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Report: Some Comey Memos Contained Classified Info.; Trump Accuses Comey of Leaking Classified Information; Trump Dares Lawmakers to Skip Recess Until Health Bill Passed; Trump's Son Admits Meeting with Kremlin-Linked Lawyer; The Woman Donald Trump Jr Met Identified; Trump Backing Off on Cybersecurity Agreement with Russia. Aired 2:30- 3p ET
Aired July 10, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: President Trump reigniting his feud with former FBI Director James Comey today. Trump now accusing Comey of breaking the law. The president tweeted, "James Comey leaked classified information to the media. That is so illegal."
Trump was responding to a report this morning on FOX who cited a story on "The Hill" Web site. According to its sources, more than half of Comey's private memos documenting conversations with the president contained classified material. But "The Hill" report does not say that the memo Comey leaked to his friend contained classified information.
This is how Comey described that memo when he testified last month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ROY BLUNT, (R), MISSOURI: What kind of information did you give to a friend?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: That the -- the Flynn conversation, that the president asked me to let the Flynn -- I'm forgetting my exact own words -- but the conversation in the Oval Office.
BLUNT: So you didn't consider your memo or your sense of that conversation to be a government document? You consider it to be somehow your own personal document that you could share with the media as you wanted to?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Correct.
BLUNT: Through a friend?
COMEY: I understood this to be my recollection recorded of my conversation with the president. As a private citizen, I felt free to share that. Thought it very important to get it out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: All right. With me now, Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," and also CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. Jessica, first to you.
It's clear just from his testimony that James Comey did not believe that there was any classified information in the memo he gave to his friend. Have we heard from the friend about whether there was classified information in the memo?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We did just hear from his friend, Daniel Richmond. He did just talk to our Manu Raju. He says he doesn't believe that the memo he was given from James Comey contained any classified information. His statement is, "The memo whose substance I conveyed to 'The Times' was not classified at the time, and to my knowledge, is not classified now.
Here's what "The Hill" is reporting. "The Hill" didn't report there was classified informing in the memo. You heard Comey specifically stress that the memo contained his own personal recollections and not anything classified. "The Hill" reports that, according to their sources, the fired FBI director wrote seven memos detailing nine conversations with President Trump. Four of those memos, according to "The Hill," had markings to make clear that they contained information classified at the secret or considerable level. They said it was shown to members of Congress. Only four of them, however, Pamela, marked classified. And it's made clear from Daniel, the friend of James Comey, who leaked it to "The New York Times," and also Comey in the hearing, that the memo that was leaked, that it was not classified. "The Hill" only saying that four other memos were -- Pamela?
BROWN: Interesting. It raises the question: How does he know that it didn't contain any classified information.
But, Brian, in your view, is this another case of the president selectively choosing what news he believes is real and what is fake? Particularly when it comes to reports with anonymous sources, something that he has continually gone after the media for?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: Yes. This is what happens when the president gets his morning briefing from a conservative entertainment talk show, the show that prizes liberal bashing and pro Trump messaging, as opposed to a morning briefing from a reliable news source. This is a mistake that FOX made at 6:12 a.m., and half an hour later, the president tweeted about it.
We haven't heard from FOX. I've been asking FOX if they're going to correct the error. Pretty clearly, a couple of errors on the air. At one point, the anchor said this new report accuses Comey of putting our national security at risk. And then report also falsely said there was top-secret information. Top secret, as you both know, actually, a defined term in the U.S. government. No one is saying these memos had top-secret information.
Bottom line is that this is what happens when the president selectively, conveniently hears things on FOX that he shares with his millions of Twitter followers, creates a news cycle, gets his fans angry at Comey. And conveniently distracts from what I would argue is the more important story, the story you led the hour with, about Donald Trump Jr and Manafort and Kushner. You might wonder if it's all strategist, an attempt to create a counternarrative or if it's just convenient. Either way, it goes to show how the conservative pro-Trump news universe works.
BROWN: It's interesting, Brian, because there's a pattern. I'm thinking of examples in my head. I remember, at one of his rallies, when he brought up that there was growing violence in Sweden. And he was basing that, if you recall, on a FOX News report that he had seen. That's because we were all asking. where is he getting that information?
BROWN: So this is not the first time that he's taken something from FOX News without verifying it and putting it out there to the masses.
STELTER: You wonder what would happen if he had someone working with him on his tweets ahead of time to fact-check them. If they pulled up the article from "The Hill," that reporting comes from an outlet that -- it has a sketchy track record, sometimes reliable, other times not so reliable. But it is a news outlet. You could have read the article, checked the facts, and before publishing the tweet, corrected the tweet. But that doesn't happen. The president impulsively shares something, in this case, based on a series of mistakes on FOX News. Will the show correct it? We'll see about that.
I'm curious to see if it comes up in the White House briefing. It's an off-camera briefing. We can hear it later. Let's find out if the White House wants to walk this one back. Obviously, his tweet was based on false information.
[14:35:39] BROWN: Right. We hope to hear that on this show.
Jessica, Brian, thank you both.
STELTER: Thank you.
SCHNEIDER: Thank you.
BROWN: The Republican health care bill is likely dead, according to two Republican Senators. This, as the president dares the Republicans over their vacations.
Plus, who is the Russian lawyer that met with Donald Trump Jr. And we're live in Moscow with interesting new details on her.
Stay with us.
[14:40:23] BROWN: The Senate is getting back to work today after its July break. But they are just three weeks before the next recess. The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is desperately trying to find a way to save the Republican's health care bill. While some GOP Senators are saying the bill is likely dead, President Trump, for his part, weighing in on Twitter this morning, tweeting, "I cannot imagine that Congress would dare to leave Washington without a beautiful new health care bill fully approved and ready to go."
And this just in. Protesters are being removed from Republican offices on the Hill. This video is just coming in, including Senators Flake and Cruz, where the protests are happening.
I want to bring in M.J. Lee, CNN national politics reporter.
M.J., a White House official is saying Trump won't play a large role in selling the Republican health care bill. And we're learning that distance is coming from a Senate request. What can you tell us?
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Pam, this really isn't surprising. If you look at the way President Trump has engaged in the process over the last six months, you can imagine why a lot of Republicans sort of thought that his involvement did more harm than good.
A couple of things I would point out. President Trump, throughout this process, has set arbitrary deadlines, whether it's a time line for getting a proposal out or having a vote that Republican couldn't meet. That was an uncomfortable position the president has repeatedly put Republican lawmakers in.
He has also sort of been repeatedly off message when it comes to the big policy goals that Republican lawmakers have on Capitol Hill when it comes to repealing and replacing Obamacare.
And he also has shown he's not very well versed when it comes to the detailed policy, leading to some Republicans to sort of wonder how can he be so involved in the negotiations if he's not really that interested in the minute policy details of health care.
And probably the biggest burn that Senate Republicans are thinking about is when President Trump went out there a couple weeks ago and said that the House bill was "mean." This was several weeks after he celebrated the passage of the House bill in a Rose Garden ceremony.
So they're looking back at this and thinking, look, this is already a difficult process, and we might be better off without the president meddling in a process that has already been very difficult.
BROWN: Difficult, indeed.
M.J. Lee, thank you.
And just in, Donald Trump Jr responding to the Senate Intelligence Committee's request to interview him over his meeting with a Russian lawyer during the height of the campaign.
Plus, who is this woman?
We're live from Moscow, next.
[14:47:01] BROWN: And this just in to CNN. Donald Trump Jr responding to the Senate Intelligence Committee's request to be interview him, saying in a tweet, he, quote, "would be happy to meet with the committee" to pass on what he knows.
Meanwhile, who is the woman at the center of the meeting with Donald Trump Jr? That's what a lot of people are asking. This meeting took place during the campaign at Trump Tower.
And so far, we know Natalia Veselnitskaya is a Russian lawyer who, apparently, had enough clout to land a meeting with some of the top players on the Trump campaign. But who is she?
Joining me now is our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson.
Ivan, great to have you on.
The Kremlin is denying knowing her and saying the Kremlin was not aware of this meeting. What do we know about her?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The Kremlin has distanced itself from Natalia Veselnitskaya, saying they do not know who she is and they should not be expected to keep track of every Russian lawyer who travels abroad or to the U.S.
As for Veselnitskaya herself, we reached out and have been in communication with her. She has not agreed to an interview. She did give a statement to "The New York Times," in which she insisted that she does not represent the Russian government. And she also insisted she did not discuss the presidential campaign during her meeting with Donald Trump Jr in June of 2016.
What we do know about Veselnitskaya is that she had actively been lobbying to overturn something called the Magnitsky Act. It was legislation from 2012 that included sanctions, first, against Russians, then it was expanded, who were implicated in human rights abuses and in large-scale corruption. In response to this, the Russian government banned the U.S. adoption of Russian children. And she was very much involved in this.
One other bit that we know about her or these ties are that Rob Goldstone, who is a president of Oui 2 Entertainment. He told CNN he helped organize the meeting with Veselnitskaya as a request from one his clients, a Russian pop singer and businessman, named Emin Agalarov, who had business with Donald Trump Sr with the Miss Universe Pageant of 2013. And President Trump actually appeared in a music video of this pop singer, Agalarov.
Back to you
BROWN: A lot to digest there.
I want, because you're in Moscow, get your perspective. The president, as we know, agreed on three key issues with Putin when they had the meeting last week. But he's already backing off one of the agreements when it comes to the cybersecurity initiative. How is Moscow reacting?
[14:49:51] WATSON: The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was asked about this, and he kind of prevaricated. He said, well, it's not entirely clear that this cybersecurity working group or unit that President Trump and President Putin both discussed on Friday, it's not clear that it's been cancelled. He said no promises had been made to establish it.
But there's no question that the two top diplomats who accompanied the two presidents in that two-hour-and-15-minute-long meeting came out with three things. They were a regional cease-fire in Syria. Appointing a U.S. envoy to deal with the war in Ukraine that Russia is implicated in. And this kind of working group that wasn't clearly defined. Secretary Tillerson said it would probably include people from the State Department and the national security advisor. Later, President Trump tweeted that it would be an impenetrable cybersecurity unit. And hours later, he said it can't basically be formed. One of the three accomplishments now appears to be dead just 48 hours after both presidents seem to agree on it. A Russian official who was at the G-20, she said that it could be some kind of bilateral mechanism or it could involve the United Nations. So it was a hazy kind of proposal that now seems to be falling to pieces so soon after that historic meeting -- Pamela?
BROWN: All right. Ivan Watson, live from Moscow for us. Thank you, Ivan.
Any moment from now, the White House responding to questions about this meeting that we were just discussing.
Plus, questions about what really happened inside the sit-down between the president and Vladimir Putin.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
[14:55:48] BROWN: Top of the hour now. I'm Pamela Brown.
We're about to bring you the White House press briefing, which was, again, off camera and embargoed until it's finished. The press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, expected to answer questions on the admission by the president's son that he met with a Russian during the presidential campaign. Donald Trump Jr now says, in the summer of 2016, he met with a Russian attorney who claimed to have information helpful to his father's campaign. Sources tell "The New York Times" that this woman claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And it wasn't just Trump Jr who attended the meeting to find out what that attorney had. The president's son-in-law and now key advisor, Jared Kushner, was there as well. As was then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
When asked about the substance of the meeting, here's what counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, told CNN's "NEW DAY."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR TRUMP ADVISOR: It's very typical to have principals in the meeting. We had a fraction of the staff and a fraction of the money that they had over there in Clinton Inc in Brooklyn. You're trying to have your viewers think, oh, my god, because these three principals were in there, it was imbued with some type of seriousness. That just simply is not true. This was standard operating procedure for the campaign. Let's focus on what did not happen in that meeting. No information provided that was meaningful. No action taken. Nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The president's son responding to this with a sarcastic tweet that does, in fact, confirm his intent, in going into this meeting was to get information on the opposition.
Joining me now, CNN political producer, Dan Merica.
Dan, this tweet contradicts earlier statements we received from Donald Trump Jr, right?
DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: That's right. And not just from Donald Trump Jr. From a series of campaign officials that denied in the past that there were any connections or meetings between Trump campaign officials and the Russians.
This is significant. There's reasons on Capitol Hill this isn't significant, but it's also significant because it knocks the Trump administration off message. They've acknowledged in the last few days that it's harder to get things done on Capitol Hill because of these swirling Russia stories.
And we just got a tweet from Donald Trump Jr who said he would be willing to talk to people on Capitol Hill about what he learned. That is obviously going to be significant, if and when, that happens.
But from a legislative standpoint, you have to remember Donald Trump is trying to get things done on Capitol Hill while all of this is going on. And his aides believe that when he went to Poland, when he went to Germany and met with Vladimir Putin, this would be take some air out of the story that has been hanging over this White House for really months now. And it doesn't seem to have done that. He touched down here in Washington, D.C., and hours after he landed, this story came out.
And then you saw the change in topic, the change in explanation. At first, it was a meeting just on adoption policy. And that's why they had it. And then you saw Donald Trump Jr kind of add to that statement and say, no, it was actually because he wanted to try to get some dirt on Hillary Clinton.
All of this will be evaluated by investigators on Capitol Hill and the special counsel. That will compound the problems th3e White House is having with these investigations.
BROWN: All right. Dan Merica, thank you so much.
And now I want to bring in my panel. There is so much to discuss. Jennifer Taub, professor of law at Vermont Law School and author of "Other Peoples' Houses." She joins us. As well as Matthew Whittaker, CNN legal commentator and executive director at the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, and former U.S. attorney in Iowa. Also with us, John Nixon, former CIA senior analyst and author of "Debriefing a President, the Interrogation of Saddam Hussein." And, of course, my colleague, Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst.
I want to go to you first, Gloria.
I want you to break this down for us. It's not unusual for a campaign to want the dirt on the opponent.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, absolutely not.
BROWN: So what is significant? What is unique about this situation?
BORGER: Well, what's unique about this situation is not the fact that you want dirt on another campaign. OK? We've all been there, done that. Campaigns do that all the time. What's significant is that it's from a foreign national, from Russia, from somebody where this meeting was set up in a chain that, apparently, people in the Trump campaign knew this person who knew another person, and this meeting was set up to provide this dirt. Donald Trump Jr, in his statement, said --