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Senate Digs into Russian Meddling in U.S. Election; Scaramucci on Leaks: "Fish Stink from the Head Down." Pentagon Demands Answers on Transgender Ban. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:25]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. Let's go straight to Capitol Hill. Manu Raju is speaking with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: So this is pretty fascinating.

The main research body against Trump is funded by the Russians, that Trump's campaign is offered assistance through an intermediary by the Russian government. So they are clearly working both sides here. And the idea that Manafort, who is well-known by the Russian world as being sympathetic to their cause, that they didn't see that as an opportunity to get a relationship with the Trump campaign is hard to believe. It's also hard for me to believe that once the Trump campaign expressed the desire to get help, yes, love it, maybe later in the summer would be better. That meeting is one and done.

And Jared Kushner makes perfect sense to me that he didn't read the e- mail. Because there's an e-mail in real-time from Jared to his secretary saying, get me out of this meeting. Clearly, he's not excited about the Magnitsky Act and adoptions. But that contact came from a person that Mr. Browder said should have been registered as a Russian agent, the Russian female lawyer. The likelihood that that was the last contact needs to be looked into because the Trump campaign expressed the desire to be helped.

Fusion GPS was on the payroll, apparently, according to this guy of the Russian government. And I want to know what they did in terms of trying to compromise Donald Trump who is now our president. So what should we learn from all of this? That the Russians were involved on both sides, they definitely tried to tip the scale against Clinton and for Trump. But the Fusion GPS organization that was trying to get the goods on Donald Trump was backed by the Russians.

To me, this just shows you how deep the Russians are into our democracy and if you are Republican and you are Democrat, if you don't get what I was trying to -- the point I was trying to make. It's a dangerous mistake because they are trying to screw up our elections and our democracy on both sides of the aisle.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: And Donald Trump Jr. has said pretty emphatically that that was the only contact. There was nothing else after that. You're skeptical?

GRAHAM: Well, I know how the Russians work. Nothing of value was passed and maybe nothing of value was ever passed. I do know that Manafort, in terms of the Russians was a friendly figure. I think Don Jr. thought the meeting was OK. I'm not saying he intentionally violated the law. I really believe he thought it was something that all campaigns should do.

Did it go any further? The reason this won't end anytime soon is because how can you say with 100 percent certainty, given all the players here, there was never any more contacts? The likelihood that the Russians just quit after one meeting, once the Trump campaign expressed desire to be helped is pretty hard to believe that may be the facts.

The point I'm trying to make, it has to go further, because on its face, that needs to be looked at. The GPS, Fusion GPS situation, the guy's not coming. If we have to subpoena the people at Fusion GPS, we need to subpoena them. Because Mr. Browder has now accused them of -- working for the Russians. And at the end of the day, if that's true, the Democratic Party is working with somebody who was working with the Russians, whether they knew it or not.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, do you think the administration has done message from Congressional Republicans to lay off Jeff Sessions.

GRAHAM: I think it's not a message to the president as much as it is to Jeff and the country. You know, the president has the right to fire anybody in his cabinet. 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 rock solid conservative. But the reason I like him so much is I often disagree with him, but I've never believe that he was a man 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.

[10:05:03] 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 has sent a pretty chilling plead yesterday. 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.

Right now, I have no reason to believe that Mueller is compromised. If you got reason to believe he is compromised and shouldn't be serving as special counsel, let me know. I'm working on legislation that I will introduce next week with Republicans and some Democrats. I think I can get all Democrats. I hope I can get a good number of Republicans that would say the following.

A special counsel cannot be fired when they were empaneled to investigate the president or his team, unless you have judicial review of the firing. Not just for Trump, but for any future president. We need a check and balance here. That was the process in the 90's. So, I'm going to try to come up with statutory language that would say in the case of Bob Mueller and future special counsels. If the attorney general fires that person, who's been empaneled to investigate the president or their team, then judges will have to look and see if whether or not the reasons stated meet the statutory definitions.

RAJU: You -- just said the attorney general, there would be no confirmation hearings for replacement of Jeff Sessions.

GRAHAM: That's what Chairman Grassley said. So, he's the chairman. I think most of us agree with that. It's really about Mueller. The idea that the president would fire Mueller or have somebody fire Mueller because he doesn't like Mueller or Mueller is doing something he doesn't like -- can't be -- then we become Russia.

So, the red line should never be drawn. The president is not in the business of drawing red lines when it comes to the law. The law is above any presidential red line. So, what will happen, I think, is that the president will calm down, I hope. I look forward to working with him on the way forward in Afghanistan, you know, finding a way to cut taxes, infrastructure, maybe something on health care.

This is not just a diversion. This is unnerving. It is unfair to Jeff Sessions. He's a good man who deserves better. And some of the suggestions the president is making go way beyond what is acceptable in a rule of law nation.

So, I hope the president will get good council and advice and focus on what he got elected to, which is change the culture in Washington. This is not draining the swamp. What he's interjecting is turning democracy upside down, not taking political scale bodies and replace them with new ideas, but taking 200 year concepts that were a nation of law and men, of laws, not men, and trying to turn it upside down.

RAJU: Why don't you think the Republican leaders have gotten behind, you know, joined you in these concerns?

GRAHAM: I think everybody has expressed it in their own way. The president hasn't done anything but tweet, but tweets can be damaging. You know a tweet from the president of the United States has a big echo chamber.

I hope the president will take council and advice from people around him to treat Jeff Sessions better or fire him, one of the two. I hope the president will understand that he's not in the business of drawing red lines when it comes to investigations. No president can do that. If Mr. Mueller is doing something wrong, he's got a conflict of interest, I'll be glad to look into that. Special counsel can't run wild, either. But I see no evidence that he's doing this.

This is really important to me. I like the president. I want to help him. But one of the things I want to do with my time in the Senate is to reinforce institutions that are bigger than me and bigger than party and make us unique. Everything you heard in there about Mr. Browder about how things are in Russia and other countries. I never want that to come here. Thanks.

BERMAN: All right. That was Manu Raju talking live to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham on a wide range of subjects. Graham just coming out of a hearing right now with the hedge fund operator, the American hedge fund operator who's worked for years inside Russia providing insight into the way the Russians do business.

This Russian -- this American hedge fund operator, Bill Browder said, by the way, the Russian lawyer that Don Jr. met with is the point person in really lobbying for certain initiatives from Vladimir Putin. This person also testified. The hedge fund operator testified that he thought the Russians were digging up dirt on Donald Trump.

And Lindsey Graham, we just heard from right there, also spoke about Jeff Sessions, the attorney general and say that if the president fires Jeff Sessions, quote, "There will be holy hell to pay."

[10:10:08] HARLOW: He did, indeed.

This morning, the west wind infighting, also, taken to a whole new level. Punches being lobed from the new communications chief straight at the president's chief of staff, perhaps with the blessing of the president. This all played out live on TV here on CNN.

Anthony Scaramucci publicly accusing Reince Priebus of leaking to the media. Scaramucci called in to explain a very confusing statement he made last night.

BERMAN: Yes. He said, In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting the FBI and the Justice Department. Hashtag swamp and then he tagged Reince Priebus. He seems to accuse Reince Priebus of doing the leaking.

We should have the financial information that was in "Politico," is part of public record, by the way. We don't know whether it was leaked at all. But more importantly, is the public nature of this White House infighting that is causing so many people to talk about Washington. This is some of the very bizarre conversation between Anthony Scaramucci and Chris Cuomo this morning. Just some context here, Scaramucci said, he just got off the phone with the president prior to this discussion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR (via telephone): It's absolutely completely and totally reprehensible. As you know from the Italian expression, the fish stinks from the head down. What I can tell you two fish that don't stink, OK, and 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're doing to my friend. I don't like what they're doing to the President of the United States or their 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're 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 repairable or not, that will be up to the President, but he's the Chief of Staff. He's responsible for understanding and uncovering and helping me do that inside the White House, which is why I put that tweet out last night.

When the journalists who actually know who the leakers are -- like Ryan Lizza -- they know the leakers. Jonathan Swan at Axios -- these guys know who the leakers are. I respect them for not telling me because I understand and respect journalistic integrity. However, when I put out a tweet and I put Reince's name in a tweet. They're all making the assumption that it's him because journalists know who the leakers are. So if Reince wants to explain that he's not a leaker, let him do that.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ACHOR: Reince Priebus' name is connected to this every time it comes out in the last 24 hours. Do you have concerns about him?

SCARAMUCCI: Reince Priebus can speak to you about that and he can address that himself.

CUOMO: All right, we will ask him.

SCARAMUCCI: People know my history between me and Reince. I can speak for my own actions. He's going to need to speak for his own actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. That's only part of it. You can see a whole lot more online.

Joining us now by phone is CNN contributor Ryan Lizza who is sort of in the middle of this, back and forth last night and also with us here in New York, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Ryan, this was a public knifing, if you will, of the chief of staff by the new coms director, seemingly with the blessing of the president because he said he got off the phone with the president. The president gave him permission to call in, talk to "New Day" et cetera. You were in the middle of all this with those senior White House officials telling you that Scaramucci was going to the FBI and the DOJ about this.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (via telephone): Yes. This was a strange sequence of events last night. You know, earlier in the day yesterday, I reported that Scaramucci would be having a dinner with Sean Hannity of Fox News and Bill Shine, former Fox News executive and the president. And I get a call that you know, Scaramucci has disclosed this, so I'll explain it. Scaramucci, you know, in the "New Day" interview this morning did note that he and I talked last night. And he was upset. He was very upset about the fact that his dinner with the president and Sean Hannity and others leaked out. So, he called me, frankly to try and find out who leaked the information to me.

He is right now obsessed with leaks. There is, what he thinks, a leak war going on between his camp at the White House and Reince Priebus, is what he believes. E-mailed Reince last night, he didn't respond. So I don't know his side of this. But they are at war with each other and each side is, frankly, a little paranoid. And every piece of negative information that is anonymously reported in the press about one another, the other side believes it is his opponent that's doing it. So, that's the sort of context of what happened last night.

And then, you know, then he tweeted what he tweeted, of course last night around 10:41 p.m. about going to the Justice Department about this and he sort of cryptically tagged Reince Priebus in the tweet. I pointed out that he was, you know, there's no ambiguity here.

[10:15:14] He believes it was Priebus. He wants the FBI to look into this, thinking it was Priebus. There's a lot of those tweets went viral, his and mine. And then he deleted his tweet and sort of backed away from the idea it was Reince. But then again, on your air this morning, he sort of made it fairly clear that he did believe it was Reince. And this now challenged the chief of staff to go on television and talk about this publicly, which, you know, is sort of unusual in a White House.

BERMAN: Right. I mean, there's no backing down now. He said out loud on CNN this morning. If Reince wants to explain he's not a leaker, let him do that. I should note, Reince Priebus, if you are watching right now, call us. We would love to have you respond since calling it to CNN and venting your frustrations with your co-workers seems to be a thing today. We'd love to get your version of it.

Dana Bash, to you, how does Reince Priebus handle this? And what does it mean for the business -- I should say most importantly, the business of the country?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEFL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I was texting with one senior adviser this morning who is not Reince and I said did you see that? And the response was, no. I'm actually trying to avoid that stuff and trying to do my actual work.

Good luck because this is absolute all out warfare that has been going on behind closed doors that has spilled out into the open. A couple things, when Scaramucci was hired last week, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, we know from reporting were very vocal about their opposition to it.

However, in public, Reince told me, gave me an on the record quote about how the two of them have known each other for a long time and he welcomes Scaramucci to the team. And Scaramucci, remember from the podium, was talking about the fact that they were brothers. Well, today, that brother relationship turned into Cane and Able. We all know how that turned out, not so well.

So, I think at the end of the day, remember that Scaramucci is somebody who is the mirror image or at least understands -- mirror image of the president and understands how the president operates. And what you saw this morning was a Trump strategy on steroids.

Starting with last night, put out a tweet, put his name, tagged Reince Priebus' name on Twitter and start the conversation about Reince because he has, he and Scaramucci has long been furious with Reince Priebus because Scaramucci blames Priebus for keeping him out of the White House for the first six months by a series of leaks. Fair or not, that is Scaramucci's feelings about Reince.

HARLOW: Dana, can Reince last through this? Because it wasn't exactly like Reince Priebus was the president's first pick, first man to even come in and be chief of staff. I mean, many people say he did this to appease a lot of folks in the establishment. So can Reince make it through this?

BASH: You know it depends. It depends how this turns out. I mean, Reince has been trying to, you know, play nice, again, in public. There are two -- there are already two very clear camps. There was sort of the RNC camp in the White House, obviously led by the former chair, now the chief of staff, Reince Priebus and the kind of always Trumpers, the New York crew, which includes the president's family, his kids. And the RNC crowd is shrinking.

And so, the question is how is this going to play out? The fact that Scaramucci had that conversation with the president before coming on CNN this morning, and then he continued to go after Reince for leaking, I think tells you a lot. The other, I think most notable quote from that 30-minute conversation he had with Chris Cuomo was that there are people inside the White House who don't think that the president is good for the country. That, to me, was so telling about where things are within the walls of the White House.

BERMAN: We got to see how this plays out. Ryan Lizza, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

Reince Priebus, the phone lines are open.

All right, something is better than nothing. That is the new strategy from Republican senators after the Senate last night rejected a straight repeal of Obamacare. Happening now, the Senate is back in session and they are fighting over what's called the so-called "skinny" repeal option.

The president has a message to lawmakers, get it done. This is what he wrote this morning, "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!"

So, where are we and where is this headed? Phil Mattingly, the man with the answers. Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. The president going a little bit more carrot than stick this morning from what we've seen in the past. Look, as you noted, the Senate is now in session. Senate Majority Leader McConnell is on the floor, kind of laying out this morning to happen ahead.

[10:20:04] But I think it's worth noting, guys. That it's not going to be what is happening on the floor at least for the next couple of hours or 12 or 15 or 16 hours that matters. It's what's going on behind the scenes.

You mentioned this idea of a "skinny" repeal. That is essentially where leaders have ended up, based on the failures of other proposals. And what do we do is this. Essentially, compile options that they know, at least they hope, 50 members of their conference will agree on, repealing the individual mandate, repealing the employer mandate, repealing the medical device tax. There are some other issues right now that are being tossed around that could get in there as well, sweeteners in trying to bring other senators along.

Now, what's worth also pointing out, what it doesn't do, it doesn't touch Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. It doesn't touch Obamacare's regulations, things like preexisting conditions, community rating, that are so crucial to conservative support. So, the big question is, can they actually corral 50 votes here for that? And why would they want to do something that seems to depart in a large way from where they were or where they started in this process?

The reason is this. They need to move the process forward. Leaders have made it clear to their members on your very serious policy issues, whether it's on Medicaid, whether it's on regulations, these will be addressed in a conference committee with the House. But you can't get to the conference committee if you don't pass anything in the Senate first. That's the pitch. It's a pitch we've heard before in the House. Just pass this. The Senate will fix it.

In the Senate a couple of days ago, just vote to proceed to the bill. We'll fix it later. We are back to that stage right now because that's really the best that they can do right now. So the big question is, behind the scenes, what else they can add to the "skinny" repeal and can that "skinny" repeal get 50 votes.

And publicly guys, we are going to see a lot of amendment votes. Only one scheduled right now, but we have all been talking about this for a couple of days. Vote-o-Rama will come at the end of the debate time here, about ten hours or so left in the debate time. Once that starts, any senator can offer any amendment they want, as long as it remain within the budget rules.

That means, we will have dozens, potentially hundreds of amendments going out, vote after vote after vote. It will be fast. It will be furious. It will be exhausting. But worth noting, in terms of substance, likely not much there. The key we'll be watching towards the end of the vote, when Republican leaders decide to put that proposal up. What that proposal entails? Do they have the votes? That's kind of the state of play right now. But as we know, things can be fluid. So, keep an eye on the floor.

HARLOW: We will. Phil Mattingly, we know you will. Thank you very much. -

BERMAN: You will know.

HARLOW: You will. You won't sleep. You keep us informed. Thank you very much, my friend.

Also, breaking news on President Trump's ban on transgender military members, the Joint Chiefs including the chairman of Joint Chiefs did not know it was coming. This is after the president said he made the call based on the advice of his generals.

BERMAN: And this White House throw down right now, the communications director, all but blaming the chief of staff for leaking. Will Reince Priebus respond? As we said, the phone lines are open.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:26:38] HARLOW: Back now to our breaking news, a feud in the west wing of the White House goes very, very public at all place out live on television.

BERMAN: Let's discuss. Joining us now, Congressman Tom Reed, a Republican from the state of New York.

Congressman, I don't want to dwell on this too long, but it's right before our eyes this morning, the new communications director really going after the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus. What message do you think that sends to the country? Is this the way for the White House to do business?

REP. TOM REED (R-NY), WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: I'm not aware of the situation at the White House. But you know, obviously, I trust the president is going to make the right calls that he feels comfortable with in regards to his staff. And so, we'll just have to see how this plays out.

HARLOW: It appears the president gave this, the go ahead since the chief communications director got off the phone with the president before he called in to "New Day" and did this. But let's move on.

Because we haven't heard from you publicly yet on the record reacting to the president's total and complete ban of any transgender American from serving in the military in any capacity. You have been on the record voting against legislation that would have cut funding for some of the medical procedures for these individuals. So where do you fall on the president's move and how he delivered it?

REED: Well, obviously, based on my record and where I stand on the issue. I disagree with the president on this. But it's his call. He's the commander in chief. I'm going to defer to his capacity as leader of the military to make that call.

BERMAN: So we learned just moments ago that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs did not know this announcement was coming. Other members the Joint Chiefs did not know. It's been reported that the Defense Secretary James Mattis did not know until maybe the day before that this announcement was coming. This, after the president in his statement, you know which he put on Twitter said after consulting with his generals. We are not quite sure which generals it is. You know, again, is this the way to make this kind of policy?

REED: Well, you know, I'll defer to the White House. I don't know the internal workings of this for the last --

BERMAN: We're not asking you to make the decision. We are asking you as a member of Congress. You know, Congress has an oversight role over the presidency. Do you approve of the way that this decision was implemented and announced?

REED: Well, you know, I do approve of the president being the commander and chief. He has the ability and authority to make this call. But obviously, we can express our disagreement. That's what this is all about. There's going to be areas we agree with and there's going to be areas we disagree with. But at the end of the day, what we try to do is see how much common ground we can find and just continue to lead for the American people.

HARLOW: You said you appreciate what you call, quote, "straight talk" from this president. Do you think we are seeing that this week when it comes to his handling of his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, these public tweets attacking him, these statements attacking him, but not sitting down man-to-man and discussing it, is that straight talk from this president and is it something that you are comfortable with because we have heard out from so many of your Republican counter parts in the Senate that this crosses a line for them, this attacking of Sessions.

REED: No, I do appreciate the president's style. He is not a politician. He's not restrained. And I think that's refreshing. Obviously, can we disagree with the calls that are made and maybe the attack on the attorney general? I respect the attorney general. I'm committed to the attorney general. I know the senator very well and I think he's a true American patriot and I think he's going to do his job well. --

HARLOW: Did the president cross the line in how he treated -- did he cross the line, yes or no, in how he's treated Sessions?

REED: Well, you know, I don't think there's a line that's crossed or not. It's his ability and authority as the commander in chief to make those calls and I respect that.

BERMAN: Skinny repeal. Those are the two words being discussed right now in the Senate, maybe passing a version of health care that gets rid of mandates but doesn't touch anything else.