Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Special Counsel Seeking to Interview with Staff About Trump Tower Meeting Response; Trump Jr. Meets with Investigators on Controversial Meeting; Interview with Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois; Senate Passes Funding Deal Trump Struck with Democrats. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired September 7, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:30:39] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
We have some breaking news for you on the Russia probe and the politics lead now. CNN is now learning exclusively that special counsel Robert Mueller's team has approached the White House about interviewing White House staffers who were aboard Air Force One when that initial misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower was crafted. That's according to three sources familiar with these conversations. Two of the sources say that Mueller wants to know how the statement was put together and whether information was intentionally left out, and, of course, who exactly was involved.
This follows a report last month that President Trump helped come up with that first misleading statement about his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer in the middle of the 2016 campaign.
Today, Donald Trump Jr. met with Senate investigators to offer what we figured to be his fourth version of events at that now infamous meeting. You might recall Trump Jr. originally said he had never met with any Russians, and then when evidence to the contrary emerged, he issued that statement saying that the meeting that he had was about Russian's adoptions, adoptions of Russian orphans. Then after "The New York Times" got details of the meeting, he acknowledged he had been told the meeting was sold to him as being about incriminating information on Hillary Clinton.
And then the fourth, today, in a statement to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, Donald Trump Jr. says he was there to determine Clinton's quote, fitness for office.
CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider picks up the story from here.
DONALD TRUMP, JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: Well, it's great to be here and I --
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump Jr.'s hour's long face to face with the Senate Judiciary Committee left some senators unsatisfied.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: His appearance today raised as many questions as it answered.
SCHNEIDER: Sources tell CNN Trump Jr. insisted to the committee that he did not tell his father about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. The controversial gathering also included brother-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as a Russian lawyer and a few others. Trump Jr. said he took the meeting because he was intrigued by the offer of damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
His opening statement said: To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out.
TRUMP JR.: I'm an American.
SCHNEIDER: Sources tell CNN Trump Jr. also told the committee today that he didn't recall the White House's involvement in his written response after the meeting became public this summer. That statement omitted that the meeting was about opposition research on Hillary Clinton, and the White House has since admitted the president weighed in and offered suggestions.
Trump Jr. admitted he knew there could be legal questions about accepting such information, saying, depending on what if any information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether give it further consideration.
But when the president's oldest son first disclosed the meeting in mid-July, he gave no indication he was concerned about any fallout.
TRUMP JR.: This is pre like Russia fever. This is pre-Russia mania. I don't even think my sirens, you know, went up or the antennas went up.
SCHNEIDER: President Trump said the meeting was nothing out of the ordinary.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research or even research into your opponent.
SCHNEIDER: Don Jr.'s appearance on Capitol Hill coincides with Facebook's disclosure that it sold about $100,000 worth of advertising to fake accounts likely operated out of Russia during the election. Most of the ads didn't mention either candidate and centered on divisive issues like immigration, race, and gun rights.
And while Facebook did not describing the ads, CNN has told the Russian accounting controlling the advertising urged users to like certain political groups which prompted messages to flood Facebook newsfeeds.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it really raises a series of questions about a number of social media firms and we've got to talk to Twitter as well.
SCHNEIDER: And Donald Trump Jr. just released a statement about his meeting today. It says: I answered every question posed by the committee related to this topic, as well as all of their questions on other topics until both sides had exhausted their lines of questioning. I trust this interview fully satisfied their inquiry.
But, you know, Jake, this definitely isn't the end. In fact, senators on the Judiciary Committee, they say they want Donald Trump Jr. back in a public session, in fact, the top Democrat Dianne Feinstein says she will not rule out issuing a subpoena if Donald Trump Jr. doesn't come voluntarily, Jake.
[16:35:01] TAPPER: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.
Joining me now to discuss this and much more, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, good to see you as always.
So, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, called this Facebook revelation, that they had sold ads to Russians. He called it a quote tip of the iceberg when it comes to Russia's election interference in 2016.
Do you agree?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER(R), ILLINOIS: Yes, he probably knows a little more on what tip of the iceberg means than I do. I think there's no doubt the Russians tried to influence the election. They're doing it all over Europe. They do this everywhere.
And I think the Facebook ad situation is very disturbing because, you know, if CNN is approached and they want to sell campaign ads space, you're going to know, CNN's going to know if in fact this is a buyer from the United States or from Russia, which would be illegal.
And so, I think there needs to be obviously better controls in there, but I also think, too, look the Russians try to create division in this country all the time. That's going to work to their advantage. So, if they're doing stuff about controversial issues to try to stir up people, that's no surprise to me at all.
So, I don't know what other information Mark Warner has, but I think there's no doubt, and that's why it's essential to counter Russian propaganda, there's $80 million at the State Department that they need to call in and authorize to do that.
TAPPER: Do you think Facebook should be forced to release the ads? They have so far not really been all that forthcoming about this. Originally, they told CNN that there was nothing to this story back in, I think June or July. And this week, obviously, they admitted it was true. Does the public need to know everything?
KINZINGER: I think so. I think -- I think when it comes to campaign stuff, especially, this is -- everything that's done in a campaign is put out for the public to see. You know, whether that's how much money we take in, how much we spend, et cetera, and that should go in this case too.
I've sent a letter to the CEOs of all of these kind of new media organizations to say what are you doing to clamp down on Russian interference or tends to create, you know, divisions in this country. So, I think that's essential.
So I think Facebook needs to come forward with all the information they have on this, and not just, you know, point at Facebook and say shame on you, may not have been able to determine this at the beginning. But it's also for us, as Americans to know, the kind of propaganda that's coming at us, because the best way to disinfect propaganda is to know that it's propaganda in the first place.
TAPPER: Take a listen to the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, talking about Russian interference today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There is no software patch for what happened last year. There is no cyber defense capable enough. If the Russians want to get into the DNC in 2020, they'll get in. If they want to get into the RNC, they will get in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: It's amazing to think that we're in 2017 and really, nothing has changed, even though we saw this happen in 2016.
KINZINGER: Yes, it is amazing. And this is why, I think again, the important thing to know is what do Russian disinformation attacks look like? If you see a feed on your Facebook for instance, or you see a news story that somebody like -- that seems outrageous, it probably is outrageous. It may be a fake news story or disinformation.
And so, I think the American people recognizing that is the first step to countering this, and now we need to do it in Russian's own backyard. And whether that's Eastern Europe, whether that's within Russia itself, you have to fight fire with fire. There's nothing that Vladimir Putin fears more than losing control of power, losing his grip on power.
And so, I think to show that we can play whatever game you play with us is also a way to begin to counter this.
TAPPER: All right. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
KINZINGER: Any time, you bet.
TAPPER: Did President Trump just signal that he's exploring more bipartisan deals? That's next.
Plus, we're just moments away from a new update on Hurricane Irma's path and where the monster storm could hit as it hits the United States proper. Stick around.
[16:43:18] TAPPER: We're back with more on our politics lead. The Senate just passed that funding deal President Trump struck with Democratic leaders, agreeing to send billions in recovery funds for victims of Hurricane Harvey while also temporarily avoiding a debt ceiling breach and a government shutdown. So, is bipartisanship now the model for President Trump?
CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny has more.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump always said he'd be a deal maker in the Oval Office.
TRUMP: Because I've seen, I've done so many deals. That's what I do, "The Art of the Deal", that's what I do.
ZELENY: Washington saw the first proof of that today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Members agreed to.
ZELENY: With the Senate passing a bipartisan bill to keep the government open, raise the debt ceiling, and provide relief for brutal back to back hurricanes.
The compromise left Democrats smiling and Republicans wincing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
ZELENY: Seventeen GOP senators voted against the president's plan.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Attaching emergency funding for hurricane relief must pass continuing resolution and debit limit increase is irresponsible and a dereliction of our most routine duties.
ZELENY: A day after reaching across the aisle for the first time to support a plan to avoid a fiscal crisis for only three months, Trump and Democratic leaders were at it again. This time, on DREAMers.
The president tweeted this: For all of those that are concerned about your status during the six-month period, you have nothing to worry about. No action.
It turns out that message came after a morning conversation with House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I said, thanks for
calling, this is what we need, the people really need a reassurance from you, Mr. President, that six-month period is not a period of roundup.
I was reporting to my colleagues, I said this is, I asked the president to do it and boom, boom, boom, the tweet appeared. So that was good.
ZELENY: Republicans don't necessarily see this new spirit compromise in the same light.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: What the President didn't want to do is have some partisan fight in the middle of response to this.
ZELENY: But the President's deal with Democrats wrangled many conservatives and brought to mind a warning for many of Mr. Trump's rivals like Senator Ted Cruz.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: If as a voter you think what we need is more Republicans in Washington to cut a deal with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, then I guess Donald Trump is your guy.
ZELENY: In an eastern news conference today, the President said all options are on the table, including negotiations on North Korea's rising nuclear threat.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Military action would certainly be an option, is it inevitable? Nothing is inevitable. It'll be great if something else could be worked out.
ZELENY: The visiting Leader of Kuwait found common cause with the President on one of his favorite targets, the media.
SHEIKH SABAH AL AHMAD AL SABAH, KUWAIT LEADER (through translator): Because the media coming out of this country are -- is against those -- the people, not the rulers.
TRUMP: I'm very, very honored and happy to know that you have problems with the media also.
ZELENY: So it remains an open question if the art of the deal including Democrats, is a one-time thing or a new way of doing business here at the White House. Most Republicans hope it is a one- time thing and they hope that he's still will hold on to conservative principles. But Jake, there is still some worry here tonight at the White House over the House passage of that Senate Bill. We know 17 Senate Republicans voted against it. Tomorrow morning, I am told the Treasury Secretary as well as the Director of the OMB, Mick Mulvaney, a former House Conservative are going to Capitol Hill to try and sell this deal to House Republicans. Most conservatives don't think this is conservative at all, Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.
Turning now to the bribery trial of top Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and his close friend of 25 years Dr. Salomon Melgen. Politico is reporting that Melgen's defense attorney argued in Court today that the two men are part of a "Hispanic brotherhood" and that, "this case isn't only an attack on these two men, it's an attack on that whole group." Let's get right to CNN's Laura Jarrett who's live outside the Federal Courthouse in Newark, New Jersey. And Laura, was the defense attorney for the Dr. Melgen trying to suggest that this prosecution is racially or ethnically motivated?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: This was as somewhat curious part of the opening statements, Jake. And what I think the attorney was driving at is this idea that Senator Menendez and Dr. Melgen were good friends, they're part of a fellowship, they pay it forward, they help each other out. And so when the prosecution cast these gifts as bribes, I think the defense attorney was trying to say, that's an attack on the fellowship.
TAPPER: And Laura, the judge really berated the prosecution and the defense today.
JARRETT: Oh, absolutely, Jake, he really stole the show. He was incredulous at certain moments. He sent the Jury out twice when he thought the attorneys had gone too far, straying from relevance. He said he's not going to allow this to turn into a "tabloid trial," and said that he thought he had heard a lot of "junk" from both sides. So he was not holding back at all.
TAPPER: What evidence has the prosecution presented so far to prove that Dr. Melgen tried to bribe Senator Menendez?
JARRETT: Yes, so today they almost exclusively focused on this April 2010 hotel trip, this hotel in Paris, a fancy room, and the prosecution is using that as obviously an evidence of a bribe and the defense does not dispute that he took this hotel, he took the AmEx points from Dr. Melgen, but instead the prosecution is saying again, this is part of an ongoing friendship. But of course the prosecution says, look, there is no friendship exception to bribery law, and they're going to point to private jets, they're going to point to luxurious vacations to the Dominican Republic and they're going to point to large campaign contributions to Senator Menendez, Jake, so all of that to come in the coming weeks.
TAPPER: All right, Laura Jarrett in Newark, New Jersey, thank you so much.
The Secretary of Education, meanwhile, is reviewing the Obama era title nine guidelines intended to help prevent college sexual assaults and rapes. Why she says. She's concerned the rights of the accused are being denied. That story, next.
[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're just moments away from getting a brand new update on Hurricane Irma. Forecasters are watching closely for any left or right turn as the storm heads north. That, of course, could impact potentially millions of people here in the United States and the contiguous United States.
We want to return to the "POLITICS LEAD" now, however. And another Trump appointee is rolling back another signature Obama era initiative. Today Education Secretary Betsy Devos announced that her Department plans to overturn Obama era college guidelines that are intended to crack down on campus sexual assault and rape. Devos says that the law is unfairly denied due process rights to those accused of sexual assault. CNN's Rene Marsh covers Education Issues for us and joins us now. Rene, explain Devos' position on this.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that her comments today already sparking controversy. He says that she will change the way that colleges handle allegations of campus sex assault. Now, her comments were made at George Mason University in Virginia today, again, no doubt sparking controversy. She described people accused of campus sex assaults as victims, saying that the current system creates additional victims beyond the accuser, also pointing out that the accused in some cases were victims as well. So here's the back story Jake. Under the federal law known as title nine schools and school programs that receive any sort of federal funding, they are prohibited from discriminating based on sex. That also includes protection from sexual harassment. Well in 2011, Obama issued new guidelines for how schools should handle these sorts of sexual assaults.
[16:55:42] The Obama guidelines said that should be aggressively investigated. But critics like Devos said that you know, this guidance is unfair to the accused and it set a very low standard of proof. Well, Devos said she will seek public input when she makes the change to the current system, but really the back story here is, for a long time college and universities were accused of turning a blind eye to sexual assault over affairs, over bad publicity. And what the Obama administration was trying to change the guidelines so that wasn't the case. And we're already hearing comments from people like former Vice President Joe Biden. He's reacting on Facebook pretty much saying that this is a step in the wrong direction, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Rene Marsh, thank you so much. I want to talk right now more about this with CNN Senior Political Reporter Nia Malika-Henderson. Nia, the Obama era guidelines obviously meant to address serious concerns that college and universities have been sweeping under the rug sexual assaults and rape incidents, even an epidemic in some places under the rug.
NIA MALIKA-HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And those guidelines are really issued after a culmination years and years and years of victims of assault on campuses petitioning with federal government and really try ring the alarm built on college campuses about what was going on during this debate. You heard a statistic which is one in five women are victims of sexual assault on college campuses. Some people say that's one in four. And Vice President Biden was obviously a big part of that and a lot of folks who worked in the White House is part of a whole public relations campaign around trying to raise awareness about what was going on, on college campuses and to pressure college campuses to do more. And so now, you have something of rollback with this -- with Betsy Devos, the current Secretary of Education wanting to take a second look at this.
TAPPER: This summer, Secretary Devos met with both survivors of rape and sexual assault from college campuses and also with college students or former college students who said that they have been wrongly accused of those crimes. What do you make of the concerns that the accused are being punished without having been convicted and that the standard of proof is too low? Is this a big concern on college campuses? Obviously, it happens. There are false accusations with everything but the statistics I've seen show that it is a vast minority of incidents are false accusations.
HENDERSON: Yeah, I mean, the stats I've seen as well, something like two to ten percent are falsely accused and false accusations. And you've had some high profile cases where the incidents ended up being false accusations. I think in some ways this is going to play right into what we already saying, sort of the culture of wars. You have conservatives essentially saying that what the Obama administration did was political correctness run amuck and essentially overreach. And you've heard some of that from people who work in the Department of Justice. Candice Jackson who works in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Education essentially said that she saw about 90 percent of these cases that come up are really just people who were both drunk and later wanted to cry that something happened and something like a sexual assault happened. She laid her back saddled and said that she was being flippant and mistakenly flippant. So I think, you know, this is again a rollback of what we've seen from the Obama administration in some ways not surprising. And again, I think it plays into this division between conservatives and progressives and how culture, how people should interact and again playing out on campuses. And I think what will be interesting to see how colleges themselves react, right? I mean, they of course welcoming students on to their campuses now as the beginning of the school year begin. So we'll see what happens on their end.
TAPPER: All right, Nia Malika-Henderson thank you very much. That is it for THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter @JAKETAPPER on Facebook or @THELEADCNN on Twitter as well for the show. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.