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Trump: "Russia Story is a Total Fabrication"; Grand Jury Issues Subpoenas in Russia Probe; GOP Senators Defend Decisive Health Care Votes; Jobless Rates Drops to 16-year Low of 4.3 percent. Aired 10- 10:30a ET
Aired August 4, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- to Russia. The president scoffed at the probe, called it a witch hunt when he fired up a crowd in West Virginia last night, saying, Democrats have made the whole thing up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russia story is a total fabrication. It's just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. That's all it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Justice correspondent Evan Perez has been working his sources. He joins us with more. And then we'll get to Joe Johns at the White House.
Evan, let's break this up. First, walk me through these additional subpoenas, that you guys broke the news, are being issued and the specific ties that they have to the Don Jr. meeting.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. Well, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued these grand jury subpoenas to people who could provide information about that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between the Russian lawyer and Trump campaign officials. Now, the subpoena is seeking both documents and perhaps, more importantly, testimony from the people involved according to a source familiar with the matter.
Now, that meeting was organized by Donald Trump Jr., the president's son and included Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman. Until now, Poppy, we only knew of a grand jury in Virginia that was issuing subpoenas, but that was before Mueller got appointed. And he is now working out of offices here in Washington.
We got a statement from the president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, and he told CNN in a statement, quote, "The president's outside counsel has not received any request for documentation or information about this. Any inquiry from the special counsel that goes beyond the mandate specified in the appointment we would object to." Poppy? HARLOW: That's one part of it, Evan. There's also the reporting that you and your team, the justice team at CNN here broke, which is the fact that they are truly -- these investigators following the money trail, looking deep and hard into any potential financial ties that the president or anyone around him to Russia. What more can you tell us?
PEREZ: And you can see, Poppy, how this is on the president's mind. It's really bothering him and people around him, frankly. Investigators are following the money. They are exploring potential financial ties of President Trump and his associates to Russia. Now, sources tell us financial links could offer a more concrete path to any potential prosecution.
Investigators are looking into possible financial crimes including some unconnected to the election. The FBI has already reviewed financial records related to the Trump organization, the president himself, as well as to members of his family and campaign associates. Investigators have also combed through the list of companies and buyers of Trump branded real estate properties. They even scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower in Manhattan, reaching back several years. And Mueller's team - has even examined the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump, dating back to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant which Trump hosted in Moscow, Poppy.
HARLOW: Evan Perez, great reporting, breaking news left and right as always. Thank you very much, my friend.
The president, also, and already intensifying his attack against the Russia probe. If you were watching last night, his rally in West Virginia, you saw it firsthand. He fired up his base and he insisted the entire Russia investigation is a fabrication.
Let's go to the White House where our senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is this morning. The president took a good amount of time to focus on this last night.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did. And you know, this is his second trip to West Virginia in just about ten days. This time though, he wasn't talking to boy scouts. He was talking to the rank and file. The faithful supporters who gave him a 40 percentage point win in West Virginia during the election.
So, some of the things we heard from that speech, among others, he certainly called the Russia story totally made up, a total fabrication. We did not hear some of the broadside attacks on the news media that we have heard in the past when he got on this topic. We'll have to see if that continues. But what the president did do was focus on the Russian narrative and pretty much make it clear to many of his supporters that in his view, this investigation is something that is being done to them. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians? They can't beat us at the voting booths, so, they are trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign, there never were.
I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one, which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future want and deserve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[10:05:11] JOHNS: The president certainly seemed energized. And he woke up this morning, tweeted about the big turnout there in Huntington, West Virginia. His lawyers, for their part, continued on their course. They put out a statement after the news broke that a grand jury had been empaneled, saying in part, the White House is committed to cooperating with the special counsel. So, Poppy, the take away, of course, if nothing else, this president plans to continue to talk about this issue and we are going to hear more from him. Back to you.
HARLOW: I think that's a safe bet. Joe Johns at the White House, thank you.
Let's discuss all of this, a last breakdown. Our panel is here. Michael Zeldin, our legal analyst and former federal prosecutor who worked under Mueller in Justice Department, CNN political commentators, Brian Fallon and former congressman, Jack Kingston and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, White House reporter for "The New York Times," nice to have you all here.
Counselor let me begin with you. There are some legal experts who are saying there is a lot of significance to the fact that this Mueller grand jury is issuing the subpoenas, tied to the Don Jr. meeting. They say it broadens the scope, perhaps, accelerates the speed. What do you say?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is a serious undertaking whenever someone empanels a grand jury and no one wants to be the subject or target of a grand jury investigation. Whether it means at the end of the process that anyone is more likely to be indicted than not, really remains to be seen. So, the purpose of a grand jury is to make the determination about indicting or not indicting.
And the way you do that is you bring witnesses in and they testify under oath. You acquire documents via subpoena and you analyze them. So, this is the ordinary course of a prosecutor investigating things. What is significant about it is of course, that he is determined that this is the way to do this that is through a grand jury as opposed to just informal witnesses interviews. So, it shows us seriousness of purpose on Mueller's part but it doesn't portend indictments at the end of the line.
HARLOW: You know, Julie, even some of the president's biggest fans and vocal supporters are saying, essentially, this is a big deal, right? You've got Newt Gingrich going on "Hannity" on Fox last night and saying, quote, "The Mueller threat is probably the most deadly." Now, he criticized the investigation. Mueller calls it part of the deep state. But the fact that he's got these allies saying this could be problematic, significant?
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Absolutely. And I think it reflects the view of the president and the worries and really the anger of the president and the people around him that this is going the way they had feared it would go.
They know that Mueller is an aggressive prosecutor. They know that he has a very broad scope that he is able to pursue. And that in the past, these kinds of investigations have gone in many different directions, not necessarily just the one that they were -- initially intended to go down. And so, the fact that they have now empaneled this grand jury does underscores for them. I think the very real possibility. Michael is right that this doesn't mean there will be indictments but that there could be indictments and a process -- over which they have very little to no control.
HARLOW: I should just note, you know, the context of what Newt Gingrich said was he said it would be deadly to his agenda, right, to being able to accomplish things. This is not him saying, you know, there is meat here and the president is going to be - you know, an indictment is going to be handed down.
But Brian Fallon, to you, one thing that stands out, I think, this morning is the way the White House counsel, one of the president's lawyers, Ty Cobb is responding to this. He says the White House is, quote, "Committed to fully cooperating with Mueller."
You heard the president last night sort of taking on the Russia investigation, and the heart of it, a very different message from his attorney, Ty Cobb. Do you think that the president's criticism of the investigation will cease or slow?
BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I doubt it, Poppy. I suspect that they are playing a two-way game here where the president is going to continue to go out on the stump and speak at these campaign-style rallies and try to continue to characterize the ongoing investigation as a witch hunt. While Ty Cobb is a very serious attorney that has a very good reputation in Washington continues to sound the right and proper notes of saying that yes, of course, the White House is committed to cooperating with the investigation. That is the posture you would think that they would take if they didn't have anything to hide.
I think that the -- you know, Michael's points are well taken about how just empaneling a grand jury doesn't in of itself mean an indictments are around the corner. I do think that the salience of this development, though, is it puts Donald Trump, himself, and key officials in the White House on a collision course with a process where it is going to actually attach consequences to any myths, truths or lies that they tell to the grand jury.
There are no consequences for Donald Trump to go out and lie to the public at a rally in West Virginia. There are no consequences for White House officials when they go on television to lie about meetings that they may or may not have taken with Russian officials. But you cannot lie without consequence when you're appearing before the grand jury.
[10:10:00] And so, I think, Ty Cobb and other lawyers around the White House will be taking this very seriously because they know that the jig is up. What you say on the campaign trail and on the Sunday shows doesn't work in a grand jury situation.
HARLOW: Congressman Kingston, as someone who has been -- was a surrogate for the Trump campaign, a very vocal supporter of the president. What do you make of the fact that we now know from our reporting that this Mueller probe and this grand jury includes now subpoenas directly related to the Don Jr. meeting, which included Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and that Russian lawyer?
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think sometimes that we worry that this is going to get out of control, that here is an investigation with an unlimited budget with the ability to hire people right and left, including, by the way, partisans. I mean, I'm still disturbed that --
HARLOW: But Congressman, that's how these things work. I mean, remember the Clinton administration? Would you be saying this then about Ken Starr?
KINGSTON: No. I'm glad you raised that point because here, Ken Starr was in real estate deals and ended up with a 24-year-old woman and a blue dress.
HARLOW: Right. That is how this works and -- Republicans didn't think -- a problem with it then.
KINGSTON: Actually, I think many of us did have a problem with it then and I thought that there should have been far more substance than getting to Monica Lewinsky. But it does seem to me, that a special prosecutor has an unlimited budget, an unlimited ability to hire staff and then can go in any direction they want. Since Evan Perez just said they're are looking at tenants at Trump Tower. What in the world will that have to do with Russia?
HARLOW: So, Congressman, I think, what -- counterargument here is the pursuit of justice should have no price tag. Isn't that right?
KINGSTON: This is about a Russian collusion investigation. It's not about tenants in Trump Tower.
HARLOW: It's also about obstruction of justice and it's also about transparency. Is there anything that would make the president or the presidency beholden to a foreign nation and adversary?
KINGSTON: This is about collusion with Russia. It's not about Trump real estate deals across the nation over the last five to ten years. Mueller has hired somebody named Quarles who gave $32,000 to Hillary Clinton. A guy named Rhee who gave $14,000. These are partisan operators who you can't tell me that in this town you couldn't find somebody who did not -
(CROSSTALK) HARLOW: So, you know, Mueller is a Republican, right? And you know he's also --
KINGSTON: Well, I don't know that he is a Republican. I've got to say this. I have never known him to be at any of our dinners or be an activist. But let me -
HARLOW: He is not. All right --
KINGSTON: But here is an example of a runaway investigation in the brewing. Maybe it's not going to happen. But I have a lot of concerns.
HARLOW: All right, stay with me. The Congressman calls this a runaway investigation. On the other side of the break, we are going to have the counselor, Michael Zeldin, weigh in on all of that. Thank you all. Stay with us.
The president's former right hand man telling voters to hold the president accountable, this is the guy who ran his campaign, saying hold the president into account if he doesn't follow through on promises, pretty stunning.
Also, absurd and groundless, this morning, the Kremlin agrees with the president on one thing, the relationship between these two countries is at a dangerous low.
And standing their ground, in a CNN exclusive, two GOP senators defend their decision to buck their own party and the president's push on health care.
(BEGIN VIDO CLIP)
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I made a statement to the president with my colleagues and with his team there that I'm not voting for the Republican Party. I'm voting for the people of Alaska.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[10:17:21] HARLOW: So, as the White House -- as the probe, rather, of the Russia probe on the White House is heating up, the White House and the president seem to be changing their tone from dismissing the Mueller investigation to last night attacking its integrity at the core. My panel is back. And Counselor, to you first, Michael Zeldin, we left off with the Congressman saying this is an investigation that is a runaway investigation. It is off the rails. So, your experience, is he right?
ZELDIN: No. I think he's not correct. A couple of things I think he said are incorrect. First is, with respect to unlimited budget, that's simply not true. Under the regulations that govern Mueller, he has to submit a budget within 60 days for his first fiscal year, which has to be approved by attorney general. And then, 90 days before the end of the fiscal year, he has to submit another request for budget if he's going to be a second year and that's approved by the attorney general. So, there are clear parameters on the budget with respect to Mueller's investigation.
Second, with respect to the mandate, the mandate is quite clear. It says links or coordination between Trump and Russian government operatives and matters which arose out of it and which may arise out of it. And so, you leave it to Mueller's discretion to operate within the parameters of that mandate and I think he is doing so.
And Financial ties to the Trump campaign and Trump operatives and Russian government is exactly what any prosecutor would do, special prosecutor or regular prosecutor, you'd look for connections that are financial. You'd look for motives that may explain behavior. So this is by no means, a runaway investigation with unlimited budget is a rather constrained investigation that's taking place pursuant to the way any federal prosecutor would operate in any district in the United States.
HARLOW: Something interesting -
HARLOW: Very quickly, yes.
KINGSTON: When White Water investigation started, I was a member of Congress. We did not intend for that to end up with Monica Lewinsky. These prosecutors do have mission creed. There's no question about it. The budget does not come before Congress. I was a member of the Appropriations Committee. Rob Rosenstein is not going to back off on a Mueller request. There's too much with the DOJ. I do believe it is getting out of control. I think it's off the rails already. But I think the probability -
HARLOW: All right, Congressman, -- if you could point to you and Congress calling out Ken Starr and saying don't go there, don't go there, don't go there, in this investigation, please bring it on this show.
KINGSTON: I will be back with that.
HARLOW: OK. All right, we'll see you on Monday. Brian Fallon, yes.
ZELDIN: May I just add one thing on that?
[10:20:00] HARLOW: I got to get - hold on, just hold that thought. I want to get Brian Fallon in here. He's nodding his head. Brian?
ZELDIN: OK, go ahead. Sure. Sorry.
FALLON: Well, two quick points, Poppy. To just to add to what Michael was saying. One of the things that have been well documented is that there have been periods in Donald Trump's business career where he was having trouble securing financing to conventional means. U.S. banks simply would not lend him money. And so, there's a theory out there. I'm not saying it's substantiated because he's withholding his tax returns as a lot, we don't know. But there's a theory out there that over time the Trump organization had to turn to exotic methods of securing financing for some of its properties in New York and elsewhere.
And so, it would be highly Jermaine to investigate the possibility that there were investments made by Russian oligarchs in Trump properties. And that's what he's propped up Donald Trump's organization over the years. It would go a long way towards explaining the connections between Russia and Trump that would incentivize Russia to want to install Donald Trump as president.
And second point I just want to make really quickly, Poppy. You know what, Republicans on Capitol Hill do not agree with Jack Kingston. You saw yesterday, Thom Tillis, a mainstream -
HARLOW: We had him on the show. We had him on the show.
FALLON: Exactly. He's sponsoring legislation to curtail the president's ability to get rid of Bob Mueller. So, they clearly don't think that the investigation is running off the rails.
HARLOW: OK. I would say -
KINGSTON: The president is not -
HARLOW: Hold on. I would just caution unsubstantiated theories. I hear you saying, Brian, it's Jermaine to look into this but again, we don't know where his financial -
FALLON: Absolutely. Absolutely, we don't know that.
HARLOW: The Trump organization is a private organization. Julie, to you, who has been so patient let me get you in here, I thought it was telling last night when the president seemed to change his tone and his words to describe the investigation. No longer was he just dismissing it. He was talking about the integrity and the honesty of it. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one, which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future want and deserve.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Julie, is something different now?
DAVIS: It is. And I thought it was a fascinating shift. In the past, we have heard the president talk about this as a witch hunt. And of course, the witch hunt, he was talking himself, and his associates, his family, potentially his White House. Last night, he really tied it to all of his supporters and he tried to make this case that it's not that they are coming after me. It's that they are really coming after you. And they want to undermine you and your legitimacy, not just my legitimacy.
And we did hear Jared Kushner, his son-in-law make a similar case after he testified privately on Capitol Hill last week where he came back to the West Wing and he said, you know, this whole thing, all these questions about Russia really ridicule the whole electoral process and all the people who voted for Donald Trump. That is a message that I think we are going to continue to hear and hear much more intensively from the president. Because he knows that as long as the focus is on him, it's not good for him.
And all of these revelations that are going to come out and all of the people that they are going to talk to is going to reflect really on him and the more he can sort of shine that spotlight out to the rest of his political movement. And say this is not about me and my legitimacy, this is about you and try to sort of maintain support that way. I think they believe the better off they are.
The problem, of course, is that substantively, that doesn't realty protect him from anything. And as much as he may try to lay out red lines beyond which he doesn't want Mueller to go, it's very clear here that this investigation is going, it is expanding, that he is moving quickly and aggressively. And so, he can have the best political message he wants. I'm not sure that it's going to make a difference for Donald Trump.
HARLOW: But red lines he cannot draw. Thank you all very much, Julie, Brian, Michael and Congressman Kingston, we appreciate it.
This morning, some strong economic news that certainly is a boost for the president and being welcomed by him and many American workers. The U.S. economy has now added just over 1 million jobs under President Trump and his first months in office. Unemployment is down to a 16- year low of 4.3 percent. We saw 209,000 jobs added last month. That number better than expected. The president calls it excellent. Indeed, it is good. But a reminder that in the past, before these jobs reports were under his presidency, he calls them phony.
Let's see how markets are responding. Here's a look at the big board, just over Dow, 22,000, a record set a little bit earlier this week.
Still ahead, a CNN exclusive, two Republican senators sit down with our Dana Bash to talk about their critical no vote on Obamacare repeal and replace.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURKOWSKI: That weight, that responsibility, knowing that your vote really is that pivotal. It does help to know that there is another kindred soul nearby.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[10:29:08] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Congress must do its job, keep its promise, live up to its word and repeal and replace Obamacare. You have to do it.
And, honestly, how the Republicans and the Democrats let us down on that is hard to believe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Well, believe it or not, they didn't pass it like he wanted them to. And now, they have a lot more to say. Two Republican senators who played pivotal roles in the health care defeat are speaking out about the president's criticism of them.
Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash got the exclusive interview. When I saw the TV this morning and saw the interview with the two of them, I like did a double take because they don't talk a lot.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, especially together.
BASH: But I really wanted to sit down with both Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, Poppy, because they were the only Republican senators to vote against their leadership's Obamacare replacement plans all the way through the process. The two women were close before this. But this high profile and high intensity experience took their bond to a new level.