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NYT: Trump's Son Met Russian For Dirt On Clinton; Who's The Russian Lawyer Who Met With Trump's Son?; Trump's Son Changes Story On Russian Lawyer Meeting; Trump Backs Off Idea Of Cybersecurity Unit With Russia. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired July 10, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Now we know a Trump met with a Russian in 2016 during the presidential campaign. The big question today is, how significant is this revelation for investigator that is are looking into possible collusion?
Here is the bombshell in a nutshell, if you will, Donald Trump Jr. revealing he had a meeting with the Russian lawyer last year with known ties to the kremlin and the elder Trump's campaign chairman and son-in-law were there as well.
"The New York Times" reports that the Russian lawyer promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Here, a short time ago, you have this, the president's son tweeting this with a clear dose of sarcasm, "Obviously, I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent. Went to nowhere but had to listen." He's also said his father was unaware of the meeting.
CNN's Jessica Schneider is here with much more on the details. All right, Jessica, so what do we know here?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, Donald Trump Jr. issuing several separate statements defending his meeting with that Russian lawyer with ties to the kremlin. Each one though, seemed to say something slightly different.
After "The New York Times" unearthed the meeting on Saturday, the president's eldest son released this saying in part, "It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government.
But it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand." So that was the statement on Saturday.
Fast forward to a day later, Sunday, when "The New York Times" reported an additional detail that Donald Trump Jr. was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton before he agreed to meet with that Russian lawyer.
So after that story was released, Donald Trump Jr. put out this, he said, "I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign.
The woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events."
Now this meeting happened just two weeks after Donald Trump clinched the nomination. Donald Trump Jr. also said in that statement that the meeting lasted 20 to 30 minutes.
So Kate, again, this morning, just about an hour ago in another attempt to clarify, Donald Trump Jr. took to Twitter to say this, he said, "No inconsistency in these statements. Meeting ended up primarily about adoptions and response to further Qs or questions, I simply provided more details."
So Donald Trump there, Donald Trump Jr. issuing several statements, and even more damage control, Kate, the president's top counselor, Kellyanne Conway was on "NEW DAY" this morning to explain even further.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANN CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Don Jr. has very explicitly stated he didn't even know the name of the person with whom he was meeting. He agreed to the meeting based on a contact from the Miss Universe pageant to get into the meeting.
And it quickly turns into a pretext for Russian adoption, according to the statements. The comments this woman was making about any type of information on Hillary Clinton were vague. They were meaningless. Others exited the meeting very quickly. The meeting itself was brief. There was no information given, no action taken, no follow up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: So, again there, Kellyanne Conway saying the meeting was brief, Donald Trump Jr. saying it was 20 to 30 minutes. But you know, Kate, regardless of the explanation here, the details are really significant.
This is the first known meeting of several from most senior of members of Trump's team, and a Russian national during the campaign. That revelation, it may play big into those several Congressional and the federal investigations as they probe that key question, did the Trump campaign collude with Russians during the 2016 election -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Yes, the meeting does and Kellyanne Conway even said, it gets to the exact question of the core of the investigation, what it means in that question that is unclear. Great to see you, Jessica. Thanks for laying it out.
All right, so the Russian lawyer in question has a different version of what happened in that meeting during the height of the 2016 campaign, that may come as a surprise to absolutely no one, especially Ivan Watson in Moscow right now.
Let's get there to Ivan right now. So Ivan, what do we know about this attorney and her ties to the kremlin?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she is a lawyer. She had been lobbying in the U.S. against something called the Magnitski (ph) Act in the past, which is a law that was passed in 2012 to effectively sanction people for human rights abuses and corruption.
It was targeted at Russia, initially. Now, we have reached out to her. We have been in communication with her, but have not gotten responses on this particular story. She did speak to "The New York Times."
[11:05:10]And in her comments to the "Times," she insisted that she does not represent the kremlin or the Russian government and insists that her meeting in June of 2016 with Donald Trump Jr. was not about the election itself or about those politics.
Now, a spokesman for the kremlin, for Vladimir Putin, Dmitri Peskov, he was also asked about this lawyer and said we don't even know who this woman is and we are not expected to monitor the movements of all Russian lawyers traveling to the U.S., which is a pretty fair argument there.
Again, she's been involved in lobbying against this act that particularly sanctions Russians involved in -- alleged to be involved in human rights abuses, and part of that argument has been in a tit for tat move. The kremlin responded to that act in 2012 by banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children. So that was one of her cases.
We also have to keep in mind, Kate, that this latest controversy is coming just days after the historic meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin in Germany on Friday. They agreed to a number of agreements. Already it looks like President Trump has backed out of one of them, which was supposed to be a working group to deal with interference and cyber hacking alongside the Russians.
BOLDUAN: Yes, we are going talk much more about that. Even his own administration calling this a significant accomplishment right before the president down plays it himself. Great to see you, Ivan. Someone is not telling the truth. Let's try to figure out who it is. Great to see you.
Joining me to discuss, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Louis is here, and former undercover CIA operative, Lindsay Moran, author of "Blowing My Cover, My Life As A CIA Spy. Mitchell Reiss is here. He is the former director of the Office of Policy Planning at the State Department, currently president and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and CNN contributor and general counsel for the Nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, Larry Noble, also the former general counsel at the FEC, the Federal Election Commission.
All right, friends, let's get to it. Your titles are longer than my questions, let's hope. Errol, the defense the White House, you heard Kellyanne Conway defense coming from the White House on this meeting. Is that nothing came of the meeting so the meeting doesn't matter? Does it?
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The meeting may not matter, but that's not the reason. The meeting may not matter because perhaps nothing nefarious was discussed.
We should also keep in mind that Donald Trump Jr. in his role as a campaign operative was not required to disclose the meeting and, frankly, it's not a crime to lie to a reporter. He gave misleading, conflicting statements to "The New York Times." But that too is not a crime.
So it's -- you know, I don't think we should sort of just assume that there was something going on until we find out what was discussed and why. That is something that, frankly, I don't know if reporters are going to be able to figure out.
I should say also in passing that in the throes of a campaign as hard fought as the 2016 campaign, I think any political reporter would have taken that meeting as described. Hey, somebody's got dirt on Hillary Clinton coming from a foreign source, but maybe you want to hear it. I think most people would want to hear that.
BOLDUAN: Larry, that's a good question. Every campaign is looking for dirt on an opponent, no matter how hard fought the campaign is or not. That's a fact of a matter. The fact that this person was a Russian attorney linked to the kremlin, does that make a difference?
LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's makes a very big difference. It is illegal for a foreign national to spend any money or attempt to influence U.S. elections and it's illegal for a campaign to accept any type of help or assistance from foreign nationals in elections.
What's really interesting about this news is Donald Trump Jr.'s reason for going was not to discuss adoption, but to discuss the campaign, discuss information that she supposedly promised that she could give them.
So that means he was going in there expecting assistance that could very well be a criminal violation of the federal election laws and was probably disappointed when he didn't get that.
You would think the campaign would have an understanding that this is now just going out to somebody who they have a dirt on a campaign. This is going to a foreign national, somebody who has connections to a foreign government and you should not be talking about them, talking to them about getting assistance for their campaign. Even if you didn't know --
BOLDUAN: But Larry, seeking assistance, I want to get you on that. Accepting money, clearly, that's illegal. Accepting assistance, if it's just dirt on someone, is that illegal?
NOBLE: It depends. So if this is just something she had in her mind and is volunteering, it may not be illegal. But if this was based on money that was spent for research, if assets were spent for research, you know, people were put behind this thing, and yes, that is illegal.
[11:10:09]That is -- those were expenditures for a campaign. Even his statement that he didn't know who he was going to be talking to. First of all, it's hard to believe that Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner go into a meeting without knowing who they are going to be talking to.
But as soon as he found out who he was talking to and as soon as she raised the issue of the campaign, they should have walked out.
BOLDUAN: That's actually something I want to bring up with Lindsay. Larry raised the eyebrows or got everyone listening. The fact that these three of the senior most level officials of the campaign, they take a meeting with someone they did not even know her name going in. Does that raise questions?
LINDSAY MORAN, FORMER UNDERCOVER CIA OPERATIVE: It raises a number of questions and legality aside, I mean, this is Russian intelligence tactics at their best. Let's promise Trump Jr. Something that he wants, lure him in, bait and switch.
Doesn't matter whether they talked about nefarious activities within the meeting, the whole thing is nefarious. Furthermore, the fact that Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort who do have security clearances are in this meeting, this was undisclosed meeting and undisclosed contact.
I have been on both sides of the clearance investigation process. I have had backgrounds done on me for my clearances as have any number of people working in the intelligence community. I have conducted background investigations.
If you do not disclose meetings with foreign nationals, especially one promising some dirt in exchange for something, that's a big deal. That's not like leaving out an address that you had for two months in college on your SF-86 form.
You're leaving out -- it's raises a number of eyebrows and can result in an FBI counter intelligence investigation. I mean, it can get you locked up. So that's a very big deal.
BOLDUAN: That's why it's raising questions. If it was a nothing burger of a meeting, not reporting it and the continued months of denials from the campaign that there was any meeting with any Russian national, you know, it flies in the face of that. I mean, Mitchell, what Lindsay raises there, what Lindsay raises there, the defense coming from the White House, again, is that Kellyanne Conway and she was about to join the campaign at that time.
She said they ran a lean and mean operation. There weren't other people to take meetings like this, it was going to be someone at the highest level. Do you take that on face value?
MITCHELL REISS, FORMER DIRECTOR, STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICE OF POLICY PLANNING: Well, I think it reveals the lack of experience that was present at the highest levels of the Trump campaign. But, let me say that in 2012, I worked on Governor Romney's presidential campaign.
He was widely ridiculed for saying that Russia was our number one threat at the time. It's really gratifying that others are finally catching up to this reality. The Russians do present a variety of challenges to us, but let's not exaggerate it.
They are not ten feet tall. They have a failing economy. Many people, in their own country are protesting the legitimacy of the government. We need to be careful about what they can and can't do with us.
One thing that came out of this was a ceasefire agreement in Syria. It wasn't the first one, probably isn't the last one. I think it's useful to highlight it to see what might come of it to see if it can bring a sensation to the fighting in Syria.
BOLDUAN: And there are other topics I want to continue to discuss, the cyber security unit. I want to get your take, Mitchell, because I think it raises an interesting element of what you are getting at there.
But Errol, on this meeting, Don Jr.'s tweet, "Obviously, I am the first person," sorry, I'm not good at sarcasm, "to take a meeting to hear info about an opponent. Went nowhere but had to listen."
He does seemed to be confirming in his tweet that he took the meeting to get damaging information. That was reporting by "The New York Times." He seems to be confirming it there. It takes a step toward asking the question, was it an attempt at collusion?
LOUIS: Yes. Although collusion I think is such a hot button word.
BOLDUAN: It is. Definitely has a lot.
LOUIS: They were looking for information. They were in contact with Russians. They kept failing to sort of give a straight account whether it's under oath, whether it's on the forms, talking with a reporter. We keep getting these conflicting comments about it.
Nothing really happened, and then you find out, well, yes, something did sort of happen. Well, it wasn't important. These are -- you know, if you want to say anything in defense of Donald Trump Jr., I say that the Trump Organization has a culture of using facts like a door mat. You know, they kind of change things whenever they want to. I love the fact, for example, they have the meeting in Trump Tower, which famously is 58 stories tall. They tell all the tenants that it's 68 stories so that they can charge them more.
[11:15:04]These are the standards that we are talking about. So I think by the standards of the Trump Organization, this is a nothing burger.
BOLDUAN: Larry, just a final thought for you. Do you see violations of Federal Election Law?
NOBLE: I think there's real evidence of violation of the Federal Election Law. As a technical matter, what we have to know whether or not there was money spent on this by a foreign national and whether or not -- well, we do know that Donald Trump Jr. went in there to get this information. He was ready accept help from the Russians or a foreign national. I think there's potential for violation here.
BOLDUAN: All right, guys, stick around. We have more to discuss. I really appreciate it.
Coming up for us, Lindsey Graham calls it one of the dumbest ideas he's ever heard. President Trump teaming up with Vladimir Putin on cyber security issues. Now, the president appears to be reversing course in a major way very quickly.
Plus, new this morning, President Trump accuses James Comey of leaking classified information. There are more to it than that. We'll get to it.
BOLDUAN: President Trump now backtracking on an idea that he touted just hours earlier creating something of a cybersecurity unit with Russia. Here is Trump's -- here is Trump from Sunday morning in a tweet.
[11:20:09] "Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cybersecurity unit so that election hacking and many other negative things will be guarded." On top of that tweet, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, he called the news a significant accomplishment for the president. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I think this is a very important step forward. We want to make sure is that we coordinate with Russia that we are focused on cyber security together and make sure that they never interfere in any democratic elections or conduct any cyber security. And this is like any other strategic alliance, whether we are doing military exercises with our allies or anything else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: But, not so fast, it appears, hours later, the president not only undercut Mnuchin, but himself with this tweet saying, "The fact that President Putin and I discussed the cybersecurity doesn't mean I think it can happen, it can't." He wrote. All cleared up, right now. Sure.
Let's get to the panel and see how cleared up it is. Everybody is back with me. Errol, before I get your take on this, here is what else his fellow Republicans thought about it. Here is Lindsay Graham and John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's not the dumbest idea I have ever heard but it's pretty close.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he's doing the hacking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And there's more. Marco Rubio tweeted this, "Partnering with Putin on cybersecurity is like partnering with Assad on chemical weapons unit." Ben Sasse tweeting this, "This obviously should not happen and obviously will not happen. Why the president of the United States would tweet is inexplicably bizarre." Do you think this reaction is what changed the president's mind?
LOUIS: I don't know. Those particular reactions, there were probably others within the administration who had something similar to say, particularly the national security adviser from the FBI, the CIA.
It really was unthinkable. We are getting lot of shots out of Washington that was a real shock. The fact that he sort of put it out there himself, you know, this closed meeting, they only had four people.
There is no transcript. We haven't really what was discussed about. The fact that the president, himself, put it out there, suggests that, number one, Putin brought it up and number two, he didn't object to it in the meeting.
BOLDUAN: Lindsay, I'm not trying to play dumb here. Creating a cybersecurity unit with Russia even mean?
MORAN: Well, it's a preposterous idea. I would say again, what we are witnessing here is a seasoned KGB officer, Putin preying upon someone with glaring vulnerabilities.
And that's a tactic that we use in espionage when we are trying to recruit someone so that they don't feel like they are actually committing treason. We might say something like, you know what? We can work on this problem together.
This is for the good of both our countries, which is obviously exactly what Putin was doing when he floated the preposterous idea of forming a joint anti-cyber or anti-hacking organization with the U.S. I mean, it's laughable and it's embarrassing. We kind of think of Putin at this point as like a master puppeteer. He is the one controlling all the marionettes and sadly, our president and this administration have become marionettes of the Russian government.
This is classic KGB tactics, Russian intelligence tactics that we are seeing that are being played out before our eyes.
BOLDUAN: Mitchell, I want to get your take on that. I mean, look, the reality is, every administration for many years, every president has tried for a reset with Russia. Here is U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Here is her take on this idea of the cybersecurity unit. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: It doesn't mean we ever trust Russia. We can't trust Russia and we won't ever trust Russia, but you keep those you don't trust closer so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Mitchell, what do you think of that?
REISS: Well, I think President Trump did something that was almost unimaginable. He created bipartisan consensus in Washington, D.C. This is a terrible idea. I think everybody can agree on that.
But it speaks to a larger problem, the president's inexperience and how he sees the world in transactional terms. These are transactions. He's not thinking about American values when he meets with somebody like Vladimir Putin.
It's hard to tie any agreement that he reaches to a broader set of principles or strategy. So, we are six months into his administration. We are still not clear as to what the direction of his foreign policy is.
BOLDUAN: Fascinating, that is one of the things they want to spend their time on. Going into the meeting, there are so many issues to bring up. You have to prioritize what's going to be discussed.
[11:25:08]That was part of the explaining why the election hack might not come up. They did bring that up, that is one thing you can say but then also this. Great to see you all. Thank you so much.
Coming up for us, as two Republicans are now saying that the health care bill is likely dead, hear what the president seems to be now daring Republicans to do involving their August recess and vacation.
Plus, did the misleading clip on Fox News inspire President Trump to accuse James Comey, the former FBI director, of breaking the law. Why the president's tweet this morning isn't telling the whole story. We'll be right back.