Return to Transcripts main page
Kushner Speaks Out; Back to Work. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired July 24, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: That's it for us. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts right now.
DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Did Jared Kushner throw his brother-in-law under the bus?
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
The president's son-in-law says he did not collude with Russia, and he doesn't know if anyone else on the campaign who did. But he also says Donald Jr. set up that infamous Trump Tower meeting without ever telling him they'd be sitting down with a Russian lawyer. Does that pass the smell test?
Plus, it's never a good sign when you hear that you and your boss need to talk about your future. Well, that just happened to Jeff Sessions. Now the president is reportedly discussing replacing his attorney general. That's according to the Washington Post.
That sound you hear just might be the clock ticking for Jeff Sessions.
Let's get right to CNN's senior political analyst Mark Preston. Chief national security correspondent, and national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, and legal analyst Laura Coates.
Good evening to all of you. A lots to get to next couple of hours here on CNN. Jeff, to you first. The Washington Post reporting tonight that President Trump and his advisers are discussing the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That does match much of what CNN has also been reporting and follows President Trump's swipe earlier where he tweeted this.
"So why aren't the committees and investigators and, of course, our beleaguered A.G., looking into crooked Hillary's crimes and Russia relations?" What are you learning tonight from the White House, Jeff?
JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Don, when you call your attorney general someone who was once a loyal supporter and indeed, a trusted ally and friend, when you call him beleaguered, you know, it stands to reason that, yes, they're looking at contingency plans.
I am told that these talks and discussions are in the very early stages in terms of who might potentially replace the attorney general. If he should happen to resign or if the president should fire him. But I'm also told that this is a contingency plan. This is nothing that is immediately in the works.
In fact, the president, if he would have wanted to fire him, I'm told by one adviser he would have, in fact, fired him. Instead, it seems like he's trying to publicly either humiliate or punish him, but, you know, it definitely stands to reason there would be these conversations.
But, Don, so interesting, today the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was in the West Wing of the White House. He was here, he was having routine meetings with the White House counsel's office. President Trump was in the building at the same time. They did not speak. They did not meet. That wouldn't necessarily be unusual, you know, they have a busy schedule, but the fact of the matter is President Trump has been talking about his attorney general. He hasn't been talking to him.
We learned earlier today that the two have not spoken since well before that New York Times article last week when the president expressed his displeasure and threw him under the bus I guess the first time, if you will. So they've not spoken.
Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director, he told our Sara Murray this afternoon, that, look, they need to have a face-to-face conversation, they need to essentially work this out and have a discussion going forward, but the president would, of course, have to call that meeting and he's not yet done so, Don.
LEMON: Laura, I want to read a bit more from the Post reporting, saying "Replacing Sessions is seen by some Trump associates as potentially being part of strategy to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and end his investigation into what the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin influence of the 2016 election, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly."
So, Laura, replacing Sessions is a strategy to fire special counsel Mueller, could that be -- could it be seen as obstruction of justice and is that why President Trump would rather have Sessions quit?
LAURA COATES, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Absolutely. First of all, remember, the only reason that you have Rod Rosenstein overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller is because that duty is normally reserved for the attorney general because the current A.G., Sessions, has recused himself, that's why Rod Rosenstein is the one to oversee it.
If Jeff Sessions is no longer the A.G. and has no now basis for recusal, he would usurp the rule of Rod Rosenstein who is ultimately the person who can fire special counsels not the president. So the reason the President of the United States, in my opinion, is trying to bully him from the pulpit that he has right now as opposed to outright firing somebody who is an appointee in his administration is because he knows Jeff Sessions has leverage over him because the obstruction of justice cloud would look very large over his head. Remember, he fired James Comey and there was a nebulous reason for why
he did so. Was it because of his usurpation of Loretta Lynch's role last July when he gave a press conference about Hillary Clinton? or whether because he was not abandoning the Russian probe?
Well, now you got the president with a New York Times article who was very, very clear about why he was dismayed, to say the least, with Jeff Sessions and all about the Russian investigation.
[22:04:59] So, he knows Jeff Sessions, if he fires him, that obstruction of justice charge looks a whole lot more relevant now than it would even before.
LEMON: Yes. So, Jim, listen, sort of piggyback off of what Laura just said and Jeff, a contingency plan for what? What is the -- why would he need a contingency plan?
JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, listen, Don, it's difficult to figure out where to begin here, right? I mean, there are so many layers to this. What's common throughout is an investigation into ties between Trump campaign associates, et cetera, and Russia. One of them is Jeff Sessions.
I mean, he's a central character in this. He had to recuse himself because he didn't disclose conversations with the Russian ambassador. And in fact, since then, we've discovered through reports of the Washington Post but also CNN that there was yet another meeting with Russians that he didn't disclose after his first failure to disclose. That's just Sessions' involvement in this.
Beyond Flynn, Donald Trump, Jr., the revelation, it seems like 100 years ago, just last week of an e-mail that he accepted a meeting with a Russian lawyer on the expectation that he was going to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
I mean, there are so many levels to this but the common theme is Russia and an investigation that the president is very unhappy with.
He is saying now that it was the recusal that Jeff Sessions took upon himself in March because of his involvement in the Russia investigation that has upset him, but let's be frank, that's more than five -- that's nearly five months ago. What seems to be the pressure here, or the driving force, rather, is the president's discomfort with an investigation he doesn't like and he's looking for ways, perhaps, to end or curtail that investigation and it seems testing the limits to see how far he can go with presidential power and how much opposition there is to it.
The fact is, he fired his FBI director, he later admitted, despite the manufactured reasons for it early on that that it was because of the Russia investigation. And that sort of faded into the rearview mirror at this point. So, maybe he will take the step of firing Mueller or others or his A.G. or his deputy A.G. We don't know. But the common theme is Russia and the investigation the president doesn't like.
LEMON: hey, Mark, I want to ask you this. When a, this is what the president said about Sessions today. Here's how it went down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should Jeff Sessions resign?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What do you make of that moment, Mark?
MARK PRESTON, POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR, CNN: Well, a couple things. Let's talk about the practicality of politics right now. The difference between firing the FBI director and firing his national security adviser is that those two gentlemen were never member of the United States Senate.
If you look on Capitol Hill, not everybody likes Jeff Sessions. We know only one democrat voted for him. But he has a lot of friends who are republicans on Capitol Hill and if he were to be fired by Donald Trump, for any of these reasons that are not necessarily legitimate reasons, say, there was another connection with Russia that was discovered and Donald Trump said it was for the good of the country for him to then fire the attorney general, then Donald Trump is going to lose an incredible amount of political leverage on Capitol Hill, a.
And b, not only on the Senate side but also the House side as well, then it goes to the next step of who would be his next attorney general? You know, some people have floated Rudy Giuliani's name out there as a possibility. But who's to say that Rudy Giuliani or anybody Donald Trump sends to Capitol Hill to be confirmed by the United States Senate would be confirmed by the United States Senate? Because now Donald Trump has made so many enemies.
So he's got to be very careful and what he did with that eye roll right there really should be viewed in two ways. One, as immature because he's talking about his attorney general. And two, he might have come to a realization, however, that he should have never done it, but I think I'm going to go with the latter, or rather the former rather than the latter and he was just being immature, Don.
LEMON: Yes. He was speaking to a group of boy scouts there, by the way, just to mention that. Interns, I should say, interns.
Jim, let's talk about Jared Kushner now. Jared Kushner denying any collusion with Russia and maintains he did nothing improper. Here -- this is him earlier today after his closed-door meeting with the Senate intelligence committee. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED KUSHNER, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON-IN-LAW: Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. And I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.
Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign and that is why he won. Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:10:01] LEMON: Jim, it's really the second time we've heard Jared Kushner speak publicly and this time it's about Russia. What do you think about what he said there?
SCIUTTO: Listen, I think what you heard him there do is articulate what is the Trump world view, not only of the election, but of the Russia investigation. Those two things in Trump's mind, it appears, but in his closest advisers, are entwined that the Russia investigation, they see, it seems, as really an excuse by democrats, deep state, whoever they want to blame, disloyal republicans, for an election win by Trump that no one expected. They can't seem to separate those two things.
So, it's something you've heard before. A different way of expressing that the point -- the same point that the president often makes in speeches and tweets, et cetera.
One thing I would note there is keep in mind that Jared Kushner's statement there is different from what he and others in the Trump campaign had been saying for months was that there were no Russia contacts. Right? When, in fact, many Russia contacts between Kushner, himself, and others had been revealed through the months. Sometimes with consequences including, for instance, the recusal of the attorney general. Including the firing of the first national security adviser Michael Flynn.
So, keep in mind, his statement there while a defense already includes a change from what had been the Trump world position consistently for months was that there were no contacts. In fact, there were contacts and they've had to admit that as they've been revealed by others including by members of the media.
LEMON: Thank you, panel, I appreciate it. Our time is short. I have to get to some breaking news now. This is about Senator John McCain. He announced just last week he'd been diagnosed with brain cancer, making a dramatic return to the Senate tomorrow to cast a crucial vote on healthcare.
Now most members of his own party expected him to return much later than tomorrow, but with the GOP scrambling for every last vote, the senator's return could make the difference in all of this. Senator McCain tweeting this. "I look forward to returning to Senate tomorrow to continue work on healthcare reform, defense bill and Russia sanctions."
We'll keep you updated on that.
When we come back, much more on Jared Kushner's statement about his contacts with Russians. What is he and isn't he saying about those meetings?
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: Jared Kushner declaring today that he did not collude with Russia but confirming that he met with Russians four times during the campaign and transition and saying that all of his actions were proper.
Let's discuss now, Robert Ray is here, he's a former Whitewater independent counsel and special prosecutor. John Dean, the former White House counsel for President Nixon, and the author of "Conservatives Without Conscience," and Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Justice Department.
It's so good to have all of you on. So, Robert, let's go through what Jared Kushner did today. He released an 11-page statement, detailing his four contacts with Russians during the campaign and transition and denying he read the e-mail chain from Donald Trump, Jr. leading up to that meeting with the Russian lawyer, denying any collusion with the Russians and denying he relied on Russians to finance his businesses.
Do you think that statement detailed everything or is Jared Kushner leaving out some relative information?
ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL & SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it's never going to be everything, right? I mean, ultimately I think the first that happened today was behind closed doors Session with Senate -- you know, the committee member -- the staff. And then you're going to see the same thing in the House tomorrow and then ultimately the lawyers and the committee are going to work out when he will appear in public.
The statement lays down a marker. It's not an insignificant thing because it's submitted to the Congress under penalty of prosecution for false statements. So it's not to be, you know, considered lightly, but obviously it's not a comprehensive record and I think the testimony ultimately will be that record when it happens.
LEMON: Michael, do you think that the administration can learn something? Because, you know, he didn't -- he didn't testify publicly, but he did come out afterwards and he spoke and do you think that the administration can learn from maybe the way Jared -- whether you believe what he said is true or not or if he, you know, gave all the right information or correct or correct information. But the way he handled it, he just came out, he gave a statement, very matter of fact, didn't call anybody names, he didn't say it was fake news and he just kept pushing. What do you think?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, I thought this was the most coherent presentation of the facts by a witness, if you will, in the Trump Russia investigation since the outset. It had a beginning. The 11-page document had a beginning, a middle and an end. It followed a logical timeline. Then Jared Kushner came out and gave the highlights of that and went back to work.
ZELDIN: And I think that if the administration would follow that advice, if the communications operation, the White House, would follow that advice, I think they'd be in a much better position than they are right now because they have all undermined their credibility with all the various tweets and other misstatements.
Whereas, Kushner has kept quiet, kept his head down, came forward with a well-prepared document, testified presumably, you know, consistent with that document and we'll see whether the supporting documentation supports that and then he went back to his job and that's the way it should be. And there is a tremendous lesson to be learned there.
LEMON: Yes. John, do you think there's more that's not being said here by Jared Kushner?
JOHN DEAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Well, I think that will get tested. I agree with Michael, he did handle himself very nicely. He was under a lot of pressure. It's not a familiar world for him, Capitol Hill or doing these kinds of press briefings. So, he didn't get questioned by the press but, so they didn't get to probe it but I'm sure that happened behind closed doors and will happen even greater tomorrow before the House.
But what else is left? You know, it's hard to say. I think he was probably careful in his qualifications of things he didn't remember. He probably went over it with his attorneys pretty closely before he did it. So I don't think there are any huge gaps like the missing material in his FS-86 which he had a pretty good explanation for.
[22:19:58] LEMON: Yes. Here's what Jared Kushner wrote about the e- mail that Donald Trump, Jr. sent him -- setting up the meeting to a Russian lawyer. He said, "I quickly reviewed on my iPhone the relevant messages that the meeting would occur at 4 p.m. at his office. Documents confirm my memory that this was calendared as meeting Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner. No one else was mentioned. I did not read or recall this e-mail exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers and reviewing documents for submission to the committees. No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign. There was no follow-up to the meeting that I am aware of."
So, we're supposed to believe that Kushner did not read the e-mail subject line which read Russia/Clinton, private and confidential and didn't ask Don Jr. what the meeting was about? Does this add up to you?
RAY: Well, it could be. I mean, but the point was that what unfolded during the meeting seems to be cross-corroborated with what Donald Jr.'s recollection was which is that they thought the meeting was one thing, it turned out be something else once they figured out it was a waste of their time, that was the end of it.
You know, again, let's go back to the fact, you know, this didn't roll out in an expert way previously. What Jared Kushner did today reflects good preparation by lawyers in terms of how to stage manage this, put together a good first statement in writing with 11 pages with detail. You know, that's how professionals handle this.
The investigation, though, ultimately is going to get to the question about whether or not there's evidence of collusion. Again, collusion can only really be in two areas. One of which relates to whether there was active management with Russians about trying to, you know, benefit the Trump campaign and so far there's been no evidence of that.
The second is whether or not any promises were extended either then or into the transition about what Trump administration policy would be. And if there's no evidence of that, there's no collusion. This is not rocket science.
LEMON: Yes. But he did say, when I was at the meeting. There was -- there was a caveat there. That no part, you know, was there any talk about the campaign when I was at the meeting.
RAY: And that's what -- and that's what careful lawyers do when you draft statements.
LEMON: Are these Clinton lawyers, some of these lawyers are saying lawyers that the Clintons had?
RAY: Well, I think he was advised by Jamie Gorelick at some point.
RAY: I don't know actually now who's been serving as his counsel with regard to this.
RAY: But yes, people with experience.
LEMON: Go ahead, John. Go ahead, John, is that you?
ZELDIN: No, it's me, Michael.
LEMON: Go ahead, Michael.
ZELDIN: Jamie Gorelick was the deputy attorney general under Janet Reno in the Clinton Department of Justice and Abbe Lowell was counsel to the House of Representatives democratic side during the impeachment proceedings. So they've got two very experienced lawyers and the statement, oral and written, reflect their wise counsel.
ZELDIN: The problem, though, I think, Don, is still this June 9th meeting. It's not clear to me that it has been put to bed by Kushner's statement. It may well be that he didn't read the line, though that's a little bit problematic for me to believe, but it may be so. And it may be so that he only stuck around for a few minutes of the meeting and then asked for an excuse to leave.
But it doesn't mean that the meeting wasn't substantive, that the plastic Manila folder that was supposedly delivered wasn't delivered. That they didn't talk about sanctions and they didn't talk about opposition research that they may have. So he didn't put to bed the problems that that meeting creates. What
he did potentially do was put his brother-in-law in a sticky position because he said I have nothing to do with this, myself, I'm out of here. If you got a problem with this meeting, if anything went wrong with that meeting legally, go talk to Don Jr.'s lawyer. And so there is a conflict that's been set up by Kushner's testimony that will have to be resolved.
LEMON: Hey, John, he did say, I got my assistant to call my phone so I can, you know, get out of the meeting. He came up with a ruse or with an escape plan. But do you believe, John that he didn't read the subject line of that? And is he hanging his brother-in-law out to dry?
DEAN: Well, it is difficult to have escaped that subject line. It's not impossible, but it's certainly difficult. And I think, I'm sure he was warned that he's in jeopardy if he gives false statements even though he's not sworn before that committee. So I suspect he was very careful.
And we don't know how long he was in and out. We'll have to hear from the other witnesses as to duration of his stay or as to whether he saw any of the documents that were delivered at that meeting.
You know, it's a meeting that is going to be probed deeply before it's finished. Grand juries are going to look at that meeting. He seemed to recall enough of it to escape really serious knowledge of it. But whether that plays out or not, time will tell.
LEMON: Stay with me, everyone. The president publicly attacking his own attorney general. Will Jeff Sessions soon be out of a job?
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, word that President Trump may be preparing to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Washington Post reporting that the president and his top aides are discussing names of people who could take his place should he resign or be fired.
Back with me now, Robert Ray, John Dean, and Michael Zeldin. John, this morning, the president tweeted another harsh message for his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. "So, why aren't the committees and the investigators, and, of course, out beleaguered A.G. looking into crooked Hillary's crimes and Russia relations?"
And then there was this moment at a photo op at the White House with interns today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should Jeff Sessions resign?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Do you think the president is trying to get Sessions to resign? DEAN: I think, I certainly trying to get his attention and trying to
nudge him as best as he can. Obviously the staff is saying, they're reporting and talking to reporters and saying the president is surprised he's there that long, he hasn't already left from really right after his New York Times interview.
[22:30:00] So, the morale in the Department of Justice has to be pretty tough right now. He is busy, the attorney general is busy implementing a lot of new policies that are pretty radical in this area of civil rights, criminal justice, forfeitures for a new policy on forfeitures. It's really a shaken department right now. I have some friends who work there and I'm sure it's not very pleasant.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Robert, the Washington Post, as we have been reporting here tonight, is saying the president and his top advisers are privately discussing the possibility of replacing Sessions. Do you think this is about ending the Russia investigation?
ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL & SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I think there's a component to it where the president is considering what his options are. I think he strongly believes that if this investigation, the special counsel's investigation, drifts from its mandate and starts to get into, for example, an investigation of Trump real estate companies and so forth, and a money laundering investigation or whatever else may be out there, I think he's justifiably and understandably concerned about the scope of the special counsel's mandate.
If we're talking about an investigation limited to whether or not there was collusion with Russians, you know, that's one thing. If it drifts beyond that, I think he'll have something to say about that and I think he's concerned about it and he's particularly concerned given that in the political dynamic that we're in, he's dealing with a beleaguered or conflicted attorney general. One thing led to another.
The fact that Jeff Sessions recused himself ultimately led to a number of other things happening. The appointment of the special counsel, you know, the firing of the FBI director. There are a lot of consequences to this.
LEMON: Let me just push back here and say there are many people I'm sure who are watching now, and people in Washington who will say this is just the way things go when there's a special counsel because look where the special counsel during the Clinton years started and ended up starting with Whitewater.
LEMON: It ended up with Monica Lewinsky.
RAY: Well, it's different though. Remember, the independent counsel statute has lapsed. That was a fair assertion of congressional power to, you know, isolate and insulate an independent counsel from the political process which didn't prove to be particularly effective.
Remember, this is an appointment within the Justice Department of a special counsel that is a person who is answerable to the deputy attorney general under these circumstances.
So the president's view of this may well be, listen, you know, the special counsel was appointed because my attorney general acted precipitously in recusing himself. If I have an attorney general who doesn't have a conflict and, therefore, doesn't have to recuse, then what do we need a special counsel investigation for, anyway?
LEMON: Yes. Michael, I mean, is that likely to happen because we're well down the road with a special counsel already?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: So, I take a different point of view than Robert on these things. First is, with respect to scope, Mueller's mandate is pretty clear. It's laid out in paper that he's to investigate collusion. He's investigating anything that arises out of collusion. And the money laundering component of this is relevant to that investigation.
Second, with respect to the refusal -- the recusal of the attorney general, the attorney general had no choice but to recuse himself. The code of federal regulation that governs his behavior in this case required him to recuse himself because he was a member of the campaign.
And anyone who has a personal or political relationship with a target of an investigation must recuse themselves under the code of federal regulations that governed it. So if he were to appoint, say, a Giuliani or a Christie or anybody else that had anything to do with his campaign, they, too, by regulation, would have to recuse themselves.
And third, with respect to Mueller, the code of federal regulations that govern his behavior require that he could be fired only if there is cause. And there is no cause that's been demonstrated in the public domain yet. And so, the president's desire to have there be a basis to fire Mueller is just not sustainable at this point.
So I think that the investigation goes on. I think the mandate is clear and Mueller is following that mandate that a new attorney general can't come in who's a friend of the president or political campaign person and then take over this investigation.
And I think finally, if I were Christopher Wray, the FBI nominee, and Robert Mueller were to be fired, I'd withdraw my name from consideration to be director of the FBI because it would portend a situation where if you're not loyal, you face removal and I don't think that's a tenable position for an incoming FBI director and that in and of itself I think would create a firestorm on the Hill politically.
LEMON: John, on the pardon part of this, can President Trump pardon himself?
DEAN: Well, there's a split school on that. It's never been tested in a court. There is a theoretical argument you can make that a president can. There's a theoretical argument you u can make that he can't.
[22:35:03] How's it going to be resolved? Only if it's ever tested and we might have a president who tests it. I don't know.
LEMON: I think most people are saying we don't want it to come to that. Thank you, gentlemen, I appreciate it.
Still to come here, Congress striking a deal on new sanctions against Russia but will the president sign the bill? Fareed Zakaria is here to discuss.
LEMON: White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn't confirm today whether President Trump will sign the sanctions bill in Congress.
Here to discuss, Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS. Hello, sir, good to have you on. The House and the Senate have a deal on their Russia sanctions bill. The White House released a statement tonight, here's what the statement says. It says, "The president has been very vocal about his support for continuing sanctions on those three countries. He has not -- he has no intention of getting rid of them but wants to make sure we get the best deal for the American people possible. Congress does not have the best record on that."
So if the president does sign this bill, does that go far enough you think in rebuking the meddling in the 2016 election?
[22:40:02] FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN: No. It's a very small step. It's a step that's designed really by Congress to ensure that the president doesn't weaken any of the sanctions really against Russia. Iran and North Korea have just been thrown in as a cover and this was done by republicans so as not to kind of publicly embarrass the president.
But look, I was just in Europe and this is a very serious matter for the Europeans. They regard how the United States and how Donald Trump deals with Russia as at this point the kind of key test of American foreign policy and whether or not it has the capacity to be the kind of leader of the western world because they're facing ongoing Russian aggression in various senses, whether it's the cyber-attacks on the French election, the ongoing cyber war that is taking place against Germany, the Russian actions in Ukraine that continue to this day despite all the assurances made.
So they're looking at all that and saying, you know, one of them was former senior official said to me, you know, all the tweets and Spicer resigning, this was all fun and games for you, but we're dealing with an actual circumstance right now where we have to figure out what to do about the Russians and the fact that the United States is distracted is one thing.
The fact that the president doesn't seem particularly engaged, you have the new White House communications director even now saying the president isn't sure the Russians did the hacking. All this, you know, is contributing to a really, I think, a very, very troubling situation for American leadership. We had Jonathan Freeland on my show on Sunday. Great British
journalist, who said don't make no mistake, every day American soft power is declining in the world. Every day people are looking at this and viewing the United States as a case of political paralysis, dysfunction and bankruptcy.
LEMON: And Europe is ready -- is not relying on the U.S. for anything.
ZAKARIA: What's really extraordinary is what's happened is in Europe, the Europeans have taken charge in a much more substantial way than you could have imagined. You've got the French president standing up to Putin in a way that Donald Trump has so far never done.
You have the German chancellor articulating kind of what defense of western values in a way that the American president hasn't done. So you are seeing them recognize that, you know what, there's nobody else going to lead the west, so we're going to -- we're going to have to try to do our best.
LEMON: Yes. I'm sure folks are saying, well, it's about time America first, but that is a myopic way of looking at it. People who believe that I think don't understand the world politics and our place in the world.
LEMON: Well, they don't understand the history. They don't understand how, you know, European countries have relied on the United States. Partly because they didn't want to have to pick and choose which European country would then step out ahead.
But the most important thing to remember from an America-first perspective is, it sounds really good, let these guys take the lead, then when it comes time to write up the new trade deals and see whose interests are protected, whose industries get first dibs, you know, whose concerns and issues are paramount on the agenda? It's not going to be Americans if we're not leading.
I mean, one of the things we've been able to do -- the United States has been able to write a framework of rules and laws in a way that really takes care of American interests. It's also been beneficial to the world, but it has been America first. You talk to anybody else, they'll say all these rules reflect American power.
ZAKARIA: Well, if you're not at the table, if you're not leading, if you're sitting worrying about, you know, whether to fire your attorney general, you're not --you're not writing the new, you know, the new rules.
LEMON: Do you think this sanctions bill is -- this Russia sanctions bill is exactly what President Trump and Vladimir Putin didn't want to happen but it did happen? Because the president didn't act -- people see it as not acting strongly enough against an attack on our election process. Which is an attack against America. ZAKARIA: Yes, there's no question that the Russian are disappointed.
I think they thought that Trump would be much more -- would both be much more cooperative with the Russians but also have the flexibility to. Because of, frankly, all can describe this at this point is a kind of botched situation in Russia where whatever the president wanted to do, he is now totally boxed in.
He cannot have a more conciliatory policy toward Russia because it will raise all kinds of questions so he's boxed into a kind of business as usual, pretty much following the Obama policy which I'm sure he doesn't like, Putin doesn't like. But you know, frankly, he only has himself to blame. He has never found a way to get past the Russia story. And it's either because of political incompetence or there's something broader there.
LEMON: You mentioned the communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. I want you to watch this exchange, interesting exchange with him and Jake Tapper this weekend.
[22:45:00] ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There's a lot of disinformation out there, you know, somebody said to me yesterday, I won't tell you who, that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those e-mails, you would have never seen it, would have never had any evidence of them, meaning that they're super confident in their deception skills and hacking.
My point is, all of the information isn't on the table yet, but here's what I know about the president.
JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN: Wait, wait, wait. Anthony...
SCARAMUCCI: Let me finish. Let me finish. All right, go ahead.
TAPPER: You're making a lot of assertions here. I don't know who this anonymous person is who said if the Russians had actually done it, we wouldn't have been able to detect it. But it is the...
SCARAMUCCI: How about the -- how about it was the president, Jake?
TAPPER: OK. It's the president.
SCARAMUCCI: I talked to him yesterday. He called me -- he called me from Air Force One.
SCARAMUCCI: And he basically said to me, hey, you know, this is -- maybe they did it, maybe they didn't do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: That information it turns out actually came from Vladimir Putin at the g20 according to reports at the time. What do you make of that?
ZAKARIA: Well, I think it's factually not true that the Russians -- that it would be impossible to tell because the Russians are not, you know, supermen, they're not, they don't have magical powers. The American intelligence agencies have ways of attributing and they have ways of figuring out where these things come from.
There are certain patterns you look at. You know, this is something that private Intel -- security firms, cyber security firms also looked at and also concluded that it was probably the Russians.
And finally, it's very important to point out, the Russians do not do it in a way in which there was no way to tell they did it because they actually want you to know they did it. They've done the same thing in Ukraine. They've done the same thing in Europe. And Putin actually follows a very familiar pattern here where initially there's total denial and this happened in Ukraine and this even happened with the U.S.
And then a few months later, he let slip that it might have been some private Russians not acting in the official capacity of the state, of course. That's what he said in Ukraine is, yes, may have been Russian soldiers but they were on vacation, using their private holiday time to go invade Ukraine.
Similarly, he said something very similar about the cyber-attacks. After initially denying it completely, he said, well, I mean, there may have been patriotic Russians who saw it as a national duty to try to help the person who was going to be more pro-Russian and help Trump.
So, in a sense, he wants it both ways. He wants to not it attributed directly to him but he wants you to know, don't mess with me because I can do things.
So this is a very familiar pattern. I also think, you know, the pattern of senior White House spokesmen including the president constantly saying in public, in situations where they're disseminating information, somebody told me and I'm not going to tell you who, you know, this is -- we're not in fourth grade. These guys have to -- that's not how you disseminate information when you're speaking for the government of the United States.
LEMON: Fareed Zakaria, thank you, sir. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Breaking news tonight. Senator John McCain who announced just last week he had been diagnosed with brain cancer making a dramatic return to the Senate tomorrow to cast a crucial vote on healthcare.
Joining me now, CNN senior political commentator, Jennifer Granholm, the former Governor of Michigan, and CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
So good to have you both on. Scott, I'm going to start with you. What do you make of President Trump, his sort of, I guess not sort of, his bully tactic, bully pulpit tactic on republicans tonight? Because many people say his involvement is too little too late at this point.
SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, his involvement matters to some senators who I think live in states where he's very popular. Number one among them is Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Some Gallup polling came out today and showed West Virginia is Donald Trump's best state. He has over a 60 percent approval rating.
So what Donald Trump is doing tonight is more micro than macro in my opinion. He's telling people in states where he's very popular, look, you need to vote yes on the motion to proceed because this is a high priority for me and I'm popular in your home state.
LEMON: So, but his strategy on healthcare has changed several times, Scott. It went from repeal and replace to, let Obamacare fail to an amendment free-for-all on the Senate floor. I mean, the republicans really, do they even know what bill they're voting for?
JENNINGS: Well, what they're going to do tomorrow, is number one, they have to get over this procedural hurdle. The Senate is supposed to be the most important deliberative body in the world. But they can't actually deliberate and get to this voter rama on the healthcare bill until they get over the motion to proceed. And so, that's number one.
And then number two, if they get over that procedural hurdle, I think they'll be voting on everything. They'll be voting on a clean repeal, they'll be voting on the BICRA, they'll be voting on anybody else who has an idea. That's the thing. It's unlimited amendments and unlimited debate. So they can go down to the floor. And if you've got an idea, you can put it forward.
So I think in some ways it's going to be an amazing thing to watch this democracy in action. They're going to be putting together this healthcare ideas and debating them right there on television for everyone to see.
LEMON: It's -- I mean, it doesn't it sound like throwing a bunch of things against the wall and seeing what sticks? And how can you vote on something when you don't know, you know, what's going to happen -- how can you vote on something legislation that you don't know what's in the legislation? That's for governor.
JENNINGS: Well, it's a good -- sorry, go ahead.
JENNIFER GRANHOLM, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes, first of all, the senators who vote on this motion to proceed are going to be tarred with this vote whatever it is. They are going to be viewed as people who are voting to take away healthcare from either 22 or 32 million people, depending on whether they have a replacement teed up or not. There are 22 republican senators whose margin of victory is was
greater than -- was less than the number of people who would lose their health insurance if they in fact vote to do this without a replacement.
This is a dangerous vote for the GOP, and it's why at least I mean, I am hoping that the women who are practical, I hope, stick together and say, this is not going to be good for the people in our states.
LEMON: Scott, you want to respond to that?
[22:55:00] JENNINGS: Yes, look, I've been hearing this fairy tale from democrats for years. I'm sitting here in Louisville, Kentucky...
GRANHOLM: What fairy tale? It's the CBO. This is not a fairy tale.
JENNINGS: In 2014, Mitch -- listen. Your electoral projections are a fairy tale. I sat here in the Senate race in 2014 and listened to everybody say Mitch McConnell's position on Obamacare was going to elect...
GRANHOLM: I'm not talking about projections.
JENNINGS: In 2015, n 2015, we had a governor's race. And everybody said Kentucky is the model state for implementing Obamacare. To run against its crazy. Matt Bevin got elected governor. Trump and Rand Paul won in 2016 both running on repealing Obamacare.
I think these projections of electoral calamity saying they're going to be tarred with a vote and it's going to cost them their seats, this is what democrats want republicans to believe. But there's not a shred of evidence that following through on a campaign promise that led to republican majorities in Congress is going to cost anybody a seat next year.
LEMON: Let her respond.
GRANHOLM: Seventeen percent of Americans like the versions of the republican plan, the Affordable Care Act has a majority approval rating now. Campaigning and voting on something that has 17 percent approval rating and even if you look purely at Trump voters only, it's 25 percent approval rating.
It is at astronomically, if you can, I'm mixing the metaphor, low, abysmally low numbers. It is not a good strategy. It is not a good thing to ask them to walk the plank on. And I mean, you know, maybe the rules of politics don't apply anymore. I agree with you on that, given this president.
But I think that when you're talking about real people and not just political projections, when you are talking about potentially 32 million people losing their healthcare, that is not just a guess. That is real for them.
LEMON: You talked about the polling on Obamacare versus the republicans' bill. Let's listen to this because the president talks about Obamacare. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the past 17 years, Obamacare has wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent hard working Americans. Behind me today, we have real American families, great families. Just spent a lot of time with them who are suffering because seven years ago, a small group of politicians and special interests in Washington engineered a government takeover of health care.
Every pledge that Washington democrats made to pass that is bill turned out to be a lie. It was a big, fat, ugly lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: By the way, it's been seven years, not 17. What's your reaction to him calling it a big, fat, ugly lie?
GRANHOLM: The big, fat, ugly lie is that President Trump said he would not take people's healthcare away, that he would lower their premiums and both of those are going to be false, a big, fat, lie if in fact this goes through in the Senate.
LEMON: Scott, I have 10 seconds.
JENNINGS: Yes, I'm not willing to take the CBO's projections as the gospel. Obamacare was sold on lies. The republicans need to move forward tomorrow and fulfill this promise.
LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate it. When we come back, President Trump tells a cheering crowd of boy scouts he doesn't want to talk about politics then proceeds to talk about politics and tells the scouts we could use more loyalty.
LEMON: President Trump says this to a cheering crowd of boy scouts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[22:59:58] TRUMP: Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the boy scouts, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.