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Interview With Congressman Ted Yoho; Health Care Struggle; Trump Administration Weakening Sanctions on Russia?; Prospects for GOP Health Bill Worsen After Senate Break; CNN Inside Mosul as Iraq Declares City Liberated from ISIS. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 10, 2017 - 18:00 ET
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Did the Trump administration secretly try to water down legislation that would slap new sanctions on Russia and the Putin regime? We're going to tell you what we're learning this hour.
Widening split. As more Senate Republicans refuse to support the Republican health care bill, the president is daring lawmakers to skip their August recess, while staying largely absent from the nitty- gritty up on Capitol Hill. Is there any real hope for progress in the days ahead?
And taking back Mosul. As Iraq declares a crucial victory against ISIS, CNN goes inside the climatic battle with exclusive video of a war-torn city emerging from the terrorists' brutal grip.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says the panel absolutely wants to question Donald Trump Jr.
The president's eldest son now under intense scrutiny in the Russia investigation. Trump Jr. now confirming he went into a secret meeting with a Russian lawyer last year expecting to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Senator Mark Warner says it's the first time the American public is seeing what he calls clear evidence of an attempt by the Trump campaign to get information from a possible foreign agent in an effort to hurt the Clinton campaign.
Trump Jr. says he'd be happy to work with the Intelligence Committee and tell senators what he knows.
Senator Warner says the panel wants to speak to everyone involved in the meeting, including the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner and the former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as those who helped the Trump camp connect with the Russian lawyer who has Kremlin connections. Tonight, we are learning more about the meeting, who was behind it, as the Trump team escalates its damage control. The White House insisting that nothing came out of the meeting, that
there was no collusion, and nothing inappropriate. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president did not know about the meeting until a couple of days ago.
We are covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Ted Yoho. He's a Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
But let's begin with the Senate's Russia investigation and Democrat senator -- Democratic Senator mark Warner's stinging assessment of that meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer.
Let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju.
Manu, the Intelligence Committee's vice chairman has lots of questions for the president's son.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: yes, no question about it, Wolf.
We are learning tonight that the Senate Intelligence Committee does want to learn more about this meeting, including by potentially calling Donald Trump Jr. as a witness before this committee to learn exactly what happened. Not just Donald Trump Jr., but also the Russian lawyer who attended that meeting.
Also Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, who is already scheduled to be a witness before the committee, and, of course, Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman also present at that meeting. Now, Mark Warner, the top Democrat in the committee, talked to reporters earlier, saying it is the first the public has seen any information showing possible efforts between Trump officials and Russia officials to coordinate, to actually dig up dirt on the Clinton campaign.
Here's what Mark Warner said just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: This is the first time that the public has seen clear evidence of senior-level members of the Trump campaign meeting with Russians to try to obtain information that might hurt the campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Now, it's also a continuing pattern that we have seen since the election of Trump campaign and Trump administration officials who have conveniently forgotten meetings with Russians. Only when they are then presented with evidence, they have to recant and acknowledge those kinds of meetings.
QUESTION: Do you want to speak to Don Jr.?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, Wolf, I just had a chance to ask Senate Republican chairman, Richard Burr, the Republican from North Carolina, if he wanted to talk to John Jr. as well. And he said, I'm going to talk about any of my possible conversations, any witnesses who are going to come forward.
But what we have learned separately, Wolf, is that actually the committee does plan to interview Trump campaign officials this week. There is going to be a new turn in this investigation. They are not saying who they're going to talk to, but they're saying they are Trump campaign officials.
So, we will see what more they learn about that before some of the bigger names come forward, including possibly Jared Kushner, including possibly Paul Manafort, of course, Don Jr., if he agrees, as he says he will agree, to talk to the committee, because he says, Wolf, there is nothing there to this meeting.
BLITZER: Manu, on another very sensitive issue, the White House now saying they are fully supportive of the current Iran and Russia sanctions legislation.
But, privately, there is a lot of suspicion that is not necessarily the case. What are you hearing?
RAJU: Yes, that's right. In fact, concerns are being raised by senior members of the Treasury Department and senior White House officials as well about a key provision in this bill, this bill that passed overwhelmingly, almost unanimously in the United States Senate.
This bill would actually give Congress the authority to essentially veto the administration if the administration would try to loosen Russia sanctions. Marc Short, who is the White House legislative director, told reporters earlier today that he believes that that essentially would give Congress too much power over the executive branch.
Now, there is some significant pushback tonight, Wolf. I talked to Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who told me just earlier that this is actually a misreading of the bill. He said the White House does not understand this bill if that's what they contend.
And he said the White House almost certainly will be overridden if it does come to that point, if the president does veto this bill, but right now, Wolf, this is pending in the House. House Republican leaders have not said exactly when this is going to be scheduled, because behind the scenes the White House is trying to at least change some of the language here, but they know this is difficult if it looks like they are trying to weaken a Russia sanctions bill, at a time when many members of Congress are concerned about Russia meddling in the election.
BLITZER: Yes, I think it passed the Senate, what, 97-2, the second version. That is nearly unanimous. Manu Raju, thank you very much.
Let's go do CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, right now, more on the breaking news about Donald Trump Jr. and the Russia investigation.
Jessica, this began over the weekend when "The New York Times" broke the story of Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign. Bring us up to speed.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House is now pushing back against the revelation the president's son met with the prominent Russian lawyer two weeks after Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination.
Today, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she dismissed the meeting as short with no follow-up and she says the president didn't even learn about this meeting until just a few days ago.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Donald Trump Jr.'s decision to meet with a Russian lawyer promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton is the first known meeting between the Trump team and a Russian national during the campaign. The Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, included the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Tonight, the White House insists the campaign meeting doesn't mean anything inappropriate occurred.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was simply no collusion that they keep trying to create that there was. Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election.
SCHNEIDER: But the president's eldest son now confirms he expected damaging information on Hillary Clinton prior to his meeting. He sent out this sarcastic tweet Monday morning. "Obviously, I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent. Went nowhere, but had to listen."
After "The New York Times" first reporting the meeting Saturday, Don Jr. downplayed it in a statement. "It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children."
But after revelations from "The Times" Sunday that the meeting was facilitated primarily on the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. issued a subsequent statement. "I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. The woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. It quickly became clear she had no meaningful information. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events." Monday morning, Trump Jr. retweeted a "The New York Times" story, raising questions about his two separate accounts. "No inconsistency in statements. Meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions. In response to further Q's, I simply provided more details."
The man who set up the meeting is Rob Goldstone, who says he arranged it at the request of a client, a Russian pop singer seen with President Trump at the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow four years ago and in this music video.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's get with it. You're always late.
SCHNEIDER: Goldstone tells CNN the lawyer apparently stated she had some information regarding illegal donations to the DNC which she believed Mr. Trump Jr. might be important.
"I reached out to Donald Trump Jr. and he agreed to squeeze us into a very tight meeting schedule." Goldstone says nothing came of the meeting. It's not clear whether the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, produced any compromising information about Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr. says Veselnitskaya wanted to discuss the issue of the adoption of Russian children and a U.S. law known as the Magnitsky Act, which imposed U.S. sanctions on Russians over human rights abuses. The act is known to have angered Russian President Putin.
The meeting came to light after Jared Kushner included it on his amended security clearance form after initially failing to disclose it and other meetings with Russia's ambassador and the chairman of a Kremlin-connected bank.
Top White House counselor Kellyanne Conway worked to downplay the meeting with the Russian lawyer.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: There was no information given. There was no action taken. There was no follow-up.
SCHNEIDER: The details have emerged amid differing accounts about the two-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump. President Trump confronted Putin about Russian meddling in the election. And when Putin denied it, Russia's foreign minister said the president accepted his denial. The White House says that is not true.
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: This is Russia trying to save face. And they can't. They can't. Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections.
SCHNEIDER: The president seemed to flip on at least one development from his face-to-face with Putin. On Sunday morning, he tweeted: "Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cyber-security so that election hacking and many other negative things will be guarded and safe."
But by Sunday night, the president posted this on security and a truce in Syria. "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a cyber- security unit doesn't mean I think it could happen. It can't. But a cease-fire can and did."
SCHNEIDER: And the Kremlin has now responded to those reports that Donald Trump Jr. met with that Russian lawyer, saying, the Russian government was not aware of the meeting.
As for the president's son, he's hired New York City lawyer Alan Futerfas, who says he's representing Donald Trump Jr. about -- quote -- "ongoing matters in Washington, D.C.," Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider reporting, thank you.
Also tonight, Senator mark Warner says he expects to see James Comey's memos about his conversations with President Trump very shortly, this as the president is accusing his fired FBI director of illegally leaking classified information.
Let's bring in our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, who is over at the White House tonight for us tonight.
Jason, the president tweeted about all of this today. Update us.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did. He certainly has his sights set on James Comey once again, tweeting about this particular situation saying James Comey leaked classified information to the media. "That is so illegal."
You will remember that Comey acknowledged that he did share one of his memos about his conversations with the president about the Russia investigation with that Columbia university professor Daniel Richman.
Richman for his part, Wolf, saying, that, look, he said nothing illegal happened here. That's first. And he said, second, nothing was passed on to him that was listed as classified. He said the president is "simply wrong." He said no memo was passed on to him that was marked as classified.
You will remember when Comey testified back in June, he said that he did all that he could to make sure that whenever he wrote that memo, that he would not include anything that was classified.
Going forward with that, just a short while ago, then out comes this news report where there are allegations that Comey did just that. That's what the president picked up on.
Earlier this afternoon, the ranking Democrat in the Senate Intel Committee, he was asked about this. He was asked about Comey. He was asked about the tweet. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: There are very few people that would know better how to draft a memo, so it wouldn't fall into the classified area than Jim Comey.
And he testified to that before our committee to a question that I asked him. I have seen these reports that there may have been after- the-fact classification. We don't know who may have classified those documents, if they were classified. And I want to get the answer to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARROLL: So, there you have Senator Warner's take on this.
We also a little earlier during the White House press briefing, the deputy secretary -- press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was asked about this. In fact, she was pressed on it, asked first whether she thought -- whether the president thought that Comey had perjured himself in any way, shape or form.
When she was pressed on that over and over again, she said, look, this is something that needs to be looked into a lot more. Again, she was pressed on it again, Wolf. And at that point, when the reporter said, look, is there any indication as to why the president said that Comey had leaked this classified information?
She said, look, he has a higher security clearance than I do. Perhaps he knows more than I do on this one -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jason, thank you, Jason Carroll at the White House for us.
Let's talk about all the breaking news in this Russia investigation.
Joining us now, Republican Congressman Ted Yoho. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: Thanks for having me on, Wolf. Look forward to talking to you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Do you believe it was appropriate for Donald Trump Jr. to take a meeting with a Russian national who promised to provide damaging information to him and his associates involving Hillary Clinton?
YOHO: Do I think it's appropriate? I think I probably would have done the same thing. I mean, it's opposition research.
And anybody that's been in an election, you're always looking to get the upper hand. You know, keep in mind she wasn't an official for the Russian government, the way understand it. She's a lawyer, a Russian lawyer. And if somebody comes to us and says, hey, we have got information on an opponent, yes, I think that's an appropriate thing to do.
BLITZER: But she was apparently well-known as somebody who had direct connections to the Kremlin. This is not only a presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, but a former secretary of state.
There are some Republicans, I should point out, who have suggested that if someone like that, a foreign national came to an American with obviously close contacts to then soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee, that that person should have contacted the FBI about that information. Do you think that was necessary?
YOHO: I think probably going forward that may be what happens, especially in this case where Donald Trump's the president now.
But going back, you have to put yourself back at that time frame. At that time frame, I think it's perfectly appropriate for what he did.
BLITZER: In other words, accepting the meeting and just listening, bringing Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, Jared Kushner, the senior adviser, the president's son-in-law, into a meeting like that, hoping that they were going to get -- quote -- "dirt" on Hillary Clinton?
YOHO: I think that was probably the premise for that meeting.
But as Donald Jr., says the information that they got, they saw right away that it wasn't leading where they wanted to. He was there to talk more about adoptions and things like that. And then it broke away from that. And, so, you know, I don't want to fault them for what they did. I think I would have done probably the same thing, under the same circumstances.
BLITZER: Because a lot of, including Republicans, are suggesting it was not appropriate. Forget about what emerged from the meeting in a statement on Sunday. He said: "I was told that this lawyer might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting."
I guess the fundamental -- would you go to a meeting with someone, some Russian lawyer, not even knowing this person's name, who this person was, just expecting to get some "dirt" about Hillary Clinton? Would that be appropriate? Wouldn't you do some serious vetting before you sit down with someone like that?
YOHO: You know, I look back over my own career. We have sat down with some meetings I kind of wished I would have done more vetting in the future, and we have, and it's a learning process.
But, no, again, I don't think it was inappropriate for what he did. If you have got information about an opponent running against you, wouldn't you want that information to vet it, to see if it's real information and then to use it accordingly? You can't do that if you don't have the initial meeting.
So, again, I think what he did for the moment he did it at that time was appropriate.
BLITZER: The White House claims that President Trump just learned of the meeting over the past couple days or so, though even he's obviously very close to his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., very close with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and at the time was very close with Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman.
Do you believe that explanation of events, that he was only told of this meeting in the last couple of days?
YOHO: If that's what he's saying, I have no reason to dispute that.
If there is going to be an investigation, that will probably all come out. So, I don't want to conjecture of what might happen. So, to answer your question, yes, I think that's OK.
BLITZER: The president himself has denied that the meetings of this nature ever took place during the campaign. Listen to what he said in response to some questioning in February of this year. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?
TRUMP: Well, I told you, General Flynn obviously was dealing. So, that's one person. But he was dealing, as he should have been.
QUESTION: During the election?
TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of.
QUESTION: So you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?
TRUMP: Look, how many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your reaction to that? "Russia is a ruse." He didn't -- know he said nobody that I knew of had any meetings from the Trump campaign with Russians.
YOHO: I kind of feel the same way. I think it's a distraction.
And if you ask -- listen to the question that was asked, do you think Russia did this, they're talking about a lawyer who happens to be a Russian citizen. So, as a Russian lawyer, does that mean the country of Russia was the one behind this? I don't think so. So, again, I stand on the side of the president 100 percent on this. BLITZER: But when he says Russia is a ruse, he's talking about all of
the questioning that's going on, that Russian intelligence tried to hack into a lot of Democratic Party computers, as you know, into John Podesta, the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton's campaign.
BLITZER: Hack into his computer, leak all that information to WikiLeaks. That's what the FBI, the CIA, the director of national intelligence, the National Security Agency, those four agencies, they all concluded the Russians did it. I assume you believe them.
YOHO: I mean, the evidence is there. So, yes, I don't think there is a reason to dispute it.
BLITZER: So, why would the president call it a ruse?
YOHO: Well, what are you talking about?
BLITZER: He says the whole thing is a ruse. No, he says the whole thing, he's called it a witch-hunt, a hoax. You have heard the president describe this whole Russia investigation.
YOHO: Yes, but did it influence the election? I don't think it did. I think that part is a ruse.
I think James Comey influenced the election more than anybody else, you know, the way he handled that information about the Clinton investigation and then right at two weeks before the election, you know, reopened that. I think that caused more damage to the Clinton camp.
But I also think if they go down this road, they're going to find out there was foreign money going into the Clinton camp. It's well- documented in Peter Schweizer's book "Clinton Cash."
And you look at the -- follow the money, they always say. And I think it's something that, if we go down this path, I think you will see some things come out that there was money going into her campaign from foreign nationals.
BLITZER: But you don't have any hard evidence of that, because that would be illegal, right?
YOHO: That would be pretty illegal.
BLITZER: Why do you make that accusation?
YOHO: Because of the stuff I have read, the investigations that we have done, you know, and the reports, if you follow them. I mean, it's pretty well-documented, if you look at uranium one and
the other things that went into the Clinton campaign, their foundation.
BLITZER: Yes, but it's one thing for foreigners to give money to the Clinton Foundation, which is legal. It's another thing for foreigners to give money to a political campaign, which is illegal.
YOHO: I agree.
And, so, if it goes down that path, you may find out that there was money going into her campaign. But I think, more importantly, we should focus on what happened at the G20. Focus on what's going on in North Korea, because those are the things that we really need to be concerned.
You know, and the funny thing is nobody is talking about the 220,000 jobs, the bills that we passed, the rhetoric and the stance that Donald Trump has taken that's cut off 67 percent of the people coming into this country illegally.
And then the bills that we passed in the House, the Kate's Law and the sanctuary cities law, that tightens up security in this nation. Those are the things the American people are really concerned. The Russia thing will play itself out. And Russia, if you go back over the last 50 to 100 years, they have always interfered and meddled, as other countries have, in elections and things like that to throw people off.
And they're kind of like the old Maxwell Smart, the KAOS organization, where they cause confusion. And they have done a great job. Whether or not they meddled into this, look how much time we spent following Russia instead of dealing with our $20 trillion in debt and things like that.
And that's really where we need to focus. And I think you will see Donald Trump, as he matures as the president, as he -- I went through the same development being a congressman. Once you realize you're a congressman and the weight behind that, you're going to see Donald Trump probably be one of the most effective presidents we have ever had in this country.
And his strong language on what America stands for, I think it's a welcome message, as we saw in Poland, as we have seen in this nation, as you have seen in the last four special elections. I think that speaks real loud and clear on the track we're on.
So, this other stuff, I think it's a distraction. Let's work through this and let's get America back on track because that benefits all Americans.
BLITZER: I'm sure the special counsel, Robert Mueller, all the committees on the Hill that are investigating, they are going to work through it.
YOHO: That's right.
BLITZER: Congressman, stand by. There is more we need to discuss. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.
BLITZER: Our breaking news, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner, says the public now has clear evidence that senior members of the Trump campaign sought damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a possible foreign agent.
That comes as Donald Trump Jr. admits he saw a Russian lawyer, hoping to collect information on Hillary Clinton.
We're back with Republican Congressman Ted Yoho of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, there are some other important issues I want to get to quickly.
First of all, do you support this latest effort to levy new sanctions against the Russians?
I think, you know, until we get things worked out, you know, we have got to hold them accountable to actions. You know, they're helping North Korea in the trade issue, so, I think it's a smart thing to do.
BLITZER: Because, as you know, the Senate passed it, what, 97-2. It's now before the House, but there seems to be delay after delay because the White House, the administration doesn't like it completely, because it doesn't give the president a waiver to stop the sanctions if he wants to.
YOHO: Well, we have got the three branches of government for a reason.
And Congress has the ability to do that. If it's a national security issue, the president, pardon the pun, but the president can trump something for national security issues.
So, it's not going to limit him, but it's going to put an extra layer of oversight. And this is something that is important, because look down the road to the next one or two or three presidents. If a vehicle like this is in place, I think it's a safeguard for our country's national security.
BLITZER: So, why hasn't it come up for a vote on the floor?
YOHO: I suspect we will talk about it next week. They just passed it. It's coming over to the House from the Senate. So, we will see where we go next week on that.
BLITZER: Because the Senate, as you know, they passed it once, I think, 98-2. The second, the House didn't like some of the language in there. They thought it stepped on House privilege, so they went back, the Senate passed it. These are sanctions not only against Russia, but also against Iran, 97-2.
But it's seemingly been delayed. Officials from the Treasury Department, the Trump Treasury Department, they were up on Capitol Hill last week in an attempt to -- quote -- "educate" lawmakers about the Trump administration's concerns.
The fear is that the Trump administration is trying to water down the sanctions. Do you accept that?
YOHO: Well, again, I haven't read the bill. I could see where they could maybe be doing that.
But, again, I'm going to hold off on commenting until I read the bill. It's a novel concept.
BLITZER: So, you will have a chance, I assume, fairly soon.
YOHO: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: As usual, Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida, thanks for joining us.
YOHO: Great. Thanks for having me on, Wolf. Have a great day.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Just ahead: clear evidence and changing stories. Stand by for more on the breaking news on Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer and the motive behind it.
Also, we have exclusive new video coming into CNN from inside Mosul as Iraq declares it has now liberated the city from ISIS control.
[18:35:08] BLITZER: We're following breaking news this hour. A top Democrat now says the American people are seeing, for the first time, clear evidence that the Trump campaign tried to get information from a possible Russian agent in an effort to damage Hillary Clinton's campaign. That's how the Senate Intelligence Committee's vice chairman, Mark Warner, is describing new revelations about a meeting involving the president's son, Donald Trump Jr.
Let's bring in our analysts and our specialists. And Gloria Borger, what do you make of the shifting stories, first of all, over the past 48 hours, coming in from Donald Trump Jr.?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Donald Trump Jr. calls it clarification. I would say it's an expansion of his explanation with a big difference. In the first time he explained his meeting to us, he called it a, sort of a short meeting, and it was largely about Russian adoption.
And the second time when he expanded his explanation, we learned that he went to the meeting and brought in a couple other people close to the president in order to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. And what's troubling about it is not that this thing doesn't go on during campaigns. Of course, people do opposition research during campaigns. It's a part of campaigning.
But this came from a Russian national with ties to the Kremlin. If that happens, as Leon Panetta said to you earlier, you go to the FBI, if Russian nationals are trying to do this kind of thing. That's what Panetta said he would do, and that's what a lot of other people would do.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But the story is even weirder than that, you know, because it's one thing -- someone says, "We have information."
TOOBIN: And you say, "OK, send a flunky and find out what it is." They don't send a flunky. They send this candidate's son and his son- in-law and the campaign manager. This is not just a casual meeting.
TOOBIN: This is a big deal. Now, he says, "Well, there was no information of value." I'd like to hear more about what went on at this meeting.
BORGER: And by the way, this was a very busy time in the campaign. Donald Trump had really effectively just secured the nomination. They were facing a delegate fight, if you'll recall, at the convention. And they were -- and they were also heading into a general election. And suddenly at this meeting, all these top people show up with this Russian woman whom Donald Trump Jr. said he was not told her name prior to the meeting.
BLITZER: And David Chalian, as you know, for months and months we've been pointing out that we still didn't have any hard evidence that any collusion took place, but you're beginning to suspect we shouldn't be saying that any more.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I certainly don't think we can dismiss this notion that there's nothing that we know that would point to these questions. Now there is. I'll leave the evidentiary questions and legal definitions of collusion to Jeffrey Toobin.
But it is clear now, for the first time, that during the campaign, very close to Donald Trump -- his son, who was at the upper echelons of the campaign, in strategy meetings, campaigning across the country for his father -- has this meeting that is about getting this negative information on Clinton, which would be beneficial to the Trump campaign, from our adversary, from a Russian national with ties to the Kremlin. So, there is now -- you can't just do what Donald Trump's been doing
on this story and just dismiss this now as nothing. This does raise a lot of questions.
And to Gloria's earlier point about who else was in the meeting, and Jeffrey was saying this was no casual meeting. Remember back in the days when the White House was trying to make us believe, have us believe that Paul Manafort was just a brief employee who did nothing but count delegates? Well, obviously not. He's in this meeting with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. about this opposition research on Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: Significant development indeed.
Bianna, you're an expert on Russia. It's sometimes difficult to distinguish between Russian officials and Russians who may have ties to the Kremlin but aren't technically government officials. How do you see this? Is this an example of Russians using that so-called gray area to their advantage?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, with all due respect to Congressman Yoho, this was not just some random Russian attorney. This was a woman with close ties to the Kremlin. Her former husband was a government official, and most importantly, she was campaigning against an act that arguably is the most upsetting to Vladimir Putin, something that he would like to see lifted right up there with sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea, the Magnitsky Act.
And I spoke with Bill Browder, who is the American businessman who was really the sponsor of the Magnitsky Act. Magnitsky, Sergey Magnitsky, was his attorney, tax attorney who was murdered. And he said, according to all the evidence that he's gathered, that this woman had all of the resources, all of the backing from the Kremlin directly when she was protesting the Magnitsky Act in an anti-Magnitsky film, for example, in Europe. About five or six Russian state-run news stations came to follow her, as well.
[18:40:16] The same thing in Washington, D.C. So, I don't know why the congressman would brag about probably doing the same thing if he had been in Don Jr.'s position. I wonder what his constituents would think about that, as well.
We have to always remind ourselves that Russia is not an ally. Russia is, in fact, an adversary. And the Magnitsky Act is not just something about Russian orphans that can't be adopted in the U.S. There's a reason Russian orphans can't be adopted by the U.S. Because Vladimir Putin insisted upon that as retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, an act that imposes sanctions on those who are very, very close to him directly.
BLITZER: Yes, fair point.
You know, Jeffrey Toobin, the legal scrutiny that Donald Trump Jr. might be coming under from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is it significant, not that significant? TOOBIN: Well, it's certainly significant that he's a witness. And
again, you know, we always want to jump to the conclusion about who's going to be charged with what.
The most important thing that Director Mueller has to do is find out what the facts are. I mean, think how much we've learned in the past 48 hours.
First, we heard about this meeting. And Donald Trump Jr. said, "Well, it's just about adoption." Then we find out that it's a meeting about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton.
What Mueller needs to do is find out the facts about who was present, what everybody's version of these facts are, were there other people that we don't know about present, were there other meetings? Gather the facts, then decide whether there is any legal implications to it.
It is certainly not illegal. I think we have to say, in fairness to Donald Trump Jr., it's not illegal for him to have a meeting with a Russian. But what was said, what was agreed to, what was known, that's where, you know, the story could get more complicated.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, the White House today, Gloria saying that the president only heard about this meeting in the past couple days or so.
BORGER: And that may be true.
BLITZER: You accept that?
BORGER: Well, look, I have no reason to believe otherwise until and if we learn more. I mean, the White House is saying the president did not know about it. When you're a candidate in a campaign and people in your campaign are meeting with somebody, doing oppo research, many times you try and divorce yourself from that.
However, on the other hand of this, look at who was in the meeting. You know, the campaign chairman, his son-in-law, and Don Jr.
TOOBIN: And if you want to do a thorough job as an investigator, what do the e-mails show? What do their texts show? It takes time and detail to get all this material.
BORGER: Yes. So we don't know the answers.
BLITZER: Very quickly -- yes.
CHALIAN: You make the point that Donald Trump didn't know about the meeting. But as you showed in the clip earlier from that press conference in the East Room, you -- he had no problem saying that there was no such meeting without all the facts.
BLITZER: Stand by, everybody, because there's a lot more news coming in. After getting an earful from constituents about their health care bill, Senate Republicans are now back up on Capitol Hill. They're trailed by protesters this time, but the lawmakers themselves are deeply divided. Is there still a chance for a deal?
[18:48:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The Senate Republicans face an even steeper climb tonight, trying to pass a health care bill. A holiday break only made matters worse and another recess is looming.
CNN's Ryan Nobles is following the story for us. So, Ryan, there's been some chaos, but is there any real progress?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Wolf, most of this negotiation is happening behind closed doors, and we saw senators ducking in and out of rooms all day long. They say they are making progress, but there is no doubt that the overall prospects for this bill remain bleak.
SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: Then, we disagree.
NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, after a week of hearing from their constituents --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They absolutely do not care if people are covered or not.
NOBLES: -- Senate Republicans are back in Washington, greeted by protests as they tried to revive their health care reform push.
But it appears the week outside the beltway is not making the process any easier.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The one and only issue that came up no matter where I was time and again was health care.
NOBLES: At least 10 Republican senators remain opposed to the health care bill in its current form, and they are senators from both the conservative and moderate wings of the party. The difference in viewpoints has many left wondering if a grand deal can be brokered.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: In my view, it's probably going to be dead. But I am -- I've been wrong.
NOBLES: Despite the differences in opinions, Senate leadership is not giving up yet. Mitch McConnell is hoping his members will find a way to come together.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We're in a big discussion among ourselves, that is, the Senate Republican conference, about the way forward.
NOBLES: McConnell continues to offer tweaks to the bill as he brings the conference together. Those changes have not revealed, even to most members. But tweaks alone may not be enough to convince those who are the most firmly opposed.
(on camera): At this point, do you think a complete overhaul is necessary to get to a yes?
COLLINS: I do need a complete overhaul in order to get to yes.
NOBLES (voice-over): Meanwhile, the White House is sending Vice President Mike Pence to attempt to rein in wayward senators. He spent time with Missouri's Ray Blunt over the weekend and this morning went on conservative radio to promise a deal will get done.
[18:50:05] MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will be a historic step toward reversing the disastrous and collapsing policy of Obamacare. And I promise you, the president and I have not stopped working.
NOBLES: And while President Trump did tweet about health care, telling senators not to leave Washington without passing a, quote, beautiful new health care bill, a White House official tells CNN the president currently does not have any plan to play a large role in selling health care prior to his trip to Paris on Wednesday.
Democrats who don't have the votes to stop the bill are keeping up the pressure. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his leadership team sent a letter to McConnell asking them to consider fixing Obamacare in its current form.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY: When using bipartisanship as a threat is your only argument, it's time to move on.
NOBLES: But it is ultimately Republicans that will need to strike a deal. And even though they have time, optimism is not running high.
SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: Clearly, the draft plan is dead. Is the serious rewrite plan dead? I don't know, I've not seen the serious rewrite plan.
NOBLES: And when that serious rewrite plan comes out, it will require an entirely new score from the Congressional Budget Office. I spoke to Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the third ranking Republican in the Senate. He said that they are in constant conversation with the CBO and that new bill and that new score could come as early as the end of this week. But, Wolf, if that's the case, that means the earliest that we're going to see a vote would be sometime next week.
BLITZER: All right. Ryan Nobles reporting, thanks very much.
Much more news right after this.
[18:56:04] BLITZER: Tonight, the Iraqi prime minister is declaring full victory over ISIS in Mosul, saying the entire war-torn city has been liberated from brutality and terrorism.
Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh has an exclusive report from inside Mosul. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abedi spoke of the great pride of the Iraqi nation, of how ISIS is being consigned to the dustbin of history when he announced victory after 48 hours of Iraqis really being on the streets celebrating the demise of ISIS in Mosul, but really across Iraq as opposing force.
But even as he spoke, the area we were in just this morning was still seeing clashes. Here's what it looked like this morning.
(voice-over): It's like something supernatural or otherworldly has hit it.
(on camera): This destruction, absolutely breathtaking and really a sign of dust and bones that ISIS has left in their wake.
(voice-over): Old city Mosul, the damage new, the city gone. And Mosul almost free of ISIS.
Elsewhere, Iraqis are celebrating victory, dancing in the streets.
Yet here, the streets are still being ground to rubble. In the last 100 yards of ISIS, the group that once held assuage of Iraq and Syria down here to their last bullet, we're told.
(on camera): There it is. They advanced through the heart of Mosul that marks the end of ISIS territory in Iraq, really. But between these Iraqi special forces and that body of water marks the victory are still just dozens of ISIS fighters still holding out.
(voice-over): American air strikes hammer them.
(on camera): That's the intensity and proximity of the fighting here, the air strikes are called in right next to Iraqi forces. They even feel the rubble landing in their faces.
(voice-over): And perhaps because this really is the end, some of them appear to give themselves up.
A sniper still there.
They're welcomed. Carry him, carry him, the commander shouts.
After the march, the propaganda, now we finally see what the Iraqi soldiers say is the true human and defeated face of ISIS. This man appears like he has a disability is asked how he got here.
ISIS forced me here, he insists.
They have fought the world's war on ISIS here in Mosul and now casually pass dead fighters.
Major Salam was with us at the start and has lost many friends.
(on camera): How does it feel?
MAJOR SALAM HUSSEIN, COUNTERTERROR FORCES: I feel tired. I have tried to run the operation here after all this nine months.
WALSH (voice-over): Brigadier General Asadi planted the Iraqi flag, he says, on the river bank the day before, but this isn't a battle of flags anymore but for ISIS, of smaller cells and survival.
So, the fight went on even as the official declaration from Iraq's prime minister announced victory. So, it will be for Iraq in the years ahead.
(on camera): The key (INAUDIBLE) operations will continue in Iraq against ISIS. They have towns like Hawija and Telapas (ph) still under their control and there will be a low-level insurgency against the government here. But they've lost the symbolic value of controlling second largest city. It was the capital of their caliphate in their own eyes in Iraq and I think their image here, their ability to project themselves as a potent force has massively suffered with this announcement -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.