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Donald Trump Jr. Clams Up on President Trump; FBI Director Defends Agency; Wray Defends FBI After Trump's Attacks; Senator Al Franken to Resign "In the Coming Weeks". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 7, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. And welcome to THE LEAD.

We have some CNN exclusive breaking news for you right now on the Russia investigation and the question of whether the Trump team has been disclosing the whole truth about that June 2016 meeting that Donald Trump Jr. helped set up between the campaign and a woman he had been told was a Russian lawyer promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump Jr. testified before the House Intelligence Committee all day yesterday, where, among other questions, he was asked more about what was discussed that the meeting, CNN has learned.

And, as you may recall, Trump Jr. set up the meeting after receiving an e-mail from music publicist Rob Goldstone, who works for a Russian pop star. The June 9 meeting was attended by Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and campaign chair Paul Manafort in 2016.

But after the public learned about this meeting earlier this year, which the Trump team had hidden from the American people for more than a year, team Trump attempted to downplay it. First, they lied about what the meeting was about. Then they claimed nothing happened at all at the meeting.


DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: There wasn't really follow-up, because there was nothing there to follow up. As we were walking out, he said, "Listen, I'm sorry for that."


TAPPER: There wasn't really follow-up, there was nothing there, Donald Trump Jr. said.

But CNN has learned there were follow-up communications. CNN is reporting this right now, ones that congressional investigators are exploring to determine whether there was more to that June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower than has been disclosed.

I want to bring in CNN's Jim Sciutto and Manu Raju on the Hill. They're breaking the story right now.

Jim, to you first.

Tell us more about what you're learning. What was this follow-up communication from that meeting?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Headline here, these are previously undisclosed e-mails. They show that there were some follow-up communications about that meeting between some of the participants in that meeting.

Specifically, the British publicist who arranged that June 2016 meeting, his name, Rob Goldstone, as Jake was saying there, sent multiple e-mails, both to a Russian participant and to a member of Donald Trump's inner circle.

And this is according to multiple sources who have read these e-mails, telling my colleague Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb and I. The e-mails raising new questions for congressional investigators both regarding what was discussed at that meeting at Trump Tower, the subject of the conversations, as well as what communications there were in the days and weeks following that meeting.

As Jake was saying, Trump Jr. has for months contended that after being promised he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton in Trump Tower, the brief meeting focused almost exclusively on the issue of Russian adoption, saying that there was no discussion with the participants after that session, no discussion at all.

The e-mails were raised at Wednesday's classified hearing with Trump Jr. He told congressional investigators that he could not recall those interactions, several sources tell us. I should also note that the White House has declined to comment for this story, as did Rob Goldstone's lawyer.

TAPPER: And, Manu, what specifically did the e-mails say?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: One of the e-mails, Jake, discusses a topic that we have actually not heard discussed before the e-mail, actually, from Goldstone, to the senior Trump campaign aide Dan Scavino, who is actually now one of President Trump's closest aides.

And in this e-mail from Goldstone, it encourages Scavino to convince then candidate Trump to create a page on the Russian social media site VK.

And now he says -- Goldstone says in this e-mail that -- quote -- "Don and Paul" were on board with this idea.

Now, that's a reference to Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort. Now, what we are now learning from our sources that this was broached at that June 2016 meeting. At the end of this meeting, Goldstone brought this up to both Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr., and that's the first time we're hearing about anything beyond this issue of adoptions being discussed at this meeting. Now, Jake, one source who was familiar with this, with this situation

says that, Goldstone proposes a -- quote -- "cute marketing idea." He said that it was simply an effort to try to appease a friend, an acquaintance at a Russian social media site. We have not been able to determine at CNN whether or not there was any page set up on that site, VK, but, Jake, Goldstone pushed this idea with some of the more senior members of the Trump campaign after the meeting -- Jake.

TAPPER: OK. That's one of the follow-ups.

And, Jim, you were telling me one of the e-mails also references the DNC hack?

SCIUTTO: It does. Listen to this.

This was an e-mail that was dated June 14, 2016, just five days after that Trump Tower meeting. And in it, Goldstone forwarded a story actually from CNN on Russia's hacking of DNC e-mails to his client, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, then Ike Kaveladze, who both attended that meeting.

They were in that room in June 2016. And he described that news, again, a CNN story of the just revealed news that Russia had hacked the DNC, he described that news to those Russians as -- quote -- "eerily weird," given what they had discussed at Trump Tower five days earlier.


Now, we reached out. One of the sources familiar with the content of the e-mail downplayed that interaction, saying that news of the DNC hack was surprising because in the run-up to the Trump Tower meeting, the Russian participants had promised information on elicit funding of the DNC from Russia, but that dirt was not provided to Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort during the meeting.

I should also add that Scott Balber -- he's an attorney for Kaveladze, one of the other people on the other end of this e-mail -- he confirms that his client did receive that e-mail, the forwarded CNN story on the DNC Russia hack, but viewed it as odd only because hacking was never discussed in that meeting there.

That's the story that they have in response.

TAPPER: Manu, Goldstone is going to be interviewed. Presumably, he is going to be asked about this.

RAJU: Yes, no question about it. We do expect him on Capitol Hill as soon as next week. Both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees do want to talk to him about an account of the meeting and, no question, these e-mails will be a focus as well, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much.

My panel joins us now. There's a lot to chew over here. So going back to the one about the hack. In one of the e-mails,

Goldstone forwarded a CNN story on Russia on hacking of DNC e-mails to Kushner and Manafort, describing the news as eerily weird given what they had discussed at Trump Tower five days earlier.

That's fishy.



MADDEN: I think it's also just -- I think the words that the investigators would use and I think maybe even though in special counsel's office would use, which is, is it inconsistent?

And that level of inconsistency continues to drive more and more attention to so many of these players. That's the other thing too, is that the net seems to get wider and wider and bring more and more people involved in it.

I think if you look at the fact that there are two backdrops that are really troubling, I think, as part of the inquiries into Donald Trump Jr. The first is that he already went up and testified, and what you have is another invitation to come back and testify. That means that there's just a high level of unsatisfaction -- or dissatisfaction, with some of the answers that he gave in his previous testimony.

The second backdrop is against Michael Flynn as a turned witness. So, what they're doing is measuring what he said against some of the -- some of what they're hearing from Michael Flynn and trying to find those inconsistencies.

And I think that has to be troubling for a lot of those folks in the White House that are involved in pushing back on this.

TAPPER: And, Jen, as a communications professional, they have basically violated every rule of Washington disclosure, which is get it all out and get it all out on your own terms.


TAPPER: And don't lie.


TAPPER: It started off with, oh, no, the conversation -- well, it started off with, we never met with any Russians. Then it became that we had a meeting, but it was just about Russian adoptions, and little by little, and still here we are -- this story was broken over the summer, and here we are in December, still learning more about this meeting.

PSAKI: That's right.

And, look, from the very beginning, it was never believable that this meeting was about Russian adoptions. That's an irritant for the United States. It's not for the Russians. They were the ones who made that decision.

There were always going to be questions about what exactly happened, just like there are still questions, although we can guess, about the conversations that Flynn had with Kislyak.

One of the communications issues here is obviously that there's still many black holes. Mueller may know a lot more about this. People on the investigative team may know a lot more about this. But the communications team, through perhaps no fault of their own, have completely lost all control.

And there may be pieces that are going to sprinkle out every single day for the next several months. That's a terrible spot to be in.

MADDEN: And it always, always, always gets out.

TAPPER: And, Congressman, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, two sources tell CNN that when Don Jr. posted his full e- mail exchange with Goldstone on Twitter -- that was after "The New York Times" had it and they were about to publish it -- showing he was promised the meeting and that it would produce dirt on the Hillary campaign, the son of one of the Russian attendees e-mailed his dad, e- mailed one of the attendees, said, and asked why Don Jr. was admitting collusion.

Remarkable and, again, another indication that these investigators are going to get everything, and we're all going to learn it sooner or later.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This whole strategy is an investigator's dream come true.

You put out your information. Then you go voluntarily testify. Apparently, that testimony was inconsistent in both of those. You invoked some form of privilege, but not all. So, now you're going to probably get subpoenaed. My guess would be the lawyer would finally wise up and say maybe you should not go and talk to the committee until the investigation is done.

And if they do get subpoenaed back, he's going to have to plead the Fifth. I mean, I don't know how else you wouldn't in that case, because now you're looking at -- perjury is where they're going to center around trying to get Donald Jr. in the beginning.

It is very clear to me that's what's going on. It's really hard to find that affirmative event that that e-mail is -- would be interesting to those investigators, but not enough to say, this is collusion, here's the evidence of collusion. They have to find that affirmative action. That's pretty hard to do.


That's why none of this as a legal strategy makes sense to me.

TAPPER: And, obviously, there are a lot of Republicans on the committee who, majority Republican, who this is uncomfortable for them. They don't want to be hauling Donald Trump Jr. in front of the committee or at least not behind closed doors of the committee.

And yet, as Chairman Rogers points out, the answers are inconsistent and they don't -- he's not always telling the truth or disclosing everything.


And I think so much of it is self-inflicted by the actual witness in this case or the person who's testifying. And what happens is, the pressure on them to act and the pressure on them to continue to look even deeper gets greater, as so many of these, as Chairman Rogers mentioned, these inconsistencies begin to pile up and pile up.

It forces their hand and forces more action on their hand. At a time where they keep saying what they want to do is bring this to a close and try and achieve some level of finality of it, it seems like it's going in a direction of anything but that.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We have got lots more to talk about, including President Trump now attacking special counsel Robert Mueller, now attacking the FBI.

Not long ago, of course, Trump was heaping praise on the bureau. What changed? That's next.


[16:15:22] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

Sticking with the politics lead now.

For months, President Trump and his allies on the Hill and in the pro- Trump media have sought to undermine any institution that posed any challenge to him. And we've seen the attacks on legislative oversight, intelligence agencies, the judiciaries, journalists. Currently, this phenomenon is playing out with vicious attacks on the integrity of federal law enforcement officials.

The president's views on FBI investigations are now difficult to predict when they're of his opponents. He applauds them as he did in the days rights before election day 2016.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It took guts for Director Comey to make the mood he made in light where they're trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. He brought back his reputation.


TAPPER: But soon enough, Comey was investigating the matters the president did not like and he was fired. The current FBI investigation and special counsel Robert Mueller now under vicious, some might even say ludicrous attacks.

Witness this from Fox News Channel last night.


GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt. And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America's secret police. It's like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night, banging through your door.


TAPPER: Well, today, it was House Republicans' turn as they asked pointed questions of FBI Director Christopher Wray about a legitimate issue. Peter Strzok, the top member of Mueller's investigative team, who had been removed from that assignment after text messages by him appeared to show anti-Trump bias.

Now, the Mueller team says this was a move proactively taken as an objective towards objective conclusion. Wray, today, also defended his agency against the president's accusation that the FBI is in tatters.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider was watching Wray's testimony and joins us now.

Jessica, it was almost like two different hearings with Democrats and Republicans in two different universes.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, you got the Republicans mirroring the president. They seem to be in attack mode, while Democrats press Director Wray to reiterate the independence of the FBI. But despite these competing political narratives, Wray spoke out strongly and pushed back against accusations of bias and botched investigations.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of integrity and professionalism and respect.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, FBI Director Christopher Wray is defending his agency in public for the first time since the president slammed the bureau, claiming its reputation is in, quote, tatters, the worst in history.

When Wray was asked to respond, he deflected, choosing instead to praise the people who work at the FBI.

WRAY: Congressman, there is no shortage of opinions out there. What I can tell you is that the FBI that I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep Americans safe.

SCHNEIDER: Wray sent an e-mail of support to staff the day after the president's tweet. But New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler said Wray should do more.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: Director Wray, your responsibility is not only to defend the bureau, but to push back against the president when he is clearly wrong.

SCHNEIDER: Several Republicans defended the president's attack, pointing to top FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was recently removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's team after sending thousands of text messages to a colleague, some of which were critical of President Trump.

REP. BOB GOODBLATTE (R), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: It is absolutely unacceptable for FBI employees to permit their own political predilections to contaminate any investigation.

REP. STEVE CHABOT (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The depths of that anti- Trump bias on the Mueller team just goes on and on. It's absolutely shocking.

WRAY: The inspector general is looking at the very important question of whether or not improper political considerations factored into the decision-making. If he were to conclude that that's what happened, then I think at that point, we're in a situation where we have to access what else might need to be done to unring that bell, if you will.

SCHNEIDER: Wray referencing the inspector general's investigation which is also looking into the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton private e-mail server probe. And while Wray wouldn't give his opinion when Democrats pressed him to answer if the president could face charges of obstruction of justice, Wray pledged politics would not influence the FBI.

WRAY: And there isn't a person on this planet that can get me to drop a properly predicated investigation or start an investigation that's not properly predicated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that president Trump is above the law?

WRAY: I don't believe anybody's above the law.


SCHNEIDER: And Democrats also asked Director Wray if the president has ever directly questioned him on former Director James Comey or special counsel Robert Mueller, Wray said, no, and then added, he's only spoken directly with the president once in what was a congratulatory phone call just after he became director in September.

[16:20:15] Wray also said the president has never asked him for a pledge of loyalty, saying, Jake, reiterating once again that Wray's loyalty is only to the Constitution and the American public.

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

Everyone, stick around.

With Al Franken resigning from the Senate and with Roy Moore possibly winning a seat there, just days from now, the big question, have Democrats gained the moral high ground? We'll discuss that next.


[16:25:03] TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota announced today that he will resign in the coming weeks, after a series of allegations that he inappropriately touched women without their consent, allegations which he mostly denied today.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently.


TAPPER: That remark sparked sharp reaction from Franken's accusers, including KABC anchor Leeann Tweeden, who was the first woman to step forward. She told CNN, quote, can you say seven other women are liars and possibly more? I mean, that's between those women and God who's lying, he's the one stepping down.

My panel is here with me. I want to play a different part of Franken's rather unapologetic farewell today. Take a listen.


FRANKEN: I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony, in the fact that I am leaving, while a man who's bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with a full support of his party.


TAPPER: I mean, that's true.


TAPPER: It's accurate.

MADDEN: I mean, I think we are -- I mean, what-aboutism of this era of politics right now is not new and I think it's -- I think Senator Franken's trying to apply it to his particular situation, and trying to essentially blunt the force of the blow against him by reminding everybody that there still hasn't been the same level of punishment for the president of the United States that everybody else is starting to see.

TAPPER: Or for Roy Moore, congressman, I mean -- I guess what he's trying to say and Barry Wise with the "New York Times" said something about a few weeks ago about a moral flattening, the idea that all of these crimes, and all of them are bad, all of these allegations and again, they're all horrific, but the idea that they're all equal when you have, you know, one allegation that's awful and another one that involves an 14-year-old girl. One allegation that's awful, and another one that involves President Trump allegedly, you know, reaching his hand up a woman's skirt.

I mean, there is something there.

MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Well, I mean, clearly there's something there. And I do think that there's inappropriate, there's sexual harassment, then there's criminal activity.

TAPPER: Right.

ROGERS: And I think to your point is somehow this is getting all jumbled together. When you heard Al Franken on the floor, he was adamant. I don't remember these events the same way they do. I could win it if I took it to the Ethics Committee. They would agree with me, but I'm leaving.

He seemed more angry and bitter that he had to resign than that these women came forward and accused him of this. And what I fear in this and I think this was the first salvo, and you hear it now, the Democrats are going to say they're the party of anti-sexual harassment, which is absolutely nuts.

Sexual harassment is a non-party event and we ought to not get into those weeds. There is no such thing as Republican harassment or Democrat harassment. There is sexual harassment.

And I worry a little bit that we're going to try drag this into the same muck that we have all of our fine institutions in this town in order to make a political point and the people who will pay that are the women who are getting sexually harassed.

TAPPER: And yet, Jan, your party, the Democratic party, that's the point here, is saying Conyers and Franken are on their way out the door. Republican Party, you've got Farenthold from Texas, you've got Roy Moore, you've got President Trump, they are, that's the whole point if your party is trying to say you are the party of zero tolerance.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, that's true. And look, I agree as a woman that it can't become solely a partisan issue. However, there's certainly politics involved here. It's not that the Democrats should just get a medal of courage for waiting three weeks to come out and say this guy should step down, all things are not created equal. However -- and if Franken had done this a year ago, he'd still be in the Senate I think we should all be aware of. So, the question there --

TAPPER: Why? Because the Roy Moore election makes this --

PSAKI: Not just the Roy Moore, because everything that's happened in Hollywood, everything that's happened in the media had not happened. I think it would have been accepted. He'd still be in the senate.

But that's also the time when Donald Trump was having most of his issues surface. So, a big question here is, have the politics and the country and the tolerance in the country changed? And if you're a party that's going to stand behind a pedophile and a guy who's defending sexual assault, you have to defend that, or you have to change what your positions are. And that's on them to do.

TAPPER: Congressman Blake Farenthold, Republican of Texas, this $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment allegations by a former staffer when he was asked about it, Speaker Ryan did not call for him to step down, did not call for him to leave Congress.

I mean, is there going to be increasing pressure on Republicans to take care of their own the way that Democrats took care of Conyers and Franken?

MADDEN: There will and there should be. And I think particularly when you're talking about taxpayer dollars.