Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Washington Congressman Denny Heck; Republican Health Care Bill on Brink of Failure?; New Revelations Emerge in Trump-Russia Meeting; Ex-Trump Campaign Adviser Just Wrapped House Intel Testimony; U.S. Kills Leader of ISIS in Afghanistan. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 14, 2017 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: We are tracking the Republican opposition and the president's warnings to the party to get the bill passed.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: Breaking news tonight: new evidence that the Trump team hasn't fully come clean about a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer that has fueled more questions about possible collusion.

CNN has learned that eight possible people were inside that meeting, more than Donald Trump Jr. spoke about publicly. According to multiple reports, a Russian-American lobbyist with alleged ties to Kremlin intelligence says he was in the meeting that included the president's son, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The lobbyist reportedly says the Russian lawyer brought documents related to the Democratic National Committee. These new revelations are only adding to the suspicion surrounding the meeting in the midst of the presidential campaign. It was arranged with a promise that the Trump camp would get dirt on Hillary Clinton from Moscow, information Trump Jr. says he never got.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee calls the new details deeply disturbing. Tonight, top Trump White House aides are at risk of being dragged into the special counsel investigation for their roles in crafting the administration's incomplete and changing explanation of the meeting.

This hour, I will get reaction from a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Denny Heck. Our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First to CNN's Dianne Gallagher with more on the players in that pivotal Russia meeting.

Dianne, I spoke with a White House official who admitted earlier today it's not a good thing that the Trump world story keeps changing.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jim, another day, another version of the story.

It seems that now another player with ties to Russia is revealed who attended this meeting. While Donald Trump Jr. said he released the e- mails to the public in the name of transparency, tonight, it seems he didn't divulge everything.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): Tonight, this man, a Russian-American lobbyist who one senator has accused of being in Soviet counterintelligence, has been thrust into the center of the Russia investigation.

Rinat Akhmetshin now tells the Associated Press and other outlets he, too, was in the controversial meeting with the president's son at Trump Tower in June of 2016. Until now, Donald Trump Jr. had said the only people in the meeting were the Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, the president's son-in-law and presidential adviser Jared Kushner, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": So, as far as you know, as far as this incident is concerned, this is all of it?

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: This is everything. This is everything.

GALLAGHER: But tonight CNN has learned as many as eight people were in the room, including Akhmetshin, a translator, a representative of the Russian family that initiated the meeting and Rob Goldstone, the music publicist who set it all up.

In one of the e-mails released by Don Jr., Goldstone writes to him -- quote -- "I will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when I have them later today." No names were included in the released e-mails in which Goldstone promised -- quote -- "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."

Akhmetshin is a Russian-American registered lobbyist for his Veselnitskaya's organization focused on overturning an American law that sanctions human rights abusers in Russia, according to lobbying records.

In an April letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley described Akhmetshin as a Russian immigrant who -- quote -- "been acting as an unregistered agent for interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence."

Akhmetshin denied any of those ties to "The Washington Post," saying: "I never worked as a Russian government. I served as a soldier for two years. At no time have I ever worked for Russian government or any of its agencies. I was not an intelligence officer, never." The new disclosure represents yet another version of who was in the room and adds to a growing list of questions about why the story keeps changing. Sources close to Kushner's legal team tell CNN his lawyers and White House aides started coming up with a strategy about how to manage the disclosures of the e-mails back in late June.

Kushner amended his security clearance to include the Trump Tower meeting after his team discovered the e-mails preparing for his congressional testimony. President Trump maintains he did not know about the meeting until just before his son released the e-mails and continues to defend him.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man. I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting.

GALLAGHER: But a White House official tells CNN the top advisers know it's not good that the story keeps changing.


GALLAGHER: Now, Nancy Pelosi has joined the chorus of Democrats calling for Jared Kushner's security clearance to be revoked. Also, the scramble to respond to that slow drip of details coming out may have actually exposed some White House aides to special counsel scrutiny.

Robert Mueller's team could call them to explain what they know about the meeting -- Jim.

ACOSTA: The investigation is expanding. Dianne Gallagher, thank you very much.


Now let's take a closer look at the Russian-American lobbyist who reportedly was in that meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and others.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is digging on that.

Jim, what are we learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is the second Russian figure we have had to sort of familiarize ourselves with this week. First, it was the Russian lawyer who was the impetus really for this meeting, powerful lobbyist, et cetera.

And now you have another powerful lobbyist with questions at least about his past, including ties to the Kremlin, but also a past in the military and a question, the possibility of ties to Russian intelligence as well.


SCIUTTO (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's a veteran of the Soviet army. In a March letter to the Justice Department, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley described Akhmetshin as -- quote -- "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), CALIFORNIA: 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.

SCIUTTO: Akhmetshin denied any intelligence links to "The Washington Post," saying -- quote -- "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 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 claimed that effort was on behalf of the Kremlin.


SCIUTTO: I spoke earlier today with GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger, and he made a point to me, Jim, that many intelligence officials have made as well. When Russia is doing intelligence operations, they don't necessarily deploy people in uniforms, right, with KGB name tags, et cetera. In fact, they don't do that.

They use what are called cutouts. They use people who are tied to the Kremlin, former military officers, lobbyists, et cetera. That doesn't establish that that's exactly what this meeting was, but it fits a pattern. And that's something that both Democrats and Republicans on the investigative committees have said is important to note.

It would not have to be obvious to still fall under the category of or at least an attempt at a Russian intelligence operation. That is a key line of inquiry as they continue to look into this meeting and other meetings.

ACOSTA: It is amazing one week ago Vladimir Putin was denying to President Trump that Russia meddled in the election.

Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this with Congressman Denny Heck, Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman Heck, thanks for joining us.

You heard Jim Sciutto's reporting just a few moments ago on Rinat Akhmetshin. That's a new name that has developed and emerged in all of this. What does it tell you about this meeting that the president's son disclosed earlier this week?

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: Well, a couple of things.

First of all, I think we can turn the page on whether or not there was collusion. Prima facie, self-evidently, there was collusion.

But I will say this, Jim. Anybody who thinks that this was the last revelation in this entire sordid affair, about all I can say is they are probably still leaving the landing lights on for Amelia Earhart. We're going to get more.

ACOSTA: And when you say that this is collusion, do you believe a crime was committed? Do you believe crimes were committed?

HECK: So, that would depend whether or not there was a quid pro quo, and that is not yet readily apparent.

ACOSTA: And what do you think the Russians were hoping for out of this meeting? Clearly, if you look at the Associated Press reporting of this meeting, the Russian attorney is saying that she saw something what appeared to be documents being turned over to people with the Trump campaign during this meeting.

We don't know what happened to that folder, but it is -- that is a very interesting detail in that report on all of this.

HECK: I think the story of the last six months, Jim, is we are going to find out, because, if you look back, if you fast rewind to January and what we thought we knew, it is about on an every-week basis that some new information comes out, and it keeps moving forward and forward and forward.

And this week's revelations are yet the latest example. But, again, there will be more.

ACOSTA: And why do you suppose the story keeps changing?

HECK: On the part of the White House?

ACOSTA: Yes, why do you think that is?

HECK: So, that is a question that would better be put to them.

Obviously, they feel as though they have something to hide or they are denying reality. But I tell you, Jim, the other question I hope that you will pose to them, should you ever get another chance to do that in a White House briefing, is whether or not the president has issued a prospective blanket pardon to anyone and everyone involved in any and all activities associated with this, because, Jim, the federal law does not require that he reveal that.


That could be privately done. And he could have already done it and we wouldn't know. And I certainly hope somebody asks him at some point.

ACOSTA: Right. It is interesting that you say that, Congressman. Not only did we reach out to your Republican colleagues there in the House. We reached out to a number of administration officials today to see if they would come on, and none of those invitations were accepted.

Should Jared Kushner's security clearance be suspended, in your view? That has been something that many of your colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle have been talking about today. There have been some tweets on all of this. It's been put out on social media as well. Where are you on that?

HECK: Not only do I think his security credential should be suspended. I frankly don't think he should have ever had one.

ACOSTA: Do you think he should be serving in the White House? You're saying that -- you're saying Jared Kushner should essentially move back to New York at this point?

HECK: I think the White House might be better served by that, but I also hold out no hope whatsoever that that's what's going to happen.

ACOSTA: And you heard some of the testimony of former top Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo. He came out to the cameras within the last half-hour or so. His lawyer described it as something of a fishing expedition by the time it was all over.

What was your sense of what you heard today?

HECK: Well, I actually was in that question-and-answer period, Jim, for nearly three hours. And I will tell you that's probably the most fascinating three hours of time I have spent in my nearly five years in the United States House of Representatives.

But I'm not going to comment on the content of that exchange because the truth of the matter is that could conceivably compromise this investigation. And if there is anything I think we can conclude about this entire matter, it is that, at the end of it, the American public needs to have confidence that it was conducted with integrity. So, I'm not going to comment.

ACOSTA: And you can't say why it was so interesting? You just said it was the most interesting testimony you have ever heard. That suggests that there was much more to be heard in that meeting with Michael Caputo than he was letting on afterwards, because he was essentially saying that, listen, there were no contacts. Nothing is going on here was essentially what he said after that whole thing was over.

HECK: Well, my word was fascinating, not interesting.

ACOSTA: Fascinating, OK.

HECK: Jim, you may be inferring it, but I'm not implying it.

ACOSTA: All right.

And let me ask you this, because another thing that Michael Caputo said was, he went after your colleague Congresswoman Jackie Speier, essentially saying that she improperly went after his wife.

Did any of this come up? I guess you can't really say whether it came up in the meeting. But are you defending the actions of your colleague there, Congresswoman Speier? Was she conducting herself in a proper way when she talked about this?

HECK: I'm not going to make any comment that in any way implies directly or indirectly any of the content matter between our question- and-answer period session today.

ACOSTA: And I believe that Congresswoman Speier referred to Michael Caputo's wife as Putin's image consultant, something along those lines. Do you think that was over the line?

HECK: Again, Jim, I'm not going to make any comment that might reflect upon what it is that we actually heard Mr. Caputo say today.

Keep in mind that there are lots of these interviews lined up and we're going to learn something during each and every one. And this is the nature of a painstaking investigation. You build them brick by brick by brick and let the facts lead you wherever they will.

ACOSTA: And why was Roger Stone's testimony delayed? He's a colorful figure. I would think you would want to talk to him.

HECK: I think we should talk to Roger Stone. But then again, there are lots of people I think we should talk to and several of them are already scheduled to be spoken with.

ACOSTA: But why was it delayed? Do we know why it was delayed?


HECK: I do not know why it was delayed.

ACOSTA: And what is your sense now that the leadership there on the committee has changed? Do you feel -- there was that whole controversy with Devin Nunes earlier in the year. Do you feel like this investigation is proceeding the way you would like it to be proceeding, or are there still some hurdles and problems and partisan wrangling that is going on behind the scenes? What's your sense of that?

HECK: Well, of course there is. But I think we're largely back on track and we're making progress. And I like to keep it in context. There is our effort under way. And, again, we have issued requests

for documents. We have begun these interviews. And there are lots yet to come. The Senate has done the same thing. And, of course, former Director Mueller is over there at the FBI having staffed up with what people have described as A-grade investigators, and they're undertaking their investigation as well.

I am confident that the truth will out, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Congressman Heck, stand by.

Speaking of the truth, we are getting more information about the Russia investigation, the struggle to get answers. We will talk about that after a quick break.



ACOSTA: We are following breaking news on Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign.

Eight people may have been in that meeting, more than previously disclosed, including a Russian-American lobbyist who reportedly says he was there.

Let's bring in our analysts and specialists.

And we will go first to David Axelrod.

David, you have a lot of experience at the White House and you have seen stories snowball before. Have you ever seen a snowball this big?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, and I don't think we have seen that -- this for decades. I would not want to be there trying to plot communications strategy.

As you know, Jim, because you cover the building, there was an attempt on the White House's part for the previous weeks to have an energy week and other weeks and drive other messages. And this story is consuming them.

And now we have reached this watershed event, because, for months and months and months, we were told that there's no there there. And now there it is.


And even allies of the White House like Charles Krauthammer are out and quite critical of them for their handling of this. Each successive day, the story changes, and that's death.

The key to crisis communications is, figure out where the story is going and get there first. If there were -- all these people in the meeting disclosed that these people were in the meeting and all the facts, because they are going to come out. I mean, that, you know. So, a lot of cardinal rules have been violated here. Now they have

got a public relations disaster that is cascading and they have got a legal problem that is also cascading.

Now, Bill Clinton was the last administration where we saw something equivalent to this during the Monica Lewinsky scandal ,and they did a smart thing. They said, we're going to let -- we're going to cabin this off and let our legal group handle this. This is where all the answers are going to come from. And we're just going to talk about the problems of the country, and we're going to hold fast to that.

As you know, Sean Spicer tried that early in the administration, and it lasted for about 24 hours, because the president himself feels the need to comment.


ACOSTA: Yes, and we're seeing the Trump team having issues with its legal team, its outside counsel on multiple fronts. We just learned this afternoon that Jamie Gorelick, a well-known Washington lawyer who has been around for a long time, is now pulling herself out of handling Russia matters for Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.

John Kirby, you worked at the State Department. You are very familiar with Russian spycraft. How does the Russian government use people like this Russian-American lobbyist that we learned about today, just -- this name just came out of the woodwork today as being an additional person at this meeting.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, you heard Jim Sciutto talk about this earlier about the use of cutouts.

They are not beneath at all using people who have loose or no relationship with the government and try to co-opt them, build a relationship, try to get them to find stuff out for them, prospectively innocently, but then they get sucked into a larger vortex of potential espionage.

I don't know what the case here with this meeting, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me if they used some of this meeting and used the approach to it to feel out the Trump campaign to see how much the Trump campaign really wanted to work with them.

ACOSTA: And Jared Kushner was in this meeting. His name, we haven't really talked about Jared Kushner that much in the context of this, as much as we have talked about Donald Trump Jr.

John, just a follow-up question since you're familiar with this area. What about his security clearance? Can he credibly hang onto that security clearance at this point?

KIRBY: Well, as I understand it, Jim, he's got an interim, which is not surprising. I went through that. Everybody goes through that before they grant you their final. And he is still completing now paperwork to try to get that final. It may not be granted as a result of this. (CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: The White House does not control that, does not control that?

KIRBY: The White House has input in the process, but they don't get the final say.

And it's possible, you know, again if it turns out there's something very, very serious here, that that interim could be pulled from him and he could lose that.

ACOSTA: And how unusual is it for him to have to update it in this fashion? I mean, that's striking.

KIRBY: I have never seen one go through this many levels of updates. Usually, the SF-86 is a very complete form. And it's a pain to fill out. It will take you a week, and then you get interviews and you try to make it as complete as possible.

Is it out of the realm of possible the sometimes you have to update it? No. But I have never seen one or set of ones updated this frequently and as much.

ACOSTA: And, Abby, you cover the White House. We both cover the White House. I talked to a White House official earlier today who said, you know, it's not good that this story keeps changing. What is your sense of the mood over there? What are you hearing?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think to David's point and to your point, they don't know what they don't know here.

The core problem, it's been the problem from the very beginning, and I think that we're seeing them try to figure out a way around this. They are actually doing some variation of the Clinton model, bringing in a lawyer, Ty Cobb, to deal with some of these inquiries, to deal with some of the media, but someone who actually -- I mean, the legal experience here is really important because you can't just have a communications person.

You have to know how to not incriminate people by giving answers to questions or not giving answers to questions. So, that's one strategy. We will see how that goes. But they have had a lot of trouble dealing with the story because they don't know where it goes. They don't know if what they say today, as Sarah Sanders found out earlier this week -- she said something on Monday and on Tuesday it turns out to be completely untrue.

So, they're trying to avoid stepping into land mines, but it's become virtually impossible. This has been kind of a Pandora's box for them. And I think they're just trying to cope at this point. I think that's what we're seeing here.

ACOSTA: And, Rebecca, it seems to the outside observer that you have got a massive case of political malpractice over at the White House, in that have had opportunity after opportunity to get everything out on the table, even in the context of the Don Jr. story. [18:25:02]

They have gone through five -- four or five different stories on this. Nobody in this town would advise them to carry this out in this fashion.


And maybe part of the problem, Jim, is that we know -- if we know anything about this White House, it is that this president and his top advisers don't necessarily listen to advice, especially when it's coming from their communications shop.

They don't have the communications shop that is running the show here. The president, Jared Kushner, Don Jr., those are the people running the show and they're the ones making these decisions about what is revealed when.

We saw with the first "New York Times" story, Don Jr. gave that very misleading statement about what happened, who was at this meeting, what the meeting was about, and then there were subsequent statements that changed the story entirely, and now even today we are still learning more about this meeting.

If he would have had a communications professional running this show, I bet it would have been a different outcome.

PHILLIP: Jim, just one quick note on this. The other factor, is that there are actually a lot of different communications shops within the White House.

And they represent different people. Jared Kushner has his own little world. And we're going to get to a point very soon where everybody is going to be trying to protect themselves. They are not going to be driving toward the same message, and that is going to create even more chaos.

ACOSTA: And, David Axelrod, as a former White House insider, when you hear stories like the one we have at CNN, that because of these multiple statements and multiple explanations that the White House has put out, that they have now potentially exposed White House aides in this process when it comes to the special counsel investigation, what does that do to people on the inside of a White House, the morale of the staff, the people that go in day in and day out, work those long days trying to get things done for the president?

AXELROD: Terribly, terribly demoralizing.

Look, anybody who speaks for this president is going to emerge from that White House at a minimum about three feet shorter because their legs keep getting cut out from under them by the president and by others.

And that is very, very demoralizing. And, you know, we didn't have that to deal with. I never contended with a cloud of special counsel or an investigation hanging over our shoulders. But when you're trying to deal with the really complex challenges

facing the country, and then you have this every minute of every day in your face, it is very, very debilitating. And that's one of the reasons why you have a White House now that seems a little bit frozen in its tracks.

ACOSTA: And, Abby, Senator Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has said that he wants to hear testimony from Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, as early as next week. He's writing a letter to Donald Trump Jr. asking him to testify.

I mean, this is setting the stage for some fireworks next week.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, we have a lot of people who are becoming very central to this whole story, going into a situation where they have to give public answers.

But I will say we shouldn't keep our -- you know, have our expectations be too high. Many of these people are going to decide not to answer many of these questions, maybe pleading the Fifth in order to not further incriminate themselves. There is a special counsel investigation going on.

I think they would be wise to be very careful about what is said in a public setting, especially in a congressional hearing, where a lot of the questions are going to be driven by Democrats really trying to get at something that is replayable, that is usable against this White House.

ACOSTA: I can see us prepping the countdown clock as we speak.

Rebecca, how important politically will these next few weeks be for the White House?

BERG: Potentially huge, Jim. I mean, it depends on where this story goes. It depends on whether we see some of this testimony from people like Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr.

And, of course, let's not forget there is a major piece of legislation pending in the Senate right now. Republicans are trying to cobble together the votes for health care legislation.


ACOSTA: Oh, that's right, health care.

BERG: There is actually still Congress. And we will know over the next few weeks, before really August, whether that is going to happen or not.

And, so, this is a huge moment for this administration. Are they going to veer off the path, the point to no return essentially, or are they going to get back on track?

ACOSTA: All right, just ahead, President Trump spent part of his trip home from France on the phone trying to persuade reluctant Republicans to support what Rebecca was just talking about, the latest rewrite of the health care bill. Will he get any changes of minds there inside the Senate?

And a former Trump campaign adviser tells us what he told the House Intelligence Committee about the Trump team's contacts with Russia. It's a CNN exclusive coming up.


ACOSTA: Tonight there's an uphill battle to keep one of President Trump's biggest campaign promises. Republican leaders are trying to sell skeptical members of their own party on the latest version of the Senate bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. They're just one "no" vote away from failure.

[18:34:32] Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill. Ryan, what's the latest on this push to get the bill passed? Can they do it?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, right now Senate leadership and the White House are engaged in a high-stakes campaign, rallying to get the 50 votes they need to get this bill passed.


NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, the White House and Senate leaders are making an aggressive push to convince Republican members to vote "yes" on their latest version of health care reform.

TRUMP SR.: We are very, very close to ending this health care nightmare. We are so close.

NOBLES: Fifty-two Republican senators have now had more than 24 hours to digest the bill and, as it stands right now, two members -- Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky -- remain opposed to the plan.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It does not make sense to do a major rewrite of a vital entitlement program without having any hearings or consideration of the implications.

NOBLES: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot lose any more votes if he hopes to get the bill through. The president, who has let McConnell take the lead in the day-to-day negotiations, is stepping up his public push to get the bill passed. He tweeted four times about health care Friday morning, writing, quote, "Republican senators are working hard to get their failed Obamacare replacement approved. I will be at my desk, pen in hand."

Vice-president Mike Pence made a similar pitch in a speech to the nation's governors this afternoon.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Donald Trump is going to lead this Congress to rescue the American people from the collapsing policies of Obamacare. NOBLES: Trump is also working behind the scenes, spending part of his

time in Paris making phone calls to GOP senators, including Senator Rand Paul, whose position has not changed.

Many rank-and-file who remain undecided are waiting to hear from stakeholders back home before making up their minds.

SEN. THOM TILLIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I hope that they wait and speak with their state leaders as I will over the weekend. I hope that they wait until they see the CBO score, which doesn't come out until next week.

NOBLES: Republicans from states with governors who expanded Medicaid are under a special kind of pressure, because this bill rolls back federal funding for the expansion. Rob Portman of Ohio and Dean Heller of Nevada are both dealing with GOP governors unhappy with the plan. Nevada's Brian Sandoval met one-on-one with Pence today but still has concerns.


NOBLES: And, Jim, it's important to point out that, when you talk to individual senators, even though most remain undecided, they still seem generally optimistic that some sort of deal could be hatched. Of course, that could all change on Monday when the score from the Congressional Budget Office comes out. And if the number of people that could lose coverage under this plan go up dramatically, it will be very difficult to get this bill pushed through -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.

And, Rebecca, you know, Ryan was talking about optimism to get this passed. Maybe it's pressure, too. They don't want to go back for the August recess without this done, because they're going to have hell to pay with a lot of these constituents.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And if they don't have it done before August recess, Jim, I don't know when they're going to get it done. Republicans need to reach an agreement now, which is why they extended the August recess, or extended their period working here in Washington, delayed the recess. They know that this is their best chance to pass any sort of health care reform legislation.

But as we've seen, easier said than done. Very difficult, and so now you have, essentially, two competing plans in the Senate. Who knows where those are going to go? But they're having trouble getting the votes to even get to a vote on the Senate plan, this latest Senate plan.

ACOSTA: And Abby, the president was on Air Force One calling these nervous Republican senators and so forth. Can the White House get this done, do you think? They did it in the House.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, I mean, look, this week I've been reporting on some complaints from people on the Hill that the president isn't doing enough, that the president had promised to go out and sell this bill. He has approval rating in the mid- to high 30s. The bill's approval rating is probably in the low double digits, maybe 12 percent.

Even if Trump brings over some of his supporters -- 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 percent of his own supporters -- that would help them a lot.

But I think members on the Hill feel like the phone calls, the glad- handling in the Oval Office is not enough. The president hasn't rallied public support. So when people go back home. they're getting so much blowback, they have no one backstopping them in their -- in their states and in their districts.

ACOSTA: It's going to take--

PHILLIP: So, it may be a little bit too late for that.

ACOSTA: It's going to take some hand holding. And speaking of hand holding, I want to shift gears to a lighter moment that we saw earlier today. President Trump and French President Emanuel Macron, John Kirby, shaking hands for approximately 30 seconds. My goodness, talk about a power handshake. I think it evolved into several different things here. Let's take a look here. They're still holding hands there.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Even when he's embracing her, he's not letting go of him.

ACOSTA: Not letting go, yes. It's amazing that he made it on the plane.

KIRBY: He just really didn't want to leave Paris, I think.

ACOSTA: I guess he didn't want to leave Paris. What's your sense of the body language here? I mean--

KIRBY: I think, look, this is a guy who prides himself on relationships and leading through relationships and sort of remanding the presidency through that. And I think this is a way to demonstrably show. "I've got a relationship with Macron. We're going to move forward."

And I think there's also a little bit of masculinity there, a little bit of trying to, you know, be the alpha male.

ACOSTA: I think so.

KIRBY: No doubt.

[18:40:04] ACOSTA: All right. And, David Axelrod, I want to switch gears a bit. You sat down with Congressman John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement. He had some pretty sharp criticism for President Trump, particularly on this voter fraud commission.

Let's play a clip from your interview, which is going to air tonight on "THE AXE FILES." Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: In terms of where we are today, you've -- you've been pretty harsh in your criticism of the president of the United States. You at times compared him to George Wallace, who was the governor who presided over those state troopers who attacked you on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That's pretty tough criticism.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: Well, you know, I think the person we have in Washington today is uncaring, knows very, very little about the struggle and the history of the civil rights movement, that black and white people died. They gave their lives. I think about Andy Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney. I think about Viola Liuzzo, this white housewife who came from Detroit who was shot, murdered on a highway between Selma and Montgomery by the Klan. And countless individuals just gave everything they had.

AXELROD: But George Wallace, I mean, that's -- what about the president and his actions suggests to you that he is in that tradition, the tradition of a famed notorious segregationist?

LEWIS: Well, I think this president right now is asking for the records, the voter registration records of people all over America. That is a form of intimidation. That's a form of harassment.

AXELROD: This is his Voter Integrity Commission the vice-president is leading.

LEWIS: And some of the people that make up this commission, they have a history, a long history of making it harder and difficult for people to participate in the democratic process. We've come too far. This president should be leading us into the future, not taking us backward.


ACOSTA: Those are some very harsh words, David Axelrod. Tell us more about this conversation.

AXELROD: Well, they were, Jim. But if you put it in context, and he told the story in the show of a guy who'd been arrested 45 times as a young man, walking into the fires, putting his life at risk again and again to integrate lunch counters, public transportation, and yes, for the right to vote.

So, all of this is very personal to John Lewis, because he lived the history that he was speaking about. It's a great conversation. I hope folks tune in tonight at 10.

ACOSTA: Fascinating conversation. David Axelrod, thank you. Be sure to watch David Axelrod and the show "THE AXE FILES." It's a great program tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

Just ahead, a few -- a new interview, I should say, with former Trump campaign advisor Michael Caputo. What did he tell House investigators about any Russian connections?


[18:47:56] ACOSTA: Tonight, a former Trump campaign advisor is speaking out about allegations of collusion with Russia. There you see him right there.

Michael Caputo just finished testifying before house investigators behind closed doors. He also spoke with CNN before his testimony.

Let's bring in CNN's senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin.

What did Caputo tell you, Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, he says he's been unfairly dragged into this, almost in tears after his testimony today. And he says it's just because of his former work in Russia, nothing else, because he says while he worked at the Trump camp, campaign, excuse me, he didn't hear any discussions about Russia.


MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: Sandy beach and company, Michael Caputo in for Sandy who was off on a well- deserved vacation. It's --

GRIFFIN (voice-over): His testimony happened behind closed doors, but Michael Caputo, now a fill-in radio talk show host in Buffalo, New York --

CAPUTO: News Radio 930, WBEN.

GRIFFIN: -- wanted it live, broadcast and in full view.

So, instead, he said he's telling CNN exactly what he planned to tell the committee about Russia and the Trump campaign he was involved with. There is just nothing to the allegations of collusion.

(on camera): Let me ask you some questions you'll probably get in Congress. Before, during or after your involvement in the Trump campaign, did you bring any Russians to that campaign? Did you talk about Russia or the possible help the Russian government could give the campaign?

CAPUTO: Never once. Never once.

GRIFFIN: Did you overhear anybody talk about collusion, getting help from the Russians either through information, through fake news spreading, through tweets?

CAPUTO: No. I heard nothing of the kind. In fact, we were so busy just trying to keep up with the sun rising and setting on that campaign that I can't imagine anybody had the time nor the wherewithal to go out there and even do anything like this. Anybody who covered the Trump effort knew this was a pell-mell operation from the moment he woke up in the morning until the moment he went to bed.

The idea that somebody at that campaign would have had the forethought and the treachery or the resources to go out and do this is laughable.

GRIFFIN: I've heard it described as a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) show.

[18:50:02] Too harsh?

CAPUTO: Too harsh for a family television, yes.

GRIFFIN: This is cable.


CAPUTO: Yes, I think -- I think the Trump campaign was in many ways a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) show, there's no question about it. But that was always to be expected. He's not a politician.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): There is a reason Michael Caputo is seen as a possible link to Russia. He was brought in by his old friend, Paul Manafort. His job: to improve communications, especially with the press.

But long before he was part of Trump's campaign, he had a career in Moscow. His PR company worked for Russian-owned businesses, oligarchs. He was a protege of Roger Stone, worked with and for Paul Manafort, took contracts in Ukraine and even his first wife was a Russian woman. He was about as much of a Russian insider as an American could be.

CAPUTO: I was working on Russian elections paid by the United States government. I stayed an additional five and a half, six years, running my own company. And ever since then, I've been involved in the former Soviet Union, and I'm not going to stop now.

GRIFFIN: Among his former clients, Gazprom Media, a subsidiary of Russian state-owned energy company that took over one of the last independent TV stations in Russia in 2001. Caputo was hired by Gazprom to improve the media company's image. It is that history that got the attention of Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier who brought up Caputo's name in a congressional hearing.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Let's move on to someone else in that web. His name is Michael Caputo. What possible reason is there for the Trump campaign to hire Putin's image consultant? Any thoughts on that, Director Comey?


GRIFFIN (on camera): You worked to improved Putin's image?

CAPUTO: No, that's absolutely false. That's Jackie Speier relying upon her interns for too much information. I worked for Gazprom Media, which was a subsidiary of Gazprom, which was allied with Putin.

I didn't work on Putin's image. I was trying to help Gazprom explained why they took over the NTV, a television network. If that somehow down the line helped the Kremlin, that wasn't what I was hired for.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Caputo says he has known Donald Trump since 1988, and never thought he could be elected president. But in November of 2015 was asked to become part of the Trump campaign by his old friend Manafort. And even though he supports the Trump presidency, personally he says working on the campaign was one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

CAPUTO: This was the hardest campaign to work on in my entire career. There is nothing even close.

GRIFFIN: He was hired to help with communications, but says he was never paid. Fought with the Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski almost daily and when Lewandowski was fired, Caputo sent out this celebratory tweet, ding dong, the witch is dead. Caputo was fired almost immediately.

(on camera): But you still love and support Donald Trump?

CAPUTO: Absolutely. I supported Donald Trump before he ran for president, I support Donald Trump now. I think he's delivering on what he promised me and my family. The problem we have is that he's got a huge impediment in front of him with the Russian collusion delusion.


GRIFFIN: Jim, as for the news of this week, Michael Caputo was on the Trump campaign when this meeting took place between Donald Trump's inner circle and this Russian attorney. He admits it looks bad but says he never heard one word about that meeting at the time or after and says that supports his belief that no matter what meeting took place, he believes Russia had no involvement with the Trump campaign, certainly not while he was on it.

ACOSTA: Great piece. Drew Griffin, thank you.

More breaking news on the Russia investigation ahead and the U.S. strike a new blow to ISIS in a major figure within that terror group.

Stay with us.


[18:58:15] ACOSTA: Tonight, a new blow to ISIS and one of the terror group's dangerous affiliates.

Let's go to CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne.

Ryan, what are you learning?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Jim, we're learning that the leader of ISIS's affiliate in Afghanistan, ISIS Khorasan or ISIS-K as it's called, was killed in a drone strike earlier this month by U.S. forces. Now, this is the third ISIS leader in Afghanistan to be killed within a year, demonstrating the U.S. has kind of a renewed push, along with its Afghan allies to eliminate ISIS's leadership in Afghanistan is yielding some success or results.

Secretary Jim Mattis told us earlier today that this was an obvious victory for the United States as they kind of push, take an aggressive push against this affiliate of ISIS. U.S. military commanders say they have eliminated over half of the local fighters for this group, as well as reducing it to about two-thirds of its territory, restricting it to this isolated remote part of Afghanistan in Kunar, and Nangarhar province right there on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

So, again, as the U.S. is mulling options for Afghanistan, moving ahead, the Trump administration weighing whether or not to send more troops, looking at potentially a new strategy, this is a victory for the United States and Afghanistan in this moment -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Ryan Browne, thank you.

Finally tonight on behalf of Wolf and THE SITUATION ROOM team, we want to say good-bye and thank you to a long-time producer on this show, Chris Dos Santos. He's staying with CNN but heading back to work in Atlanta.

Chris, we wish you and your family all the best.

I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks for watching us tonight.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now. Have a great weekend, everybody.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: "OUTFRONT" next, breaking news, CNN has now learned at least eight people attended Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer, the latest in the ever changing story about this meeting. What else don't we know?