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THE SITUATION ROOM
Mueller Team Asking About Kushner's Role in Comey Firing; Interview with Representative Ted Yoho; House Republicans Roll Out Tax Reform Bill. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 2, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, son-in-law trouble. CNN has learned that the special counsel team is now looking into Jared Kushner's role in the firing of former FBI director James Comey. This as a new poll shows nearly half of Americans suspect President Trump committed a crime.
Overhaul. Just hours after House Republicans unveiled their long- awaited tax cut plan, top GOP lawmakers are raising some red flags about the fate of popular deductions and the impact on the deficit. Will the president's hopes for a quick and needed legislative win be dashed?
Imminent nuclear test. A new warning tonight that Kim Jong-un is preparing to provoke the West again as President Trump is about to land near the dictator's doorstep. Tonight, CNN has learned that Kim is moving even closer to being able to attack the U.S. mainland.
And under the ISIS flag. Authorities say the suspect in the deadly truck attack also wanted to cause carnage on the Brooklyn Bridge. We're learning more about the planning and the motives for the terror in New York City.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, CNN has learned that the president's son- in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has turned over documents to the special counsel Robert Mueller. This as Mueller's team has started asking witnesses about Kushner's role in the firing of former FBI director James Comey. Stand by for details.
Also, a just released ABC News-"Washington Post" poll about the Russia investigation shows 49 percent of Americans believe President Trump likely committed a crime. And more than two-thirds of Americans approve of the criminal charges filed against Mr. Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Also breaking, President Trump is pressing House Republicans to pass their newly unveiled tax cut plan before the end of the year but there's already pushback within the Republican Party against proposed limits on some popular deductions, including breaks for interest on home loans and on state and local taxes. The Republican plan would simplify the tax code, slash rates for
corporations and reduce taxes for many Americans, while adding more than a trillion dollars to the federal deficit.
And the president's National Security adviser is warning that North Korea poses an urgent threat to the entire world just hours before President Trump leaves for a very high-stakes trip to the region.
CNN has learned that North Korea's already working on an advanced version of its existing intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially reach the United States.
This hour I'll talk with Republican Congressman Ted Yoho. He's a key member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
But first, let's get more on the breaking news about Jared Kushner and the special counsel's Russia investigation. We're joined by our justice correspondent Evan Perez.
Evan, tell us what you've learned.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Jared Kushner has now turned over documents to Special Counsel Robert Mueller as investigators have begun asking witnesses about Kushner's role in the firing of FBI director James Comey.
Sources tell us, Wolf, that Mueller's investigators have expressed interest in Kushner as part of the probe into Russian meddling. As we know that probe includes potential obstruction of justice and the motivation for Comey's firing is a part of that.
The Mueller team's questions about Kushner a sign that investigators are reaching into the president's inner circle and have extended beyond the 2016 campaign to actions taken at the White House by high- level officials. It's not clear how Kushner's advice to the president might play a role in a part of this. Sources close to the White House say that based on their knowledge, Kushner is not a target of this investigation.
Sources tell us that Kushner turned over those documents voluntarily that he had from the campaign and the transition and these related to any contacts with Russia. The documents are similar to ones, Wolf, that Kushner gave to congressional investigators.
BLITZER: But this goes beyond the documents, Evan. Your reporting indicates that witnesses are now being asked about Kushner as well.
PEREZ: That's exactly right. Sources tell us that investigators have asked witnesses about Kushner's role in the firing of Comey. Now we've heard conflicting accounts from sources. Some say that Kushner was a driver of the president's decision. Others say that he didn't oppose it and that it was something that the president already made his mind up about.
Investigators have also asked about how a statement came to be issued in the name of Donald Trump Jr. regarding that now infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. Kushner, as you remember, attended the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between top Trump campaign officials and a cadre of Russian figures including some with links to the Kremlin. It was arranged after Donald Trump Jr. was told that the Russian government wanted to pass along damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of its pro-Trump efforts.
[18:05:09] But the meeting was also attended by Paul Manafort who was at the time the Trump campaign chairman who was, of course, this week got indicted.
Investigators also asked, Wolf, about the circumstances surrounding the departures of certain White House aides. Now a White House official tells us that Mueller's team's questions about Kushner are not a surprise, pretty much what they expected and that Kushner would be among a list of -- a long list of people that investigators would be asking about.
A lawyer for Kushner, Wolf, did not comment when we reached out to him. The White House also declined to comment.
BLITZER: All right, Evan, good reporting. Thanks very much, Evan Perez, working the story for us.
We're also following multiple new developments in the Russia investigation tonight. Let's bring in our senior Washington correspondent Brianna Keilar.
Brianna, several key figures in the investigation were in court today, also up on Capitol Hill.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf, including Carter Page, who was one of President Trump's former campaign foreign policy advisers. He finally met with the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. And so did Ike Kaveladze, one of eight people who was in that room with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and an employee of a Russian oligarch at Trump Tower in June -- June 2016 along with others.
All of this as the president's former campaign chairman made his case to a judge.
KEILAR (voice-over): President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in federal court today. His attorneys arguing he should not be confined to house arrest because he has been traveling legally and returning home since August when he was first aware he would be indicted. Monday a judge deemed Manafort a flight risk because of his history of deception and the 12 federal charges he's facing, including conspiracy against the U.S. and fraud, which carry a maximum penalty of more than 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors have noted that Manafort has three different passports with different numbers and recently traveled abroad where using a phone and e-mail registered under an alias. Manafort's lawyers contend his $10 million bond and his strong family and community ties are sufficient to ensure he won't flee.
They also argue Manafort is now one of the most recognizable people on the planet, given the substantial media coverage around him.
GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: There is a restless desire for revival that I am certain come January 2017 Mr. Trump will invoke.
KEILAR: Meanwhile, there are growing questions about what Attorney General Jeff Sessions knew about the Trump campaign and Russia amid revelations he was in a meeting when, according to court filings, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos suggested Trump meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
A person in the room at the time said Trump did not rule out the idea but Sessions, who was then chairman of Trump's National Security Advisory Committee, rejected the suggestion.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I've stretched my -- racked my brain to make sure I could answer any of those questions correctly.
KEILAR: Sessions failed to tell Congress about the proposed Trump- Putin meeting during his confirmation hearing, and again during recent congressional inquiries into Russian election meddling.
SESSIONS: The idea that I was part of a, quote, "continuing exchange" of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government is totally false.
KEILAR: The Papadopoulos revelations are placing other Trump associates under fire. Sam Clovis, Trump's pick for chief scientist at the Agriculture Department, has withdrawn his name from consideration. The unsealed court documents show Papadopoulos contacted a campaign supervisor who was Clovis about a potential trip to Russia to meet with a Russian official. Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos to take the meeting.
In a statement addressed to the president, Clovis said he didn't want to be a negative distraction writing, "The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position. The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day."
KEILAR: The Clovis pick was already controversial since he doesn't have a background in science and has a history of racially divisive and homophobic comments -- Wolf. But he will remain as a senior White House adviser on the Agriculture Department.
BLITZER: Brianna Keilar reporting for us, thank you.
Let's talk a little bit more about the breaking news on the Russia investigation. Joining us now, Republican Congressman Ted Yoho. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. TED YOHO (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Great to be on, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. So let's talk about the special counsel for a moment. He's asking about Jared Kushner's role in the firing of the FBI director James Comey. How worried should President Trump be about that? This is his son-in-law.
YOHO: I don't think at all. You know, he's invited them into that Cabinet area, you know, close to him as an adviser, you know, and he had an opinion and I think, you know, president -- what I've learned about the president and I'm sure you know this is he's very stern and he makes his own decisions and, you know, he'll listen to things but when the decision is made, ultimately I'm pretty confident it's his decision.
[18:10:15] BLITZER: It's clear that Mueller is investigating what's described as possible obstruction of justice by the Trump White House in the firing of Comey. What the president knew about -- also about that June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with the Russians, when the special counsel's investigation is complete, how likely do you think it is that President Trump is completely exonerated?
YOHO: I think you're going to see that's going to happen. You know, he said he didn't know anything about that. We've talked about this before and this is going to play out and it will work out through the investigation and I think when it comes to -- when it all gets done, I think President Trump will be exonerated, like you said.
And as you started off this segment, I heard you talking about North Korea. Those are the things that, you know, this investigation will come and go and things will come out of that and people hopefully will be prosecuted that need to be prosecuted but more importantly we need to worry about the situation in the world that's going on with North Korea as you were talking about gearing up for a nuclear test, and let's hope they don't.
BLITZER: Yes, we're going to get to that in a few moments, Congressman. I know you're on the Foreign Affairs Committee and you chair a subcommittee on Asia.
BLITZER: We'll talk about that in a few moments. I want to clear up some other issues. Your name has come up, we're getting a clearer sense, for example, of a Russian outreach to the Trump campaign with a guilty plea from George Papadopoulos. The White House says he was a very low-level volunteer. Another Trump campaign official called him simply a coffee boy.
But I want you to look at this picture from the Republican National Convention in July of last year. George Papadopoulos is seated just to your right. Would it be appropriate for a volunteer coffee boy to be sitting on that panel at the convention right next to you? YOHO: I don't know. I can't answer that. There is a reason I'm sure
they put him there next to us. I can't say any more about that. I didn't know who he was at the time.
BLITZER: Because clearly the panelists there aren't low-level volunteers doing coffee runs. They are selected by the campaign to go out there and speak to delegates about what is going on inside the campaign. This is a very sensitive and important moment.
YOHO: Sure. And I have a disadvantage, I don't see the photo in front of me so I can't say.
BLITZER: Well, let me describe it for you. It's a meeting sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and there's a bunch of high-level people, Bob Corker is there, among other things, the senator from Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. You're there, some professors are there.
YOHO: I remember that one. Yes.
BLITZER: Yes. So --
YOHO: Yes. I remember that.
BLITZER: So what was that meeting all about and what do you remember about Papadopoulos that day?
YOHO: I don't remember anything about him. I just remember being there. It was something we went over there and we talked to that community for a short period of time and I just remember we went and left. But I don't remember anything specific as far as if Russia was in there or anything like that. Absolutely not. It was more on policies and the stance with the United States and policies with Israel.
BLITZER: When you read the details of the Papadopoulos guilty plea, does that, to you, sound like collusion?
YOHO: No, because, again, I haven't read it and I haven't seen what led up to that and what they are charging him with. So no, I can't comment on that.
BLITZER: Why were Trump campaign surrogates told about stolen e-mails before the American public even knew about the Russian hackings?
YOHO: I can't answer that either, Wolf. I wish I could but I can't. You know, when you're close to a campaign, certainly you get the information before anybody else and what you decide to do with that, you know, is depending on the campaign. So again I'd let this investigation work out and then let it lead to where it's going to lead and the people that need to be held accountable, I'm sure they will be.
BLITZER: But if a person with significant ties to the Kremlin offers Russian dirt on a political opponent, especially if it's stolen e- mails, what's the right thing to do if someone, for example, came to you with that?
YOHO: Well, we can go back to the Hillary Clinton take in the dossier that was out there that she decided to run with it or their team decided to run with it so, you know, we can go down a bunch of different avenues there. And I remember you and I talked about this before, you know, when Jared Kushner took that or Donald Trump Jr. took that meeting initially to get that information as opposition research. Anybody would do that.
BLITZER: The Hillary Clinton dossier is a separate matter. But if someone were to come to you and say, you know what, we have stolen e- mails, they are very sensitive, they involve your political opponent, what would you do? Would you just say I'll take it or would you go to the FBI and say there's been a crime that's been committed?
[18:15:01] YOHO: I'd have to wait until I was in that but I would probably go to the FBI or to some authority. I would. But I'm not in that situation. You have to put yourself in that situation at that point in time in the campaign when it happened. Were they told it was stolen? You know, again, I'm at a disadvantage because I haven't read that.
BLITZER: Well, Papadopoulos, as we know, he did plead guilty to those charges that were leveled against him.
Another question, I just want to clarify, "The Daily Beast" is reporting that former White House National Security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired for concealing his phone calls with the Russian ambassador to the United States, followed Russian propaganda Twitter accounts, retweeted some of their content in the month before the election.
Why was a top campaign official spreading Russian propaganda?
YOHO: There again I haven't seen what he spread. Did -- in what context did he put it in? Did he say, hey, look at this, what's going on, or this must be true, we should, you know, look at the dirt on somebody is? So I can't comment on that.
BLITZER: Considering, though, the backdrop of the Russia investigations, the investigations up in the House and the Senate as well as the special counsel, Robert Mueller's investigation, would you advise President Trump to meet with Vladimir Putin during his upcoming trip to Asia?
YOHO: What I'm -- I think he's going to focus on Asia. I don't see a need to meet with him now. I think they're going to, you know, go have those meetings when appropriate. The focus right now is on America's commitment to the Asia Pacific area. The ASEAN countries, we've got the APEC coming up, we've got the summit coming up. And with what's going on in North Korea, that's where I know his focus is on.
And this is something over the last eight years we've had a policy of strategic patience which has left a void in our leadership in that area. I just got back from Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong, and the word
that we heard over and over again is, where is America? We need your leadership. And with this administration, they are seeing it, they are seeing the phone ops that are going, the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea which had been void. And so they're welcoming this trip and I think that's where President Trump should focus on and from what we've heard that's where he's going to focus and he'll deal with Russia later.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following, Congressman. I want to take a quick break. Resume our conversation right after.
BLITZER: Stand by.
YOHO: All right.
[18:22:03] BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman Ted Yoho. We're following the breaking news about the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
CNN has also learned that the special counsel's team has started asking witnesses about Kushner's role in the firing of the FBI director James Comey. We're going to talk about that.
More with the congressman.
Stand by, Congressman, because there's other important news we're following right now. The House Speaker Paul Ryan is insisting to CNN that the Russia probe won't, repeat, won't get in the way of passing the new Republican tax bill.
Ryan spoke with our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly earlier in the day.
Phil, the Russia probe aside, there are plenty of potential landmines in this new Republican plan, right?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. No question about it, Wolf. And look, when you talk to Republican rank-and-file members throughout the day, there's genuine enthusiasm to do something, anything legislatively that could be considered a cornerstone domestic achievement. That is what a tax overhaul would be. But those same members, Wolf, are keenly aware that details in this are very difficult to swallow and it's the details that will decide whether or not this plan reaches the president's desk.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): A wide-ranging overhaul of the U.S. tax code.