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Senate Committee Releases New Documents on 2016 Trump Tower Meeting; Trump Jr.: I Didn't Talk Directly to President about July Statement; North Korea Threatens to Cancel Trump-Kim Meeting. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired May 16, 2018 - 10:00 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.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow.
There is a lot of breaking news this morning. Let's begin with the never-before-seen details of the Trump Tower meeting. The Donald Trump Jr. attended months before the election with the Russian lawyer who now admits to being a Russian informant. Trump Jr. took that meeting on the promise of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government and don't forget then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort was in that meeting and so was the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.
BERMAN: The Senate Judiciary Committee just published hundreds of pages of these interviews including this exchange on the misleading statement that was put out a year after the Trump Tower meeting by the White House at the time, quote, "The 'Washington Post' has reported that your father was involved in drafting the July 8th statement. Is that correct?"
The response of Donald Trump Jr. was, "I don't know. I never spoke to my father about it." But if you look at the exchange even further it notes he may have commented through Hope Hicks, Donald Trump Jr. very much open to the possibility that his father was involved in the drafting of that statement.
Let's bring CNN's Shimon Prokupecz in Washington with the very latest on what you are seeing there. Shimon?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. That's right, John. You know, certainly in reading some of what Don Jr. has testified to, you know, it's pretty lengthy in terms of the sheer number of pages of transcripts here. And it's clear that Don Jr. was sort of tricked here by the Russians in some way. This meeting, he thought, was going to be about perhaps some dirt on Hillary Clinton and then quickly evolved into something about adoptions and the Magnitsky Act. And it seems, at least he's trying to distance himself concerning matters whether or not he knew that this was going to come up.
And then as you said, John, concerning the statements that eventually did, that were eventually issued by the White House and others concerning the nature of this meeting, an issue that is now before the special counsel and something that is under investigation. Don Jr. had this to say when asked about whether or not he knew what kind of detail the president he may have provided, what kind of edits he made to the statement. He said that essentially, he wasn't sure, but to the best of his knowledge that Hope Hicks, he may have commented and that is the president may have commented through Hope Hicks, John.
BERMAN: So, what more Shimon are you learning as you go through this testimony in these transcripts about what Donald Trump Jr. thought he might get in regards to Hillary Clinton?
PROKUPECZ: I think it is very clear in reading through this transcript that he thought that this meeting was about some information, perhaps damaging to Hillary Clinton, to her campaign. But it's clear that about 20 to 30 minutes into the meeting, he says the meeting lasted about 20 to 30 minutes, he got frustrated because he realized that perhaps it wasn't what he thought this was going to be about.
And then, you know, he's asked this question by one of the committee members what he thought this was about, and they asked him information on Hillary Clinton and Don Jr. says, "Yes." And then the question then goes on to say, "Information on the Hillary Clinton," on that came potentially from Russian government and his answer is again, "I had no way of assessing where it came from, but I was willing to listen."
The committee members have made an issue of whether or not he knew who this lawyer was, whether or not he knew whether she was working there and whether she was there on behalf of the Russian government, but Don Jr. there clearly saying he had no idea and as we've been reporting, you know, this meeting was set up by someone he knew, Rob Goldstone. And so, he thought he was generally taking a meeting with someone who knew someone who had information about Hillary Clinton.
HARLOW: OK, Shimon, stay with us. Let's also bring in our legal experts here. We've got Shan Wu with us, who is our CNN legal analyst, also with us, our national security analyst, Steve Hall. Gentlemen, I also want to not read the full part of the transcript for you, but tell you something else we just learned from it, and that is that in this testimony under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the president's son Donald Trump Jr. says that he walked in on a meeting at Trump Tower between then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, and then National Security adviser, Michael Flynn.
This was at Trump Tower after the election. The significance here is that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr. had not previously acknowledged witnessing this event, not acknowledging walking in. He said he doesn't remember, Steve Hall, he doesn't remember if he had a conversation or exchange much or spoke to the then-Russian ambassador, but that he may have shaken his hand. Steve, the significance of that to you? [10:05:03] STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the significance of all of this, Poppy, is we're continuing to see these lines that lead from the Trump team back to Russia. And I think these transcripts give us a little bit more texture, a little bit more context in all of that. And you know, from the Russian angle as I have written and I think several of my former colleagues who are familiar with Russian counterintelligence have written. It's virtually impossible that the very mildest is extremely unlikely that either the team that was led by Veselnitskaya during the Trump Jr. meetings, or the Kislyak meetings that you know Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin were simply unaware of these things hadn't directed or hadn't used these as part of a larger attempt to get into the Trump campaign.
It's just not feasible, even if you believe the transcripts when they say that, you know the primary reason for the meeting at least according to the Russian side were these adoptions and it turned into an issue about the Magnitsky case and the Magnitsky Act. Even if you believe that, there's no way that these guys were freelancing and that Veselnitskaya and the whole team just said hey, let's go do this. There had to have been knowledge from the Kremlin on this.
BERMAN: And Shan, we're just learning again that Donald Trump Jr. walked in on a meeting at Trump Tower after the election where the Russian Ambassador to the United States Kislyak, was there meeting with Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn who would become the National Security adviser, meetings like this, you know, from an ambassador and the transition team wouldn't necessarily be unusual assuming that the administration knew about it. Usually this is coordinated through the State Department and the like, but the more you learn this new information about hey, this meeting happened and this person was there and we have this conversation, oh, I forgot about that conversation. It does you know show the various threads at play here, Shan.
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It certainly does, and in some sense and analogy of what Steve was saying is that it's hard to believe that within the Trump team that there wasn't communication about these ongoing meetings with the Russians and the idea that later, they're attempting to deny that they happened or they were unaware of it or they were compartmentalized. It really just doesn't hold up.
For example, going back to the transcript was Don Jr. where he says that he takes this meeting, he lets Jared and Paul Manafort know about it, but his recollection, he doesn't really tell them anything about the substance of the meeting. I just think that's rather unlikely. I mean these are busy people. You're not going to just come up with a random meeting and not even tell them what the value of the meeting might be or what the substance is. There has to be more communication between them and if there is, then it's very likely that that communication specifically was talking about these Russian meetings.
HARLOW: A point of factor that's important from this testimony that Don Jr. gave, he was asked by one of the members of the committee, did you go in that meeting? When you saw Kislyak and Flynn and Kushner meeting in your office in Trump Tower in December of 2017 after the election -- 2016, rather, did you go and he said, no, I did not. They said, why not? He said, because I didn't know what it was about and I was sweaty from
the gym, but he thought he may have shaken hands and then months later in March of 2017 as you read at the beginning of the show. He said that I meet with people that are Russian, I'm sure. I'm sure I did, but none of them were set up, not that I can think of it at the moment. It's sort of this progression, Steve that we've seen on his answers about meeting with Russians, seeing meetings going on between Russians and the team, et cetera.
HALL: The most benign interpretation of this is that yes, you have got busy people, but you know, by the same token when you have Donald Trump Jr. saying look, the reason I took the meeting and my entire motivation for taking the meeting was because there might have been dirt on Hillary Clinton. Again, if you're looking for a benign interpretation of that, some people have said, well, you know, political neophytes, you know don't understand who you can talk to. But still, I would think kind of sense he was at the Russians or a foreign adversarial power, probably not the people that you won't talk to, even about these type of - you know the type of information.
And you're right, the meetings with Kislyak, you know Kislyak -- I don't believe he was a spymaster. He was certainly the eyes and ears of Putin on the ground in Washington and the ambassador. Not entirely out and you know, completely in left field that he would have met after the elections with the transition team. But again, in light of all of the denials on the part of the Trump team it sort of stands in stark relief to what we're now seeing actually happen.
BERMAN: Shimon, our Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill hearing from Democrats and one of the things they're focused on is a phone call to a blocked number. Donald Trump Jr. pressed on a phone call to a blocked number, a phone call that he made after a conversation with the Russian, Emin Agalarov, who is key in setting up these meetings here. And Donald Trump Jr. said he can't remember who that phone call was with, this blocked number. The question, so you don't know whether or not this might have been your father, Donald Trump Jr.'s answer is I don't. I don't know there. Again, this idea of the blocked number is something we've heard from before about the Democrats and resurfacing today.
[10:10:10] PROKUPECZ: Yes, it is, and this has come up before obviously, John, but here's who would know that, the FBI and those investigators because they can simply pull those phone records and see if, in fact, who if he was talking to, Donald Trump, his father or who he was talking to. There is this time gap here that is interesting, and that seems to have been a focus of some of the members of the committee and certainly a lot of questions have been asked about that and how is it that he doesn't recall.
But you know, this is something that we know that special counsel and the FBI has been looking into. They've been looking into this meeting. They've been looking into what the White House's response was to the meeting, why it changed and like I said, I think certainly these kinds of phone records and e-mail records and communications records would be something that the special counsel would have in their possession. HARLOW: All right, guys. Stay with us. We have a lot more ahead including Don Jr.'s questioning about whether or not he told his father about this meeting at Trump Tower, much more of the breaking news ahead.
[10:15:31] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: What we've done so far in a lot of cases has been posed and the public has a right to know and the public can go through these 2,000 pages and make up their own mind and draw their own conclusion. They don't have to have it deciphered by members of Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley explaining why he released the transcripts of the testimony about the Trump Tower meeting where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton.
Back now to the panel to discuss, we just received another little blurb from this testimony and this is the first time we've heard directly from one of the interpreters at this meeting. And I want to read you this exchange because it's very interesting here.
Question, turning out to the meeting itself on June 9th, did anyone state that the Russian government supported Donald Trump's presidential campaign?
Did anyone state to the Russian government oppose Hillary Clinton's campaign?
Did anyone at the meeting offer to release hacked e-mails to aid the Trump campaign?
Did anyone offer to manufacture or distribute fake news to aid the Trump campaign?
On and on like that. Steve Hall, again, this is from someone and I'm going to mangle the name here, Anatoli Samachornov, who is an interpreter there. I don't know much about him. But he was asked directly about the idea of Russian meddling, said it wasn't overtly discussed in that meeting, surprising?
HALL: No, not entirely surprising from somebody who was an interpreter. My assessment is that really -- on the Russian side that it was one of two reasons and they're not mutually exclusive. There could have several of these reasons, but you know when you start looking at Veselnitskaya's comments in these transcripts, the lawyer, basically what she's saying is it's all about Bill Browder, this American, you know, sort of behind the Magnitsky Act and that entire affair.
And then you have this translator saying, no, no, no, none of that stuff that they're asking about Russian government complicit and all of this. But again, I find it extremely difficult to believe that somebody in that room, one of the Russians in that room did not have the responsibility that at the very least report back to the Russian government and more likely was briefed beforehand. It probably wasn't the translator. The translator was more than likely simply the translator, but there were others in that room who probably had a much better idea as to what the Kremlin hoped to accomplish with this meeting.
HARLOW: Here's what we do know about the translator. It's an American citizen. The translator is an American citizen, a former State Department employee who does a lot of this work now as a private contractor. That's what we know.
Shimon to you, when you look at one of the other big headlines out of this, it is Don Jr. admitting very clearly in this Q&A, one of the clearer things from him, not an I don't know or I can't remember, but yes, he went into this meeting fully intending to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, completely opposing what he said publicly and these statements over and over again and it's not a crime to lie to the American people in your statements. But it is an admission here that this was the intent was clear all along and despite in the e-mails he released himself.
PROKUPECZ: Yes, absolutely. And when you read - reading through these transcripts, certainly his testimony as I have for the most part, you see that he grows sort of agitated through the course of the testimony, you know, explaining the meeting in terms of agitated and that he was there expecting to get some information on the Hillary Clinton campaign, on Hillary Clinton. And then all of a sudden it shifted into this issue about adoptions about the Magnitsky Act, of things that he clearly did not think he was there to discuss.
I think it's clear and reading other people testimony that they will kind of surprise that some of these came up, some other people in the room were agitated. But also, a key point and I think this goes to what some of the others on the panel here are saying that the lawyer, the Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya was really leading this meeting. She seemed to be the only one talking in this meeting. She had an agenda, it was clear, and I think it's exactly right that she was there probably on behalf of the Russian government. She was probably sent there. She has much admitted that she was working for the Russian government at one point.
And certainly officials we have talked to afterwards, after all these happened have all said that there was always a concern that she was there to sort of offer some kind of compromising information under false pretenses and this is what part of what the FBI has been looking into.
[10:20:12] BERMAN: We are just seeing right now. Sorry, I'm just going to read this real time as I'm getting it. Goldstone, Rob Goldstone, who was the one who directly set up this meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russians, apparently, said that the Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya's representation seemed to infuriate Kushner here. I think it wasn't providing what Kushner thought it was providing Kushner have been told from Donald Trump Jr. who is getting dirt on Hillary Clinton and the actual meeting itself did turn out perhaps more than Jared Kushner wanted to be about the Magnitsky Act and perhaps he wanted more. Jared Kushner who was sitting next to me appeared somewhat agitated by this and said I really have no idea what you're talking about, Shimon.
PROKUPECZ: He does say that. I'm reading through that, too, here, John. It says that he was agitated and seemed to infuriate Jared Kushner, though Veselnitskaya to Don Jr., I hope you will look out for the Magnitsky Act and it certainly did. It did infuriate others. Jared Kushner from reading the transcripts was there and left to take a phone call. He said so much that he had his assistant call in so he could leave the room. He did leave the room. I really do think it's important here, John, in reading this that it's part of what we have seen with the transition team, with folks in the campaign that they were taking meetings that they had no business taking. --
BERMAN: Shimon, this is the thing I want to point out here. The fact that Jared Kushner was angry that he wasn't getting apparently dirt on Hillary Clinton is something that Democrats are picking up on right now. Shan Wu, I want to read you Dianne Feinstein who is the ranking member - Democratic ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.
You know, it says the committee staff interviews reveal a top Trump campaign official were frustrated and angry that the meeting did not produce enough damaging information on their opponent and if you read that one exchange again with Jared Kushner right there, where Rob Goldstone is testifying, you know Kushner got mad in the middle of it, he appeared frustrated and agitated and said I have no idea what you were talking about in the middle there. Shan, as if to say, this isn't the dirt we were promised on Hillary Clinton. Does that intentionality matter at all?
WU: I think it matters a lot and it certainly undercuts this whole attempt by Don Jr. to walk back saying he hadn't even told Jared or told Manafort about the purpose of the meeting. I mean, why would Kushner be upset and frustrated unless he had some pretty strong sense of what the meeting was for? And I think those kinds of issues do potentially set up Don Jr. for some legal exposure here. I mean, he's got 1,001 liabilities with that and it is clear that he is intentionally misdirecting or not answering truthfully as opposed to the no recollections.
HARLOW: I will just note that in this testimony, Don Jr. did testify that he did tell Manafort and Kushner about the meeting before it happened, what it was about and we know he forwarded the e-mails describing that it was about dirt on Hillary Clinton. Guys, stay with us. We have more to go through here and other breaking news on North Korea as North Korea threatens to pull out of the planned meeting with President Trump in just a few weeks. The White House is responding this morning saying it fully expected a threat like this, much more of that ahead.
[10:27:54] HARLOW: New this morning, North Korea announces Kim Jong-un may back out of that planned summit with President Trump next month.
BERMAN: Saying it will not be cornered, North Korea, he says, will not be cornered into giving up its nuclear weapons. North Korea has even been citing what happened in Libya and Iraq as examples of why that country should be allowed to keep their nuclear capability.
Our Ivan Watson, senior international correspondent live in Seoul in South Korea where really things seem to have changed a great deal over the last 24 hours. Ivan?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is almost like whiplash after a charm offensive that went on for months, suddenly a series of statement from North Korean state media harshly critical of both the U.S. and South Korea criticizing them for joint military exercises, annual exercises under way right now for comments made by the White House's national security adviser John Bolton singling him out as a target of criticism and going on to warn Washington to think twice if it's going to continue along this path that the summit next month between President Trump and Kim Jong-un might just not happen. Here's an excerpt, quote, "If they try to push us into the corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider whether we will accept the upcoming North Korea-U.S. summit."
That the timing is all the more surprising given that Tuesday, North Korea was inviting South Korean journalists to attend a ceremony next week, it says, which will demonstrate the dismantling of a nuclear testing facility and analysts here are kind of they're wondering is this brinksmanship? Is this a negotiating tactic or are they serious? Could they really pull out of what could be an historic meeting between -- the first ever between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader? John and Poppy?
HARLOW: Ivan Watson for us in Seoul. Thank you for the reporting and this morning the White House is responding, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says, the White House fully expected a threat like this from North Korea. Listen to what she said to reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What's your reaction to the latest threat from North Korea saying that they're not going to be boxed in to denuclearize?