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President Trump Pushes Health Care Reform; Kushner Testifies Behind Closed Doors to Congress; Interview With West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin; Interview with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 24, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jared Kushner says that he e-mailed an assistant during that Russia meeting: Can you please call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.

But he couldn't do that with Senate investigators today.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The president's son-in-law and senior adviser making his first public comments about the Russia investigation after interviewed behind closed doors. Did Jared Kushner convince anyone that those Russia meetings came about from campaign chaos and inexperience and not collusion?

Plus, as the Senate prepares for a key health care vote, President Trump is engaging directly with the American people, as he continues to push members of his own party to get on board.

Then, it is now one of the deadliest human smuggling cases in recent history. A 10th person is now dead after a tractor-trailer full of undocumented immigrants stopped in a sweltering Texas parking lot. What do we know about the truck? What do we know about where it came from?

Hello, everybody. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start with the politics lead today.

The president's family and inner circle this week going to Capitol Hill to face tough questions about their contact with Russians.

The president's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was first up to bath. Today, Senate Intelligence Committee staff interviewed him. Kushner was not under oath and he spoke privately, not in a public hearing.

Afterwards, at the White House, Kushner read a statement in which he denied any collusion with Russia. That echoed his earlier 11-page written and released statement where he also downplayed four meetings with Russians last year. Tomorrow, Kushner will face the House Intelligence Committee, and then

Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. and former campaign chair Paul Manafort will meet the Senate Judiciary Committee also in private and also not under oath.

Kushner says that he's being transparent.

But as CNN's Manu Raju reports for us on Capitol Hill, lawmakers, it's unclear if they're satisfied with Kushner's answers.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, tried today to put to rest mounting questions about his interactions with Russian officials that are now a key part of investigations into Russian meddling in the election.

In rare public remarks at the White House, Kushner insisted his meetings occurred during the normal course of a campaign and transition.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: All of my actions were proper. Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.

RAJU: Kushner today spent more than two hours behind closed doors with staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee and released an 11- page statement providing new insight into four meetings with Russians last year, including a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russians at the invitation of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., a meeting now under investigation, since Trump Jr. was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign after being told the Russian government wanted his father to win the presidency.

While Kushner said -- quote -- "I did not read Trump Jr.'s e-mail exchange ahead of the meeting," he dismissed the brief meeting as irrelevant with no discussion of campaign issues, saying -- quote -- "There was no follow-up to the meeting that I'm aware of."

Kushner also confirmed sitting down during the transition with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, along with Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, also under scrutiny in the Russia probe.

The men discussed whether a secure line of communication could be set to transmit sensitive information between Washington and Moscow to discuss the war in Syria, but he said the idea was tabled until after the inauguration.

Kushner said he did not discuss easing Russian sanctions in meetings with Kislyak and head of a Russian bank last September. But some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who did not participate in today's session also want a chance to question him.

(on camera): You want to personally question him?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: oh, yes, I want to be there. Yes, I have questions. We all have questions to ask.

RAJU (voice-over): At the White House, the president continued to focus on the Russia investigation, this time taking aim at his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, calling him beleaguered and questioning why he isn't looking into -- quote -- "crooked Hillary's crimes and Russia relations."

This after "The Washington Post," citing classified intelligence, reported that Kislyak told his superiors he spoke with Sessions about campaign issues last year, something the attorney general continues to deny.

The president offering this reaction when asked today if Sessions should resign.

QUESTION: Mr. President, should Jeff Sessions resign?



RAJU: Now, Jake, speculation is growing that President Trump is looking for a replacement for Jeff Sessions, with one report saying today that Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, could be the person to succeed Sessions.

Now, Giuliani did catch up with our colleague Katherine Trace (ph) earlier today and said flat out the report is wrong, and also supporting Sessions' decision to recuse himself, saying he made the right decision in charge of that Russia investigation.


And, Jake, at the same time, the Senate Judiciary Committee, top Democrat Dianne Feinstein calling on Jeff Sessions to appear before her committee, but no commitments quite yet from Chuck Grassley on the time frame. He said it's going to happen, but maybe not before the August recess, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thank so much.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, whose staff met with Jared Kushner today.

Senator, good to see you, as always.

MANCHIN: Good to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: You just said in that previous report that you would like to question Jared Kushner personally? What more do you want to have answered?

MANCHIN: Well, I think the committee.

I would say that all of elected officials that serve on that committee take it very seriously. And he is a person who has an awful lot to be able to share. And he shared it with the staff. The staff has briefed us.

We were briefed today around 2:00, so we had a briefing. But now it goes to the next and we reserve that right for him to come in and speak before us.

TAPPER: Manu Raju just mentioned in his tag there that one of our reporters caught up with Rudy Giuliani at the airport.

Giuliani denied that he is being considered to replace Jeff Sessions. And he also supported Sessions' recusal of himself from the Russia investigation matters. Take a listen.


QUESTION: Do you think that Jeff Sessions did the proper thing recusing himself?

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I believe that Sessions made the right decision under the rules of the Justice Department, yes.


TAPPER: Do you agree?

MANCHIN: I do. I absolutely do.

And I think he stated very clear there. Under the rules of the Justice Department, it's very clear that him and Mike Flynn had a relationship and they campaigned together. And it was very clear that Mike Flynn was under investigation, and there is nothing Jeff could do but recuse himself.

So I would agree with Rudy Giuliani on that.

TAPPER: Take a listen to Jared Kushner just a few hours ago.


KUSHNER: The record and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper, and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign.


TAPPER: "All of my actions were proper, and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign."

Does the Senate Intelligence Committee have any evidence to the contrary?

MANCHIN: I don't think that we're in that position, and that hasn't been presented to me. And I'm glad that he did come up and speak, and he's been forthcoming.

And I think the biggest concern is, I wish they would have the same concern that I have and many of us have over Russians' involvement, and also what that can do to the confidence of our democratic process.

We should be very much concerned about that, and I would hope they would be, too.

TAPPER: Kushner also said that he did not read that entire e-mail thread from Donald Trump Jr. regarding the meeting with what was billed as a Russian government attorney with dirt on Hillary Clinton. Kushner said that's because he received hundreds a day.

He just showed up when he realized the meeting was not of substance. He got assistance his to call him so he could exit the meeting. Do you buy it?

MANCHIN: Well, I don't think he has any reason to lie to us whatsoever. He comes into the committee openly. And you're not going to give false statements in front of the committee, so I will take him at his word that what he's saying is accurate.

TAPPER: The president referred to Jeff Sessions today as his -- quote -- "beleaguered attorney general."

You were the only Democrat to vote to confirm him. Do you interpret the president's comments and tweets about Jeff Sessions to be him trying to push him out, to get him to quit?

MANCHIN: Jake, the president has got to put his team around him.

That's why I gave deference to him. Whoever they were putting up, I always thought the executive ought to have a right to put their team together. Jeff was his first choice. I knew Jeff. I like Jeff and worked with him. I didn't agree with him all of the time, but we didn't agree with each other a lot of in different situations up here.

But the fact, Jeff was qualified. That was the president's choice, and I went ahead and supported that.

And when I thought he should have recused himself, I spoke out. I was the only Democrat that could speak out and it not be political. There was no political motive because Jeff was the person I voted for. The president has got to make this decision who he wants in that office and the comfort level that he will have in that person in working with him.

I think Jeff Sessions, like I have said, has done what he was supposed to have done, I think, under those conditions. And Rudy Giuliani put it very clearly.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, thanks so much. Always good to see you ,sir.

MANCHIN: You too, Jake. Thank you. TAPPER: President Trump just made a rare address directly to the

American people talking about health care, but is it enough to change any minds of any wavering Republican senators?

That story next.



TAPPER: Here's a live look at Andrews Air Force Base, where President Trump is about to take off on Air Force One. He's about to give a speech to Boy Scouts in West Virginia.

Moments ago, we heard directly from President Trump, who met with people he calls victims of Obamacare.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The first rule of medicine is do no harm. But Obamacare's lies have caused this, and throughout the whole country, families like this, nothing but pain.


TAPPER: Let's go to CNN's Sara Murray who joins me live from the White House.

And, Sara, President Trump is now leaving for West Virginia. He might get to make his pitch personally to a key Republican Senate holdout, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who says she will not vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement there.


And we are expected her to join the president on Air Force One as he heads to West Virginia. As you pointed out, she has been a critical holdout as they try to make this health care push.

And we just saw President Trump do something he has not been doing much of throughout this entire health care push, which is make the pitch publicly: Here's what this bill would do to make your life better.

[16:15:06] Now, he hasn't done a whole lot of arm twisting behind the scenes, either, particularly when it comes to reluctant members. He talked a little bit to some of these more conservative members. We haven't really seen him go to bat for people like Shelley Moore Capito.

So, this could be an opportunity for him to use the full weight of the presidency to try to make this sell. We'll see if it's effective, we'll see if he talks about it when he gets to West Virginia for what is supposed to be a Boy Scout event.

TAPPER: And also, just this mystery about what's going to happen with Attorney General Sessions. What exactly are you hearing from your sources?

MURRAY: So, it's interesting. I just got off the phone with Anthony Scaramucci, who, of course, is the incoming communications director here at the White House. I can tell you that Jeff Sessions is at the White House today. It's unclear if he has met face to face with President Trump. He is meeting with other top West Wing aides.

And I asked Scaramucci, look, what does the president want out of these tweets? Does he want Jeff Sessions to resign? Is he calling for that resignation?

Scaramucci said the president is disappointed with Sessions. He said President Trump and Sessions have to sit down face to face and they either have t have a reconciliation or they have to decide what the future is going to be for Sessions. So, leaving it open-ended and, frankly, a little ominous for the future of the attorney general, Jake.

TAPPER: Ominous, indeed.

Sara Murray at the White House for us, thank you so much.

How does the Senate's top Democrat respond to criticism that the Democratic Party doesn't stand for anything these days, rather just against President Trump? We'll talk to him. Senate Minority Chuck Schumer joins us next. Stay with us.


[16:20:42] TAPPER: Sticking with politics.

With President Trump so embattled and Republicans on Capitol Hill so deadlocked, one might think this would be a great time to be a Democrat. But a multitude of polling shows that just because President Trump is unpopular with many Americans, that has not translated into more support for Democrats. Forty-eight percent of Americans have a negative view of Democratic Party right now, on part with numbers from last year. And right now, Democrats are trying to figure out how to turn those numbers around.

And joining us now is Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

You're huddling with Democrats in Berryville, Virginia, trying to rebrand your party, discuss your agenda going forward. You're calling it a better deal. I know you haven't been followed what's been going on today in the world of politics, Jared Kushner and the president's tweets, so I'm not going to ask you about that.

But let me ask you about something you did say, when you said -- when you lose an election with someone who has 40 percent popularity, you look at in the mirror and say, what did we do wrong? What do you think Democrats did wrong in 2016?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: It's not just 2016, it's 2014 as well. The blame goes all around.

And the bottom line is people didn't know what we stood for. They knew we were against Donald Trump in 2016, for instance, but they didn't know what we stood for. We need a bold, sharp edged economic agenda.

When I go around my state and this country, that's what people are asking about. They're not talking about the rest but they're saying, I am worried, my wages are going down, I'm worried about my pension, my costs are going up. I'm worried that my kids won't have a future.

So, we Democrats today, leader Pelosi and I, with people going all the way from Elizabeth Warren to Mark Warner, announced our better deal. And it's mean something very simply, a better deal simply put, it's a better deal for working people. Higher wages, lower costs, tools for the 21st century.

We want to make people's lives better economically. America has always believed in that, but that belief is fading. And if we don't do something strong, sharp edged and bold, people could begin to lose faith in this country, which they never have before.

TAPPER: As you know, sir, a recent "Washington Post"/ABC News poll found that 52 percent of voters believe that all the Democrats currently stand for is just being against Trump, 37 percent say that your party stands for something.


TAPPER: Do you think that your party is currently making the same mistakes Hillary Clinton might have made during the campaign, thinking that just going after Donald Trump is -- go ahead.

SCHUMER: I'm not going to point any specific fingers. We're all to blame. But what you said, that 52 percent of Americans don't know what we stand for, that changes today.

We came here to Berryville. It was a place that Donald Trump carried. We had -- we discussed some things that will make people's lives better, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, training people for 10 million jobs that are now not being filled because people are out of the workforce, breaking up these big monopolies, not letting them merge because they have such power over people, they raise prices and don't care about the quality of their goods.

And we're going to be rolling out other things in the next few months that will fill this agenda out. I think it's an agenda that will appeal to the American worker. It will appeal across the board.

You know, people say, are you going for the Trump voter who was a blue collar worker in the Midwest or the old Obama coalition? What we're talking about appeals to both. You don't have to choose.

It will appeal to the worker in Akron who is only being paid $11 an hour. It will appeal to the young woman getting out of college in Los Angeles and wants a bright future. It will appeal to the single mom in Buffalo who is cleaning toilets for minimum wage.

TAPPER: Do you worry that your party is too fixated on the Russia investigation? The vice presidential nominee --


TAPPER: -- from your party, Tim Kaine of Virginia, suggested that actions by Donald Trump Jr. are potentially treasonous. I don't know one legal expert who agrees with that. Are you worried that you're playing into Donald Trump's hands in that way?

SCHUMER: No, I think that we are spending most of our time, of course, on fighting this awful health care bill where we're really resonating with average voters and average workers and we've been spending a whole lot of time on putting together our better deal which we've announced today.

[16:25:15] Those are our two big focuses. Obviously, Russia is in the news. Obviously, we want Mueller to be able to pursue and our committees to be able to pursue their investigations unimpeded, but our focus is on health care and now on the economic well-being of the working family, a better deal for the working family.

TAPPER: Well, you say your focus is on health care, but I know that there are congressional Democrats who for months have wanted to introduce with a major push fixes to Obamacare to make that the Democratic alternative to Trumpcare, but a lot of them complain that Democratic leadership won't let them do that.

SCHUMER: Well, that's -- I don't know which leadership you're talking about. We have offered on the floor, blocked by the Republicans, Jeanne Shaheen, Claire McCaskill, Tim Kaine and Tom Carper, different ways to make Obamacare better. And once the Trumpcare bill goes down, which I believe it will, we're going to have a whole lot of ideas on the future. We first have to beat Trumpcare, then we can improve Obamacare. We're eager to do that.

TAPPER: One last question, and this is in the news in the last several weeks, Senator. It has to do with the young baby in England, Charlie Gard, who the government there has -- and the board of doctors have not allowed him to have the treatment that the family has wanted. There are people in this country who see the Charlie Gard situation and say, that's what happens when government takes control of health care. That's obviously not the situation we have in the United States, but that's their fear about single payer or other national forms of health care.

What's your take on the Charlie Gard story?

SCHUMER: Let me say this.

TAPPER: Please.

SCHUMER: Well, first, the American people sure don't want the insurance companies and the big powerful interests to control their health care. That's why Trumpcare is so unpopular. They want a good system that works, and that's what we're looking at.

On the Charlie Gard situation, again, I don't know all the details in England, but, you know, I think if people want to be able to help a child that's dying, they should be allowed to do it.

TAPPER: All right. Democratic leader, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, thank you so much. Good luck with your project.

SCHUMER: Thanks, Jake. Nice to talk to you.

TAPPER: Their journey and their lives ended in the back of a sweltering truck in Texas. Coming up, a human smuggling tragedy that is raising a lot of questions about the truck and the driver.

Stay with us.