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Russia Probe Intensifies; Sean Spicer Resigns; CNN Exclusive: Mueller Asks White House Staff to Preserve All Docs Related to Don Jr.'s Russian Meeting; Interview with Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 21, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: As comedian Melissa McCarthy sheds a tear, I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with the big breaking news in the politics lead, a major White House shakeup today. The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, has resigned.

The move created a bottleneck of reporters and cameras at the door of the Briefing Room and, according to sources inside the West Wing, left many White House staffers shocked.

A short time ago, we heard from Sean Spicer on Twitter saying: "It's been an honor and a privilege to serve POTUS and this amazing country. I will continue my service through August."

Spicer's resignation comes as President Trump announces he has hired Anthony Scaramucci, who made his debut today from the podium as the new White House communications director.

Scaramucci has been one of the president's most loyal supporters, serving on his campaign and transition team.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I think there's been at times a disconnect between how the way we see the president and how much we love the president, and some of you perhaps see the president.


TAPPER: Times have clearly changed since the days when Scaramucci -- I'm sorry -- when Donald Trump railed against Scaramucci's old job as a hedge fund manager, and Scaramucci pushed back with some choice words of his own for his future boss. Take a look at this.


SCARAMUCCI: Another hack politician.

QUESTION: You calling Donald Trump a hack?

SCARAMUCCI: He's a hack politician.

The politicians don't want to go at Trump because he's got a big mouth and he's afraid he's going to light them up on FOX News and all these other places, but I'm not a politician. Bring it.

QUESTION: So, why is he resonating?

SCARAMUCCI: You're an inherited money dude from Queens County. Bring it, Donald.


He brings it up every 15 seconds, OK?


SCARAMUCCI: One of the biggest mistakes that I made, because I was an unexperienced person in the world of politics.

I was supporting another candidate. I should have never said that about him.

So, Mr. President, if you're listening, I personally apologize for the 50th time for saying that.

But here's the wonderful thing about the news media. That was three minutes of my life. He's never forgotten it, and you have never forgotten it. But I hope that, someday, Mr. President, you will forget it.


TAPPER: It's a rant that Anthony Scaramucci today jokingly admitted that President Trump reminds him of every 15 seconds and he once again apologized for.

This move on the communications side follows a major shakeup on the president's legal side. Sources telling CNN that Marc Kasowitz, the president's longtime personal attorney who has been the lead lawyer representing the president on the Russia investigation, Kasowitz will see his role diminish.

Mark Corallo also resigned from his position as spokesman and communications strategist for President Trump's legal team. According to Politico, Corallo had become concerned about whether he was being told the truth.

All this as the president's legal team is directed, according to "The New York Times" and "Washington Post," to try to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation and has, according to "The Post," asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe. One might observe that a lot of this is perhaps difficult to defend

publicly. Whether or not that played a role in Spicer's departure, we do not know.

We have brought together our CNN White House team. They have been working their sources in the West Wing all day long.

We're going to kick off with CNN's Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, I think it's fair to say it was a smooth and affable debut from the podium for Mr. Scaramucci, but for those of us who like facts and truth, there were some moments for pause. Scaramucci tried to lend some credence to the president's evidence-free claim about millions of illegal votes for Hillary Clinton and he suggested the president is beloved by the American people, despite his staggeringly high disapproval ratings.


The new communications director is also already pushing the president's line that the media isn't covering, in his words, the long list of accomplishments coming from this White House.

He says the media has not been portraying the president fairly. He said that the American public can see through that. Of course, this all part of a big day of staff shakeups here at the White House and the president saying few words on it. Take a listen.




SCHNEIDER: So, now Anthony Scaramucci moves to chief messenger for the president, as Sean Spicer calls it quits.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): A seismic staff shakeup in the West Wing, Sean Spicer out as press secretary after six tumultuous months.

Spicer submitted his resignation minutes after Anthony Scaramucci, a former Trump campaign fund-raiser, accepted the job of communications director.

SCARAMUCCI: I'm a business person, and so what happens in business a lot of times is you have some rotation in personnel as you're making changes, and you have lifestyle choices that people are also making.

SCHNEIDER: Scaramucci announced Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will move into the role.

SCARAMUCCI: Sarah is going to be the press secretary, right? OK, so congratulations to you, Sarah. SCHNEIDER: President Trump asked Spicer to remain on staff, according

to a top Republican adviser and White House official, but Spicer decided to step down instead, a move that shocked White House staffers.

A source familiar with the changes says the president has been pushing to add Scaramucci to the staff for some time, but Spicer opposed the move, since Scaramucci isn't a Washington insider. Scaramucci is known as a Wall Street wheeler and dealer who started his career at Goldman Sachs and has appeared frequently as a surrogate for the president on cable TV.


Scaramucci denied any problems with Spicer and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

SCARAMUCCI: But I don't have any friction with Sean. I don't have any friction with Reince. This is the White House.

SCHNEIDER: Scaramucci pledged to use his role to highlight the advances the White House is making that he says the media isn't paying attention to.

SCARAMUCCI: The president himself is always going to be the president. I was in the Oval Office with him earlier today, and we were talking about letting him be himself, letting him express his full identity.

I think he's got some of the best political instincts in the world and perhaps in history.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Before I get to the news of the day, I think I would like to discuss a little bit of the coverage of the past 24 hours.

SCHNEIDER: Spicer first stepped up to podium the day after the inauguration to lecture the media about reports that the crowd size was significantly less than President Obama's first inauguration in 2009.

SPICER: This was a largest audience to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.

SCHNEIDER: Spicer seemed to be sidelined at the White House and on the president's trips abroad.

In recent weeks, Sean Spicer was frequently replaced in daily press briefings by Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the president left Spicer off the list for an audience with the pope in late May. Sources say Spicer fumed to colleagues about being excluded when other West Wing staffers like communications adviser Hope Hicks and social media master Dan Scavino were in attendance.

Spicer's place at the podium was widely spoofed on "Saturday Night Live." He became a household name, as comedian Melissa McCarthy took shots at his combative reputation.

Spicer says his departure won't be immediate, tweeting: "It's been an honor and a privilege to serve POTUS @realDonaldTrump and this amazing country. I will continue my service through August."

The president issued a statement thanking Spicer.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: "I am grateful for Sean's work on behalf of my administration and the American people. I wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities. Just look at his great television's ratings."


SCHNEIDER: And today marks six months and one day since Sean Spicer first started as press secretary.

New communications director Anthony Scaramucci, he was asked if we would see a return to those on-camera press briefings that have been noticeably absent in the past few weeks, except for today.

Scaramucci did make light of it, saying if they were to return, he would need hair and makeup, but then, Jake, turned somewhat serious, saying stay tuned -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jessica Schneider at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Moments ago, we saw Sean Spicer leaving the Eisenhower Executive Office on White House grounds and seemingly heading back to the West Wing.

Let's bring in three members of our White House reporting team for more insight.

We have with us Kaitlan Collins, Jeremy Diamond, and Sara Murray, who is in the Briefing Room.

Sara, let me start with you.

Spicer told Dana Bash that he wants to give the president and Scaramucci and his team a clean slate. That's the reason why he's leaving. What is President Trump hoping this pick will mean? What's going to change?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that there was some frustration that this job, this White House communications director job, was still empty.

We're hearing here privately the president has been frustrated. He feels like people have not been out there defending him as aggressively as he wants to be defended. He feels like his presidency is really under siege, under attack.

And when they look at someone like Anthony Scaramucci, people keep describing him as a killer. They see him on television defending the president, even though he's not been working in the White House. He's still been out there as a surrogate.

And I think the president personally really appreciates that. He really admired that. And from Sean Spicer's point of view, obviously, he objected to this move. We know that. He sort of felt like Scaramucci might be good on TV, but doesn't really understand the strategy side of this position.

And I think, from that, this is certainly not an easy job. Sean Spicer has learned that in his six months at the podium, or not necessarily at the podium, but back in his office. So I think this was also sort of an opportunity for him to make an exit, albeit a little quicker than he expected.

TAPPER: Jeremy, listen to Scaramucci when he was asked about reports of friction in the White House.


SCARAMUCCI: This is the White House, the United States of America. We're serving the president.

And I want to make sure that our cultural template is that we put the president's agenda first, which is perfect for the American people, and we serve his interest.

And so if we have a little bit of friction inside the White House as a result of that, it's OK. We can all live with that. I'm a businessperson. I'm used to dealing with friction.


TAPPER: Certainly less combative than the response one is used to hearing from Sean Spicer or even Sarah Huckabee Sanders when it comes to these basic questions about just facts.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think we saw very much a knee-jerk combativeness kind of from Spicer most of the time when he was at the podium.

He felt that every single that he said needed to be pushback. And sometimes that even applied to things like the spokesman's job as the government's, the U.S. government spokesman, and being combative, rather than providing information.


And I think what we saw from Scaramucci here was a little bit of one part of the New York swagger that we are going to see from him, which is this genial personality who is going to try and charm the press a little bit.

The question is the other side of that, which we have seen from Scaramucci in the past, is much more combative. I think there is still a lot of possibility for Scaramucci to come out and be a very combative presence. I just think he will do it a lot better.

TAPPER: Kaitlan, for all the things that Sean Spicer was asked to do, starting his first appearance on the podium, when he told the bizarre lie about how there was a bigger crowd for Trump than there was for Obama, just demonstrably false, it does seem a little odd that having to report to Anthony Scaramucci, well, that was just beyond the pale, given all the other things that he had done that plenty of press secretaries would have quit before that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It really shows you how big personal politics are in the West Wing.

We heard for months that there all are these factions that are constantly compete against each other and that is what led to Sean Spicer's resignation today. But that's a great question. Why wasn't it when he was asked to lie about the inauguration crowd numbers, or when he was asked to go out and defend the president's claim that three to five million people voted illegally, or that his predecessor, Barack Obama, wiretapped him?

None of those were too much for Sean Spicer, but today was. We really seen that affect his credibility and it is leaving people speculating about where he's going to go after this.

But it's not just credibility. It's personal jabs at Sean Spicer, too. You will remember when they went on the trip in May, he was left out of the pope visit. Donald Trump constantly criticized him in interviews, saying he wasn't doing a good job as a communications guy.

And we just see that Sean Spicer was very embattled throughout his entire six months and one day at the White House.

TAPPER: Yes, not a lot of time.

Sara, you saw that 2015 clip where Scaramucci called then candidate Donald Trump a hack and bully. That came up today. Scaramucci says the president teases him about it. Take a listen.


SCARAMUCCI: He brings it up every 15 seconds, OK?


SCARAMUCCI: One of the biggest mistakes that I made, because I was an unexperienced person in the world of politics.

I was supporting another candidate. I should have never said that about him.

So, Mr. President, if you're listening, I personally apologize for the 50th time for saying that.


TAPPER: He does seem to have a rapport with President Trump that Sean Spicer and others have not been able to establish.

MURRAY: Well, right, Jake.

This is an entirely different relationship. Sean Spicer was never really a peer to the president. I think the president respected him at certain points along the way and knew that Spicer had a tough job.

But Anthony Scaramucci is very friendly with President Trump. They flew around on the plane together. Scaramucci was there for a lot of these transition meetings, when Trump was making pivotal decision about who he wanted alongside of him in government.

And there was a lot of back and forth about trying to get Scaramucci into the White House sooner that may make some of his other relationships fraught.

And I think the big questions is, one of the criticisms of this White House is that there's really no one inside that the president will listen to when they say, I don't know if you should do that, maybe we should back off of this, maybe you shouldn't tweet that.

Maybe Scaramucci, with a different kind of rapport, will be able to approach that on a different footing. I also think it was telling to hear him come out and say that he wants the president to have more freedom to be himself.

I think "The New York Times" interview the president did was a great example of how is sort of chafing at the restrictions that are being put on him on the West Wing. He does like mixing it up with the media. He does like doing interviews.

And we haven't seen much of that from him lately.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, Kaitlan Collins, Jeremy Diamond, thank you one and all.

As the president shakes up his legal and communications teams, CNN has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller is asking the White House to be sure to preserve all documents relating the now infamous June 2016 meeting with Russians that included Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Dana Bash broke the story and joins me now.

Dana, what is Mueller looking for specifically?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, CNN has learned that what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, said in his letter to the White House counsel is that he wants White House staff to save all documents relating to that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer.

Now, according to a source who I spoke with who read me the letter, the request pertains to any subjects discussed in the course of the meeting and also any decisions made regarding recent disclosures about the June 2016 meeting.

Now, Mueller's letter clearly connects this request to the larger Russia investigation.

Here's what it said in part: "As you're aware, the special counsel's office is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump. Information concerning the June 2016 meeting between Donald J. Trump Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya is relevant to the investigation."

Now, Jake, the preservation requests include text messages, e-mails, notes, voice-mails, any other kind of communication and documentation related to that June 16 meeting, as well as communication related to it since then.

[16:15:10] Now, I should note that requests like this are not uncommon. They are often sent early in the investigation to ensure that documents that could be relevant are not destroyed, tat they are maintained. But it's also significant because it's one of the first times that we have seen actions from the special counsel on this investigation, particularly as it relates to the White House. I should also say that a White House spokeswoman told me they don't comment on internal communications and the special counsel's office decline to comment, Jake.

TAPPER: Now, CNN has previously reported on the White House scrambling to respond to revelations about the June 2016 meeting, would this request impact those communications, the scrambling?

BASH: It certainly sounds that way, Jake. This preservation request would apply to all communications about response to the meeting. You may remember the "New York Times" first reported that the initial response to media inquiries about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting was crafted by some of the president's closest White House aides who were traveling back with him from Europe.

Our colleagues Evan Perez and Sara Murray reported last week that being involved in crafting a response may have exposed those White House aides to special counsel scrutiny. And usually, as you know, a legal matter like this is handled by attorneys, especially given the fact that it was about this Russia investigation, Jake.

TAPPER: Dana Bash, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Congressman Lee Zeldin, Republican of New York. He is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a veteran of the Iraq war.

Good to see you, Congressman. Thanks for joining us.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, first, on Sean Spicer. Do you think this was a needed shake-up? Are you happy about this news? ZELDIN: Well, if it improves the chemistry within the White House, if

it helps the president to be more effective in getting his message out and getting his agenda accomplished, if it allows him to be a better president, then it's a great move. It seems like, from everything that we know -- or everything we witnessed today, the chemistry seems to be there, Anthony Scaramucci seems to be ready to hit the ground running. We saw that today. He looks comfortable up there at the podium.

He has the relationship, the chemistry with the president. So, hopefully, he'll be successful in helping the president be effective in getting his message out to the American people and to the world and to help accomplish results that improve our country.

TAPPER: This was supposed to be Made in America Week. I know for people like you who want to focus on issues like health care reform and tax reform and infrastructure, this has been a frustrating six months and one day. Do you think that Scaramucci will be able to stop the distractions, meaning, as many people would identify the problem as stop the president from tweeting attacks on people, stop the president from going after the attorney general, the deputy attorney general in interviews? Do you think he has that kind of power and influence?

ZELDIN: Well, I sure hope that Anthony has the ability to lay it straight with the president to be honest with him. There are going to be times in the weeks, months, years ahead where the president -- any president is going to surround himself with people who are telling them at times what they want to hear, recommending actions where the recommendation is what they want to hear. But at times you're hearing something maybe you didn't want to hear. You're getting a recommendation to go in a different direction.

And to be an effective communications director, it's going to require both with the president when they feel he's getting off track or he needs to go in a different direction. The communications director job is more than just coming up to the podium and answering questions and being able to put the message out for a little bit inside the White House one day. There is a lot more to accomplishing an agenda where the president gets out on the road, and he has other elected officials and other organizations, and you're talking to local media in other parts of the country to try and build support.

So, it's a much more strategic role, not just a tactical component as well with the back and forth, maybe one day with the question getting asked.

TAPPER: You just heard Dana Bash's reporting about general counsel Mueller telling the White House to preserve anything having to do with that 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and all those Russians. You've expressed dismay at that meeting once the emails came out. But you're also a lawyer.

Can you see anything illegal in those e-mails or would you -- how would describe it? Would you call it illegal? Would you call it inappropriate? What word would you use? ZELDIN: Well, with everything that we know, there is nothing illegal

that happened at the meeting. And, you know, one of the e-mails that came up beforehand for me and Don Jr. has said that he would handle things differently if he could do it again.

[16:20:06] One of the e-mails to me should have been a red flag to -- that should have prevented the meeting. It didn't.

Fortunately, from all accounts so far, we've heard that the meeting itself didn't actually go in the direction of that one e-mail. There is no surprise, at least as far as I believe, in what the special counsel put out today asking for the preservation. And from all accounts, it appears that everyone involved in the meeting has -- they've agreed to cooperate, and I think Don Jr. has even said he's willing to testify.

So, you know, if there's anything new that would change my answer, you know, maybe in a future interview I would give you a different answer. But as far as anything we know now there was nothing illegal that took place during that meeting.

TAPPER: "The New York Times and "Washington Post" reported in the last few hours that the Trump legal team scrambling to come up with ways to discredit Bob Mueller and his investigators. And then we've also heard in "The Washington Post" the president has been asking advisers about what kind of power he has to pardon, whether he can pardon friends, family members or even himself. When you read these stories, do you get concerned?

ZELDIN: You know, I'm not -- I'm not surprised by what I read. I don't know how true it is. You kind of just have to assume these stories that you read, you could come up with speculation of what you read is true or not true because there's so much of it being anonymously sourced.

But assuming it's all true, I have to say, even in that case, I'm not surprised these questions would be asked. I don't know where the investigation -- what the end game of this special counsel's investigation would be, because on all of the different fronts to it, we can guess on different aspects, what kind of conclusions the special counsel may draw, and based off of what we know right now. But at some point in the future, I wouldn't be surprised that, you know, if you see an escalation next as opposed to de-escalation, there might be more of a battle that goes on.

But we'll see. It's really hard to know exactly -- but, you know, the good thing is about the special counsel looking into so many different things is that if the special counsel doesn't find anything and the special counsel has credibility and there's transparency, then you're actually getting cleared on certain charges that your political opposition or others may be making. So, it certainly cuts both ways and cooperating to get the facts out, especially when you have nothing to hide, that's all good and it's something that can actually work to your benefit at the end.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Lee Zeldin, thank you so much for your time, sir. Good to see you as always.

ZELDIN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: She's been the president's go-to for in-depth tell-all interviews. "New York Times" reporter Maggie Haberman just sat down with President Trump on Wednesday. What did she know about the shake- up? Coming up next.


[16:27:08] TAPPER: We're back with our breaking news.

The shake-up at the Trump White House, Sean Spicer is out as White House press secretary. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in and Anthony Scaramucci is the new White House communications director.

Joining me now is White House correspondent for "The New York Times" and CNN political analyst, Maggie Haberman. Maggie is joining us from the phone.

Maggie, you were there when all of this went down. Take us inside the White House today. What was it like?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Sure. Jake, thanks for having me.

The mood among the staffers was fairly shell-shocked. You know, most of them didn't know that this was coming. Word of it leaked out about Anthony Scaramucci's hiring last night. It had been in the works for several weeks and it finally came together. A bunch of people didn't quite believe it, and Reince Priebus said, I understand that everybody is doing to show -- I'm sorry?

TAPPER: Keep going. We're showing a picture of Scaramucci talking. Keep going.

HABERMAN: Sure. Reince Priebus had done a show of describing this as, you know, sort of unity and that, you know, he supports this 100 percent. In fact, he had been very vocal about being against it, that he had been surprised by it, and obviously you saw that validated by the resignation of Sean Spicer who said in at least one statement that I saw that he's helping the president with a clean slate. That doesn't really make sense because most people are remaining. He's really the only who's going.

So, you know, it was a massive sea change. I think it reflects a couple things. One of them is that this sort of marriage of the RNC staff and the larger Trump organism has never really meshed and this is an example of it.

There were reporters, you know, crammed into the briefing room waiting for any answer whatsoever. You saw Sarah Sanders who has now been elevated to press secretary and Anthony Scaramucci come out and speak to reporters. Scaramucci went first. The stylistic difference between what we've seen from the podium so far in this administration and him was very different. Granted it's day one and most people have good outings on day one and then it gets harder. This is a president who thinks he's his own spokesman and his own best spokesman and we'll see how Scaramucci will deal with that challenge.

TAPPER: Right.

HABERMAN: But it was really surreal.

TAPPER: Maggie, I think it seems odd to most people that of all the things Sean Spicer has had to do from that podium, starting on his first day when he went out there and told this bizarre and clearly not true story about whether Obama and Trump had larger crowds for the inaugural, that this would be the final straw for him, that this would be a bridge too far, the idea that he will not report to Scaramucci as opposed to all the other things he did defending the false and indecent.

HABERMAN: Yes, Scaramucci has a red line and makes it very clear it's not about the substance and certainly just about Sean Spicer's view of his standing. And also, as you remember, when Mike Dubke was the communications director, he is the president's first communications director, the set up was basically that Dubke was reporting to Spicer.