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Did White House Help Push FOX News Conspiracy Story?. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired August 1, 2017 - 15:00   ET




SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: None of that was disclosed. They had a conversation, and that was the end of it. You guys come to us with stories all day.

I have taken meetings with the majority of the people in this room. I don't always know the nature of the story of which you're coming to talk to me about, but it's my job to talk to you, to listen, and I'm responding.

The president didn't have knowledge of this story. The White House didn't have any involvement in this story. And beyond that, it's ongoing litigation that doesn't involve anybody in the building, and so I would refer you to the parties that it does.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Brian Stelter, you get this here. The president had no knowledge of this and the White House had no involvement, despite what this lawsuit is alleging that was filed today.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Let's see in a week or two, as more reporters do more digging, if that answer holds up.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders' answers about "The Washington Post," about the flight, about the Trump statement did not hold up from a few weeks ago. We have heard new answers from her today. So now we're in the first day of this story about FOX and the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.

She's saying the president had no knowledge of this story ahead of time. And that directly contradicts what the lawsuit says. The lawsuit says the president, incredibly, read a draft of the FOX story ahead of time. We will see if there's more evidence in court for that assertion.

But she is denying that and saying the White House wasn't involved. I think the meeting with Spicer, though, is going to continue to earn scrutiny, and there are questions about whether others at the White House might have been involved as well.

So, she is saying no. She's issuing a denial. But credibility's always, at the end of the day, the issue here, the lack of credibility from the podium always the issue.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And, Brian, wasn't Sean Spicer's first response that he couldn't speak to the president's interactions with anything related to this story? He was unaware, even though he had a meeting in his West Wing office, but he was unaware of the president's involvement.

So to hear Sarah Huckabee Sanders -- I would be very interested to know the conversation she had with the president, how she got that information that Sean Spicer did not have at the time.

STELTER: She was also asked if the president believes this Seth Rich conspiracy theory, which, you know, is a little bit of an upsetting thing. She said she didn't know, she wasn't sure whether he does or not.

This is a really sad conspiracy theory about a real person who really was murdered in D.C. last year. His life and death has been exploited by people on the fever swamps of the Internet who say it was all done by the Democrats somehow and thus proves the Russia collusion narrative completely false.

The president has -- he has promoted other conspiracy theories in the past. And by leaving the door open today, Sanders is sort of sending a signal to Trump's loyal supporters that, hey, maybe he believes this Seth Rich conspiracy theory too.

BALDWIN: But, you know, and Ken and Robby, back over to you.

Ken, have you ever heard of a White House being involved -- and the allegation is that the White House and the president himself read the script of this FOX News story, which they knew to be, you know, erroneous before sending it out there.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI (R), FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, realize the FOX reporter, Malia Zimmerman, and the middle man, Butowsky, if that's how you say his name, they're the main characters here.

There's really -- I have read the whole lawsuit, and the only connection to the White House is through the Butowsky character and Wheeler. That's where the allegations about Trump come from, and it's very clear, if Wheeler's verifiable quotes like from texts and e- mails, things that can be produced and shown to us, are accurate, that Butowsky was blowing smoke in all of this.

And the beauty of a lawsuit is discovery will flesh all this out and we will learn this. And -- but it doesn't look like -- this was driven by the reporter who presumably will never be a reporter anywhere again, and Butowsky, who was funding this whole effort, and they literally made up quotes for the plaintiff, Rod Wheeler, the investigator, which he never said, didn't review before the story went out, and didn't say, is his position.

And as he asserts in the 33 pages they filed recently, that they can prove all of the statements because they were all text-written or taped, which is very interesting, because he lives in Maryland, and if you think all the way back to Linda Tripp, you may remember that taping phone calls in Maryland is illegal.

And so that will be an interesting wrinkle as well.


Robby, what do you think?

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Yes, I mean, look, Ken's a very experienced lawyer. I have nothing to bring on the legal end of this.

But I just want to reinforce the point that was already made, just how sick this is, and that this was a young man who was in political work, not unlike myself and a lot of other people who do this, and he was killed. And his parents are grieving.

And just the fact that anyone, let alone the president of the United States, or anyone in the -- people who claim to be media would be doing this is just reprehensible. And I think we should be supporting and grieving with this family and not -- just nobody should be engaged in this kind of behavior. It's sad.


BALDWIN: Ken Cuccinelli and Robby Mook, thank you both so much.

CUCCINELLI: Good to be with you.

BALDWIN: And thank you.

And just a reminder to all of you. We are moments away from seeing the president himself. He has invited a number of small business owners to the White House, so we will take that live as soon as that begins there.

But the big headline today from that White House briefing that just wrapped, the White House acknowledged the president was involved in crafting a misleading statement that his son released about his meeting with the Russian lawyer in June of last year.

Don Jr. said it was primarily about Russian adoptions, which means it was really about sanctions, but, later, his own e-mails showed that he attended the meeting to learn more about information against Hillary Clinton, then could help his father's campaign.

Listen to how the press secretary over at the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responded to the story that "The Washington Post" broke.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: The statement that Don Jr. issued is true.

There's no inaccuracy in the statement. The president weighed, in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had. This is all discussion, frankly, of no consequence.

There was no follow-up. It was disclosed to the proper parties, which is how "The New York Times" found out about it to begin with. The Democrats want to use this as a P.R. stunt. And they're doing everything they can to keep this story alive and in the papers every single day. The president, the American people, they voted America first, not Russia first, and that's the focus of our administration.

QUESTION: Can you clarify the degree to which the president weighed in?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: He certainly didn't dictate, but, you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion, like any father would do.


BALDWIN: With me now, CNN contributor Emily Jane Fox, a writer for "Vanity Fair," CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and Nick Akerman, who was an assistant special Watergate prosecutor and currently a partner at the Dorsey & Whitney law firm.

Gloria, to you.

As we have just been discussing, the words from Sarah Huckabee Sanders even contradict what we have heard from the president himself. You know, he has admitted in speeches and in interviews since this Air Force One dictation or non-dictation, depending on who you're listening to, he has acknowledged that it was about also, in addition to adoptions, dirt on Hillary Clinton, opposition research. What politician wouldn't have done it, according to the president.

So, how do you reconcile the two?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and also you have the president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, out there saying that the president had nothing to do with the writing of this statement.


BORGER: And so you really have to ask the question, now that they have said weighed in, as opposed to dictate -- you can parse those words -- you have to ask a couple of questions. One is, why would anyone -- and you're the attorney here -- why would anyone let the president of the United States get near this on the airplane?

It seems to me that if the lawyers had actually been on board that airplane, they wouldn't have let the president get near it, even if he wanted to protect his son. It also seems to me that since attorneys for other people involved, Don Jr.'s attorney, as we have reported, Jared Kushner's attorneys, were ready to sort of...

BALDWIN: Be transparent.


BORGER: Be transparent, rip the Band-Aid off the whole thing, release a statement. Why did this change?

And the only the only answer we can have is the president. Now, it's not against the law to lie to the press. But you are putting everyone now on that plane, as our colleague Evan Perez has reported, in a situation of some legal jeopardy, and they're now going to have to be interviewed by the special counsel about this. Am I right?


And it's even more than that. We can't just focus on this one statement that Don Jr. did. It really comes down to looking at the Jared Kushner statement. If you put those two together, you realize the president of the United States is orchestrating this entire defense.

The lawyers have nothing to do with it. You could have put them on the plane. It wouldn't have made any difference. He would have thrown them off with parachutes. It really was all Donald trump, and this is all part of his plan to obstruct this investigation.

If you look at those two statements, they are very surgically drafted. You have got Donald Jr. saying, well, I didn't know what was going on, it just happened to be about adoptions. Of course, Donald Trump had no idea that adoptions was just a code word for the sanctions.

BALDWIN: Sanctions.

AKERMAN: And with Jared Kushner, oh, I just walked in after the incriminating statements were made, and I left before anything happened, and it was all in Russian, so I didn't know what was going on.

BALDWIN: Well, so to your point, and, Emily, you cover Jared and Ivanka, Jared Kushner, according to "The Washington Post" reporting, and Gloria said it, he was ready to be transparent and get out ahead of this story.

Once they started hearing rumblings that this was going to get out, it's best for them publicity-wise to go ahead and say, this is what happened. Done.

But that didn't end up happening.

EMILY JANE FOX, "VANITY FAIR": Well, I think it's very easy for people who told "The Washington Post" now to say that their strategy was to be transparent and to give a full-throated admission of these e-mails, but that didn't happen at the time.


And so what you have got was a statement saying, basically, to "The New York Times" when this was first reported, we refer all questions to Don Jr. about this meeting. And so they weren't actually fully transparent about until this after it already broke. And so it's a very convenient press strategy to say that's what we wanted to do. (CROSSTALK)

BORGER: That may be.

BALDWIN: But if you're Bob Mueller -- Gloria's right. It's not illegal to give a misstatement to the press or to we, the people.

But if you're Bob Mueller, the special counsel, what are you sniffing around for now?

AKERMAN: Well, I think, first of all, it may not be illegal to give it to the press, but you know that these are the statements that were made to Congress by Jared Kushner.

BALDWIN: Do we know that?

AKERMAN: You think that he made some different statement that was different than was out there in the public? We saw the public statement that was provided to the committee. It's basically the same surgical story that Donald Trump put together, the same story that Donald Jr., I'm sure, gave or is going to give in testimony.

All of that can be charged as perjury. What they didn't count on was the fact that they don't know all the facts. Donald Trump doesn't have all of the e-mails. He doesn't know all of the evidence that can be gathered here. And, surely, but slowly, just like it did with those June -- the June 4 e-mails leading up to the June 9 meeting, there's going to be evidence coming out, basically putting the lie to these statements.

And that is why Donald Trump so desperately wants to put the end to this Mueller investigation, which is why everything he's done has been geared towards stopping that investigation.

BORGER: Well, and it brings you back to the question of, when did the president know about that...

BALDWIN: Trump Tower meeting. Right.

BORGER: ... e-mail and the Trump Tower meeting? And, you know, what we have heard is that, of course, he didn't know about it until it was done and over, et cetera, et cetera, that he did not know about the e- mail, that Don Jr. never told his father that these people were coming in.

And, again, you know, Mueller has to peel this onion. He's got to really get to the core. And I -- you know, I think he will. I think he will do that. But now everybody who was in the back of that plane trying -- or the front of that plane, wherever it was, trying to come up with this statement which, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, was truthful, insofar as it went, right?

It didn't go very far. So, now everybody is in some jeopardy. Everybody's got to lawyer up. Everybody's got to figure out how to deal with the special counsel, because he's now got another area to pursue. BALDWIN: But I'm also just thinking, this is intra-family issues too,

right? I mean, this is protecting -- what was the line from Sarah Huckabee Sanders? He did what any father would do and maybe trying to -- I'm putting words in her mouth, but maybe trying to protect his son.

Loyalty is everything within the Trump family.

FOX: That is true, but every father is not also the president of the United States who is under investigation by a special counsel.


FOX: I think that this is the interesting thing. When you have a senior adviser to the president who is also a son-in-law, when you have an adviser to the campaign who is also a son, this is when you get into trouble.

It was Jared Kushner's lawyers who discovered these e-mails, we have been told. They then do not tell the president in order to protect him legally, but then they have to have a conversation with Don Jr., saying these e-mails exist. It's -- family business is usual territory for the Trumps and for the Kushners as well, but politics is not. And so this is when things get a little tricky.

BORGER: Or did Jared let him know in an obtuse way that there was something that had been discovered, but maybe not discussed? It is why there are nepotism laws.


BALDWIN: Actually, forgive me, speaking of, here's the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This magnificent house known as the White House.

We're pleased to welcome members of Congress and so many incredible entrepreneurs to the White House to celebrate the work of the Small Business Administration as it enters its, believe it or not, 65th year.

I would like to just say that Senator Jim Risch is here.

Jim, thank you very much.


TRUMP: Marco Rubio, a strong competitor, I will tell you that.

Senator Joni Ernst, who's been my friend for a long time now, and we appreciate you being here, Joni. And they love you in Iowa, don't they, huh?

Steve Chabot. Where's Steve? Steve and Mike Kelly. Good. Mike, thank you very much for being here, all of you. We

really appreciate it.

I want to thank Administrator Linda McMahon for doing a tremendous job helping small businesses all across our country. She has been incredible. Known her for a long time, and her husband and herself built an incredible business. She's determined to transform America and American dreams into reality.

We also want to thank my daughter Ivanka for her incredible work on behalf of small businesses and women entrepreneurs.


Your stories -- and this is really a fact. And I have read some of these stories, but they demonstrate what it takes to succeed. You thrive because you found something that you love to do, pursued it with all of your heart, and never, ever gave up. So important. You just don't give up.

America's on the verge of a golden age for small business. We're ending job-killing regulations. These folks know that very well, and we're really ending it at a record pace, I will tell you. Right?


TRUMP: We're eliminating the tremendous, the massive restrictions on American energy. And numbers are going to be released next week that are going to be earth-shattering as to what we're doing with energy and the amounts of energy we're producing, far greater than ever before.

And pursuing bold tax cuts, so that our companies are thrive, compete, and grow.


TRUMP: Thank you.

Our stock market has reached an all-time high today, all-time high. Think of it. Nobody ever talks about it.


TRUMP: They don't talk about it.

I keep telling General Kelly, General, come on, let's go, you're chief of staff. They don't talk about the all-time high stock market. And they don't talk about another factor, that unemployment just hit a 16- year low. They don't want to talk about it.


TRUMP: And I think, to me, maybe the biggest is that GDP for the quarter just released at 2.6 percent. So, that's so much higher than anticipated. Remember, I was saying we're going to try and hit 3 percent sometime over the next period of two years? Well, 2.6 percent is getting closer, Gary, closer than we thought and a lot faster than we thought, but don't worry about the 3. We're going to be higher than 3 in the not-too-distant future too.


TRUMP: So, we're setting economic records and we're very proud of it, and that's, you know, a very big thing, and the jobs are coming pouring back. Factories are coming pouring back into our country, into our country. Jobs are coming back.

You saw the Foxconn last week. They're going to spend $10 billion, but he is one of the great businessmen of our time and I think the number is going to be $30 million (sic). So he told me, off the record, he thinks he may go $30 billion. Think of this. He may go $30 billion investment, but he told me that off the record, so I promised I wouldn't tell anybody.


TRUMP: That's called big business, by the way. OK? That's big business. You will be big business. You're going to start off small, but you're going to be big like that. He started off small.

Now he's about the biggest. But I want to thank Foxconn and the group. They're spending a tremendous amount of money in Wisconsin and other places, and they have been fantastic.

Together, we're unleashing a new era of American prosperity, perhaps like we have never seen before, and you see it day by day. You don't hear it too much from the media, but I think the media's going to actually be forced to cover it pretty soon. They're going to have no choice.

I'm very inspired to be in the company of such motivated entrepreneurs, people that I really respect, because I know what it takes. I have been there. And, believe me, I know what it takes. You're the dreamers and the innovators who are powering us into the future.

That's exactly what you are. And my administration will be there with you every single step of the way, and so will these people right here, every single step of the way.

So, thank you. And thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody.


BALDWIN: All right, so the president there inviting small business owners. This is American Dream Week at the White House, you know, essentially saying small business is what makes America great.

You saw his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump standing behind him, along with Linda McMahon, the administrator of the Small Business Administration. [15:20:02]

And so just, as we don't often see Ivanka Trump, and she will speak as part of this panel momentarily, Emily to, you.

Some people -- she tweeted yesterday in the news, day one, the chief of staff, General Kelly, nice to serve alongside him and critics are saying, is it alongside? Is it under? Everyone's reading in everything. What do you make of -- what's she been up to?

FOX: Well, I think as one White House official told me yesterday, she and her husband, Jared Kushner, are very happy that General Kelly is there, because they think he can restore some professionalism to the West Wing.

Look, I think that she says she wants to do these kinds of things, to talk to small business owners, to focus on working women, small business owners, entrepreneurs. And having a more professionalized West Wing, the logic would follow, would let them do that, let them do the things that they wanted to do when they moved to Washington. Whether or not that will happen, I think we should all stay tuned to see.

BALDWIN: OK. Emily and Gloria and Nick, thank you so much.

All of you, stick around, because the White House is responding to the explosive allegations that the White House worked with FOX News to push out the conspiracy surrounding the death of a murdered DNC staffer. We have those details and the legal fallout next.



BALDWIN: The White House is now squarely in the middle of a lawsuit involving explosive allegations that officials worked with FOX News to peddle the conspiracy over a murdered DNC staffer.

This is the whole Seth Rich story that FOX News in the end had to retract. According to a new lawsuit filed by the FOX contributor, a wealthy Trump supporter worked with FOX News and the White House to push this bogus claim that Rich's death in the summer of last year may have been connected to the leak of the DNC e-mails and WikiLeaks.

Why? Well, the lawsuit claims it was to -- quote -- "help lift the cloud" of the Russia investigation.

Now, to be clear, the Seth Rich-DNC murder conspiracy has been entirely debunked. There is zero truth to this whatsoever.

However, FOX News host Sean Hannity continued to push the conspiracy on the network and then later on his own radio show without any proof.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this at the briefing just a few moments ago. This was her response.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president had no knowledge of the story and it's completely untrue that he or -- the White House involvement in this story. And beyond that, this is ongoing litigation, and I would refer you to the actual parties involved, which aren't the White House.

QUESTION: Does it disturb you, does it say anything about this White House that you would entertain that kind of story?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: It doesn't bother me that the press secretary would take a meeting with somebody involved in the media about a story. None of that was disclosed.

They had a conversation, and that was the end of it. You guys come to us with stories all day.

I have taken meetings with the majority of the people in this room. I don't always know the nature of the story of which you're coming to talk to me about, but it's my job to talk to you, to listen, and I'm responding.

The president didn't have knowledge of this story. The White House didn't have any involvement in this story. And beyond that, it's ongoing litigation that doesn't involve anybody in the building, and so I would refer you to the parties that it does.


BALDWIN: Gloria and Nick are back with me, along with Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent.

This lawsuit file today, tell me more about that and what they're alleging?

STELTER: Rod Wheeler, who was a contributor on FOX News for a long time, also a private investigator, he alleges defamation of character.

He says FOX misquoted him when covering this Seth Rich conspiracy theory. They published a story in mid-May that, as you said, was later retracted. It was a story that lent credence to the conspiracy theory that maybe it wasn't the Russians that hacked into the DNC and stole those e-mails. Maybe it was Seth Rich, this kid who ended up dead on the street in D.C. last summer.

What's sick about this, Brooke, is, we're talking about a real person who was gunned down. It is an unsolved murder. And the family's pain has been exploited by these conspiracy theorists.

What we know for sure -- there's a lot in the lawsuit we don't know. What we know for sure is that then Press Secretary Sean Spicer did meet with Rod Wheeler and the guy, the donor who was bankrolling this investigation. That's what Sarah Huckabee Sanders was addressing this afternoon, that, yes, Spicer did have a meeting.

Spicer and Sanders are saying that was no big deal. But I think it is a big deal, Brooke, because it means that this conspiracy theory was right inside the West Wing, that at least it was being talked about right inside the West Wing.

Now, they say the president knew nothing about it and had no involvement in the story, but we will see how -- if this lawsuit progresses, if we learn more about what happened.

BALDWIN: You have read through the details of...


BALDWIN: What do you think?

AKERMAN: Yes, yes, I have looked at the details on this, and this is a key piece of what amounts to this Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

It actually goes back to the e-mails that were released on June 4 and about the Donald Trump Jr. meeting on June 9, because, if you recall, that June 4 meeting, there was a promise of a whole bunch of Russian documents that would be compromising on Hillary Clinton.

For some reason, the press has seemed to drop this one, and people have forgotten about it. But it's absolutely critical, because this came at a time two months after we know that the DNC was hacked and that documents were taken out by the Russians from the Democratic National Committee.

I would bet, if I were a prosecutor, my money would be that the documents that were going to be produced and were produced at that June 9 meeting were the documents that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee.

And I would even go further to say that Donald Trump knew about it, because, on June 7, when he made a speech at the end of the New Jersey primary, when he got off the Teleprompter, he said, I'm going to have all kinds of -- to paraphrase, all kinds of goodies for you on Hillary Clinton next Monday at a press conference that never occurred.

BORGER: But you're connecting a lot of dots that we're not sure...

BALDWIN: We're not there yet, yes.

BORGER: ... are going to be connected.


AKERMAN: I will give you a couple.

BORGER: But wait a minute.

One thing we don't know is that the documents exist or were left after that meeting. I mean, we only know Don Jr.'s story about that meeting, Jared Kushner's story about that meeting.

I go back again to the need for the special counsel to find out about what was left, if anything, at that meeting. So you're presuming something that we don't really know.

STELTER: And here's why it matters.


AKERMAN: But wait a minute.

Donald Jr.'s -- the e-mail said that he was going to first send the documents to Donald Trump's secretary, but said, instead, I'm going to bring them to you personally.

Do you think they would have admitted to these?