time the president said, no, this was no joke; he would like a solar wall that you could see through.
What do you make of that, and do you think that that's something that you would foresee happening on the border sometime in the future? Do you think that will be built?
GALLEGO: No, I mean, this is absolutely ridiculous. It kind of shows you where his head is, the fact that he's willing to think of a border wall. He's not -- it's not a serious -- serious issue. For him he's just doing it, throwing that out to his base and just trying to bring in all these elements. It sounds like it's a 6-year-old, trying to design, like, the perfect sand castle, the perfect castle. Like, "Let's just throw a solar wall on top of that."
Look, people that live on the border, and us that represent border states, we understand that, you know, a border fence does not solve your security problems. It's only going to be a waste of money. And every time you actually put any kind of fencing up, you're going to have to keep on spending money to keep replacing it without it bringing any more further security. So this is just a ridiculous idea, and he should really just drop it altogether, because it's not going to happen.
We shouldn't be spending any U.S. taxpayer money on it, because he promised Mexico was going to pay for it. So now, of course, Donald Trump again is going back on his word, and now he's trying to -- going to try and make American taxpayers pay for it.
ACOSTA: All right. Congressman Gallegos, thanks very much. We appreciate it.
GALLEGO: Thank you.
ACOSTA: And we should point out, we did reach out to a number of your Republican colleagues in the House and the Senate. They declined to join us.
Coming up, new questions after revelations more people were in the room during Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian attorney.
And later, new details about the mysterious suicide of a Republican activist who told a newspaper reporter he had tried to acquire e-mail stolen from Hillary Clinton's personal server.
[07:28:44] ACOSTA: Tonight, we learned Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian attorney included more participants, possibly eight. That's more than the president's son seemed to acknowledge during his one and only TV interview a few days ago on FOX News. It also raises new questions about his claims of transparency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: OK. Let me -- let me ask a hypothetical. And I know hypotheticals -- maybe you've thought about it since, and since this has now become Russia collusion, and et cetera. Did you ever meet with any other person from Russia that you know?
TRUMP JR.: I don't even know. I've probably met with other people from Russia. Certainly not in -- not in the context of actual -- a formalized meeting or anything like that. Because why would I?
In the grand scheme of things, how busy we were, it was much more important to do than this. This was a courtesy to an acquaintance. Well, I will. I've said it publicly; I've said it yesterday. More than happy to cooperate with everyone. I just want the truth to get out there.
And that's partly why I released all the stuff today. I wanted to get it all out there. They're trying to drag out the story, in all fairness. They have -- they want to drip a little bit today, drip a little bit then, so it's like, here it is. I'm more than happy to be transparent about it, and I'm more than happy to cooperate with everyone.
HANNITY: So as far as you know, as far as this incident is concerned, this is all of it?
TRUMP JR.: This is everything. This is everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: That's not true. That is not everything. Let's bring in our specialists. Let's go to Jim Sciutto first.
Jim, walk us through some of these developments that we've learned in the last 24 hours. Because as we were saying earlier, when you have five different stories, you don't really have a story.
SCIUTTO: Listen, the original story, including the story which was not as original story that you just repeated there about this being a courtesy of acquaintance, is falling like a house of cards, it wasn't. I mean, the e-mail he released showed that it was not a courtesy, that he was -- he loved the idea of the meeting because they promised incriminating information on Hillary Clinton. So even the third or fourth iteration of the story is falling apart, and part of that comment there, that's everything, of course, that's fallen apart because we learned that there was another person present in that meeting.
And again, you know, these were not inconsequential people who keep getting added to the list. I mean, this Russian lawyer promising damaging information but also a powerful Kremlin-connected Kremlin lobbyist pushing for change in a key U.S. policy, Magnitsky Act, same with Akhmetshin, you know, pushing for a change. Early on, this kind of red herring of it was just about adoption. Well, it was about adoption but adoption that's tied to a major U.S. sanctions program which, again, is a priority of the Russian government to get changed.
So, it raises the, you know, at least -- at least the question of was there a quid pro quo premise to this, right? We're offering you this information and I'm coming to you with this policy that we want to change by the U.S. government.
ACOSTA: And the details in the Associated Press story that says that potentially some documents were handed over at this meeting, which we don't have confirmation of here at CNN at this point, but that is pretty damning revelation of -- if that is true that there were documents pertaining to the DNC that were exchanged during this meeting.
We're going to go live to Capitol Hill right now. OK. Michael Caputo and his attorney have just finished speaking to the House Intelligence Committee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So, we went a little bit longer than we anticipated. We have been --
ACOSTA: Michael Caputo is a former Trump campaign adviser --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- provided by staff that would be two hours or less, but as you could see, we went closer to three and a half hours despite the fact that there was some repetitiveness to the questions. I think that Mr. Caputo gave truthful and honest answers to all of their questions. Sometimes the follow-up questions were repetitive in nature, but I think that he delivered what the committee was looking for today, a fair accounting of his time with the campaign. The takeaway here is that he had no Russian contacts during the course of his involvement in the campaign.
I think, interestingly, he says that he told, I believe, Congressman Schiff that he hasn't had any Russian income, Russian contracts, Russian business for several years. He saw no Russian foreign agents at the Trump Towers. And his role in the campaign was limited to sort of a militaristic command structure where he reported up the chain of command through Corey Lewandowski and ultimately to Paul Manafort. Any questions?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you talk to us a bit or --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Militaristic command structure is not how most people have described the Trump campaign, especially early on. It was rather defensive that Donald Trump, Jr. meeting has been -- they didn't know what they were doing. Was this a sophisticated operation when you were there? Where they -- do these people who knew what they were getting themselves into (INAUDIBLE)
MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: Donald Trump, when he decided to run for President, we was talking about this, running for President, told me that he was going to do it totally differently. I could go into chapter and verse on that, but you saw it during the campaign season. During the primary, it was basically a, you know, an events-oriented organization. There wasn't a communications department to speaks of, there wasn't an opposition research department at all. Policy, et cetera, wasn't around.
That had to be really difficult for the campaign, for Mr. Trump, and for anyone covering them. But it was very successful. And while, you know, you might say that it was different or disorganized or whatever, and it was very difficult at times. It was also very successful. So he may have rewritten the way we do campaigns, and that may be difficult to understand, but as they went forward, it got more professional.
When Paul Manafort came in, I believe he changed it into a real campaign. And when Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway took it over, they brought the football home. So no matter how bad it was or how rough it ran, it was successful. And if you ask me, the way we run campaigns could stand some change.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I follow up on that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In your view, you said it became more professional when Manafort got there. Would a meeting like the one that has been described between Donald Trump, Jr., and Manafort, and Jared Kushner with this Russian lawyer, could a meeting like that have happened without Donald Trump knowing about it at some point?
[17:35:03] CAPUTO: I'm satisfied with what Donald Trump, Jr. said on television after this thing broke and then broke again and then broke again. He says that he would do things differently, and I have to believe him. And I agree, I admire that he was so transparent and authentic in that interview that I saw on television.
I don't know anything about that meeting. I was in Cleveland when it happened. I can tell you that there was more offered opposition research at the Trump campaign than I've ever seen in my 30 years in elections. There was a steady flow of people offering dog-eared files, usually little old ladies in the -- in the Trump Tower lobby. That flow was at times, overwhelming. And most campaigns would give that to their opposition research to vet. We didn't have that. So -- and, you know, I can see how this can happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The statement -- the statement really indicated that your recent contacts with Russians are very, very limited, and yet you were in there for almost three and a half hours. What caused it to go on for so long? What were they asking you about for such a long period of time?
CAPUTO: Well, there was a lot of redundancy in the questions. I think that they're -- they weren't concerned about the length of time. There was a little bit of disagreement between the two sides about how much time was being spent, but I came here to set the record straight, and I think I did so.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you talk a little more about your contact with Russians or the Trump campaign had no contact with Russians?
CAPUTO: Can you repeat that? I didn't hear the beginning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry. Did you testify today that you had no contact with Russians during the campaign and the Trump campaign officials had no contacts with Russians?
CAPUTO: Today, I spent my time in front of the committee detailing the fact that I had no contact with Russians, that I never heard of anyone in the Trump campaign talking with Russians, but I never was asked questions about my time in Russia. That I never even spoke to anybody about Russia. I never heard the word, Russia, and we did not use Russian dressing. There was absolutely no discussion of Russia on the Trump campaign to the day I left.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman Speier described you as Vladimir Putin's image consultant. I know that angered you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Describe -- respond to that description of your work in Russia.
CAPUTO: There was no way I was Vladimir Putin's image consultant. You have to be very naive or uninformed or have a team of really bad interns to come up with that kind of analysis. If you've read anything I've written a book of Putin, heard anything I've ever said about Russia since I left in 2000, you'd know that I'm not Vladimir Putin's image consultant. But, you know, I discussed it with the committee. I laid that out there.
I'm still very offended by Representative Jackie Speier bringing my wife into this. The day that she did that on March 20th, I was on business travel. And as soon as she did it in front of millions of people watching on television, we started getting threats over my phone. One person twice called and told me he was going to burn my house down with my wife and children inside. Loose, irresponsible rhetoric is getting people killed. We know it. I don't want my family to be the next one that gets shot. This thing has to end. And more than anything else, the rhetoric has to tone down. And Representative Jackie Speier should be absolutely ashamed of herself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, did she apologize?
CAPUTO: Representative Jackie Speier wasn't there. I'm not quite sure where she is. She's never responded to any of my communications. I expect an apology. I don't believe she'll ever give me one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the last time that you heard or had any contact with President Trump, and do you expect any follow-up questions from this committee or to testify on the Senate side? CAPUTO: The last time I had personal contact with President Trump was in passing during the inauguration. I've intentionally stayed out of the hair of the White House and the administration, especially since my name was brought up in this -- in the context of the Russia investigation. Nobody in the administration or the White House needs my telephone number on their call list, needs me on their visitor logs, or needs e-mails from me. As soon as this is over, I'd like to get back in touch with the -- with the administration and the White House, but for God's sake, you guys got to end this stuff.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, you mentioned this flow of opposition research that was coming into the campaign. To the best of your knowledge, was any of that from any foreign entities, governments?
CAPUTO: All the calls I got were from crazy old ladies and people that were e-mailing me because they had some kind of crazy thing about Hillary Clinton. That is standard stuff. It's usually dog-eared files, scrawled handwriting. That's the kind of stuff I got, that's the kind of stuff that most people got. But it came in daily, daily. So I can understand how somebody might fall into a trap like this one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you talk a little bit more about the line of questioning that they were giving you and what were they repeating over and over? What --
CAPUTO: Well, you know --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- were going into?
CAPUTO: And perhaps you can take this.
[17:39:57] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. So, at some level, this devolved into a fishing expedition. You know, it was just a litany of names. And sometimes there was multiple questioners asking about the same individuals. So, it was clear while some of the questions were directed at his time in the campaign and his time in Russia back in the 90s, there were an awful lot of questions that in my view -- I spent 20 years as a prosecutor, so I know a fishing expedition when I see one -- I think that many of the questions that were asked were part of a fishing expedition. And that's what got somewhat aggravating because we were now beyond the relevant aspect of his testimony, of his knowledge, and that's, I think, indicative of the fact that at some level this is a fishing expedition.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, do you expect to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, well, if they asked you to come forward?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, so we are -- if you don't mind --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we are right now in communications with staff counsel. They have asked for information, again, voluntarily asked us -- they've asked us to voluntarily turn over information. We're in communication with them right now. So I can't predict whether or not we'll be back here for similar testimony, but we will continue our dialogue with the staff in terms of the documents and information that they're seeking.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you spoken with the FBI or special counsel team?
CAPUTO: No, I have not, but I'll tell you, if anybody calls me, I'm going to answer, and I'll do whatever it takes to help them clear up this Russian collusion delusion. I'm happy to participate in any investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of documents are being asked for?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, principally e-mails. The request that was made by this committee back in May was not as defined as the request that's now being made by the Senate Committee. Frankly, the Senate Committee's request is rather broad and expansive in terms of time and subject matter. So that's what we're negotiating right now, some limitation at least in terms of the breadth of the -- of the request.
But I want to stress, in both instances, subpoenas are not involved -- or we're not involved, and we've provided information to this committee voluntarily, we anticipate to do the same with the Senate Committee, and if we need to supplement our prior production to this committee, we will do so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there any names or figures brought up?
ACOSTA: So there you have it. Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser and his lawyer there talking to reporters, summing up his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee earlier today, a testimony that he described as a fishing expedition. He also lashed out at Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California. You might have seen him talking about that during those remarks there. She was referring to, and his response to her was a reference that she had made to what she called a tarantula web of links to Russia that she said Caputo was involved in. And Caputo lashed out at Speier about comments about his wife. That was in reference to Congresswoman Speier talking about how Caputo was married to a Russian woman.
I just want to get a quick take on what we just heard there from Michael Caputo. He is very impassionate about it, said that he had no contact with the Russians, that he didn't even use Russian dressing.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So the real question is whether or not other members of the Trump circle including ones that are most closer in like Don, Jr. can say the same thing. So, the fact that more and more campaign staffers are going to be appearing before these committees. It's a crime to lie to Congress in a Congressional investigation. And so, what matters maybe is not what Caputo has to say but what everybody else has to say, specifically the people who were in that meeting in Trump Tower on June 9th.
ACOSTA: And David Chalian, let's get back to the revelations that came out today, the -- now, we have eight people who were involved in this meeting according to our reporting here at CNN. The story as Jim Sciutto was saying earlier has changed multiple times, we're now in the fifth incarnation of the story. How damaging is this for the White House?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's why I was so surprised that Michael Caputo just went on to praise Donald Trump, Jr.'s transparency. The transparency is out the window. I don't know -- I know that's what his father was praising as well, and that was the line there, but obviously, these revelations that we're learning mean that a fourth or fifth version of events now needs to be proffered from Donald Trump, Jr., because what has been on the record from him no longer matches the facts as we understand them.
So, you -- I think that is the crux of the problem right now, it's a -- it is a credibility problem. And that's why there are all of these lingering questions, as we learn more people that were in the meeting. We are asking again and again, well, what the actual content of the meeting.
ACOSTA: And Mark Preston, why is it that the White House can't get a handle on this? You talked to people at the White House and the administration, why can't they get a handle on this story?
[17:44:50] MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, from our reporting, is that they did try to get a handle on it in late June and tried to pull some strategy together. Now, we don't know why that strategy wasn't put into motion, or if this was their strategy, why did they decide on this course of action? You know, the bottom line is that this is a very complicated case. It has a lot of legal pitfalls that will now involve White House staffers, we believe, you know, at this point.
There were some firewalls that were trying to be erected that would protect some of these staffers, but apparently, those firewalls had not worked. The bottom line is, though, is what I think happened, and we'll see if this is true, is that there was an incredible amount of hubris from the Trump campaign, from President Trump himself, and he's very much of the mindset, do as I say, not as I do. Trust me what I say, believe me. And I think that's what happened.
ACOSTA: OK. Well, we'll stop right there. We'll get to that in just a few moments. Coming up, the latest on today's revelation, more people were in the room for Donald Trump, Jr.'s meeting with the Russian attorney. And next, new details about a Republican operative who told a reporter he tried to acquire e-mails stolen from Hillary Clinton's personal server and later killed himself. That disturbing story is coming up.
[17:50:36] ACOSTA: Tonight, we're getting new details about reports of a mysterious suicide of a Republican activist. He told a newspaper reporter he had tried to acquire e-mails stolen from Hillary Clinton's personal server. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, a strange story. What are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Jim. This man's name was Peter Smith. We're learning new details about his strange suicide note and his reported attempt, as Jim mentioned, to get hold of those Clinton e-mails hacked by the Russians during last year's campaign. There are serious new questions tonight about the timing of Peter Smith's death.
TODD: Peter Smith reportedly moved around under mysterious circumstances, and tonight, there are questions over whether he died under them. Smith, a Republican operative, was found dead in his room in this hotel near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in mid-May. Police tell CNN it was suicide, asphyxiation. The medical examiner's report saying the victim "placed bag over head and attached helium source."
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: This isn't, you know, shooting yourself, or I impaling yourself, or something that I think people would see as more violent. It's a more peaceable method, if you will.
TODD: Police say, in his hotel room, the 81-year-old left a road map, documents indicating he'd been in ill health recently, and that his insurance policy was about to expire. The police report says, quote, the documents included a note that there was no foul play. That odd suicide note combined with what Smith told Wall Street Journal reporter Shane Harris just 10 days before he died, is putting his death into the spotlight tonight.
SHANE HARRIS, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: So, Peter Smith told me that he put together a group of lawyers and technology experts and a private investigator in Europe to get in contact with hackers which he believed would be in Russia, who they suspected may have obtained Hillary Clinton's private e-mails from her server.
TODD: Smith told The Wall Street Journal he had done this during the late stages of the 2016 Presidential campaign.
HARRIS: He wanted to get those e-mails, acquire them, and then publish them so that it would be politically damaging to Secretary Clinton.
TODD: Computer Security Analyst Mack Tate says Smith told him, "about having been contacted by someone from the dark web, claiming to have Clinton's personal e-mails" and said he might need help authenticating them. Tate wrote that Smith, "had a reckless lack of interest in whether the e-mails came from a Russian cut-out."
Peter Smith told the Journal that General Michael Flynn then-serving as National Security Advisor to the Trump campaign was aware of Smith's operations.
Was there any legitimacy to that, was Flynn aware, did he have any ties to the campaign?
HARRIS: Well, his -- Flynn has not commented for the story. The campaign has said that if Peter Smith was doing something with General Flynn that was in General Flynn's private capacity. So, it's still not entirely clear to what extent Mike Flynn was involved in this. There's no doubt that these two men knew each other. TODD: An attorney for Michael Flynn didn't return our calls or e- mails, seeking comment. In the end, Shane Harris says Peter Smith believed he had gathered those private Hillary Clinton e-mails, but couldn't completely verify their accuracy, so he never put them out. Now, some on Capitol Hill, including one member of the House Intelligence Committee, thinks Smith's efforts are one more avenue that should be investigated in the Russia probe.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's something that should be probed further and I hope it now gets folded into what we're doing.
TODD: Aside from Michael Flynn's attorney never getting back to us about Peter Smith, the White House also didn't return our calls or e- mails. But one senior official from the Trump Presidential campaign told me he had never heard of Peter Smith or Smith's purported efforts to gather Hillary Clinton's e-mails during the campaign last year -- Jim.
ACOSTA: And, Brian, when the journal interviewed Peter Smith, did he show any signs of illness?
TODD: No, interestingly enough, Shane Harris of The Journal told me that Smith showed no signs of illness and that was, again, just 10 days before he died. Harris said Smith, to the contrary, still showed a lot of energy regarding his project, he was still pushing to get those Clinton e-mails made public.
ACOSTA: OK, Brian Todd, very disturbing story. Thank you very much. Coming up, breaking news, we're learning there were more people in that Trump team meeting with the Russian attorney than Donald Trump, Jr. ever acknowledged, and a Russian-American lobbyist with alleged ties to Russian intelligence says he was among those -- at that secret meeting. Plus, a former Trump campaign aide tells the House Intelligence Committee -- there he is, Michael Caputo -- what he knows and denies any contact with the Russians during the campaign.
[17:59:13] ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. More Russians revealed. We now know eight people possibly were inside that controversial meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer, more than we originally were told by the Trump team. This hour, new details about a Russian lobbyist's role and documents possibly brought to the secret meeting.
Transparent? President Trump has praised his son for going public with incriminating e-mails about the Russia meeting, but tonight, new fuel for concerns that Trump, Jr., still isn't telling all.
Insider testimony, a former top Trump campaign advisor faces tough questions about Russia contacts and possible collusion. Tonight, Michael Caputo is telling CNN what he told lawmakers behind closed doors. And one vote away, that's all it would take to kill the newest attempt
by Senate GOP leaders to repeal and replace Obamacare. We're tracking the Republican opposition and the President's warnings to the party to get the bill passed. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off, I'm Jim Acosta, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.