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Trump Twitter Targets Today: McConnell, Ryan, Obama, Media; McConnell Ignores Trump Attacks, Laments Tough Job; Politico: Trump Targets Two GOP Senators Over Russia; New Trump Campaign Email On Arranging Putin Meeting; Kushner Tries To Revive Most Mideast Peace Talks. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 11:00   ET



CLARISSA WARD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Clarissa Ward in for Kate Bolduan. Well, President Trump unleashes a new Twitter storm and he's hitting a number of his favorite targets, President Obama, the media and the leaders of his own party.

The latest tweets at to the escalating tensions with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Just minutes ago, in tweet number seven of this busy morning, he takes particular aim at his Senate majority leader with whom he is reportedly not even on speaking terms right now.

The tweet, "The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that after hearing repeal and replace for seven years, he failed. That should never have happened." All of this, of course, happens as Republican lawmakers are becoming increasingly worried about the escalating tensions between them and their president.

We have a lot to cover today. Let's begin with Manu Raju in Washington. Manu, it seemed like there had been some kind of a reconciliation. Now we hear these tweets from President Trump. What is the latest?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Mitch McConnell was at an event, a public event this morning and decided not to engage on this front. This has been McConnell's tact since August 9th when he made rather mild public comments that were criticizing the president at that time saying that he had excessive expectations.

The president did and perhaps didn't understand how legislating works and perhaps didn't realize you can't set artificial deadlines to pass legislation. Now that set off President Trump who went on a tirade including having that phone call now on August 9th.

We are told by sources who were briefed on that call told me that the president was irate, cursed McConnell and not just about health care, but also about the Russia investigations that are happening on Capitol Hill.

And also, the Russia sanctions bill that have passed overwhelmingly in Congress that President Trump had to reluctantly sign into law. Earlier today, McConnell made a reference to what it's like to be majority leader. Here is what he said.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm often asked what is being the majority leader of the Senate like? It's a little bit like being a grounds keeper at a cemetery. Everybody is under you, but nobody is listening.


RAJU: But he would not answer questions on his way in and out of that event. He has no plans to do so at the moment. Now President Trump did actually go after Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, the House speaker on Twitter accusing them of squandering a legislative strategy that he believed could have raised the national debt limit.

Saying, "I request that Mitch M. and Paul R. tie the debt ceiling into the popular VA bill, which just passed for easy approval." He said, "They didn't do it now" and he said now it's a, quote, "mess."

This, of course, the reason why they did not include that in the VA bill, Clarissa, is because conservatives, in particular would have revolted. This would have caused an uproar among the right flank on Capitol Hill.

But the president directing his blame on members of Congress. They do have to raise the debt limit to avoid a possible debt default. It's a very tricky issue they are going to figure out.

Right now, the president believes the best way to pass the buck and the blame to Capitol Hill. We'll see how the leaders respond -- Clarissa.

WARD: Manu, you know, I mean, publicly the Republican congressmen and women are being sort of, you know -- and senators are being a little bit gracious, biting down on their lips. Privately, what are you hearing on Capitol Hill? How are Republicans responding to this friction with the president?

RAJU: Well, they are not happy about it. A number of Republican senators in particular are earthed by the way the president has gone after Mitch McConnell, gone after other Republican senators by name, particularly Jeff Flake, who is a very popular among the Senate Republican conference and also is up for re-election next year.

And his seat that Republicans need to hold on to, one Republican senator who is pretty close to the president, who I talked to yesterday said the president needs to back off these attacks against members. Going after them by name does not help.

The way to pass legislation is get to understand the Senate, the state. That's the way to get things through. But by going after people by name only is going to make it harder for the party to get on the same page, to deal with the critical issues next month, keep the government open, to raise the debt ceiling. And also with big ticket items like overhauling the tax code, infrastructure reform, but by attacking his party, senators say it's going to make it that much harder to do that -- Clarissa.

WARD: Indeed. All right. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Let's bring in our panel to discuss this more. Alex Burns is a CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times." He is joined by Republican strategist, Rich Galen.

Alex, let me start with you. It's a little confusing here. First, we heard reports they were not speaking, I'm talking McConnell and Trump.

[11:05:06] Then we heard statements seemingly conciliatory statements assuring everyone that everything is fine and everyone is on good terms. But then we see today a new tweet storm from President Trump. I mean, what is your sense of the reality of where this relationship is at?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, when we published our story on Tuesday outlining the feud between these two men and the fact that they are not speaking right now, the reaction from the White House was far, far more furious than anything we heard from Senator McConnell's office.

And my understanding is that the White House tried to put McConnell to push back harder on the story more than they were willing to do. Those statements that came out yesterday were really notable for what they didn't say.

They didn't deny any of the central contentions of reporting by the "Times," CNN and others about this sort of deepening personal animosity between Trump and McConnell, the fact they are not speaking and this dreadful phone call between the two of them a little over two weeks ago.

So, I think where things stand now is pretty much where they stood 48 hours ago, which was that they are in this marriage of convenience. They do feel like for the purposes of political survival and just the survival of the government and the economy, they do need to work together up to a point.

Nobody is terribly happy about it. This morning, clearly the president is particularly unhappy about it.

WARD: I mean, that's what's so hard to understand. You seemingly sabotage the good will that you are trying to engender. I mean, Rich, what is your take on how this affects, the Republicans have a daunting legislative agenda. How does that affect things?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, here is what I did. I wrote a column about the days of contract with America in 1994-'95, which I had nothing to do with, but the -- what they did, what the Gingrich people did was that gave them a road map to contract with America, a road map for the first 120 days of what they were going to do beginning in January of 1995. This is important because in 1995, Bill Clinton was president, Republicans had not been in power in the House in 40 years. It was so effective for the Congress to just march along without interference from the White House.

In April of that year, Bill Clinton held a very infamous press conference saying that I'm still relevant. I wouldn't be surprised at all, Alex, if Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan didn't get their heads together and said let's recreate 1995.

Let's get done what we need to do. Let's send it to the White House. He either signs or doesn't sign but we are going move our agenda ahead.

WARD: Do you see that happening?

BURNS: Well, it's certainly something that Senator McConnell has raised with folks in Washington in private just this notion that, you know, we hoped that the president would be a partner in government. That hasn't really panned out.

At this point, there's no optimism that he is going to suddenly get serious about policy, suddenly be a really constructive president, and the Congress may have to effectively go it alone.

We have never really seen that in a situation where one party controls the entire government and you have the congressional wing of the party say thanks, Mr. President, but no thanks, we are going do this on our own.

WARD: All right. We have Elana Schor now also joining us in this conversation from "Politico." Elena, you had a great article today. In it you discussed President Trump reportedly making some phone calls to Republicans, allegedly trying to quash some of these bills, the Russia sanctions bill you mentioned.

You also mentioned the Robert Mueller protection bill. Give us a sense of what the motivation might have been behind this from the president.

ELANA SCHOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, the president, multiple sources tell us is still uniquely fixated on Russia. He doesn't like the idea of a sanctions bill that ties his hands if he wants to warm relations with Moscow, which he hasn't done yet and he doesn't like the idea of a bill that would stop him from firing the independent counsel investigating him.

WARD: But doesn't he see the optics of how it would look to try to quash a bill, particularly the Russia sanctions bill here, because he has taken so much heat for everything involving Russia. Do you think there's a sense that he -- that he doesn't see politically the optics of this?

SCHOR: He may see the optics of it because it's clear that his aides are trying to impress them upon him. He may just not care. Keep in mind, Trump ultimately signed that sanctions bill even after the tense conversation with the foreign relations chairman.

But the real optical risk here, as other guests have discussed, his future relations with the GOP Senate which has to pass his agenda.

WARD: I want to ask you about that, Rich, there's another tweet from the president where he talks about how it would have been so easy -- that the Democrats chastising Republicans for not taking his own advice.

He says, you know, "They didn't do it now so we have a big deal with them, holding them up as usual on debt ceiling approval. Could have been so easy, now a mess."

[11:10:07] The president basically saying debt ceiling approval could have been very easy, tied in with the other veterans bill, I mean, VA bill, sorry. What is your take on that, Rich? How are Republicans likely to respond to that?

GALEN: Well, I think one of the things we are watching is that Mitch McConnell only has eight of his members up for re-election a year from November. Paul Ryan has what, 240-41, depends on the special election in Utah. So, everybody is up (inaudible).

I don't think Ryan is so concerned about losing control of the House. He might but it's iffy. What he is concerned about is forcing votes or holding votes that force his members to either be for or against something Trump is arguing for so they find themselves in primaries beginning right after Labor Day when people start coming out of the woodwork.

He's got a tougher job to do to protect his membership from attacks from their right. I think not doing the VA bill with the debt ceiling is a good indication of keeping those guys off the ledge. I think it's what he had to do.

WARD: Alex, I'll give you the last word here. How do you think Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are feeling this morning being called out by the president on Twitter?

BURNS: You know, I don't know if they are past the point of being surprised, but Republicans sort of (inaudible) has so far (inaudible) that maybe President Trump will back off at some point. I think this week, if anything could be the last straw. Maybe this week is it.

You have day after day the president swiping members of his own party, going after leadership on a Thursday. The weekend is not that far away. You could have let this one slide. He can't help himself.

WARD: Letting one slide is not what President Trump is known for. All right. Panel, thank you for joining us.

Coming up, new evidence in the Russia investigation. CNN's exclusive reporting that a top Trump aide tried to set up a meeting between campaign officials and Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Stay with us.



WARD: A possible new Russia connection to the Trump campaign is under scrutiny by congressional investigators. An e-mail from the top aide to then-Candidate Trump in June 2016 passed on information about a person trying to arrange a meeting between campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sources say the e-mail was sent from Rick Dearborn, now President Trump's deputy chief of staff, but a top campaign aide at the time. It was sent around the same time as the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, then campaign chair, Paul Manafort and Russians offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Let me bring in now CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, to discuss. Jessica, what are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Clarissa, you know, this e-mail detailed plans to potentially arrange a meeting with the Russian president. It was actually uncovered recently by congressional investigators as part of a batch of 20,000 documents turned over by the Trump campaign.

The e-mail itself is from then campaign aide, Rick Dearborn. In it, he explains that an individual was seeking to connect top campaign officials with Russian President Putin.

So, the individual who actually attempted to arrange this get together is identified in that e-mail only as being from WV. One source says it's a reference to West Virginia, the state.

So, in the e-mail, Dearborn appeared skeptical of the request to set up a meeting with Putin and it is unclear if Dearborn ever acted on the request. So, Rick Dearborn, who wrote the e-mail and is now the president's deputy chief of staff, he hasn't responded to our multiple request for comment.

As for the White House, Clarissa, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that she wouldn't comment on potentially leaked documents. It really is this e-mail and other point of question for congressional investigators in the Russia probe.

The question being, did the campaign in this instance do anything with this request for Trump campaign officials to meet with the Russian president, Clarissa?

WARD: And I guess, the other question I would ask, Jessica, is there potential connection between the timing of this e-mail and, of course, the Donald Trump Jr. meeting with that Russian lawyer? Could there be a connection between the two? Are they looking at that?

SCHNEIDER: That's one of the questions. The timing is very interesting here. The e-mail from Rick Dearborn explaining about this request from an unknown individual to setup that meeting with Putin came in June 2016, and it was around the same time of that meeting at Trump Tower where Don Jr. was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

So, right now, it's unclear if this latest e-mail had any connection with the meeting. What is important is intelligence experts say this really does fits a pattern of Russians trying to gather human intelligence from the campaign.

And perhaps another attempt by the Russians to gain an entry point into the campaign to see if there were any willing partners within the campaign to work with them to try to discredit and defeat Hillary Clinton -- Clarissa.

WARD: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

Let's bring back the panel to discuss this. Alex, you know, this doesn't sound like President Putin, to be honest, in terms of I think he's savvier than sending out e-mails through various proxies to get meetings.

I guess that's not really the point in essence here. The point is whether the Trump campaign or how they would respond to even the potential of such a meeting being dangled before them. What is your read on how significant this is, potentially?

BURNS: Well, look, I certainly haven't seen the e-mail, but what I would say is that Rick Dearborn has been seen for a while as one of the, frankly, more serious people going back to the campaign.

[11:20:05] He was one of the -- in a campaign that was really staffed to the senior level in large part by amateurs and political newcomers, he was a seasoned professional, a guy who's been around the block in Washington and knew what he was doing.

So, to the extent that a probe snares somebody like him, that probably indicates a level of gravity and certainly has the potential to be more disruptive to the president and the White House as they try to govern now.

That someone like Rick Dearborn was an essential player in the kinds of things that the White House is trying to do in Washington. He is not a figure like Donald Trump Jr. who is associated with the president by blood but not essential to govern.

WARD: Rich, this seems to be sort of incremental. There's a constant drip, drip, drip. It never -- it never seems to stop, quite frankly. Do you think this is potentially damaging to the president? Do you think that he is potentially concerned about it?

GALEN: Well, he probably should be as he should be with anything with the word Russia in it. I think the interesting thing would be as they track back and find out who WV is and find out what his or her attachments to this whole thing are.

Putin didn't send this e-mail. It was somebody, as you pointed out, somebody that the Russians appear to be probing different entry points into the campaign. We don't know that any of it was successful, even including that infamous meeting with 112 people in it. I think that this is the kind of thing that just doesn't have an end. They weren't looking to make arrangements to talk to the head of Luxemburg or the head of Poland or Belgium. It was always the Russians, the Russians, the Russians. If there's smoke, is there fire? I don't know, but we know there's a lot of smoke.

WARD: We do know there's a lot of smoke, but as you point out, we don't know that there is fire. That almost doesn't seem to matter at this stage, Elana, in terms of the legislative agenda and in terms of pushing forward his agenda, what he promised on the campaign trail. Does this Russia, this endless drip, drip of incremental, potentially incriminating developments, does this hold him back? How much is this hurting him?

SCHOR: Absolutely, it holds him back. Keep in mind, when lawmakers return, Republicans are going to want to talk about tax reform, and instead, the more drip, drip, the more questions they will get about this investigation. They want to change the subject very badly, not just the president, but members of his party.

GALEN: Let me jump in for a second. She is exactly right. These members are dispersed across the country and in some cases across the world. In about a week and a half, they are going to be back in the cloak rooms, in their luncheons, committee meetings, in the hallways and hideaways. This is the thing that can double up and get spooled up about anything other than the debt ceiling or the infrastructure bill.

WARD: You know, we have seen a new poll that's come out from Quinnipiac University that talks about the president's overall approval rating that appears to be at an historic low, 35 percent.

It's interesting when you look at the breakdown along party lines, 77 percent of Republicans approve of his performance. Elana, does that strike you as a positive number or expect with previous Republican presidents to have Republican approval rating actually be much higher than that?

SCHOR: Well, I think if you compare it to Obama at a similar point in his presidency, he was above this number with his Democratic base. The bottom line is you want that to be as close to 100 percent as possible. Those are the loyal faithful. Overall, the numbers are not really going to matter too much to the president. He's shown he was speaking to that core base first.

WARD: Yes, indeed. It does seem the more we have this conversation, the more we talk about approval ratings, it doesn't necessarily seem to stick and the president continues to go about business as he sees fit. OK, our panel, thank you so much, Alex Burns, Elana Schor, and Rich Galen.

Coming up, peace is within reach. That was the optimistic message from Israel's prime minister when he sat down with Jared Kushner today. Details of their meeting after the break.


WARD: This morning, Jared Kushner is in Israel leading the U.S. effort to revive long stalled Middle East peace talks. Ahead of his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which is later today, Kushner met with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Kushner says President Trump is, quote, "very committed to achieving peace."


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think this is -- this is a sign of the great alliance between us and the goals that guide us.

JARED KUSHNER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVIER: That's true. We are very appreciative of your team and the efforts they made. The president is very committed to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area.

And we really appreciate the commitment of the prime minister and his team to engaging very thoughtfully and respectfully in the way that the president has asked him to do so. Their relationship between Israel and America is stronger than ever. We really thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his leadership and his partnership.


WARD: Let's bring in now CNN's Oren Liebermann. He is live for us in Jerusalem. Oren, how did the meeting go? What came of it?