Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Bombshell E-Mail Drops in Trump-Russia Probe; Trump Jr. Releases Email Chain on Russia Meeting; Interview with Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired July 11, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Breaking and stunning news in our politics lead today, the release of an e-mail chain from last June between Donald Trump Jr. and this man, Rob Goldstone, a British-born promoter and publicist and an associate of the Trump family dating back to the Miss Universe Pageant near Moscow in 2013.
The subject line of the e-mail chain, "Russia, Clinton, Private and Confidential."
Befitting the ham-handedness of the following missive, which might be laughed out of any spy thriller, Goldstone tells us Trump Jr. in this e-mail about -- sorry -- Goldstone tells us Trump Jr. that Russia's prosecutor general met with another Trump associate with whom the Trumps befriended during the 2013 Moscow adventure.
And that's this man, real estate developer Aras Agalarov, who licensed the Miss Universe Pageant from the Trumps. The prosecutor -- quote -- "offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."
It goes on to say -- quote -- "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information, but is part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump" -- unquote.
Goldstone writes he could also send the information directly to Donald Trump Sr., currently the president, via his assistant -- quote -- "but is ultra sensitive, so wanted to send to you first" -- unquote.
Donald Trump Jr.'s response in part: "Thanks, Rob. I appreciate that. If it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer."
Now, just a brief note on that. Later in the summer. Trump Jr. seems to be suggesting there that it would be best to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton come out later in the campaign, later in the summer. The e-mail chain goes on to show them coordinating the best times to
talk or meet. On June 7, Goldstone notes that Emin Agalarov, the son of Aras and a pop star in whose video Trump Sr. once appeared -- quote -- "asked that I schedule a meeting with you and the Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow."
The Russian government attorney is apparently a reference to this woman, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Well, Trump Jr. is quite receptive to that idea. "Great," he writes. "It will likely be Paul Manafort, campaign boss, my brother-in-law" -- that's a reference to Jared Kushner -- "and me."
And Trump Jr. soon forwards the entire chain to those two, justice and Manafort.
This is clear evidence that the highest-level members of the Trump campaign were willing to sit with individuals who had been billed, at the very least, as representing the Russian government in order to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
It suggests on its face a willingness to collude with Russia, a foreign adversary of the U.S. Whether that collusion happened or not, we do not know. Trump Jr. denies it.
We have a lot of big questions now about what any of this means, and our coverage kicks off with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, Donald Trump Jr. not giving any interviews. We did request them. He's only willing to talk on his father's favorite channel. Is there any response from the White House today attempting to explain any of this e-mail chain?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the biggest voice here at the White House, the president himself, has been unusually silent about this on social media and otherwise.
His aides and lawyers, we are told, have asked him gently to refrain from giving a running commentary on this. So far, that's worked. We will see how long it lasts.
But White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders this afternoon sought to dismiss questions about this. She referred every question to Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyers, but she also said the president was frustrated, not at the meeting, but at the fact that Washington is focused on Russia.
ZELENY (voice-over): Donald Trump Jr. said so himself. He loved the idea of having the Russian government help his father's presidential bid and take down Hillary Clinton.
The bombshell contained in e-mails the president's son released today following a "New York Times" report that shed new light on a meeting he and campaign's high command had with a Russian lawyer in June of 2016.
"The crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," publicist Rob Goldstone wrote Donald Trump Jr.
"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump. If it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer," he responded.
Six days later, the meeting took place in Trump Tower with the president's son, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
That meeting is now part of the federal investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians. Donald Trump Jr. said the meeting revealed nothing of interest.
As President Trump stayed out of sight for a second straight day, the White House said again today he didn't know about the meeting. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred questions his lawyers and read a short statement from the president.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: "My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency."
ZELENY: June 9, 2016, was no ordinary day on the campaign trail. It was the moment the general election battle with Clinton was finally joined. At 1:02 p.m. that day, Trump leaves the Four Seasons Hotel after attending his first Trump Victory Fund fund-raising lunch.
He returns to Trump Tower about one block away, where he remained for the rest of the afternoon. At 4:00 p.m., the president's son, son-in- law and campaign chairman met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
At 4:40 p.m., Trump responds to a Clinton tweet with a dig about her e-mails. "How long did it take your staff of 823 people to think that up and where are your 33,000 e-mails that you deleted?"
Through all of this, a key question for lawmakers and the special counsel will be how a meeting promising high-level and sensitive information from Russians would not have been shared with the candidate famously known for calling his own shots.
In an interview with NBC News today, the Russian lawyer said she didn't know who she would be seeing that day, beyond Donald Trump Jr. Asked how he would have gotten the impression she was coming up with dirt on Clinton, she said this:
NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA, ATTORNEY (through translator): It's quite possible that maybe they were looking for such information, they wanted it is to badly.
ZELENY: She also denied having ties to the Russian government, although within the e-mails, Donald Trump Jr. believed she was a Russian government attorney.
Donald Trump Jr., one of his father's most visible advisers, initially mocked the latest explosive report in "The New York Times." He tweeted: "Media and Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a year, I understand the desperation."
Hours later, after "The Times" was set to publish the e-mails, Trump released them himself.
ZELENY: Now, the president praised his son for being transparent, but, Jake, this transparency comes on the fourth day of varying explanations about what, in fact, happened at that meeting by Donald Trump Jr.
He also added an interesting caveat to a release of these. He said this. "To put this in context, all of this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue," so clearly taking note of the fact that Russian fever has set on Washington.
And, Jake, this is just one more thing for investigators on Capitol Hill and potentially the Justice Department to look at.
TAPPER: That's right, Jeff Zeleny. That transparency also came after "The New York Times" obtained the e-mail and was about to publish it, giving Trump Jr. time to respond.
Live at the White House for us, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.
Russia, of course, is perceived to be this nation's biggest geopolitical threat, according to officials at the Pentagon. There are national security concerns along with all the legal questions, of course.
For that, let's bring in chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto and senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin.
Jeff, let me start with you.
Assuming what we know as fact, which is, on its face, senior members of the Trump team willing to meet with somebody who was billed as presenting damaging information about Hillary Clinton, who was billed as a Russian government attorney, somebody with information from the Russian prosecutor, is that a crime?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Possibly. And I really want to be careful about that, because I think there has been a lot of loose talk about what's criminal and what's not.
I certainly don't think treason is even a remote possibility here. Treason involves acts at times of war. This is not, under any circumstances, treason.
However, there are campaign finance laws which do potentially carry criminal penalties which say that it is illegal to solicit or receive anything of value from a foreign government in a campaign. That usually applies to money.
TOOBIN: But if the thing of value is intelligence, hacked e-mails, that potentially could be a crime.
It's not something that I'm aware has ever been prosecuted as anything other than money, but it is something that I'm sure investigators will want to look at.
TAPPER: And soliciting, it doesn't seem to matter who makes the offer first. This seemed to be an offer, not a solicitation.
TOOBIN: Correct. But it is also -- it is a crime to receive it.
TAPPER: To receive it, OK, whether it's solicited or not.
TOOBIN: So, we will see.
And, again, it's important. You know, we have got these e-mails. They're incredibly provocative and interesting and politically important, but they're just one small slice of a bigger story, perhaps, because there are other e-mails.
TOOBIN: We all know that e-mails sprawl in chains and who received them and who got them and other subjects.
I mean, this just shows how important e-mails are in criminal investigations.
TAPPER: And in terms of the investigation, Jim, there is obviously the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Mueller, the special prosecutor also leading an investigation with the FBI. What does this information, where does it take the investigation from here?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, to this point, the question of collusion or cooperation, whatever you want to call it, has been based merely on the existence of meetings between people in Trump world and Russians.
There are multiple meetings, as we know, going back months. This is the first time that we know what a meeting is about. And we have it very well-documented in this e-mail, that it was about getting incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
The understanding was it was coming from the Russian government, even further, that it was part of a Russian government effort to help Donald Trump. So that's a step forward, no question.
But keep in mind also, there are these other meetings. So is this part of a pattern? Were these other meetings, will we find out other details, e-mails that detailed meetings that took place before and after were also a part of this, and where there was actual information exchanged or pre-knowledge of releases of information?
Final point I would make, the dossier, which you and I were part of the team to first report that that was briefed to president-elect Trump and President Obama in January, keep in mind, beyond the idea of there being compromising information, that was about meetings between Trump advisers and Russians coordinating the release of damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
We already know and we have reported that the intelligence community has corroborated some of what was contained in that dossier. Some of those meetings took place. Here you have something that corroborates at least one of the main propositions of the dossier, right, was that there were meetings between Trump world and Russia with the intent to cooperate on releasing damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
TAPPER: And, Jeff, let me ask you. If you were asked at that moment extemporaneously by Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, who were at that meeting, this is what the meeting is being billed at, although we should point out, of course, that they claim it was something very different. She started talking about other information.
This is what it's being billed at. What do you think? Should we go to this meeting, should we call the FBI? What would you tell them? What would your legal advice be?
TOOBIN: Well, it certainly would be don't send the campaign manager, the candidate's son and the candidate's son-in-law, obviously, the very high command of the campaign.
The two alternatives would be, I think, one is, go right to the FBI, because foreign governments are not supposed to be involved in American campaigns at all. There are laws against that. Or, alternatively, if you wanted to feel them out a little, send a low- level or a lawyer to the meeting.
Don't say anything, just write down what the person has to say, and then consult with your campaign lawyers about whether anything can be pursued from it. Sending the top people is just about the worst possible choice they could have made.
TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, Jeff Toobin, thank you so much.
The campaign manager for Hillary Clinton will react to Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails next. Stick around.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[16:17:16] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love emails. You can't erase emails. You can't erase them. I love 'em.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Interesting, just a few days before the e- mails that Donald Trump Jr. is now dealing with. E-mails can come back to haunt you, as the now president was affirming in that clip.
Welcome back to THE LEAD. Let's stick with politics. Let's bring in Robby Mook. He was a Hillary Clinton campaign manager in 2016. He's now a CNN political commentator.
So, Rob, obviously, these e-mails are stunning. As the Democratic National Convention started, you came on "STATE OF THE UNION" and talked about how the hack was the work of the Russians, according to experts. We didn't know. I challenged you on that, but you said that's what you had been told.
And then Donald Trump Jr. came on after that, and I want to play some of his response to what you had said when you were blaming the Russians for trying to interfere in the campaign to help Donald Trump. Let's roll that tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. I mean, they'll say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie. You noticed he won't say, well, I say this. We hear experts. You know, his house cat at home once said that this is what's happening with the Russians. It's disgusting, it's so phony.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now we know not only that according to the entire intelligence community as Clapper presented it last fall in January and since that it was the Russians behind this, we now know that Donald Trump Jr. had met with somebody billed as presenting information from the Russian government to help Trump and hurt Clinton. I don't know the reality of what that actually was or what took place at the meeting, but we know he did take the meeting.
ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: I mean, look, at every step along the way, it's been as bad as we imagined that it could be. So, first, it was the Russians probably hacked the DNC. It turned out that was the case. Then, the question on the table was, well, was the Trump campaign working with the Russians in some way?
And now, that case in my mind is closed. We have the proof that they were working with the Russians. I think the real question to ask, and you actually just brought this up earlier, was there coordination about the timing of release of e-mails?
It's interesting that the first major release of the DNC e-mails that were hacked came just days after this meeting happened. And I almost don't want us to become too enamored with this incredible e-mail, by the way. It is incredible to read, as you said.
TAPPER: Did you ever think, by the way, just to interrupt, I'm sorry. Did you ever think we would actually see an e-mail this ham-handed with the --
MOOK: It's stunning to me. It's stunning me that the wording that's used, that this -- frankly, this conversation was conducted by e-mail.
MOOK: You know, when the Federal Election Commission wants to investigate your campaign, they can go back and pull up these e-mails.
[16:20:01] And, in fact, that may be what happens here because when you coordinate -- let's put aside, let's pretend this was a super PAC. It's illegal to coordinate on things --
MOOK: -- on a campaign that you don't pay for. You have a hostile foreign nation promulgating this attack, and if that was coordinated, which we have a lot of reason to believe that it was based on this, but we need to let the facts play out, that would be incredible.
TAPPER: You were hinting on this and I interrupted, but I do -- the e-mails took place in early June, in response to this offer to the Trump campaign for incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. wrote, quote: If it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer.
You think that that is possibly relevant to the fact that information was released later in the summer. We don't know what he meant?
MOOK: We don't know. We have two things now. We have that e-mail. Roger Stone said -- he said to people and he also tweeted that he was speaking to Julian Assange. At one point, he said -- he implied it was direct, and at another point he said it was through intermediaries. And then he clairvoyantly predicted that John Podesta's e-mails would be released.
That's sort of the culmination of this, is that they were actually -- that they stole e-mails and then work together to figure out the time to drop them. And again, today, we're getting closer.
The other piece of this, again, we can't let this go. What did the president know? He was sitting in Trump Tower the day this meeting happened. His campaign manager, his son, his son-in-law were all there. Do we really think they didn't talk about this?
TAPPER: One of the pushbacks from the White House has been that when Paul Manafort was named to the Trump campaign, there were people in this country reaching out to Ukrainian politicians and then Ukrainian politicians were helping to provide information about Paul Manafort that was not positive because Manafort had done a bunch of consulting work in Ukraine and people saying this is the same thing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders making that point from the White House podium.
MOOK: I mean, I love it. It's just -- they throw shade and make accusations. Maybe somebody was talking to Ukraine. Our campaign wasn't. Foreign agents weren't reaching out to us saying their government had assembled dossiers on candidates and handing them over to us. Maybe journalists were reaching out to them.
But, look, at every juncture this administration has not told the truth. And, today, I mean, you saw the video right there. That's what they said a year ago. Now we see the evidence today.
The last part of this that I -- again, I just don't want to lose. The administration has been acting in Russia's interests. Our own American foreign policy apparatus has been acting in Russian interest.
The Congress has got to step up, and anybody in that administration who is compromised by Russia has got to get pulled out. It's just unacceptable. And I cannot say enough how disappointed I am in Congress, and particularly in Republicans in Congress who are in charge who refuse to call this out and stop it, put a stop to it.
What our president did with Vladimir Putin at the g20 was an embarrassment. And then to propose that we should work together on cyber security when they were the ones who hacked us? It's absurd.
And somebody has got to speak out. I'm just waiting for a brave Republican to step up and say enough is enough.
TAPPER: Robby Mook, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
TAPPER: How will the Donald Trump Jr. e-mails impact Congress' investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign? A member of the House Intelligence Committee will join us next. Stay with us.
[16:27:54] TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.
Newly released e-mails, of course, showing Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer in June of last year after he had been promised damaging information from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton.
With me now is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California.
Congressman, I know the House Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation. What do these e-mails prove, if anything?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good afternoon, Jake.
This is what working with Russians looks like. It's been offered information that is damaging to your opponent by the Russian government for a meeting at Trump Tower with senior officials, the Donald Trump's son, right -- at the peak of the interference campaign. And so, it's what a lot of people feared. But, frankly, Jake, it fits the pattern of what we've seen as far as the personal, political and financial ties that the president has had with Russia.
TAPPER: So, we know the setup to the meeting, but Donald Trump Jr. says that that meeting was not about damaging information for Hillary Clinton. Do you know of any evidence that suggests that's not true?
SWALWELL: I don't, and the explanation that it was about Russian adoptions, can you imagine you're running for the highest office in the land, time is your most precious resource, and you're taking time out of your day to meet with Russian adoptions, and then when you're confronted about it, you give multiple shifting explanations? I think -- it just, again, fits the pattern of contacts with Russia denying that the contacts exist and only once confronted with media accounts or other accounts are they acknowledged.
TAPPER: Take a listen to White House adviser Sebastian Gorka on CNN this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEBASTIAN GORKA, WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: She was a private lawyer who had an interest with regard to the Russian adoption program and used a pretext to get a meeting with the campaign. There is no evidence of anything illegal, nothing illegal. Not in Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting. None of those meetings was illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: You're a former prosecutor. Is he wrong? Was there anything illegal about that meeting?
SWALWELL: I'll leave that to Bob Mueller. For our investigation, we want to tell the American people whether any U.S. persons worked with the Russian and what happened during the interference campaign and how it affected the outcome.
So, right now, again, if this was the only meeting with the Russians, if this was the only contact, then you could say it was an outlier.