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AT THIS HOUR
WAPO: Trump Dictated Son's Misleading Statement On Meeting; Lawsuit: Fox Concocted Seth Rich Story With White House Coordination. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired August 1, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: -- ring, so happy, diamond encrusted. He had a response saying that he does not feel worthy. He is grateful and humbled by this opportunity -- guys.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Coy Wire, thank you very, very much.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you all for joining us. We'll see you back here tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.
BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Kate Bolduan "AT THIS HOUR" starts now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Overridden, a new bombshell, this one from aboard Air Force One. Another stunning revelation about Donald Trump Jr.'s now infamous meeting in 2016 with a Russian lawyer.
Today's reveal, what happened after the meeting was discovered last month. "The Washington Post" is now reporting that President Trump himself dictated his son's misleading initial statement about the whole purpose for the meeting, even though the president's attorney made very clear before that that the president played no role in crafting the response.
Now don't forget, folks, that first the line from Donald Trump Jr. was the meeting was about Russian adoptions, which, of course, actually means it was about sanctions. Then under pressure, Don Jr. finally released e-mails related to the meeting revealing the real motive was to get dirt from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton.
"The Post" now reports the president's advisers wanted Don Jr. to admit the true motive from the start for the sake of transparency, but that the president overruled them all.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House right now with much more on this. So Kaitlan, what is -- is there any White House response to this right now?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We do not have a statement from the White House on this right now. Since that "Post" report came out last night, they have only referred us to outside council on this matter. But let's look at what the White House has said about the crafting of the statement so far. After that first "New York Times" story came out, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was actually asked about this, how the statement was crafted.
The allegation was that it was made on Air Force One, which Sarah Sanders was on, on the way back from the G20 Summit in Germany. Listen to what she had to say at the press briefing about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: He didn't have anything to do with the statement that Don Jr. put out?
The statement Don Jr. put out --
CUOMO: The one over the weekend.
JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: That was written by Donald Trump Jr. and I'm sure with consolidation with his lawyer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: OK, Kate, that was actually the statement from Trump Attorney Jay Sekulow, who offered a flat denial that Donald Trump had any involvement with the crafting of the statement. He said that not once but twice.
Now Jay Sekulow was reached out to last night after this "Post" report came out. We are going to put his statement up here on the screen of what he had to say about that report saying that "Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent."
So, you see there's some contradictions there and Jay Sekulow's statements about how this statement was crafted and whether the president played any role about it. What I was referencing earlier with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she said she didn't know that the president had any role in it.
She couldn't comment on that, but that she would find out from reporters. We never heard back from her on that. So, we don't have an official White House statement on whether or not the president played a role in crafting Donald Trump Jr.'s first misleading statement about that meeting.
BOLDUAN: That is one of the key questions kicking off today. Great to see you, Kaitlan. Thank you so much.
So, how interested would the special council be in all of this? This news from the "Washington Post" and what does that all mean now for the president himself?
Joining me now, CNN legal analyst and special counsel, Robert Mueller's former assistant at the Justice Department, Michael Zeldin, former deputy communications director for the Trump campaign, Bryan Lanza, and national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics," Caitlin Huey-Burns. Great to see all of you.
Michael, first to you, that statement from Donald Trump's attorney that Kaitlin read there, "Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent."
Misinformed and inaccurate, we can't fact check at this point, but of no consequence and not pertinent. Is that the case for the special counsel do you think, Michael?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I think it's actually just the opposite. I think that the evidence that, if true, that the president participated in the crafting of a statement, which was at best misleading is going to be problematic.
Not only from a standpoint of can this president ever be relied upon to be an honest witness should Mueller choose to interview him, but it this further evidence of some form of obstruction of justice or abuse of office.
So, I think that quite to the contrary to Sekulow, it will become very important to Bob Mueller. I think that it is important for Sekulow, if I can give him legal advice, to follow the advice of Jared Kushner's lawyer, which is to be quiet because what he has said both on the tv segment that we showed and this is unhelpful to his client.
[11:05:02] BOLDUAN: Brian, it is not a legal -- it is not illegal to mislead or lie to the press, but does it show an attempt to cover up the truth? To cover something up to keep it from the American people, what we are learning now?
BRYAN LANZA, FORMER DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: I would say, let's just slow down a little bit. Because what we have learned over the last six or seven months as this investigation has gone forward that there's a lot of misinformation going on in the media.
I think this network itself has had to retract a couple of stories because of allegedly reliable sources that turned out to be false. So, let's --
BOLDUAN: Reporters make mistakes, yes, Bryan, reporters make mistakes but --
LANZA: That's why I want to slow it down. This could be another one of those situations where a mistake took place.
BOLDUAN: The world could end tomorrow as well, Bryan.
LANZA: Hold on, Kate. But you have the Trump organization actually going on record, you know, making a statement, then you have anonymous sources. They are not comparable. One is willing to go on the record, put their name to something that (inaudible) faces something and say this is inaccurate.
This is in essence false. The other ones hiding and saying, look, this is what happened. I don't want to be accountable for whatever I'm saying. There is a distinction, it's not a revelation. We need to slow down and make sure that we don't make future mistakes.
BOLDUAN: One distinction also, Bryan, is none of this would have come out if "The New York Times" hadn't started reporting about the story and told Donald Trump Jr. that they were going to report on the story.
And then under pressure, only under pressure from the "New York Times" because they are going to report on the contents of the e-mails that he had leading up to the Russian meeting.
Did Donald Trump Jr. then say for the sake of total transparency, he would put all of those e-mails out? So when it comes to this angle of the story in particular, it seems that the credibility seems to land with the reporters a little more than it does with the Trump organization or the White House or Donald Trump Jr. Yes?
LANZA: Listen, I'm going to let the public decide that. They know the information that is out there. I will say this, the only way that e-mail that "The New York Times" broke, you know good reporters at "The New York Times" was because the campaign did a review of the e- mails and they actually disclosed this was information that the campaign had seen.
They've gathered through extensive research on their own information. It's not like "The New York Times" discovered this e-mail. It was given to them most likely by somebody within the Trump organization in efforts to be tranparent.
Don got asked a follow up question and then he released it. This just didn't appear out of anywhere that "The New York Times" found it. There was fair rebuke on the campaign.
BOLDUAN: Why the misleading statement in the first place then?
LANZA: You know, I would say this as I look at that statement and it's been a revolving disclosure. I wouldn't have done it from that communication standpoint. I would have gone out with everything as quickly as possible, but they are entitled to their strategy.
The strategy isn't inaccurate. There was a component of that meeting how to deal with Russian adoptions. There were other components that took place --
BOLDUAN: Can we just say sanctions please? Because that's the most accurate way of saying it.
LANZA: If it makes it sexy for you, we'll use sanctions.
BOLDUAN: No, no. The truth and full transparency, my friend, Bryan, it is about sanctions. Russians don't care about the adoption ban unless they get the sanctions lifted against including the president of Russia.
LANZA: Fine, I'll give you your point. At the end of the day, this meeting did have to do with the sanctions adoptions, whatever word you want to use and that was disclosed in the first statement and then you have revolving disclosures. I wouldn't have done it that way. I would have advised differently, but they are what they are. The first statement wasn't inaccurate. It was actually accurate and they expand it on the first statement. That's not wrong. That's just bad pr.
BOLDUAN: Definitely bad pr. We are on the same page on that front. Michael, you will get in in a second. Caitlin, as Brian lays out, PR 101, if you have something bad against you, get it out, all of it, and get it out before you are forced to get it out. Drip, drip, drip never helps.
Is there any sense of why the president did not want to follow the strategy that seemed to have been advised by everyone else who was aboard Air Force One that moment?
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": The main problem here is the evolving disclosures. There are these drip, drip, drips of information. The questions I have, of course, are first, it puts the spotlight on the president what did the president know and when did he know it?
But also, kind of think of this in the context, this is a president who thinks that this investigation is a witch hunt. He has said so himself, repeatedly. He doesn't think there is anything to this, at least publicly, he says.
It shows kind of the lack of caution that he has been exercising as it pertains to the investigation and the lack of his staff being able to wall him off as past presidents have been able to do from this controversy.
So, whether, you know, if General Kelly were in that situation at the time, whether he would have been able to impose discipline on this president, I'm not sure. The fact is that Donald Trump remains his best adviser, he thinks and his communications director and his top strategist. That was all at play in the handling of this particular instance.
BOLDUAN: Michael, you have been shaking your head. Go ahead.
ZELDIN: Well, a couple things.
[11:10:01] The other role that the president crafted for himself is as his own lawyer, a person who has himself as lawyer has a fool for a lawyer. I think that may be in part relevant here. But these statements are not --
BOLDUAN: Coming from -- it's hard to -- it's hard to take that with full credibility from an attorney who wants to get those clients. I'm kidding. Keep going.
ZELDIN: I'm not in the business of getting clients.
LANZA: You're hired.
ZELDIN: But the point is that these statements are not revolving and they are evolving, but they are misleading. At their core, they are misleading until they are forced to be the next level of misleading. So, you have three it rations of misleading.
I said once, Kate, I think on this show, Trump's biggest legal problem is their distant relationship to truth telling. This may be further evidence that if down the line, the special council puts any of these people under oath.
If they can't tell a coherent, truthful story, they are going to find themselves in legal jeopardy irrespective of whether or not they colluded or didn't collude or involved with the hacking or not involved in the hacking.
They are going to be involved with misleading, lying and perjury. That's very problematic for these guys. That's why when Sekulow comes on tv and denies something, which is then provable as true, he hurts his clients best interest legally.
BOLDUAN: We don't have to look too far in the past to see exactly what you are saying, Michael, play out. It's not necessarily the crime. The crime ends up being the misstatements to federal authorities. Great to see you all. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
Coming up, a new lawsuit with a very big claim. Allegations that the White House worked with Fox News to publish the false story involving the murder of a former DNC staffer, Seth Rich. The details coming up next.
Plus, a Republican senator putting his political future on the line, speaking out against the president and his party for turning a blind eye. Hear his blistering assessment. What's behind it?
And the U.S. detects highly unusual activity from North Korean submarines. In just a short time ago, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says the president has told him war is, indeed, an option. We'll discuss, ahead.
BOLDUAN: Explosive allegations this morning, the White House worked with Fox News to run a conspiracy story involving a murdered DNC staffer, a story you may remember. Fox's reporting suggested that Seth Rich, his death last year may have been connected to the leak of DNC e-mails to Wikileaks.
Rob Wheeler (ph), he is a Fox contributor is at the center of this story. He is the one filing the lawsuit. He alleges that Fox fabricated quotes from him to concoct the full story. Fox sent an article draft to the White House for review.
Wheeler's lawsuit states that the fake news story was intended to establish connection between the DNC and Rich's murder to, quote, "help lift the cloud of the Russia investigation." NPR first broke the story. A lot to get to on this. I want to bring in right now Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." Anita Dunn is a former White House communications director under President Obama, and Mark Preston is CNN senior political analyst.
Brian, there's a lot to the story.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BOLDUAN: What do we know right now?
STELTER: It's complicated and at the center of it is a very sad tragic story, the death of Seth Rich. It's a very cost because his death one year ago has been exploited by these conspiracy theorists. People would try to say it must have been somehow connected to the Democrats, the Clinton's must have had him killed.
In that way that means there was no collusion between Trump and Russia. That's the theory. Keep in mind as I explain this, the story that Fox did has been discredited, but it does have a human figure at the center of it whose family has been through hell.
So, what we know for sure is that this conspiracy theory about Seth Rich has reached the west wing. We know that because Sean Spicer confirmed to NPR that he took a meeting with the investigator in this case, Rod Wheeler, and the investor who paid the investigator at the top.
So, there was a media in the west wing. Spicer told NPR it was a courtesy that he knew, but it suggested there could have been more coordination here. The lawsuit has some astonishing allegations about further coordination even a suggestion that the president read a draft ahead of time.
BOLDUAN: By way of text messages and e-mails saying that the president had seen a draft of it.
STELTER: That's right. Now (inaudible) telling CNN, he's joking about that. This entire lawsuit is bull. So, that's the claim from (inaudible). But this suit is against Fox, it's against one of the reporters who wrote the story.
Remember the story has been discredited and retracted by Fox News. At the time, it was a big deal. It was a distraction from damaging Russia stories, a distraction from the firing of James Comey.
People like Sean Hannity ate this conspiracy theory up. Where was he? The White House. Remember he has close ties to the president. So all of this even though it's allegations of a lawsuit, it's very eye opening because of the connections between Fox and the White House.
BOLDUAN: Seth Rich's family even tweeting and threatening legal action asking this whole conspiracy theory to stop leading up to all of this. You are injuring Seth's reputation and defaming the family and those who love him. So, Brian laying it out, there's a lot to it. We are just learning about it. I do recall moments when you opened with Fox News when you were at the White House. What do you make of the lawsuit and these allegations?
ANITA DUNN, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to comment on the lawsuits. I think this is a bigger issue for the Trump administration, here is why.
Both in the campaign and the administration, we have these stories now where they were clearly open for business for anybody who was peddling information, whether it was true or not and taking meetings they shouldn't have taken.
Whether it was the Russians or someone who was paying to an investigator to dig up something to have a counter narrative. It suggests attitude toward news, which is scary in a government agency.
BOLDUAN: Paul, let's get to the legal. What is at stake legally here?
[11:20:10] PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a bizarre lawsuit. It alleges two really fundamental things. One, that Rod Wheeler, who was a Fox contributor and a private investigator was defamed because Fox propagated this utterly false story that misquoted him.
That you know, Seth Rich had been assassinated because in essence of his connection to Wikileaks, and that this would have come out and shown a Democratic connection to Wikileaks.
STELTER: And that's not a Russian connection.
CALLAN: That's right. The second part of it, though, is it's an employment discrimination lawsuit. Douglas (inaudible) who is the attorney in the case is a very well-known employment discrimination lawyer and he has a number of other cases against the Fox Network saying that the network systematically discriminates against African- American reporters and contributors.
And of course, Wheeler falls into that category. So, you have those two things going on. If, in the end, they are able to prove in court an active link between the Fox network collusion with the White House and this discrimination that will be a strange hodgepodge of allegations against the network.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Thank you for going through that for me. Thankfully, Mark Preston, does not have to. Part of this gets to, again, if there was a communications director in the White House today, he would need to be answering questions about this likely.
But there is no communications director in the White House today. Where do we stand at this moment? Scaramucci is out, Priebus is out, Kelly is in. Is the White House now functioning? What are you hearing, Mark?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Is the White House functioning? I mean, I don't think it is functioning any better than it was with Scaramucci in as the communications director. Quite frankly, it's going to take General Kelly some time to actually streamline the line of command.
Anita has been in the White House, she understands better than anybody at this table, quite frankly, how it works and the competing factions within a White House. To this story alone, right, as we are talking about perhaps collusion in some point, let's just look at it from 50,000 feet.
We understand that in the media, we have a very low approval rating. We understand that. We don't necessarily tell great stories and people get upset about that. The Congress has a very low approval rating, OK. We understand. People are upset at Washington.
The president has less than (inaudible) people who are supporting of him. If this is true that there was a collusion between the White House and Fox News, it really goes to the whole heart that Americans can't trust their institutions. This would be one thing that would jump out about people being upset.
BOLDUAN: Leaning on your experience as a communications director, the revolving door in the west wing, you have -- there's a tweet that kind of grabbed everybody's eye from 2012. There's a tweet for everything with the president.
Here is another one from 2012 where Donald Trump then tweeted "Three chiefs of staff in less than three years of being president. Part of the reason why Barack Obama can't manage to pass his agenda."
Trump is now on his second chief of staff in six months. What does turmoil like this -- how does turmoil like this affect a president's agenda?
DUNN: You know, anytime a senior person leaves and a new one comes in, even under the best of circumstances, I have to say under President Obama, you functionally had the best of circumstances. I would say that. Occasionally, it's true.
There was a reason we called it no drama Obama as opposed to what we have now, which is excess of drama. Here is the thing, if someone comes in, they have to get up to speed, learn the processes. There are things, simple things like records retention.
Things around disclosure. Things about the fact that your personal financial disclosure is public. You kind of learn. So, somebody has to come in and figure out the issues going on. They have to get up to speed on all of it. It is disruptive, even if it's a planned transition over a couple of months.
Then you look at this White House with the revolving door, the constant comings and goings, and the fact that there is no center of gravity to begin with beside the president.
Hopefully General Kelly can address some of these issues. But in the best of White House as a senior person leaving is disruptive. BOLDUAN: Can the White House function without a communications director? What if they never fill the role, Anita?
DUNN: Well, the White House did function without a communications director for a very long time in history. The communications director job was actually brought in to let the press secretary kind of do the incoming, the daily stuff, and have a longer term planning function as strategic coordination especially as the government has gotten so big and there is so much more to coordinate.
So, if the answer is yes, of course, they can because they might have to, but somebody will have to fill that role.
BOLDUAN: The word from the White House, though, is that the whole staff will now report to General Kelly. Does that apply to the family, Jared and Ivanka?
PRESTON: It's funny you ask the question because that is the question. You know, is Ivanka Trump going to have to go and take a ticket from General Kelly to walk into the oval office --
[11:25:03] BOLDUAN: It's different than at the deli counter.
PRESTON: Right. I'll have a half pound of salami, whatever it is. But look, I mean, I don't think so in the sense that if she wants to go in and see her father, she is going to walk and see her father. If her husband wants to, he is going to.
However, when it comes to policy, I bet you specifically because of what they have been through, I bet when it comes to any kind of policy or political play, they will go to General Kelly.
BOLDUAN: That's fascinating. Guys, thank you so much. Great to see you. Thank you all for being here. Really appreciate it.
So, one Republican senator calling out his own party for legitimizing President Trump. Why Jeff Flake says the GOP is in denial.
Plus, detained at gun point in the dark of night as the president of Venezuela lashes out at President Trump, two of his opponents are detained in secret raids. We'll be right back.