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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Reports: Lobbyist With Alleged Russian Intel Ties Says He Attended Donald Trump Jr. Meeting; At Least 8 People Were At Trump Jr. Meeting; Bill Would Require Two On-Camera W.H. Briefings Per Week. Aired 9-9:30p ET
Aired July 14, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:06] RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And while Germany's Angel Merkel was once caught striking a cool stance in awkward photo with President Trump. She is showering him with flattery. In other waves, "The New York Times" reporting she called him for advice before her trip to Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact he's a newcomer to diplomacy. And if world leaders can't get the president himself they'll work relations with his family.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu played up his relationship with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took Ivanka Trump to Broadway show. Germany's Angela Merkel welcomed Ivanka to Germany for a women's entrepreneurial panel.
Dealing with a president who demand loyalty, all this flattery may just pay off. After France's Macron went out of his way to woo him, President Trump is already patting Macron on the back, saying publicly the two men have a good friendship. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Well, little later on tonight. A 360 special report on the first son, Donald Trump Jr., who this week became the first one to reveal what he his father, the Trump administration campaign, has been denying for more than a year. Contact with Russians by members of the campaign, and researching dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in June of last year, meeting a Russian lawyer who they believe was from the Russian government. Seeking what they were told was Kremlin information, damaging to Secretary Clinton.
And I recall when the story broke on Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. failed to mention that saying instead, the meeting was abut Americans being barred from adopting Russian orphans. Then he did disclose the political angle. And he disclosed e-mail that revealed he believed he be getting dirt straight from the Russian government. That was when he, when he also said there was, there were no more shoes waiting to drop. Well, today another one did.
CNN has learned there were more people in that meting than previously known or that Donald Trump Jr. admitted including a Russian-American lobbyist with alleged ties to Russian intelligence. He denies those ties telling "The Washington Post" that he was never an intelligence agent, but did serve two years in a Soviet military unit that handled counterintelligence. Regardless until today, we didn't know he was in the room. Now we know. And it's one more revelation in the story that has seen plenty already.
The president spending the weekend in New Jersey, one of his golf courses, as Jason Carroll is nearby, joins us. Any reaction at all from the White House to these revelations today?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I mean in terms of this most recent development. We know there seems to be a development every other day with this, Anderson. They're referring questions to White House counsel that, you know, that the president has been out there, on Twitter, defending his, his son.
Yesterday, defending him as well, basically saying, well, this was a short meeting. True, a meeting that anyone would have taken. Well there has been plenty come out said this is a meeting he should not have taken and at the very least he should have reported the meeting to the FBI.
The president is also saying, you know, there were only two other people, in the room. That has now shown, not to be the case. However, internally, this real problem for the White House and this is something that they're really struggling with. One, White House official basically saying that they know at this point that Donald Trump Jr.'s story has changed several times and they called it a quote, that this is something that has been not good for the White House going forward. So internally this is something that the White House is still really grappling with.
COOPER: You know, I was trying to get in the last hour, Jay Sekulow, was on -- one of President Trump's attorneys, and I was asking if the president knew before today that there were several other attendees in the meeting at Trump Tower. He kept saying that the president wasn't at the meeting. Didn't, didn't seem to really answer whether or not he knew whether there was -- were other people or not. Has the White House said anything about that?
CARROLL: Well, no. But he did say that, as best as he can tell at this point that the president did not know about this meeting, did not know about the meeting until about, just within the past week. He said just recently. But it is clear that Jared Kushner and his legal team knew about this meeting at least on June 21st. As you know, they were in the process of redoing his security clearance form. And while they were redoing the form, we have to fill out the section, have you had any contact with foreign officials? They were filling out that section. That's where they came across those e-mails and recorded all that knowing that it wasn't just Paul Manafort who was in the meeting. It wasn't just Donald Trump Jr. that was in the meeting. It was also that Russian Attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, also, this Russian- American lobbyist who was also in this meeting as well.
Apparently, Jared Kushner's team, Anderson, also at that point back in June, of June 21st, had an internal discussion. You know, what should we do when this goes public? Should we discuss this with the president? There was some back and forth going on that as well. But the president's attorney saying, once again, that he was not made aware of this meeting until just recently.
[21:05:00] COOPER: Jason Carroll. Appreciate that. Thanks very much.
Reaction from a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut.
Congressman Himes, thanks for being with us. The ranking member of your committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, today called the Russian- American lobbyist in the meeting at Trump Tower to testify. What are the most important questions you think need to be answered there?
REP. JIM HIMES, (D) CONNECTICUT: Well I think generally, Anderson, the biggest question that many of us have and, you know, our heads have now stopped spinning of course, because, you know, remember for the last couple of months. You know, my Republican colleagues, the president himself, the White House has been saying, there's no evidence of collusion. None at all. We need people to say that there's no evidence of collusion. No collusion whatsoever. Well, it turns out there was collusion. And it wasn't by some random person in Ohio. It was by the president's son.
So, our heads have only now stopped spinning. But of course the next question is, you know, what came out of that meeting? And what were the objectives in particular of the two Russians. And again, it's a little unclear exactly who was there. And maybe there were more people that we still don't know about. But what were the objectives of the people who went into the meeting? And more importantly than that, what happened next? There is no reason to believe, although there is not yet any evidence that this is it. And of course every single week, Anderson, as you know we learn new things. So critically we need to sort of understand what the follow-up, what the subsequent activity was associated with this meeting.
COOPER: You say there was collusion. I mean is it fair to say that at this point? I mean collusion, I think doesn't that imply some sort of result from it? I mean maybe you could say that there's an attempted collusion or a vague, an interest in possible collusion. Is it fair to say that there was collusion? That they were working together?
HIMES: You know, at this point it sort of a fine semantic point, right? Remember the White House started by denying that there was any contact whatsoever by anybody with the Russians. Now what do we know? We know that the president's son, that campaign chairman, Paul Manafort and the president's son-in-law, three of the most important people in this effort, happily, and aggressively took a meeting that they know -- they knew was being set up by Russian government sources in order to help them in the election.
Now, whether, you know, there was a huge follow-up effort. And we'll find out whether that is true or not. Or whether there were pleasantries exchanged you had the motivation. You had the fact this happened which was denied all along by this White House. So again, you know was it attempted collusion or collusion? I don't know. But we got to be careful that we don't lose track of the fact that whether this is illegal or legal, and that will be determined in the future, this is a profoundly wrong thing. No campaign takes help from a hostile foreign power.
COOPER: I always think back to something that Senator John McCain said way back in April. He sad quote, every time we turn around another shoe drops from the centipede. That was three month ago. Is it any less true now than it was then?
HIMES: Of course it's not. Again, you know, the reason every week there is a shoe dropping, and this is one of the sort of great tragedies of this whole episode, is that there was an alternative path, right? The alternative path was right after the inauguration the president says, gosh, this could be a big distraction for me. So, I am going to order all my people to just go to the FBI and disclose everything. Make it all public. They took the opposite take. They have consistently lied by saying that there was no contact. Jared Kushner on his, you know, form for security clearance, the president has consistently said there was absolutely no contact. And, as a result, the story has dragged out over many, many months. And as a result the White House has lost every shred of its credibility. So now we're in the terrible position of not really being able to trust what we hear from, from the White House, expecting that it we'll hear about new e-mails or that "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" or CNN will break something new tomorrow.
COOPER: You introduced a new bill today that would require the White House to provide at least two on camera press briefings each week. I'm wondering why that is important in your opinion.
HIMES: Well, it's important generally because, you know, as an elected official, as a politician, I'll be the first to say, some times the media gets it wrong, some times you don't feel fairly treated. But, you know, a free press that is asking politicians tough questions is an absolutely essential part of our democracy. And absolutely essential to holding people like me and people like the president accountable.
But I want to step back and say, more narrowly, Anderson. You know, it is precisely those institutions, that the president has vilified (ph) as enemies of the state, as sources of fake news. And now I'm talking about the media generally, but also of course "The New York Times," "Washington Post," CNN and, others. It has been those entities that have week in and week out. Given us the truth about what really happened. Most recently, of course "The New York Times" or the president's son. And, I hate to admit it, but who have often times produced this information, at a more rapid rate than my own investigative committee in the Congress has been able to do.
COOPER: Congressman Himes. Appreciate you being with us. Thanks very much.
[21:10:00] HIMES: Thank you, Anderson. COOPER: The panel weights in next. Also later, CNN Special Report on the first son, Donald Trump Jr., now in the brightest and hottest spotlight probably in his life.
COOPER: I'm talking tonight about the latest developments in the fallout of Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting along with Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, not one, but now at least two Russians last year the same time.
Joining us now, Scott Jennings, Bill Press, Michael Shear, and Asha Rangappa who is joining us from Washington.
Michael, has the White House, it doesn't seem like they've been able to get their arms around this week. Is that the way it seems as a White House correspondent?
MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And partly it seems that they haven't been able to get their hand around it because the story keeps changing. And you have the situations in the White Houses where the people who actually no information aren't necessarily the people who are supposed to be communicating that to the rest of us and so there's disconnect.
But in addition, you know, this is the White House that has clamped down on the dissemination of information anyway, we're not having regular briefings in the same way that we should. We have the interruption of the foreign trip. So that was sort of an oddity anyway. But, when you don't have that regular sort of pipeline, you don't have a place that, Bill and I can sit in the briefing room and just sort of press them on all the questions anyway they have to respond. And so, you have just have this vacuum and as you've been talking about on the show just the kind of a constant, drip, drip of new revelations.
COOPER: It's also, Bill, I mean for those working in the White House. It's got to be -- I mean I talked to other people from past White Houses who said, you know, you don't know who you can talk to about this. You're not supposed to really talk to anybody about it you because you don't know who is under investigation, who is not, and where the next shoe is going to drop.
BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: (INAUDIBLE) afraid of problems too which is -- we're almost at the point where you can't believe anything, anybody in the White House says. I mean look at this particular incident here, you know, where --
COOPER: You're saying that as a Republican --
PRESS: I'm saying that as a reporter trying to get the truth, seriously. I mean for a year we were told -- no contacts, so no meetings with any Russian or whatsoever. Then we learn about Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, and some others. And then, but Donald Trump, he never met with anybody from Russian and then we (INAUDIBLE) there was this meeting. Well, they only talked about adoption. No they didn't. Nobody else was there. Yes there was. And then we didn't know ahead of time what the meeting was about. This isn't fake news. This is from his e-mails, we know that they were told ahead of time, this is an effort on the part of the Russian government to help his father.
[21:15:18] So, I want to go back to your interview with Jay Sekulow earlier. One of the big points he mad was that the president did not know about this meeting. I find that hard to believe. Because the person saying that, you know, is the president or his son. Neither whom have told the truth about this.
COOPER: You know, Scott, you and I this week have talked a lot about the drip of information, the importance of getting ahead of it, and yet again, here we are today on another night when this probably would not have been the lead story, it is because suddenly, wait, there were eight people in this room and there was this other Russian, there's a Russian-American guy who was working with this attorney.
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASST. TO PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: The technical political jargon for this is not good. What happened this week is not good. OK. But it can get better. And there's a clear answer for them now and that is to stop commenting publicly about this, because public comments this week have not panned out. The real answer here is, Donald Trump Jr. has offered to testify publicly with the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's going to tell his story in full, under oath, in public, at that time. And until that time, and we've asked for a day soon as it is convenient for them. We're not going to say anything else about this. I think that is the clear right answer for them on this issue moving forward.
COOPER: Right. I mean one answer that you could just say to reporters is there's an ongoing investigation here. We're going to, you know, let the investigation play out. And we're doing the business of the American people.
PRESS: -- all the time from Jay Carney and others in the White House, that's a good answer, not a great answer --
SHEAR: But keep in mind, just one thing to note there that what this whole episode reminded us is the power of e-mail as a record that is out there, right?
SHEAR: And Mueller is going to be, and his team is going to be looking for e-mails. And this is one of those cases where, you know, what happened was driven by the presence of this record, this e-mail record.
SHEAR: Those are out there.
COOPER: You know, Asha, it's interesting you formerly worked as an FBI special a agent. You know the president has the said this Russian attorney did not work for the government, though Donald Trump Jr. was told this. The president's attorney has said, this person didn't work for the Russian government. Is it standard operating procedure? I mean every intelligence person I talked to works in Russia has said, it's an ammo of Russian intelligence, but many intelligence agencies including the United States, to have a cutout or Bob called it a soft approach. And whether or not this Russian-American guy is involved in that or not, is it standard operating procedure in your experience?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sure. Yes, absolutely, especially in the initial stages of something like this. So, the hallmark of any cover operation particularly one to say sway the outcome of a U.S. election is something called plausible deniability which means a government wants to eliminate any trace of their fingerprints in that operation in the event that it's discovered. And, the possibility of discovery is going to be much higher in the initial phases before they're sure that the people are on board and willing to help them. And it is useful to think of this and say the context of dating, OK.
This, you can say, was a highly suggestive and seductive first date that the Russians offer and which Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort happily accepted. And maybe they only got to first base on this first date. The real question here, as an investigator, as counterintelligence agent working this case is, did they try again and did they eventually go all the way?
And so, I don't think we can come to a lot of conclusions just based on this particular meeting. My gut would tell me that there would have been more approaches after this. And the pattern that you see after this, of things that have come to light for example, Kushner's meeting with Ambassador Kislyak which he also didn't mention on his SF86 to set up some back channels to avoid U.S. Intelligence. All these start to take on a new context. And we have to look at the big picture not just this meeting.
COOPER: It was, you know, Scott, to your earlier point about just sort of how the White House should be answering this? You know, in France, the president gave a very long answer about it going into the details of this. How much does this hurt the agenda that the White House helps to move forward? It seems like a lot of folks at Capitol Hill think it is.
JENNINGS: Sure, well, I mean this Russian issue in general not just this week, but the whole issue is threatening to engulf the presidency. And that is agenda stifling. I mean there's a way forward here for the president. I mean he could ask Congress for the Russia sanctions bill immediately which would send a strong bipartisan message. He could order all staff to fully cooperate, testify, publicly, and to bring any information to the special counsel. He could order a full separation of the White House staff from any response to this issue that isn't his response. I'm concerned about White House staff doing response work for people that don't work in the government. He could acknowledge the meddling and order the Intel agencies to the White House for a briefing. And then use that information to create a presidential task force designed to give the American people confidence that we won't have meddling in the future. That is a set of actions, bold, decisive, exactly the kind of thing he ran on as traits. That I think would give people a great amount of confidence.
[21:20:26] COOPER: Let's see if he's listening to you. Thanks everyone.
Coming up next, more on what we're learning about the Russian-American lobbyist and his -- what some are saying alleged ties to Russian intelligence which he deny.
COOPER: As we've been reporting tonight, the newest figure in the Trump Tower Russian meeting is a Russian-American lobbyist. CNN's Jim Sciutto has more on him.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, included more people beyond the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, a source familiar with the circumstances tells CNN, Russian-American lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, told several media outlets that he was also in the meeting.
Akhmetshin told reporters for "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" that he is a veteran of the Soviet army. In a March letter to the Justice Department, Senate Judiciary Chairman, Chuck Grassley, described Akhmetshin as "Someone with ties to Russian intelligence. Someone alleged to have conducted political disinformation campaigns as part of a pro-Russia lobbying effort."
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Plainly this Russian attorney, this other third party, if they were present, they were there to both deliver a message, as well to receive a message. And, plainly, Moscow understood only too well that this is conduct that the Trump campaign would really appreciate.
[21:25:06] SCIUTTO (voice-over): Akhmetshin denied any intelligence links to the "Washington Post." Saying, "At no time have I ever worked for the Russian government or any of its agencies. I was not an intelligence officer. Never."
He also told the Post, he was born in Russia and became a U.S. citizen in 2009. Akhmetshin's lobbying effort which he did on behalf of the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya was aimed at repealing the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions Russians accused of human rights abuses.
A complaint filed against him with the Department of Justice, claims that effort was on behalf of the Kremlin. He has also been accused according to court papers filed in New York in 2015, of hacking on behalf of one company, into the computer systems of a rival company to steal confidential information in a business dispute. The company, IMR, withdrew the accusation soon after without providing a reason. In an earlier related case, he denied a similar accusation saying in an affidavit, "I am not a computer specialist, and I am not capable of hacking."
COOPER: Jim, how well is this guy known in D.C. political circles?
SCIUTTO: He was well known, known to be tied to powerful people in Russia both in government and in business. And he was lobbying against a very consequential piece of U.S. law the Magnitsky Act which punishes some very powerful people in Russia, in terms of travel restrictions, but also economic sanctions. People who have been accused, by the way, of human rights abuses and that's something that he and the lawyer who was at the center of this meeting share that they were lobbying to change this U.S. policy.
And that's a consequential fact. Because it sets up -- what some lawmakers have pointed out, could have been, obviously, a lot more work needs to be done here, but could have been a quid pro quo. In other words, we give you help here. This where's we need help here.
COOPER: He also told the A.P. that he quote, never thought this would be such a big deal. Did he offer details about the meeting?
SCIUTTO: That's right. He said he didn't think it would be such a big deal. He also told the A. P. that he -- that the meeting ended up being inconsequential. That it ended quicker than he thought. That Donald Trump Jr. left early. Was eager to get out of the meeting and it's interesting on that point which could very well could be true. We don't know. We weren't in that meeting.
But on that point, on message in effect, with Trump world, Donald Trump Jr. saying many times that he was disappointed with the results of the meeting. Although, the Trump world explanation a little thinner, you might say, because they were brought in there on the temptation that they would get damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
One other point I would note, Anderson. Keep in mind, he was born in Russia, then the Soviet Union, immigrated here. He's now a U.S. citizen. As a U.S. citizen, he can be subpoenaed under law to testify before the investigating committees.
COOPER: Interesting. Jim Sciutto thanks.
Well, up next. The CNN's Special Report, "The First Son, The Life of Donald Trump Jr."