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CNN Exclusive: Mueller Asks White House To Preserve Don Jr. Documents; Reports: Trump White House Trying To Discredit Mueller; WAPO: Trump Concerned Mueller May Get His Tax Returns; Kushner's White House Connections Still Used To Lure Investors; CIA Chief: Need To "Separate" Kim Jong-Un From Nukes. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired July 21, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.
We begin with breaking news on the Russian investigation. CNN has just learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is asking the White House now to preserve all documents relating to the now infamous Trump Tower meeting at the height of the election where the president's son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman were promised dirt on Hillary Clinton provided by the Russian government, all in an effort, according to the e-mails that were released, to help the Trump campaign.
CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash has these exclusive details. So, Dana, what is Mueller asking here?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, CNN has learned that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, sent a letter to the White House Council this week asking White House staff to save all documents relating to the June, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer.
Now according to a source, I spoke with, who has seen the letter and read it to me, the request pertains to any subjects discussed in the course of the meeting and also any decisions made regarding recent disclosures about the June 2016 meeting.
Now Mueller's letter clearly connects this is request to the larger Russia investigation. This is what it says, "As you are aware the Special Counsel's office is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any links and coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump.
Information concerning the June 2016 meeting between Donald J. Trump Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya is relevant to the investigation." Now, this preservation request includes, Kate, text messages, e-mails, notes, voice mails, other communications and documentations related to the June 2016 meeting as well as communications since then. Now I should note that requests like this are not uncommon and are often sent in early stages of the investigation to ensure that documents that could be relevant to the investigation and possibly requested in the future aren't destroyed.
Now this is also significant because it is one of the first clear actions that we know about from the special counsel on this investigation, particularly as it relates to the White House.
I should also tell you, Kate, that a White House spokeswoman told me that they don't comment on internal communications and the special counsel's office declined to comment.
BOLDUAN: And Dana, of course, CNN reported quite a bit on the White House kind of scramble and their work to respond to revelations about that June 2016 meeting. Does this request impact those communications?
BASH: It certainly sounds that way, Kate. This preservation request would apply to all communications between White House aides about the response to that meeting. You may remember, there were a series of stumbles in response to the revelations about the Don, Jr. meeting.
Our colleagues, Evan Perez and Sarah Murray, reported last week that Kushner's legal team, White House aides, and also other members of the legal teams around these key players tried to manage the disclosure of the newly discovered e-mails and any involvement in crafting a response that may have opened up these White House aides that we are talking about to special counsel scrutiny.
But you know, the response to media inquiries about the Trump Jr. meeting and how this worked out was, again, kind of bumbled. That is significant because usually a legal matter like this would have been handled by attorneys and not necessarily by aides who work in the White House. That's another reason why those people could, could be in legal jeopardy and more importantly be of interest to the special council.
BOLDUAN: At the very least, may have opened many more people within the White House up to some amount of scrutiny at the very least. Great to see you, Dana. Thank you so much.
We are going to analyze this news with our panel in just one second. But first, we also have this news in the Russian investigation. "The Washington Post" and "New York Times," they are reporting that President Trump and his legal team are taking steps right now to try and undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and his team of investigators.
I want to bring in one of the reporters behind this story. Carol Leonnig is a national reporter for "The Washington Post." Carol, it's great to see you. Thank you for coming in.
Your reporting that the Trump team is actively compiling a list of possible conflicts of interest on Mueller and his team, how deep are they going to look for conflict of interest? CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": So I think they are looking as deeply as you can imagine in any kind of medical exam. I mean, they are looking at campaign contributions, personal relationships, things that they believe would be disqualifying for some of these prosecutors and investigators and for Mueller, himself.
[11:05:06] This includes the close relationship and working relationship between Comey and Mueller. You may remember that Comey worked for Mueller for a period of time in the Bush administration.
There's also going to be a look at every single investigators donations to Hillary Clinton whether it was a $20 check or a $200 check. We are also told by a source, last night, I was told, that the president himself is interested in and slightly ticked a bit.
If you use that phraseology about what he considers an important conflict, which that Mueller resigned from a Trump golf course in 2011 and that, as described or as alleged, Mueller had some sort of dispute over back fees that he was owed.
Mueller's spokesperson last night told our reporters that there was no dispute, he resigned. It was interesting that the president apparently thinks this is something that conflicts Mueller.
I think as just as interesting is the president's own, you know, sort of public, now public of our story questioning of his legal authority and can he pardon himself, pardon his family, pardon his aides and asking his lawyers sort of when can I do that and what are the extent of my authority.
BOLDUAN: And Carol, how serious are those talks about his pardoning power?
LEONNIG: Well, you know, we have had lots of different varying accounts, depending on who you ask. But his current legal advisers said to us that it is a natural curiosity of his.
He sees things on the news, reads stories or watches it on television and has questions when he sees this question of pardons and wants to know, what's my power. Some view it with some suspicion, this account, and think the president is looking at the long game.
Because, let's be honest, as one of my sources told me last night, this is Ken Star times a thousand. This could be an investigation that goes very far from Russian communications with the Trump campaign and ends up looking at this as transactions in Manhattan and the president and how connected he may be to some of the player who wanted or were interested in impacting our election.
BOLDUAN: It seems to be a lot of interest at all of those angles at this moment. Great to see you, Carol. Great reporting. Thank you for so much for coming in. I appreciate it.
LEONNIG: Of course.
BOLDUAN: Joining me now, former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore, and CNN legal analyst, Richard, he was one of the lead Watergate prosecutors and also a counsel for the Senate White Water Committee, and a member of the 9/11 Commission.
Gentlemen, it's great to see you. We have a lot to get to now on this Friday. Michael, what do you think of this effort, as Carol was laying out, laid out in the "Washington Post" and "The New York Times" to basically investigate the investigators and look for these areas of conflict of interest?
MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: You know, I don't think that it's that unusual. He did that throughout the campaign. We saw that every time the pressure got on. I think you've seen in prior investigations where people can go after the prosecutor.
I think the fallacy of his move, though, is sort of like chumming the water for sharks and it's liable to just embolden the people who are looking at him. I'm guessing, too, there are dozens of people, should he get any of them disqualified, I don't think he would.
But should he get any of them disqualified, there are probably a dozen people back there waiting to take that job. They see almost it as a patriotic duty to make sure that the communists aren't having their hands in the administration.
So I just think it's probably likely to backfire. I can tell you this, we talk about the dog barking, Bob Mueller and his team are not going to be persuaded or have their attention drawn off by some yelps from Pennsylvania Avenue. I just don't believe that.
BOLDUAN: Richard, what's your take on this? I mean, the Clinton White House, of course, tried something similar the same thing with Ken Star, discrediting Ken Star. The president never went to the step of firing him, though, or trying to go about firing him.
Let me ask you, though, what Carol was reporting about the areas they are looking into, the political donations, the relationship between Mueller and James Comey, and this reporting about him giving back his membership to a Trump golf course. Do those sound like legitimate areas of conflicts of interest that could be a problem for Bob Mueller?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. Certainly not. I mean, this is stretching beyond belief that a prosecutor would be recused or disqualified because he's -- he has left a golf course membership or had made a contribution to a political party.
[11:10:02] These are not bubble children who live in an environment that is outside the normal discourse and intercourse in political life. These are all people who have been picked because of their expertise as prosecutors.
Most all of them have been taken from the Justice Department itself and Mueller, who has received bipartisan praise as the right person to lead this investigation is the last person in the country, quite frankly, who would be guilty of a conflict of interest. So, this, to me, simply demonstrates more smoke in mirrors an attempt to distract from the underlying investigation and it makes people properly ask the question, what has Trump got to hide that he's going through all of these convoluted measures to try to discredit the investigation.
BOLDUAN: Gentlemen, let me to CNN's breaking news as Dana Bash was reporting that Robert Mueller is asking the White House and White House personnel to preserve all documents, text messages, e-mails, notes, relating to that now infamous 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and others and the Russian attorney with the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
Michael, is this request from Mueller, is it pro forma or does it indicate something more to you?
MOORE: I think it probably is a pushback. He's heard and he is not immune from the news or anything else. He's heard the Trump would like to limit the investigation. He's basically saying that, you know, I'm going to dig a little bit and do what any good prosecutor would do.
He knows what any good prosecutor knows that you follow the money and so this is a way to get to that. So, while the request itself is sort of pro forma, that is the meeting is out there, I think the extension and the expansion he did on the explanation of what he was looking for might be in response to some of the pushback about whether or not he is properly expanding.
And I think he's got the authority to do that. He can look at whatever he wants to look at. That's what's interesting here. The conflict of interest, part of what you look at is a prosecutor is do you have a financial interest in the case you are prosecuting.
I have done that. Everybody in the Department of Justice had to do that. It is interesting here that Trump has held on to these tax records and business records and basically, we don't know what their conflicts are.
I think Mueller is going in the right direction in his explanation probably confirms he knows he needs to follow the money trail.
BOLDUAN: Of this news on the 2016 meeting, Richard, that the White House staff is being asked to preserve all documents, what does it mean for the White House and the White House staff?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, it means that they have explicit requests not to destroy documents, presumably the White House Council, long ago, would have issued the same order. This is ordinary in any kind of investigation that council for organization will send around a preservation letter.
This is a belt and suspenders unless anybody have any question about it, there should be no destruction of documents. Quite clearly, this is a -- an amazing lead for the prosecution. They are going to follow up on it. No matter how much Trump thunders about conflicts. He's a master of projection, I have to say. All the conflicts of the president have and he has the audacity to claim Mueller has a conflict of interest in investigating.
I heard that he thought it was a problem that Mueller was interviewed for the FBI position just before he was appointed special counsel. Well, that's -- that's just one more indication of how highly Mueller is regarded, that he would be considered for that position and then the next thing, Rod Rosenstein appoints him as special counsel.
Look, Mueller has been seething ever since his attorney general recused himself and he finds himself in the position of having an independent council, special counsel appointed rather than dealing with his own appointment of Sessions as attorney general. But, all the people who have been appointed have been appointed by either Trump or people appointed by Trump.
BOLDUAN: Or one of Trump's own appointees. Let's see where this news takes us today as we get more drip, drip, drip. Michael Moore, Richard Ben-Veniste, thank you both so much. I appreciate it.
BEN-VENISTE: Good to be with you, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Thank you.
CNN exclusive coming up for us, calling him Mr. Perfect. Jared Kushner's family business still using his name to lure investors. See what we found.
Plus, frustrations boil over, Republican senators call the president's public criticism of Jeff Sessions, his attorney genal, pretty disturbing. Why his explosive interviews may be scaring off future hires?
And new light being shed right now on the death of a bride-to-be in Minneapolis. The surprising admission from the police chief there about why the shooting never should have happened. That's ahead.
BOLDUAN: Now to a CNN exclusive investigation, White House senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is no longer involved in his family's real estate operation, of course, but you will also recall a few months ago that company was caught still using his name and White House connections to try and lure foreign investors in. They quickly apologized as if they were going to stop doing it.
[11:20:04]But as CNN has found, Kushner's name has still been used even after that. CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin is here. He's the one who found all this out. Drew, where did you find it? What did you find?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: We found them on two sites of companies that basically partner with the Kushner companies trying to lure in Chinese investors. The promotions or the alluding to Kushner it's all in Chinese, but it's pretty much blatant.
It's talking about Jared Kushner, this Mr. Perfect, reminding would-be investors that this is the same Kushner's companies that Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law used to run.
And even one of the sites, Kate, referenced the "Forbes" magazine, which is the cover magazine that shows Jared Kushner, this guy, that got Trump elected. These have been up and running, as far as we can tell, ever since the Kushner companies told us this wouldn't happen again.
We did get a statement from Kushner companies saying they were not aware of these sites, have nothing to do with them. The company also said they will be sending a cease and desist letter regarding the references to Jared Kushner.
Kate, that apparently is not going to be necessary. One of the companies we contacted removed this content almost immediately and then last night, after our story initially ran, the second company, (inaudible), a company in China has now scrubbed all references to Jared Kushner.
But clearly, they have been using Jared Kushner's position to lure in these Chinese investors.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. I think one could -- would be fair to guess that if you would not have contacted them, this connection and inappropriately using those connections would still be up -- Drew.
GRIFFIN: I mean, you just have to assume that is the case because they certainly didn't co-incidentally take things down after we contacted them.
GRIFFIN: The ethics dilemma here is, you know, Jared Kushner is not involved in this company anymore, as you said, Kate. But certainly, the use of Jared Kushner's image and name is very valuable to Chinese investors looking for a safe investment that is connected, we should remind everybody, to an investment that can lead to a U.S. government immigration visa.
So, there's a cross pollination between rich Chinese investors, federal government giving these U.S. immigration visas, and the Kushner company's development in Jersey City, New Jersey.
So, that is where the dilemma comes in for Kushner, Jared Kushner. trying to separate himself from this and the Kushner companies trying to make it not look like they are profiting off the brother in the White House.
BOLDUAN: It seem that work continues to make it look like that. Great to see you, Drew. Thank you so much.
GRIFFIN: Thanks. BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Vladimir Putin, friend or foe? It seems at times, it's tough to get a straight answer out of the president on that one. So, does President Trump's CIA director feel the same way? His interesting take, ahead.
Plus, more on our breaking news, Bob Mueller asking White House staff to preserve all documents relating to the infamous Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian attorney. What are they looking for? We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: Russia, an adversary, the country of course accused of hacking the U.S. election, yet a new tone on Moscow from this White House. The president wants to work with Vladimir Putin. Does the president's CIA chief feel the very same way? Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Russia an enemy, adversary, frenemy, or what of the United States?
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: It's complicated. It is so fun to sit on the stage and make easy answers, but in fact it's more complicated than that. We live in a world where Russians have massive nuclear stockpile and have firmly entrenched in Syria.
They have retaken Ukraine. Excuse me, they have retaken Crimea. They have a foothold in South East Ukraine. Those are facts on the ground. America has an obligation to push back against that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: With me right now, CNN national security analyst and correspondent for "The New York Times," Matthew Rosenberg. Great to see you, Matthew.
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Great to see you too.
BOLDUAN: So on this, you have been in the room to hear Pompeo speak in Aspen. Where does the CIA chief line up with the president on Russia? What is your take? Is what Pompeo is laying out, does that unlock steps from what we have heard from the president or is he signaling a distance here?
ROSENBERG: You know, he's said a lot of things during that talk. He did spell out areas where we are maybe not a conflict or where there is challenges and relationship with Russia.
He talked about cooperating, about the fact on counterterrorism, especially on counterterrorism where the U.S. and Russia should be cooperating, which I think is very in line with the Trump administration's view. And even in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere where he spelled out differences, they weren't that far afield from a lot of what you have heard from the White House.
BOLDUAN: Interesting. There is a lot that Pompeo talked about. We learned the U.S. government now is taking steps to ban American citizens from traveling to North Korea and the CIA chief talked about North Korea as well. Here is a bit of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POMPEO: It would be a great thing to denuclearize the peninsula and to get those weapons off of that, but the thing that is most dangerous about is the character who holds the control over them today.
So, from the administration's perspective, the most important thing we can do is separate those two, right?