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AT THIS HOUR
Graham To CNN: If Trump Fires Sessions, "Holy Hell To Pay"; Joint Chiefs On Ban: No Changes Until Trump Orders; Scaramucci Dares Priebus To State He's Not A Leaker; GOP's Last Hope? Senate To Vote On "Skinny Repeal" Bill; Trump Threatens To Veto A Veto-Proof Russia Sanctions Bill; Key Witness: Don Jr. Meeting Was Russian Intel Operation; Interview with Rep. Steny Hoyer. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired July 27, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Anytime, anywhere, John. Thank you, John. Thank you, Poppy. Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.
President Trump will have holy hell to pay if he fires his attorney general. That warning moments ago from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. It comes as a White House brawl is breaking out in plain sight giving the public a strange, front row seat of the disarray plaguing the west wing.
In a fascinating interview on CNN, President Trump's communications chief, Anthony Scaramucci essentially is daring White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus now to state publicly that he is not a leaker. More on that in a moment.
But first, the warnings are growing louder from Republicans on the fate and future of Jeff Sessions. Senior Congressional reporter, Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill with much more. Manu, you caught up with Senator Lindsey Graham and he did not hold back.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: He did not, indeed, Kate. Several pieces of news out of a discussion just now in the hallways. One piece that he's moving pretty aggressively to insulate the special counsel from pressure from President Trump.
He's drafting bipartisan legislation and plans to offer next week that would actually require a judicial review, if the president were to take steps to fire Bob Mueller, something he hopes gets significant support from both sides of the aisle.
In addition to that, raising some serious doubts about whether or not Donald Trump Jr. only met with this Russian -- these Russian officials once in Trump Tower. This, of course, after Donald Trump Jr. said that the meeting they had with Russian officials, in which he was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign. That was the only time that they met.
Lindsey Graham, after hearing testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee today, came out afterwards and said he's skeptical of that. There could be other contacts. He says that Congress needs to investigate that.
In addition to that, Kate, raising some serious concerns and warnings for the White House if the president takes steps to get rid of Jeff Sessions and to get rid of Bob Mueller. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: As a human being, I think he should show some respect for Jeff Sessions, as a person. Jeff Sessions was the most loyal supporter of Donald Trump. He's a rocksolid conservative. The reason I like him so much is I often disagree with him, but I have never believed he was a man who would, who lacks integrity or sense of fair play.
This effort to basically marginalize and humiliate the attorney general is not going over well in the Senate. I don't think it's going over well in the conservative world. If you believe Jeff Sessions should be fired, use the power you have and accept the consequences. I hope it stops.
I'm 100 percent behind Jeff Sessions. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee sent a very chilling tweet yesterday that there will be no confirmation hearing for a new attorney general in 2017. If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, rather dramatic remarks from Lindsey graham. I asked him if he was concerned that Republican leaders are not joining you? He said actually a number of Republicans are raising these concerns, some in different ways, some privately.
But clearly, Kate, some pretty dramatic warnings here and a significant move by introducing this bill next week to try to protect Bob Mueller from political pressure. We'll see how many Republicans sign off on this and whether or not there's enough to overturn any presidential veto if it ever came to that -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely. Manu, great job. Thank you so much.
So, who knew what and when? That is the new question about President Trump's announcement banning all transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. The president said in his tweet when he announced this that he consulted generals and military experts ahead of the announcement.
But today, he may have left out some key advisers. CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining me now with all of this. Barbara, what are you hearing today?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have breaking news on this subject in the last 5 minutes, Kate. What we do know is that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the heads of all military services did not know yesterday that this tweet from President Trump was coming and they have been scrambling for over 24 hours to figure out the steps ahead.
A short time ago, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, a four-star United States Marine, the president's top military adviser put out a message to the troops and it is quite telling.
[11:05:01] I want to read all of it to our viewers. Again, General Dunford, the president's chief military adviser. In his message he says, and I quote, "I know there are questions about yesterday's announcement on the transgender policy by the president.
There will be no modifications to current policy until the president's direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance. In the meantime, we should continue to treat personnel with respect and importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions."
You may notice in that statement, there is no portion of it which states specific support for President Trump's ban. This is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying they will move ahead. They will look for the guidance on this. They will figure out a way ahead.
But very importantly, he offers no public words of support for the president's decision. It is hard to see how that is an oversight. Anything that comes out of the chairman's office is very carefully crafted and screened because of the position he holds.
So, here is where we are. More than 24 hours later, the big question, one of the most central questions, transgender persons serving right now in the United States military, will they, in fact, be forcibly discharged from military service? No one knows -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: It seems that all of these questions are getting something of an answer, maybe from the Joint Chiefs chairman, but it's not the answer that, you know, that answer is not coming from the White House. How this has played out, Barbara, is truly startling.
STARR: You know, the old cliche, I have never seen anything like it? I have never seen anything like this. First of all, it starts seriously with a military policy made by Twitter. The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders publicly said that Secretary Mattis and others were informed after the president made his decision.
The chiefs, the heads of the services, General Dunford did not know that tweet was coming yesterday and you have the military is scrambling to catch up. That is exactly what the United States military never wants to do. These are not people who want to scramble.
They want guidance, you know, they are national security matters that they take seriously and more than 24 hours later, we also have not heard from Defense Secretary Mattis. BOLDUAN: So true. Clarity is essential when it comes to military moves, policy wise or in the field. Not what we are getting in the moment. Barbara, great reporting. Thank you so much. A lot more to come on this.
Let's turn back to another area of unclarity, if you will. The United States in disarray in the White House and the wild comments from Anthony Scaramucci this morning, the president's chief messenger.
Here he is explaining his late-night tweets. That's how it started that confused a lot of folks and seemed to point a finger at White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus as the source of leaking information. Listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR (via telephone): The fish thinks from the head down. I can tell you two fish who don't think, OK? That's me and the president. I don't like the activity that's going on in the White House. I don't like what they are doing to my friend. I don't like what they are doing to the president of the United States.
(Inaudible) fellow colleagues in the west wing. If you want to talk about the chief of staff, we have had odds, we have had differences. When I said we were brothers from the podium, that's because we are rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along.
I don't know if this is reparable or not. That will be up to the president. He is the chief of staff. He is responsible for understanding and uncovering and helping do that. If Reince wants to explain he's not a leaker, let him do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Let him do that. House intrigue like you may have never seen before. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House following all of this for us. So Kaitlan, one of the things that started this was reporting that came out of who Scaramucci and the president were having dinner with last night. What is going on here?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. So, Ryan Lizza of "The New Yorker" tweeted last night that Anthony Scaramucci was having dinner with the president, Melania Trump, Sean Hannity from Fox News, Bill Shine, who is a former Fox News executive, and Kimberly Guilfoyle.
And so Scaramucci clearly got a little annoyed that that got out. He called this reporter to ask him how he found out about that. All this happened around the same time that "Politico" published a story on Scaramucci's financial disclosure form.
Now "Politico" says that this is a publicly available document that they requested. Scaramucci got on Twitter and said that it was illegal. He considered it a felony that someone has leaked it and he was going to report it to the FBI and the Justice Department.
[11:10:04] What raised eyebrows is that he tagged the chief of staff, Reince Priebus in this tweet. Many people assumed that this meant he was saying that Reince Priebus leaked this document to the media.
This morning, he called into CNN and there was this interview. It made it really clear that it is all out war in the west wing right now between these divided factions. He was saying that he didn't know if Reince is a leaker that only Reince could answer that basically prompting Reince to go on the record to defend himself and saying he wasn't a leaker.
And I'm not sure we have ever seen a White House communications director who has been on the job for about five days now calling to a morning show and airing grievances with the chief of staff like this before. It was really astounding.
And another thing that set off from that interview was Scaramucci said that there are people in the White House who are trying to protect the country from Donald Trump.
BOLDUAN: All right. I was getting directions in my ear. Kaitlin, thank you very much for the update. I really, really appreciate it.
So as if all this wasn't enough drama in Washington for you, the health care debate is reaching another climax as we speak. If you have never heard the term skinny repeal, it's OK. It's understandable you may not, but get ready because that is the story today.
Republicans are now focused on a bare bones repeal plan after the Senate rejected a straight repeal of the law and a modified repeal and replace of the law. So, the skinny repeal, so-called skinny repeal would repeal the individual and employer mandates as well as the medical device tax that was in Obamacare.
But much of the rest of it will remain in place. The long voting process in the Senate is likely to begin sometime tonight. It might go well into tonight and tomorrow.
The president weighing in on the state of play also this morning tweeting this, "Come on Republican senators, you can do it on health care after seven years. This is your chance to shine. Don't let the American people down."
There you have it. Joining me now to discuss the state of play, Democratic Congressman and minority whip in the House, Congressman Steny Hoyer. Congressman, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MINORITY WHIP: Good to be with you, Kate.
BOLDUAN: So, a skinny repeal, if passed in the Senate, it gets you all to conference, what then?
HOYER: Well, I don't know what then. This is not a skinny repeal in terms of the adverse impact it's going to have on millions of Americans. CBO says immediately 16 million people are going to lose their insurance. But, millions and millions more are going to see their premiums substantially increased even those that have employer- based insurance.
So, the impact here is going to be substantial. What it indicates is it's certainly not repeal, either. It's what the Republicans, after seven years of trying to put something together, the only thing they have been able to put together that may pass the Senate.
I hope it doesn't pass the Senate, very frankly, I would be surprised if Rand Paul votes for this, who said he was for repeal, this is not repeal. I would be surprised that more moderate senators who are very worried about the impact in their states and people would vote for this. So, we'll see.
But, obviously what they want to do is get to conference. They get to conference. My view is they will get a worse bill than has been proposed so far. Nothing they have come up with has been appealing to the American public or not been harmful to millions and millions of people who need and want health care.
BOLDUAN: Again, let's see what plays out today and where it heads after this. This morning, I have to ask you, Congressman, reports of the White House infighting exploded on CNN. The president's director of communications is upset about leaks coming from the White House saying that if the chief of staff is not a leaker, Reince Priebus should explain that for himself. What is your take on it from the outside looking in?
HOYER: Well, this administration has, for seven months, brought us chaos, conflict and confrontation. This is another stark example of that. How any organization can operate with the conflict and confrontation that has been a daily occurrence in the White House, I'm not too upset it's harmful to, frankly the White House staff.
But what I am very concerned about is the risk that it puts our country at and the undermining of our president's and the White House's attention to critical matters confronting this nation both on the national security level and domestic level. But, it's just extraordinary.
I have been here 36 years, Kate, as you know. I have never seen anything like this out of any White House, Republican or Democrat. It is a stark demonstration of the inability of this White House and this administration to lead this country in a constructive way.
[11:15:03] BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens on Twitter next. On Russia's sanctions, Congressman, the House and Senate will soon be sending the sanctions bill to the president for his signature. This is, though, again, the White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, this is what he said about the sanctions bill. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCARAMUCCI (via telephone): He may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: He may veto it for a tougher deal against the Russians. What is your reaction to that?
HOYER: My reaction is, that is totally contrary to what the president's been talking about the last year and a half. How Putin is a good president, he's popular, he's a tough leader. He wants to work with him. I don't know where the communications director got this thought that the president has given any indication that he wants to make sanctions tougher.
So, we'll see whether he signs the bill. Frankly, if he doesn't sign the bill, I think Congress will clearly and quickly override his veto. This bill is a result of the Congress' conviction that the sanctions leveed on the Russians and on the Iranians as well as the North Koreans are appropriate.
And should stay in place until a deal is made that has Putin back off from Crimea from Ukraine, Syria and the Iranians and stop their human rights abuses and their support of terrorism and that the North Koreans stop pursuing nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver those weapons.
So, I think it's very clear that the Congress, in a very bipartisan fashion, 98-2, 419-1, overwhelming and -- 419-3 in the House on the sanctions bill, that the Congress overwhelmingly is concerned that this president might lift sanctions, not make them tougher, lift sanctions and wants to make sure it is not done with the Congress' participation.
BOLDUAN: We are getting breaking news from Barbara Starr involving the president's announcement banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. Barbara Starr is reporting that the Joint Chiefs did not know the announcement was coming.
And also a statement from the chairman saying that they are not going to implement the changes until they hear it directly from the president and is in consultation with the secretary of defense. There are a lot of questions about what all this actually means. Do you know?
HOYER: I don't know. But, it is another indication of chaos, conflict and confrontation. The president, in putting out his tweets which were to prejudice and division and not consistent with what the armed forces were asking for, nevertheless, the generals have told me.
I don't know which generals he's talking about. When I hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had no idea that he was going to do this, it's another indication, the only reason it was done to appeal to some house members and those who wanted to and offered an amendment to discriminate against those transgender members of the armed forces, which was rejected by a bipartisan vote of Congress.
This was an effort to go around Congress, not have the courage to face it one more time before the House of Representatives in which that amendment would have lost and do indirectly what they couldn't do directly. It's a shame. It's wrong. It's shocking that this was not done in consultation with and with the agreement of the leaders of our armed forces.
BOLDUAN: Congressman Steny Hoyer, I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
HOYER: You bet, Kate. Thanks a lot.
BOLDUAN: Thank you. I want to bring in right now, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, try to get to a lot of topics with Congressman Hoyer there. But one of the things that he said and I want to get your take on.
He said in his 30-plus years that he has been in Washington, a few administrations, he's never seen this amount of disarray, infighting that he is seeing in the White House right now. What is Reince Priebus to do today, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, where do we even start? I think he could have said in my 30 years I have never seen the infighting and disarray that I have in the 48 hours. I mean, just think about it.
Just the way that you led your program, Kate. First talking about the idea that Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, is so beleaguered because, as your friend John Berman says, the president did the beleaguering.
BASH: I mean, he's been going after him, trolling him, attacking him in public. Now you have a revolt against the president from Jeff Sessions' former colleagues in the Senate saying very clearly, cut it out. You know what? We are the people who are in charge of confirming.
[11:20:08] We are not going to do anything to help you get a new AG in. So, there's that. Then you have the idea that the president does what he does with the switch by Twitter of massive policy with regard to transgender military service people without telling the heads of the military, the most senior people.
And the White House said yesterday that they were told. Then, add to that what you were getting at, which is the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, who clearly has a very tight relationship, right now, with the president.
BASH: Saying, on CNN, that they are Cain and Abel. Well, which one is going to be Cain and which one is going to be Abel?
BOLDUAN: That didn't end well. BASH: It did not end well for Abel.
BOLDUAN: To say the least. Confounded -- I stutter because I do wonder, what does Reince Priebus do? Because here is one of the keys of what we heard from Anthony Scaramucci this morning is that he had just spent 15 minutes prior, had been on the phone with Donald Trump and Donald Trump gave him the OK to talk about all of this.
BASH: Yes. So, let's just take a step back. The president, I know from my reporting and I think it's pretty obvious from his Twitter feed over the past many months is obsessed with what he calls the leakers. Information getting out about what's going on inside the White House walls, back and forth and real fights within the White House staff.
He wants to get to the bottom of it. OK? Got it. Anthony Scaramucci, clearly, when he came in said, I gotcha, I agree with you. There were a couple stories yesterday that gave Scaramucci even more impetus to do it.
The backdrop of that is that Scaramucci has thought since day one of this administration that Reince Priebus has been leaking things about him to keep Scaramucci out of the White House, about his financial disclosure, his businesses.
Scaramucci has not been shy about telling as many people as he can about that. At the end of the day, here is the thing you need to remember. This president, he almost thrives on this kind of chaos. This is how he kind of -- he kind of does his business and, the leaks about White House staff?
A lot of that comes from the president himself making calls to friends. What do you think? Should I fire Priebus today? Should I fire Sean Spicer. So, he does a lot of calling that it's not a leak. A lot of this is kind of a symptom of the way that the president organizes or doesn't organize his staff from the top down.
BOLDUAN: What this means for how the organization operates in the White House, thus the government is a key question right now. Stand by to stand by. Great to see you, Dana.
BASH: You, too.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, I'll speak like with a Republican who's also defending Jeff Sessions, but who does he point the finger after all the drama, you maybe surprise. You don't want to miss this.
Plus, this morning a man who says Russia wants him dead, testifying before the Senate, connecting the dots on the infamous Donald Trump Jr. meeting. Why he says that was a Russian intelligence operation.
BOLDUAN: Russia wants him dead. Those chilling words from a key witness testifying before the Senate about the Russia investigation. He's revealing new insight into the now infamous meeting at Trump Tower involving Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer.
The man testifying is William Browder, who years ago made a lot of money as a hedge fund manager and was a top foreign investor in Russia. Browder's tax attorney, was Sergey Magnitsky (ph) uncovered a massive corruption scheme involving Russian officials there.
He was arrested. He died under mysterious circumstances, eventually in a Moscow prison. Browder took it on himself personally to push Congress to pass what is now known as the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which punishes Russians involved with human rights abuses.
It brings us back now to the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who Browder says is the point person in America for the kremlin to get the Magnitsky Act repealed, something Browder says Putin has made personal. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BROWDER, PUTIN FOE, ALSO KNOWN RUSSIAN LAWYER WHO MET WITH TRUMP JR.: Vladimir Putin, I believe to be the richest man in the world. I believe he's worth $200 billion. That money is held all over the world in banks in America and all over.
The purpose of Putin's regime has been to commit terrible crimes in order to get that money. He doesn't want to lose that money by having it frozen. He, personally, is at risk of the Magnitsky Act. It's a very personal (inaudible) issue.
And as a result, the only way he could get people to do such terrible things is if you do these terrible things, there will be no consequence. You will enjoy absolute impunity. As a result of the Magnitsky Act, he can no longer guarantee absolute impunity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: With me now, Mikheil Saakashvili, a former president of Georgia, a man who has literally gone to war with Vladimir Putin. Great to see you again.
MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, FORMER PRESIDENT OF GEORGIA, WENT TO WAR WITH PUTIN: Thank you for bringing me back. By the way, Russia also said that they also wanted me dead.
BOLDUAN: Exactly. You and Bill Browder unfortunately are very similar in that regard. I was actually going to say that. Mr. Browder, today, he clearly made a connection. He said there was a clear connection to Putin from this meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya that happened in Trump Tower during the election. Do you think that meeting was a Russian intelligence operation?
SAAKASHVILI: Well, I think Russians are operating in different all directions, that's no surprise to me. Overall, I just take my word that nothing serious -- overall, of course, Russia had been trying hard, meddling into elections. They start to meddle into elections. In my own country, Georgia, they have been meddling all around the world. I would be very surprised if they have not been trying with the U.S.
BOLDUAN: Congress is about to send a new sanctions bill for meddling in the election to President Trump. Do you think he should sign the sanctions bill? Do you think Russia deserve those sanctions?
SAAKASHVILI: Well, look, if you look at the overall picture, what President Trump said he wants, basically, is not something that Russia doesn't very much like. Russia doesn't like strong U.S. military, that's for sure. President Trump is prepared forces to support (inaudible), Russia doesn't like stronger U.S. energy policy. It's against Russia.
U.S. is bringing gas to Europe, so, in a way, fundamentally, President Trump made Russia nervous. Also, at the latest G20, I thought he looked dominant. I wouldn't be surprised if he wouldn't sign the bill. I think he would sign that.
BOLDUAN: You say on fundamental issues that Donald Trump makes Russia nervous. So, you, of course, you are an enemy of Putin. There's no question about that. You were also very friendly with President Trump. It strikes me and it strikes a lot of people that President Trump has no problems criticizing folks --