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Russian Lawyer AT Trump Tower Meeting Had Closer Ties To Kremlin Than Previously Disclosed; NRA Setting Aside Documents On Interactions With Kremlin-linked Banker; North Korea Played Past Presidents Like A "Fiddle"; NRA Setting Aside Documents on Interactions with Kremlin-Linked Banker; Daniels Lawsuit on Hold. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 27, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Korean thaw, a historic meeting-- allegations that Russians may have illegally funneled money to help the Trump campaign through the NRA. It's a Cnn exclusive.
And Korean thaw, a historic meeting between North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and South Korea's president, the two leaders vowing to finally end the Korean war and work toward denuclearization as North Korea already dismantling its nuclear test site.
Wolf Blitzer is off, I'm Jim Acosta, you're in the SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news including a new report that the Russian lawyer at a 2016 meeting with top Trump campaign officials had closer ties to the Kremlin than previously disclosed, including working as an informant for Russia's prosecutor general.
Also a Cnn exclusive sources say the NRA is setting aside documents on its interactions with the Kremlin-linked banker amid allegations he may have illegally funneled money through the organization to help the Trump campaign.
We'll talk about the breaking news tonight, and more with Congressman David Cicilline of the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees, and our reporters and experts are also standing by.
But first we begin with new details of a key player in the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top members of the Trump campaign and a group of Russians -- Cnn's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is working the story for us.
Jim, we're learning more about this Russian lawyer with Kremlin connections, aren't we?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We are, and this Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, we know already it has been at least a focus of the special counsel Robert Mueller because of those contacts.
Because the subject of the conversation being dirt offered by the Russians on Hillary Clinton, and now we know that one of those Russians offering the dirt, that lawyer had very deep connections to the Russian government. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a move --
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The Russian lawyer who met with Trump campaign officials in 2016 touted as having dirt on Hillary Clinton now admits that she has closer ties to the Kremlin than she previously disclosed.
In fact, she calls herself an informant for the Russian government, citing newly surfaced e-mails. The "New York Times" reports that Natalia Veselnitskaya once worked with Russia's top prosecutor -- "I am a lawyer and I am an informant, she told "Nbc News".
Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the Office of the Russian prosecutor general." Just last year, Veselnitskaya said just the opposite.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever worked for the Russian government? And do you have connections to the Russian government?
NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA, LAWYER (through translator): No.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The Trump Tower meeting is of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller for two potential reasons. First, to see if there is evidence the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government during the campaign.
And second, to see if the president attempted to obstruct justice by helping to draft a misleading explanation for what was discussed in the meeting. Ranking Democrat in the Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff said the lawyer's revelation makes Russia's intentions clearer.
(on camera): What is the importance in your view of this admission by this Russian lawyer that she wasn't just a private attorney, but she was working in effect for the Russian government?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it certainly corroborates what we have seen of Veselnitskaya, what we have seen of her contacts within the Russian government as well as her persistence in terms of one of Putin's top priorities would indicate this is not a solo agent. This is someone working on behalf of the Kremlin.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Notably, Schiff said that Veselnitskaya reached back out to Trump aides after Trump won the election.
(on camera): You are saying it has the impression of a quid pro quo.
SCHIFF: It certainly does. Certainly, the Russians thought they had reason to believe after the campaign that they now might get the help that they sought in that meeting at Trump Tower.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The revelations come as Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released a redacted report concluding that they found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Republicans, however, did fault the campaign for meeting with the Russian lawyer, saying it, quote, "demonstrated poor judgment and they criticized Trump's repeated praise for WikiLeaks."
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.
SCIUTTO: Stating it found, quote, "the Trump campaign's periodic praise for and communications with WikiLeaks, a hostile foreign organization to be highly objectionable and inconsistent with U.S. national security interests.
President Trump praised the Republican report.
TRUMP: We were honored, it was a great report, no collusion which I knew anyway, no coordination, no nothing. It's a witch-hunt, that's all it is.
SCIUTTO: In order findings, the report revealed that Michael Flynn before he joined the Trump campaign formerly, and his son contacted the Russian government earlier than previously known in 2015.
Meeting with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at his residence, a meeting requested by either Flynn or his son.
The report says quote, "the meeting was later described by General Flynn's son in an e-mail to the Russian Embassy as very productive."
Also in 2015, Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen and Russian- American business associate Felix Sater were involved in efforts to cement ties between then candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
[17:05:00] During an e-mail exchange about building a Trump Tower in Moscow, Sater wrote to Cohen, if -- quote, "Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon-cutting for Trump Moscow Donald owns the Republican nomination."
SCIUTTO: Now, as we mentioned, the president welcomed the report, but apparently only focused really on that headline, at least, the Republicans determined there was no evidence of collusion.
But there is a lot of new information in here including, Jim, a contact between the NRA and e-mail describing how Russia wanted to establish a back channel with the Trump campaign using the NRA and also this issue about Veselnitskaya; this lawyer who was in that Trump Tower meeting that the contacts with those Russians who would offer that dirt on Hillary Clinton did not end there in June, but after President Trump was elected, they reached out again.
ACOSTA: And it's important to know the special counsel's office has not reached the conclusion of its investigation either on this --
SCIUTTO: No. ACOSTA: Jim Sciutto, thank you very much. Also breaking, sharp words
for its predecessors and President Trump as its summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un moves closer to reality.
Cnn's senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny has the latest. Jeff, the President is basking in the success of this historic meeting between the North and South Korean leaders. He seems to be taking almost all the credit. Jeff?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening Jim. He certainly was talking a lot about that historic meeting, also looking ahead to what he hopes will be another historic meeting, that of course is a summit that he hopes that he'll hold with Kim Jong-un in either late May or early June.
Now, the president says this will be a great thing for the world, but insisted he's not being naive and still said he would walk away if North Korea doesn't live up to its word.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump hailing this potential history- making role on the Korean peninsula.
TRUMP: This is a world problem, and it's something that I hope I'm able to do for the world.
ZELENY: After North and South Korea agreed to work toward abolishing nuclear weapons in a deal that could finally bring an end to the Korean war.
TRUMP: I look forward to our meeting, it should be quite something.
ZELENY: The president eagerly anticipating his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Cnn has learned Singapore and Mongolia are two top locations favored by the U.S.
TRUMP: I think some very good things can happen with respect to North Korea. We're setting up meetings now, we're down to two countries as to a site.
ZELENY: The president's high stakes diplomatic gamble now one step closer to reality. Through tough sanctions and a willingness to hold face-to-face talks, he said he would fix what other presidents could not.
TRUMP: Honestly, I wish it was handled earlier, I wish it were handled by another administration years ago, I'm not just talking about President Obama, I go back to any administration you want.
But over the last 25 years, this should have been handled a long time ago, not now.
ZELENY: The president insisted he was not being naive or misled by the North Korean regime. He said he would walk away if Kim wasn't serious about shelving his nuclear program. TRUMP: The United States in the past was played like a fiddle.
That's not happening to us.
ZELENY: North Korea front and center today during a visit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she received a warm welcome on her second trip to the White House, but hardly the fanfare lavished on French President Emmanuel Macron during a three-day official state visit this week.
The president said he was confident North Korea would keep its word, conceding dramatic changes in the last year.
TRUMP: Things have changed very radically from a few months ago. You know, the name-calling and a lot of other things.
ZELENY: All that old name-calling from the president --
TRUMP: And by the way, rocket man should have been handled a long time ago.
ZELENY: Replaced today by cautious optimism.
TRUMP: I think I have a responsibility to see if I can do it, and if I can't do it, it will be a very tough time for a lot of countries and a lot of people.
ZELENY: The Iran nuclear deal also at the heart of talks between Trump and Merkel, with a deadline looming for the president to decide whether to pull out of the agreement. Asked about consequences for Iran resuming its nuclear program the president said this.
TRUMP: They will not be doing nuclear weapons, that I can tell you, OK? They're not going to be dong nuclear weapons, you can bank on it.
ZELENY: The president also lamenting another high profile casualty in his cabinet -- with Ronny Jackson's decision to withdraw his nomination to lead the VA after a swirl of questions about his conduct and experience.
TRUMP: Calling him names was to me a disgrace. An absolute disgrace. And I think it's something we learned from -- I called him today, I said in a certain way, you're in a -- in a very big way, you're an American hero.
Because you've exposed the system for some horrible things. I've had it happen to me with the Russian collusion hoax.
ZELENY: Embracing the report today from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee that found no evidence of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia, the president made clear his old rival is still fresh on his mind.
[17:10:00] TRUMP: They were very forceful in saying that the Clinton campaign actually did contribute to Russia. So maybe somebody ought to look at that.
ZELENY: So the president clearly there, turning to his old rival Hillary Clinton to try and draw her back into this. He also said, Jim, that we should get on with our lives.
Well, the reality here though, even that house report came out today, the reality of the president's life is that this Russia investigation is still very much real, the special counsel still going through it all.
And as we end a week here on a Friday, one secretary was confirmed, of course with Secretary of State, but one more vacancy, that VA secretary.
The president said plenty of people want that job, Jim, our reporting suggests that's not exactly true. So they're going back to the beginning here to try and find someone to fill the VA secretary's role as well as questions still swirling tonight about the EPA administrator. So another busy week here at the White House, Jim.
ACOSTA: A lot of cabinet chaos. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much --
ZELENY: Thank you --
ACOSTA: Let's get more on all of this with Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us. First, I want to start off with this --
REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure --
ACOSTA: Very interesting information that has developed about this Russian who met with top Trump campaign officials in 2016, apparently was working with the Kremlin. How concerning is that, I guess and how much of a surprise was it?
CICILLINE: Well, I think it is very concerning. Let's remember, this is a meeting according to Donald Trump Jr.'s own e-mails that was set up because the Russians had dirt that they wanted to share with Mr. Trump's political opponent Hillary Clinton.
This included his campaign manager and other Trump officials, including his son. This is an individual who -- let's remember they first lied about the purpose of the meeting, issued a statement that they discussed adoptions.
We know that wasn't true. This is one more example of a meeting between Trump campaign officials and the Russians that folks have lied about or attempted to conceal.
And now we learn that this woman lied about her own role there. That she wasn't just a private attorney, but she, in fact, had ties to the Kremlin and in fact, has worked for the government as an informant. So this is very disturbing. This is, I think, just one more piece of
evidence about this relationship, this ongoing relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian officials that continue to be the subject of meetings and secret conversation and concealment. So I think it's very concerning.
ACOSTA: And how does this change or does this change the way you see the offer of Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton that apparently came before this meeting? What do you make of that?
CICILLINE: Yes, well I think, again, there's been a lot of suggestion from the president, there's no evidence of collusion. There is a lot of things already in the public domain that certainly provide evidence of contacts between the campaign by the Russians with an effort to help Donald Trump led by Vladimir Putin himself.
Obviously, intelligence collections that supports that. And now we know about a meeting in which that discussion took place that a person who had ties to the Kremlin participated.
And you have to ask yourself, why did she conceal her real identity? What was she worried about by revealing that she in fact had these contacts with the Kremlin, in fact, was a government informant.
So I think it just is further evidence that we need --
ACOSTA: So when the president says no collusion --
CICILLINE: With investigation --
ACOSTA: You just don't buy that, it's too early to say.
CICILLINE: Yes, I mean, look, of course, I mean, Robert Mueller is leading an investigation, there's been a lot of effort to interfere with that, to attempt to shut it down.
What we have to do is be sure that he can continue his work to lead us to wherever the facts will take us, and that he'd be free from any political interference and have the resources he needs to get this work done, but I think it is much too soon to draw any conclusions about no collusion as he suggested.
ACOSTA: All right, and let's turn to the major developments with North Korea, because these were some fascinating images we've seen over the last 24 hours.
Do you believe President Trump's policies deserve some kind of credit for the breakthroughs that we're seeing right now?
CICILLINE: Well, I think it's much too early to know. Let's be very clear. The North Koreans have a history of being very provocative and then encouraging the international community provide them some relief from economic sanctions to bring them back into the world community in some way.
And then they break a promise and go back to clandestine activities to develop their nuclear program. So we really need to understand the history here.
Obviously, this is a very important step that North and South Koreans are talking and committing to an end of this conflict, and hopefully a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
But this is just the beginning of the process, and I think what we have to really do is be hopeful but very skeptical.
ACOSTA: And Senator --
CICILLINE: You have to look at the history of their --
ACOSTA: I was going to say, Congressman --
CICILLINE: Sorry --
ACOSTA: Senator Lindsey Graham says if a deal is reached President Trump deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. What do you make of that? Should they be getting that for a --
CICILLINE: Well, I think if a deal --
ACOSTA: Peace prize ready for the president?
CICILLINE: I think if a -- I think if a deal is reached and in fact, the Korean peninsula is denuclearized and there is a peace agreement between the two countries, I would agree.
[17:15:00[ But I think we are a long way from that, this is just the beginning of the process and we have to go into this with open eyes and with a real understanding of what the objectives of the North Koreans are and with -- of their history of breaking these promises in clandestine pursuing this program.
But talks are important, this is a good first step, but we're really at the beginning of the process, now, the president has been tweeting that, you know, he's already succeeded it.
A little early to spike the football of the game has just begun.
ACOSTA: And the new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it's unlikely the U.S. will stay in the Iran nuclear deal past this May. Could that damage progress with the North Korean negotiators?
What -- I mean, should the North Koreans look at that as, well, you know, if one administration won't keep its promises or stick with an agreement that was made by a previous administration, could that potentially damage the upcoming talks?
CICILLINE: Oh, absolutely, not just with the North Koreans, but with any of our international agreements. This is an agreement, a multi- party agreement that prevents Iran from having a nuclear weapon, we agreed to it along with our partners, I think it would really undermine efforts in North Korea if the United States just said, you know what? We've changed our mind, the deal is off. It will make it much more
difficult to persuade the North Koreans to be part of an agreement if we don't keep our word. So I think there's no question about that.
ACOSTA: All right, Congressman David Cicilline, I guess we'll have to keep our eyes on these developments in North Korea, thanks very much for your time, we appreciate it.
CICILLINE: Thanks for having me.
ACOSTA: All right, and we have some breaking news right now in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit. Let's go right now to our national correspondent Sara Sidner in Los Angeles. This is some very interesting breaking information right now in the Stormy Daniels case. Sara, what are you learning?
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've all been waiting to hear what the judge was going to do in the Stormy Daniels case versus Donald Trump, the civil case in federal court.
The judge has just issued a 90-day stay in the case. What that means is if this case will be essentially put on hold for 90 days, no movement in the case for 90 days.
The judge basically saying there are several different reasons why that is. One of the main cases is because of Cohen's significant interest in preserving his Fifth Amendment right.
You remember that Cohen had put forth a declaration saying that he believed it would impact his Fifth Amendment rights because there is a criminal investigation against Cohen right now.
He didn't feel that he should be able to take part in this civil case with the criminal case looming. Now there is also -- the judge says the potential for significant impact in this proceedings on the criminal investigation against Michael Cohen as well -- and, one very important point here that the judge is pointing out.
He said the lack of significant prejudice to the plaintiff. So he's saying this does not hurt Stormy Daniels to stay this case for 90 days. Now what does this mean ultimately? It means that Michael Avenatti; Stormy Daniels attorney cannot depose the president, cannot depose Michael Cohen himself as he has repeatedly said he would do if this case was going forward.
At least, for the next 90 days, he will be unable to do that. Now Michael Avenatti; Stormy Daniels' lawyer has tweeted and has put out a statement, I just spoke to him a few moments ago and if we can put that statement up, I will read it to you.
He says "while we certainly respected Judge Otero's 90-day stay order based on Mr. Cohen's pleading of the Fifth, we do not agree with it, we will likely be filing an immediate appeal to the Ninth Circuit early next week.
Justice delayed is justice denied, hashtag, basta." He's been using that hashtag quite a bit, and basta for your information, if you're not Italian, don't speak Italian, means, enough. Jim?
ACOSTA: All right, the Michael Cohen soap opera, the Stormy Daniels soap opera continues. Sara is live there live in Los Angeles with that breaking information. Thank you very much.
And we'll have more on the breaking news ahead. Remarkable images by the way, if you haven't seen them from this historic meeting between the North and South Korean leaders is just amazing.
And Kim Jong-un's surprising remarks about his own country. Plus, did a Russian banker illegally try to help the Trump campaign by funneling money through the National Rifle Association? It's a Cnn exclusive and it's coming up next.
[17:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ACOSTA: There's more breaking news this hour. Cnn is learning exclusive details about the NRA and its ties to a Russian banker linked to the Kremlin. Cnn political correspondent Sara Murray is working the story for us.
Sara, you're getting new information from your sources about this. This is potentially very interesting.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. Sources are telling us that NRA officials have grown increasingly anxious about their U.S. long relationship with this Kremlin-linked banker.
And even though the NRA has publicly denied that this is under investigation, privately sources tell us they've been taking steps as if they're preparing for a possible probe.