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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With New York Congressman Peter King; Attorney General Firestorm; GOP Senators May Agree to Pass Health Care Bill Hoping It Won't Become Law; Scaramucci Calls Priebus a "F-g Paranoid Schizophrenic"; Explosive Testimony on Putin's Corruption & Meddling. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 27, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Some top GOP senators are warning that the so-called skinny Obamacare repeal legislation would be a disaster if it were to become law. We are following the tense lead-up to pivotal health care vote tonight, amid fears among some top Republicans that they may by hoodwinked.
Kind of hurtful. Attorney General Jeff Sessions breaks his silence, admitting his feelings about being repeatedly bashed by the president. Is Sessions thinking of calling it quits?
Lack of faith? New questions about the president's confidence in his White House chief of staff after a stunning take down of Reince Priebus by Mr. Trump's new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, in an open power struggle that played out live right here on CNN apparently with the blessing of his boss.
And blindsided -- new evidence that top Pentagon officials were left out of the loop about the president's ban on transgender troops, despite the administration's claim that it was strictly a military decision.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: This is CNN breaking news.
Breaking news this hour: Three top GOP senators now threatening to vote against the party's best hope of getting some health care legislation through the Senate, potentially dooming what is called the skinny Obamacare repeal legislation.
As the Senate heads into marathon night of voting, John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Ron Johnson, they're demanding assurances that the bill is only a vehicle to move into further negotiations and that the House won't pass the bill as is.
Also breaking, Attorney General Jeff Sessions now speaking out for the first time about the president's relentless criticism of him, calling it kind of hurtful in a new TV interview. Sessions also talking to the Associated Press, saying he will stay in his job as long as the president wants him to.
Also this hour, as the White House is refusing to say whether the president has confidence in his chief of staff, Reince Priebus now under fire by the new White House communications director. In a stunning CNN interview, Anthony Scaramucci clearly implies that Priebus leaked information and he effectively accuses the president's gatekeeper of trying to undermine Mr. Trump.
We are also getting new information about the president's national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, and the frustrations he is now facing. Multiple officials now telling CNN that General McMaster is increasingly isolated, that he is in conflict with other senior White House officials, including the president.
This hour, I will talk about all those stories, much more with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Republican Congressman Peter King. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to Capitol Hill and CNN senior Washington correspondent Brianna Keilar with more on the Republicans' desperate bid right now to try to ram through some sort of health care legislation through the Senate in some way, shape or form.
Brianna, update our viewers on the latest.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are in for a long night, a vote-a-rama, vote after vote on amendments on this issue of overhauling Obamacare.
We expect that it is going to culminate in the vote on what you talked about, the skinny repeal, which does tackle some parts of Obamacare, like getting rid of the individual mandate and the employer mandate. It defunds Planned Parenthood for one year and then would push some money to community health centers to provide care to women who would normally get it at Planned Parenthood.
Republicans are feeling confident that they may be there, that they may have the 50 votes that they need. But they are also in a very weird place. They are in the unusual situation of voting on, we expect, on this bill that they don't actually want to be law.
So because of that, they want to guarantee from the House that they are not going to take it and pass it as is. Why? Here is Lindsey Graham explaining it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The skinny bill as policy is a disaster. The skinny bill as a replacement for Obamacare is a fraud. Not only do we not replace Obamacare. We politically own the collapse of health care.
I would rather get out of the way and let it collapse than have a half-assed approach where it is now our problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: What Senate Republicans see this as isn't really -- it's sort of a means to an end, as a vehicle that would get them to a place where they are hashing out an agreement with House Republicans.
The House Republican plan, as you know, Wolf, included a major repeal of almost all parts of the Obamacare, including that Medicaid expansion, which was something that a lot of moderate Republicans in the Senate couldn't stomach. That is part of the reason why they are dealing with a skinny repeal, instead of a broader bill.
But at this point, the House has not yet guaranteed that they are going to not pass this as is. Certainly they could do that, Wolf. We are standing by to see if that happens.
BLITZER: All right, Brianna, we will get back to you, Brianna Keilar up on Capitol Hill.
Now to the escalating infighting within the Trump administration, pitting the new communications director against the president's White House chief of staff.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray. She's got the very latest.
Sara, we are not hearing a vote of confidence in Reince Priebus from the Trump team tonight.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That is absolutely right, Wolf.
And certainly this is a White House that is no stranger to back- fighting. But it was a pretty stunning moment and a telling moment to see Sarah Huckabee Sanders standing at that podium today asked repeatedly whether the president has confidence in his chief of staff, and, frankly, she dodged the question.
MURRAY (voice-over): Even for a White House known for dysfunction, the latest feud is taking a stunningly public turn.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: You want to talk about the chief of staff, we have had odds, we have had differences. When I said we were brothers from the podium, that's because we're rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along.
I don't know if this is reparable or not. That will be up to the president, but he's the chief of staff.
MURRAY: Newly minted Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci calling into question Reince Priebus' standing in the White House, and suggesting the chief of staff prove for himself that he's not a leaker. SCARAMUCCI: When I put out a tweet, and I put Reince's name in the
tweet, they're all making the assumption that it's him, because journalists know who the leakers are. So, if Reince wants to explain that he's not a leaker, let him do that.
MURRAY: Priebus didn't comment on the matter Thursday. But allies outside the White House came to his defense.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Reince is a very close friend of mine. Reince is doing a fantastic job at the White House, and I believe he has the president's confidence.
MURRAY: All as White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was left to play referee.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president hires the very best people. They're not always going to agree. There are going to be a lot of different ideas.
Unlike previous administrations, this isn't groupthink. We all come and have a chance to voice those ideas, voice those perspectives, and have a lot of healthy competition, and, with that competition, you usually get the best results.
MURRAY: Scaramucci's broadsides come on the heels of a report on his personal financial disclosure, which Scaramucci appeared to take as a sign someone in the West Wing is already out to get him, tweeting: "In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info, which is a felony, I will be contacting the FBI and the Justice Department."
He tagged Priebus in the tweet, which he later deleted.
While the document in question is publicly available upon request, a Justice Department spokeswoman weighed in on the leaking issue more broadly, saying, "We agree with Anthony that these staggering number of leaks are undermining the ability of our government to function and to protect this country," and vowing to pursue leak cases wherever they lead.
The backup from the Justice Department coming as Trump doesn't appear to have his attorney general's back.
Today, Jeff Sessions vowed to stay on the job, even as he admitted the criticism stings.
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it's kind of hurtful, but the president of the United States is a strong leader. He is determined to move this country in the direction he believes it needs to go to make us great again, and he has had a lot of criticisms, and he's steadfastly determined to get his job done.
And he wants all of us to do our jobs. And that's what I intend to do.
MURRAY: And as the president's anger at Jeff Sessions continues to simmer, Republicans are issuing a stern warning: Back off. GRAHAM: There will be no confirmation hearing for a new attorney
general in 2017. If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.
MURRAY: Now, Sessions told the Associated Press in an interview that he will stay in his job for as long as the president wants him there. So far, the president hasn't exactly offered a vote of confidence for Jeff Sessions, but he hasn't fired him either. So, I guess that's the barometer at this point in the White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER:Dramatic developments, indeed, Sara Murray reporting for us from the White House.
Also breaking right now, a newly published bombshell conversation in which the White House communications director launches a profane attack against the White House chief of staff. This is a remarkable development.
I want to bring in Ryan Lizza of "The New Yorker" magazine, one of our CNN contributors.
He had this remarkable conversation with Anthony Scaramucci last night. And Ryan has just published the piece. He's breaking all of this right now here on CNN.
This is an astonishing on-the-record attack.
Ryan, walk us through this amazing conversation you had with Anthony Scaramucci last night and the fallout, the bitter attack he leveled against Reince Priebus.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
So, look, it's no secret that Anthony Scaramucci has been on a campaign against people leaking at the White House. And so last night, I reported in frankly a tweet -- I didn't even think it was that important to write an article about this -- that the president was having dinner with Sean Hannity and Scaramucci and some other folks.
Scaramucci came out of the dinner, saw that report, and called me, because he wanted to know who told me about the dinner. And he was really upset that the dinner and participants in the dinner leaked.
And we started -- we had about a 8.5-minute, nine-minute conversation where he went through a lot of problems he believes he is facing in the White House, problems he believes with Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, with people leaking, and the conversation started with him really semi-aggressively trying to get me to tell him who my sources were. This is obviously extremely important that people in the White House
don't leak. And so that's what this -- that is how this interview started.
BLITZER: Let's go, because I have now read what you wrote. And I want you to read for our viewers some of these rather profane comments that Anthony Scaramucci made to you in this phone conversation.
LIZZA: Yes. Yes.
Yes, so let's start with the first one. And these quotes are remarkable. People at home, there are words in here we are obviously not going to read.
But he starts off with Reince is an expletive paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac. He then sort of channeled Priebus. He believed that Priebus leaked this to me, so he was channeling Priebus in this quote.
He says, oh, Bill Shine. Bill Shine is a FOX News executive who was at the dinner last night. And he is sort of getting into the head of what he believes Priebus...
BLITZER: Former FOX...
LIZZA: Excuse me, former FOX News executive.
He says: "Oh, Bill Shine is coming. Let me leak the expletive thing and see if I can expletive block these people the way that I blocked Scaramucci for six months."
And so there's a little bit to unpack there, but basically what he is saying he believed that this dinner he had last night with these FOX News -- Sean Hannity and the former FOX executive, was leaked by Reince Priebus because Reince was paranoid that Scaramucci was bringing these folks into the White House without his knowledge.
I should say that that is just wrong. Reince Priebus did not leak that information to me.
BLITZER: I want you to read a few more quotes from this.
And he really hit you for not revealing who leaked the fact that there was a dinner. I don't know why he was so sensitive to the fact that this was coming out. It was going to come out, as you point out, in any case. But he really wanted you to share, what you wouldn't do, confidential sources.
LIZZA: He did. He was really pushing on me. And he said: "I asked these guys not to leak anything and they can't help themselves."
And he's sort of appealing to my sense of patriotism. He said: "You are an American citizen. This is a major catastrophe for the American country." He's talking about leaks here. "So, I am asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it."
And we went and talked and I explained why it wasn't appropriate for me to tell him that. And we sort of moved on from that part of the conversation.
BLITZER: And this on-the-record conversation that you had with him on the phone -- and he clearly was on the record. He didn't say it was off the record or anything like that, right?
LIZZA: Nothing like that.
And I actually talked to him this afternoon to make sure that we both understood that that was the case.
BLITZER: And it wasn't just Reince Priebus that he unleashed against. It was Steve Bannon, another senior adviser to the president.
We talked about Bannon. And he said: "I'm not Steve Bannon. I'm not trying to, two expletives there that you can see on your screen. I'm not trying to build my own brand of the expletive strength of the president. I am here to serve the country."
So, he was comparing himself favorably to Bannon, who he was arguing is sort of out for himself, is trying to get in the limelight in the media. This was in the context of a discussion of his media profile and whether he would be interested in being profiled or not. And he was saying, no, that's not my interest. I'm not like Bannon.
BLITZER: And he also told you that he actually had reached out to the FBI because of the Politico story on his financial disclosure statement, information that was going to be made public in any case.
LIZZA: Yes, this is what is really bewildering about the last 12 hours with Scaramucci.
He believed that someone had done something illegal, when in fact when the facts came out today, a reporter at Politico had simply gone to the Export/Import Bank and taken the public financial disclosure form.
When the story yesterday came out, he believed that Reince Priebus in his words illegally leaked his financial disclosure information. That is not the case. But when I was talking to him last night, he was very worked up about that. And that is what he believed.
And to my utter amazement, he told me he that had already contacted the Justice Department about this.
BLITZER: Read that little section from the article that you wrote.
LIZZA: So, sometimes, he occasionally talks about himself in the third person. And his nickname is the Mooch. So, he says: "OK, the Mooch showed up a week ago. This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, OK, because I nailed these guys. I have got digital fingerprints on everything they have done through the FBI and the expletive Department of Justice."
And I interjected, "What?"
"Well, the felony. They're going to get prosecuted, probably, for the felony."
So, at this point, he believed that this information from his financial disclosure form was illegally leaked and he was going on a tirade about it, and saying that the FBI was going to be involved and that senior White House staffers would be prosecuted for this.
We learned today that there is just actually nothing to back that up. The reporter who learned of his financial information just got it from a public source.
BLITZER: I guess the bottom line in all of this, Ryan -- and you have covered the White House, you have covered the Washington, like I have, for a while.
How can the president continue to have a White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, a senior adviser, Steve Bannon, at war with the new communications -- only -- I think maybe today was his first official day on the job.
Can this continue, given the exchange, given these words, the expletive-laden attacks that Anthony Scaramucci has now leveled against these other top White House officials?
LIZZA: It's a great question.
What President Trump has done is, he has just -- the White House is already deeply factionalized. And he just -- it was like -- putting Anthony Scaramucci in that job was like throwing a grenade into an ongoing civil war in the White House.
And I think for the first few days of Scaramucci's tenure, he really tried to play down these tensions. But once he started to believe that he was being attacked privately, dirty pool, I believe, he called it on CNN this morning, he decided to fight back and do two things, one, try and track down the leaks, as he tried to do with me last night, and then, two, go after the people who he believes are, I don't know any other word for it, his enemies in the White House.
But I don't see how a White House can function with this kind of civil war. It's unlike anything I have seen in covering....
You read these quotes, Ryan, because I know you, very calmly. But what was his demeanor? What was the tone when he was speaking to you on the phone? What was he like?
LIZZA: He was very worked up. He was very worked up. He was angry.
He was, frankly angry. He was angry, one, that I wouldn't tell him who the sources were. And then when we started getting into the details and I started asking him about Reince Priebus and other aspects of the ongoing stuff at the White House, he just was getting worked up into a tizzy.
He had just left earlier in the evening left. He had left that dinner with Trump. One of the other things we reported in the piece is that at the dinner he told me that he raised some of these same issues with President Trump, he raised these issues of Reince leaking against him.
And he said he was going to talk to the president more today about them.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, because we're going to have more quotes from this very, very powerful and very dramatic article that you have written.
I want you to stand by.
But Republican Congressman Peter King of New York is with us right now. He's a member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.
I want your reaction. Congressman, you and I have, we have spoken many times over the years. What is your reaction to this conversation that Ryan Lizza had with the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci? Is it appropriate? When you heard that report from Ryan, what did you think?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Actually, I read the article about a half-hour ago.
But I don't know Anthony Scaramucci. But I know my son had worked on some deals with him at one time. He's in Nassau County or I -- was in politics community. He's still in politics in Nassau County.
Listen, I have known a lot of guys like Anthony Scaramucci, probably not as smart as he is. But reading that, it sounded like a lot of guys I have spoken to late at night after political meetings. A few guys get together and they start talking that way.
Listen, it's not the orthodox way to do it. It's not the usually way to do it. But it's the first week in the job. And we will see where this goes. Obviously, this is an unorthodox administration.
And all I would say, Wolf, and this is sort of like what you were saying with Ryan Liza. Can the Trump administration survive this? I don't know how many shows I was on. And I was one of those who was skeptical myself for a year-and-a-half before the election thinking about all the things that Donald Trump "did wrong" by ordinary standards, and yet on Election Day he was the one who was elected.
So, again, he has a way of working. We will see how it goes. And Scaramucci is a tough guy. He's a smart guy. Whatever is going on at the White House, obviously, it's getting tough. But, again, all I can say it is different. It's unorthodox.
Where it goes, we will see. The president wants Scaramucci. Anthony Scaramucci is a tough guy, strong guy and obviously there's some real conflict going on down there with him and Priebus and Bannon.
And we will see where it goes.
BLITZER: He is a smart guy, a tough guy. As you point out, he is from Long Island, where you represent Long Island. But is this a good communications strategy for the White House? You have been in Washington for a long time.
KING: I think we are talking about two worlds here.
I would say probably among the media and among people who used to the way it is being done in the past, I would say no. But I have spoken to any number of people in my district, many of them Trump supporters, others just sort of curious people.
And they like the Scaramucci style. How long this can go, I don't know. I don't this anyone other than insiders, including me -- and I put myself in the category -- I'm not trying to point fingers here -- cares what Anthony Scaramucci says about Reince Priebus or Steve Bannon.
How it works out, though, as far as a functioning White House, that is what we have to see. But right now it is the first week. Scaramucci was obviously brought in to get results. And he has his own way of doing it. That, I know. I know his reputation in New York. He is a tough, smart guy. He takes no prisoners. So, we will see where it goes. I grew up with a lot of guys like Anthony Scaramucci.
BLITZER: I know you did.
Is it appropriate, Congressman, for Scaramucci to say he is reaching out to the FBI and has digital fingerprints? He is clearly going after the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
KING: It was said in a moment of anger. How serious he is about it, I don't know.
It could be he is just sending out a warning signal. I don't know what Priebus is going to say in return. I don't know where this is going to end up, but I think Anthony Scaramucci just, as I think Ryan Lizza said, when he caught him, he was angry, he was in a bad mood.
I think actually he called Ryan. But the fact that he was angry and he just says what is on his mind, and, again, that's the Scaramucci style. How long it will work, I don't know. People said it wouldn't work for Donald Trump, and he is the president of the United States.
BLITZER: What did you think today? At the White House press briefing, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was repeatedly asked if the president has confidence in his White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and she refused to say that he did.
That silence, what does that say to you?
KING: It means something is going on at the White House.
It means that obviously there is conflict there. Anthony Scaramucci was brought in to resolve something. How it is resolved, I don't know. I'm not in the White House. I'm not in that inner circle. I know interplay is involved to some extent.
And, obviously, there's tension down there. And, again, how this works out, probably I could be on your show a week or two from now, and we can talk about how it -- again, it could all be one big peace agreement. It could be that somebody leaves. It could be that they work out some sort of an arrangement. I don't know.
Obviously, Anthony Scaramucci is there with a purpose in mind. Priebus has to decide if he is going to respond to it. And the president is going to have to decide how he wants this to continue.
BLITZER: Yes, he's going to have to make some major decisions, I suspect.
When asked, by the way, if the president agrees with House Speaker Paul Ryan's comments that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Scaramucci, for that matter, they need to sit down together, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, simply said that the president like healthy competition, her words, healthy competition.
You know all of these guys. If you had to pick one of them to serve in the White House, who should it be?
KING: Oh, listen, that's up to the president. Again, it depends what the president is looking for.
And maybe, hey, ideally, they can work it out between the two of them. And they could get along and they could work it out. They may not like each other. Again, if they are brothers, maybe somewhere between Cain and Abel...
BLITZER: But do you realistically believe they could work together after Reince Priebus reading Ryan Lizza's article, in which you heard the awful things he said about Reince Priebus? You heard the awful things he said about Steve Bannon, the profane-laden attack.
Do you think these guys could actually work together down the road?
KING: I have heard people say worse things than that to each other on a Friday night and end up working together on a Monday morning. I'm not going to say it is going to be easy. But again I'm not trying to put New York or Long Island in a different category.
But I have heard that type of language. That goes on especially after some political meetings where one guy is mad at the other or one guy thought he got screwed out of a nomination, and I'm never going to work with him again. They go into a profane tirade. We have had some interesting characters in New York, whether it's Al
D'Amato, or Ed Koch. I can go through a whole list of people who can be pretty declarative when they speak.
BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus?
KING: To the extent I know him. I have always gotten along with him.
I have no problem with Reince Priebus at all. I dealt with him on the MS-13 issue. He's been very open with me on that. He was the first person in the White House that I called back in April when I was looking for presidential involvement.
The president is coming to Long Island tomorrow on the MS-13 issue. And so any of my dealings with Reince Priebus has been very straight and forward. I have had no problem at all with him. In fact, I will be positive. I have had a very positive experience.
BLITZER: I want to just alert our viewers.
We did invite Reince Priebus to join us here for an interview. He has not responded to our requests. We would love to have him discuss all these issues, but so far he has declined.
Let me switch gears.
The attorney general, Congressman, Jeff Sessions, said he will serve as long as the president wants him to serve, saying of the criticism that he has received over these past several days by the president is -- quote -- "kind of hurtful."
I want you to respond to this, because he is saying the president is a strong leader. But is this really an appropriate way for the president of the United States to treat the attorney general of the United States?
KING: You're asking me?
No, I would say -- listen, first of all, I have a great regard for Jeff Sessions. In all my dealings with him, he has been the ultimate professional. He also -- again, not to be dwelling on MS-13, he came to my district, spent five hours there meeting with the police, meeting with the families, meeting with reporters, meeting with United States attorneys, the prosecutors with ICE, with Homeland Security, everybody.
And in all my dealings with him when he was in the Senate and now in the Justice Department, I have a great regard for Jeff Sessions. I certainly would not say at all anything negative about Jeff Sessions. The president has his own way of dealing. But, again, I have great regard for Jeff Sessions.
BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to all the breaking news on health care that we are following, Congressman.
The House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, asked members like you to remain flexible in case the House is under pressure to act on health care. Are House Republicans going to try to ram through what is called the skinny repeal plan, assuming it gets through the Senate, or can you guarantee that this legislation, whatever passes the Senate, skinny repeal, will go to conference, there will be opening hearings, there will be Congressional Budget Office scoring, that there will be a full review, not simply a quick up-or-down vote on the skinny repeal legislation?
KING: Well, that is up to the House leadership to make a commitment.
I would say I don't see how we can vote on something like that just coming over here. It basically raises more questions than it solves. And it doesn't address any of the real major issues that are out there. So, I don't see how -- it basically is just a bare-bones.
And all of the key issues that we debated in the House not even included there. So, I don't see how we could vote on it the way it is.
As far as making a commitment to go to conference, to have hearings, I -- listen, I agreed with John McCain the other day. I think, for a bill like this to make sense, there has to have more bipartisan support. And we should try to get that.
But what is going to happen in the Senate? I don't want to prejudge them. But I don't see how, after all the months of debate that went on in the House, and it only passed by a few votes, to vote on the bill which basically is entirely different from what we passed.
And, again, I had questions about the bill that we passed. But to have something just be sent over which is just a bare-bones, to me, I heard what Lindsey Graham said before. I think he is right.
BLITZER: I want to play what you said back in June. Listen to this, Congressman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It's wrong just to pass something for the sake of passing it.
I think if we can pass a smaller package, if we can -- first of all, it's almost like there's a doctrine do no harm. What We should try to do is repeal what we can. And if it has to be limited, so be it. It would be limited.
Then we can still have again the next three years of President Trump's administration to do it bit by bit, and including being able to sell insurance across the state line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You said -- you went on to say, Congressman, if it takes two, three, four, five years to do it, fine. So, from your perspective, shouldn't Republicans take their time right
now? Why pass what would be an unscored bill that the Congressional Budget Office hasn't even reviewed?
KING: I am speaking for myself. And I say yes. I agree with what I said then. And I'm saying it now.
I think, if we are going to be serious about this, we have to have a bill that adds up, that makes sense. And just passing something for the sake of passing it doesn't make sense.
BLITZER: The White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, told CNN today that, as far as Russian sanctions bill that is now before the Senate is concerned, the president may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or then he went on to say he may veto the sanctions legislation, negotiate an even tougher deal, he says.
Do you see him signing this bill?
KING: I can't speak for the president. But I voted for the bill. I support the bill.
I think we have to send a message to Putin that his aggression has to stop, whether it's involving himself in the election, whether it's the Ukraine, whether it's the Middle East, whether it's just the overly aggressive tone and attitude and moves that he has made over last several years.
I think it is important. When you have an over -- what is it, 431-3 or something it passed the House, and 98-2 in the Senate, that is a really statement by the American people, by the representatives to the American people, bipartisan, from left to right, that the time has come to stand up to Putin.
It passed the House of Representatives 419-3.
BLITZER: Right now, it is on the floor of the Senate. It is going to pass overwhelmingly there, the House version. It will go to the president.
How disappointed will you be if the president vetoes it?
KING: Well, again, I'm going to see what he does. I don't want to prejudge the president.
BLITZER: Right now it's on the floor of the Senate. It's going to get passed overwhelmingly there. The House version, it will go to the president. How disappointed will you be if the president vetoes it?
[18:30:11] KING: Well, again, I'm going to see what he does. I don't want to prejudge the president. I mean, I -- again, I have great regard and respect for the president. I would hope he would sign it, but again, he may have reasons not to. But I -- I would hope that he would sign it.
BLITZER: You're going to see the president tomorrow. He's going out to Long Island, where you will be, meeting with you and others to address what you referred to, the gang violence, MS-13, that gang. He will have a presence there. You'll be able to speak with him, presumably, about that issue; other issues, as well.
The Trump administration paints this as a deep concern with immigration, this MS-13 gang violence. And it is very serious. But do you worry, Congressman, that the focus is too much on immigration and not simply on eradicating this one gang?
KING: Well, this is obviously a vicious, deadly gang. In my district, there's been 17 people killed in 14 months. Macheted to death, cut to death, sliced to death, butchered. It's absolutely disgraceful.
But there -- here's the immigration component. Seven of those who were indicted just this month for these murders were unaccompanied minors that came across the border three years ago. This is a program which was set up when these young children came across the border, and no one wants them to stay in the desert. They have to be taken care of. But they've been assigned to families to -- families who sponsor them.
And there's intelligence from local police that this is being orchestrated, in some cases, from El Salvador itself. And so you have families in the district sponsoring these young people who come in, and they are actually working for MS-13. They're agents of MS-13. They go in the schools; they terrorize the schools.
And again, seven of these who were involved in these brutal murders in this latest wave of indictments were unaccompanied minors. We have to find a way to vet that. We have to find a way, first of all, to stop them from coming across the border. But when they do come here, to make sure that -- that the families are vetted; that the young people are vetted; and the local police are brought into it.
I have to say that the Department of Health and Human Services, which has the most to say about that, has been working much more closely with the local police and was not under the Obama administration. That's been a positive step. But you can't ignore the immigration component.
But the people who are being hurt the most by this, Wolf, are the immigrants. These are immigrant communities. They're centralized (ph). They're from Brentwood. And they're being terrorized by these gangs. And I think the people, some of the leaders in those communities should be thanking God that the president of the United States is focusing this much attention on it. There's been so many positive results, so many indictments in the last several months, so much powerful support coming from the president, from homeland security, from ICE, from HSI, from the FBI, from the Justice Department and also working with the Suffolk and Essex (ph) county police. This is a concerted effort. The president's spoken out.
And this should send a sense of confidence to the people living in those communities. It's not you or I that are going to be cut to pieces, even though these are only 20 minutes from my home. It's going to be the children of immigrant families who are being butchered by this gang. So I think it's important for the president to be there; it's a great show of support.
BLITZER: Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
KING: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Peter King of New York.
And this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, just tweeted this response to what -- the Ryan Lizza article we've been referring to. Let me read it to our viewers.
Quote, "I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena but not give up the passionate fight for @RealDonaldTrump's agenda. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain."
We're following all of these breaking news developments. This concluding on the turmoil spreading through the highest levels of the Trump administration.
I want to bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You've got new important information. Update our viewers on what you're learning, Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This relates to President Trump's national security adviser, General -- or former General H.R. McMaster. We're hearing that McMaster is increasingly isolated in President Trump's administration.
Congressional and administration officials tell myself and my colleagues, Barbara Starr and Jeremy Herb (ph), finding himself in conflict with senior White House officials, cabinet members and, importantly, the president himself. A congressional sources tells CNN McMaster is at odds with President Trump on many key national security issues.
McMaster has also found himself undercut by others inside the president's orbit, such as chief strategist Steve Bannon, and has clashed with Defense Secretary James Mattis.
McMaster's dust-ups with the president and his team have bubbled up over a long-delayed plan for Afghanistan, where the president has yet to sign off on a plan backed by McMaster that would increase the number of troops deployed there. McMaster met with Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday as the NSA looks to finalize that Afghanistan strategy and as part of this, that strategy still certainly not finalized, Wolf.
BLITZER: So is it possible General McMaster -- I believe he's still on active duty, even though he's serving as the president's national security advisor; he's a three-star general -- is it possible he might actually leave this post?
[18:35:10] SCIUTTO: We've been asking a number of officials this, CNN speaking to a number of government officials. They say that several scenarios are possible in the coming weeks, including the unlikely possibility that McMaster could be transferred to command troops in Afghanistan. Also, may be tapped as a new special envoy to South Asia and, in that position, he would oversee policy not just for Afghanistan, but also for Pakistan and India.
One senior administration official dismissed that notion as premature. McMaster staying put as national security advisor, the sources say, will depend -- and this will not come as a surprise -- on how comfortable Donald Trump himself feels, Wolf, in keeping him in that current position.
BLITZER: That turmoil within the White House, it clearly continues. Jim Sciutto, excellent reporting, you and your team. Thank you very much.
And right now we're following other breaking news. The Senate has just passed a Russian sanctions bill that was earlier passed 419-3 in the House of Representatives. It now heads to the president's desk. This Senate passage was 98-2. Ninety-eight to do -- two, including sanctions not just against Russia but North Korea and Iran, as well. The White House has not said whether President Trump will sign the bill or veto it. A dramatic development, indeed.
In the meantime, let's get reaction to all of these breaking stories. The former defense secretary under President Obama, Leon Panetta, is joining us. He also served as CIA director. He was President Clinton's White House chief of staff.
Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY/FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: So let's talk about just literally, within the past few minutes, the Senate overwhelmingly, 98-2, passing this new sanctions bill against Russia, North Korea and Iran. We don't know whether the president will sign it or veto it. The White House saying they're not making a statement. What's your reaction?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... number 5-0-2, the Heller Amendment.
PANETTA: I just think that, when it comes to dealing with Russia, the United States ought to speak with one voice; and that means that since the Congress has overwhelmingly passed this sanctions bill -- overwhelmingly on the House side, overwhelmingly on the Senate side -- that I think the president should sign it, as opposed to vetoing it and sending a message that somehow this country is divided when it comes to dealing with the Russians.
So I'm hopeful that the president will sign it, because if he vetoes it, it will be overridden by the Congress.
BLITZER: He doesn't like it, as you know, because it does tie his hands. He can't go ahead and ease those sanctions against Russia, if he would like to, without congressional approval first. No president likes to be bound by Congress on these sensitive issues. You were once a White House chief of staff. I assume you appreciate that.
PANETTA: No. Look, there's no question that you don't like the Congress tying your hands. But you also don't want to do something that doesn't even have a chance of happening, which means to veto it and then have the Congress override it.
This country does have to speak with one voice. And I do think that, based on what the Russians have done to our country, what they did in the election cycle, that it is very important for the United States now to speak with one voice that we object to what the Russians have done and that we will take steps to make sure it does not happen again.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, let me get your reaction to this really dramatic report we just got from Jim Sciutto. How dangerous is it for the president's national security adviser to feel undermined by his own colleagues in the White House?
PANETTA: Wolf, right now all I see in the White House is chaos. You've got everybody shooting at each other. I think I remember Moe Udall once saying that the worst thing you can do with a firing squad is put them in a circle. And that's what seems to be happening at the White House right now. Everybody is shooting at one another. It's creating tremendous chaos. It's undermining the ability of the White House to respond to a number of important issues, whether it's dealing with health care on the Hill, whether it's dealing with foreign policy issues. I just think it's a tragic situation.
And my hope is that General McMaster will stay in his position. He's a good man. He's trying to do the right thing when it comes to national security issues. And I just hope that he remains as national security adviser.
[18:40:00] BLITZER: I want to turn to another important issue that has come up over the past day or so. The president announcing yesterday on Twitter that he intends to reinstate a ban on transgender Americans serving in the U.S. military.
You served as defense secretary under President Obama. He decided to allow transgender Americans to serve in the military. What do you think of the president's decision?
PANETTA: I think the president took a giant step backwards in terms of our military strength. The reality is we are the strongest military power on the face of the earth. And the reason we're the strongest military power is because of the -- of those men and women who are willing to serve this country in uniform. And we've made clear that, if you're a good soldier, if you're willing
to fight, we don't base that on race or color or creed or gender or sexual orientation. We base it on the fact that you can be a good soldier.
And for that reason, I think that it is important for this country to send a clear signal that everyone deserves a right to serve in our country.
This country is based on the principle that we're all created equal. And all of us believe that everyone should have a chance to be able to succeed. Nobody guarantees success. At least they should be given a chance. And I think that that's true for those that really desire to serve this country in uniform.
The president ought to take the time to visit the battlefields that are out there: Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East. Take a close look at those men and women who are serving our country and are willing to fight and die for America. He ought to recognize that we have the best fighting force on the face of the earth; and we ought to do nothing to undermine what our men and women in uniform are doing right now for the United States.
BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Secretary, President Trump conducts a lot of his business on Twitter, including this announcement that we've just been discussing. You served in the Clinton administration during the 1990s when social media really barely existed. How would your day-to-day job have been different, let's say, if President Clinton at the time had access to Twitter?
PANETTA: Well, as chief of staff, I would have gone nuts if you're dealing with a president who was tweeting every morning, tweeting whatever thought comes into his head.
I mean, as a matter of fact, he tweeted this ban with regards to transgender military. Wasn't thought-out, wasn't discussed, wasn't carefully evaluated. He really didn't talk to the generals. He really didn't talk to the defense secretary. He didn't go through a process of trying to develop what is the right approach here. He just tweeted it.
And I thank God that General Dunford has basically said today that they're not going to change their policy until they get a clear direction from the White House. A tweet is not a directive.
And I just think -- I know the president is going to continue to do this. This is his vehicle for trying to get attention. But I can't tell you how disruptive that approach is in terms of trying to develop good policy for this country.
BLITZER: Well, thank you so much as usual, Mr. Secretary, for joining us. We always appreciate having you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for joining us.
PANETTA: Good to be with you, Wolf. BLITZER: And speaking, by the way, of your time in the '90s, I want
to let our viewers know that it will be really important for them to watch the CNN series "THE NINETIES," Sundays, 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 Pacific, only here on CNN. It really is an excellent series.
I want to get quick reaction to all the breaking news: a newly- published bombshell conversation in which the White House communications director launches a rather profane attack on the White House chief of staff. Ryan Lizza, who had the conversation with Anthony Scaramucci just last night just broke the news. He's back with us along with our team of analysts and specialists.
Ryan, I want you to read a couple passages from this conversation you had with Scaramucci last night.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it was really something, Wolf. He just completely unloaded on Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon; pushed me on trying to reveal sources. He's clearly under a lot of pressure.
So let's talk -- let's read this first one probably that was probably the most explosive about Reince Priebus, the chief of staff. "'Reince is an expletive paranoid schizophrenic -- paranoiac,' Scaramucci said. He chant" -- this is a complicated one, but he was talking about what he believed Priebus was thinking when Priebus allegedly leaked something to me, which didn't actually happen. "'Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the expletive thing and see if I can expletive block these people the way I expletive block Scaramucci for six months.
Just to unpack that a little bit, what he was saying is for six months, Reince Priebus wouldn't let him come to the White House and wouldn't let his job go through. And so, last night he believed that my source was Reince Priebus when I reported on a dinner that Scaramucci had with Sean Hannity of FOX News, and Bill Shine, a former FOX News executive.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And the president.
LIZZA: And the president.
LIZZA: So, you're seeing a bit of paranoia from both camps. He just assumed that this had to come from his rival. And that's what that quote is all about.
I think we have one more here. Absolutely obsessed with leakers and getting to the bottom of who is getting unauthorized information to journalists at the White House. He said, he told me, what I want to do is I want to F-ing kill all the leakers and I want to get the president's agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people.
You know, one thing I have to say despite anger he had and attacks on Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, this is a guy who -- I have had many conversations with him and never said a bad word about the president. I do think at his core, he believes what he is doing is cleaning up the White House and going to bat for President Trump. He is doing it in a rather ham-handed way, I think. He's doing it in a way that is distracting rather than helping the president's agenda.
But, you know, I think that that -- the second quote that we read is both sides of this. On the one side, it's a little bit unhinged, I want to F-ing kill all the leakers. But on the other side, it's to this goal that he believes is important which is to get the president's agenda on track.
BLITZER: And, Gloria, Anthony Scaramucci just responded on Twitter. He tweeted this, he said, I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena, but not give up passionate fight for @RealDonaldTrump's agenda. #MAGA, make America great again.
Have you ever seen this kind of public fighting going on between communications director on the job for a day or two and White House chief of staff?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, and I think what was missing from that was any kind of apology to the people Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, that he had disparaged to you in your piece. And I would argue that perhaps he bought Reince Priebus a little bit of time here because of his language.
BORGER: But can we just take a step back for a minute and take a look at everything that is going on? It seems to me -- let me state the obvious -- this is not a functioning White House. This is a White House that is dysfunctional, seems to be unraveling before our very eyes.
You not only have the Mooch versus Priebus here, but you have the fact that they didn't tell Mattis or Dunford about what they were doing on transgender. And that they have been threatening Murkowski, threatening senators if they don't vote for them, the Sessions drama is playing out.
You have Lindsey Graham trying to find a way to actually legislatively prevent Donald Trump from firing Mueller, saying that it would be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency if he did this. And this is coming from a Republican.
All of those things were today.
BORGER: Today, Wolf. So, this is a White House that seems to be a little bit out of control here.
BLITZER: Well, some would say, Mark, massive dysfunction on --
BORGER: Massive, massive.
LIZZA: It's not even 7:00. BORGER: Right, it's not even 7:00.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I would agree with massive dysfunction thing. I think what's important, too, is that we have spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks talking about Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump trying to get him to quit, right? And the reason being is that he was mad at Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from, you know, the whole investigation into Russia.
This is a little bit different, though, with Reince Priebus and we saw Sean Spicer, the press secretary, resign a couple of days ago. If the president doesn't feel like he is being served by those within the West Wing, his personal aides to get his agenda, through, he has every right to fire whoever he wants to bring in. The Jeff Sessions thing, that's a different situation. Bob Mueller thing, different situation.
Except I do feel -- God, I don't know if I'm going to regret saying this, but I do feel bad for Anthony Scaramucci because to Ryan's point, I do think that Anthony thinks he is coming in to clean up what hasn't been done. And, by the way, the president should have done all of this. It shouldn't be Anthony Scaramucci or any other aides. It comes from the top.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, the story is bigger than this. This is bigger than a White House --
BORGER: It was pretty big.
MUDD: It is. We think about checks and balances in terms of the judiciary telling the White House you can't do everything you want in immigration. The Congress saying you can't do everything you want on health -- this is the executive branch saying the president can't act as he wants to.
[18:50:04] It's the executive branch saying we are checks and balances. The State Department says no on Russia sanctions. They've been tougher than the White House.
The Department of Justice says not only no on the FBI director, we're going to nominate a special counsel. The FBI says we will continue the investigation. The Department of Defense says, no, we will not implement this on transgenders until you give us guidance. The CIA says actually Russia did hack.
Every element of the government is saying checks and balance isn't just judiciary and the Congress, it's us.
BLITZER: You know, in your conversation that you had last night on the phone with Anthony Scaramucci, you also brought in the whole issue, there's anger at the leaks, but bringing in the FBI.
Tell us about that. There are a couple excerpts I want you to read.
LIZZA: Yes, that was a -- that was a little unusual because he was wrong on the basic facts, right? There was a story in "Politico" yesterday where information from his financial disclosure form was released. This information it turns out was just obtained by the reporter when normal public channels. Scaramucci didn't know that. He saw the information in "Politico" and he immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was Reince Priebus and went so far as to believe this was illegal.
He said to me, I called the FBI and the Department of Justice. And I was flabbergasted by this and said, are you serious? He went on, the swamp will not defeat him. He said this sort of breaking into the third person talking about himself. They're trying to resist me, but it is not going to work. I have done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they're going to have to go F themselves.
So, he was really worked up about this, to the point where he said he called the FBI and Department of Justice. After I got off the phone with him, within minutes, he tweeted that famous tweet last night or infamous tweet to the same effect, that he was contacting the Department of Justice.
BLITZER: And then there is another line I want you to read as well. He spoke about digital fingerprints.
BLITZER: He was really going after, you know, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, two powerful guys. The White House chief of staff, the president's senior adviser.
LIZZA: This one is a little cryptic, but it shows just the effort that he apparently has put into trying to figure out who in the White House is loyal to him and I guess he would say the president and who isn't. Again, he's speaking of himself in the third person and his nickname, of course, is the Mooch.
He says, OK, the Mooch showed up a week ago. This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, OK, because I nailed these guys. I've got digital fingerprints on everything they have done through the FBI and the F-ing Department of Justice.
And I was -- I was literally sort of floored by this and I interjected, what? He said, well, the felony, they're going to get prosecuted probably for the felony.
BLITZER: Yes. We reached out, by the way, to the Department of Justice. Not reacting. Is there audio of this information you had with him?
LIZZA: This was a recorded interview.
BLITZER: You recorded it.
BLITZER: So, there is audio.
You know, Phil, you used to work at the FBI. What's your reaction to that?
MUDD: That home boy, and I'm part Italian, I can say this, that home boy, Anthony Scaramucci, needs a lesson in government. If you want the FBI to investigate, this is dead serious. That is a crimes report. A crimes report is not two political hammerheads acting like third graders in the White House. That is an embarrassment for the White House.
There is a difference between a leak that damages national security and a leak that says I don't like Reince Priebus and Reince Priebus just released something to CNN or somebody else that embarrassed me.
MUDD: If he wants the FBI to investigate, it better be there is a crime related to national security. The FBI, if he comes in and says, I don't like Reince looks, it's going to say, Tony, go back and trade money on Wall Street, that's a hammerhead move.
LIZZA: I think the extraordinary thing -- excuse me for interrupting. I think one of the extraordinary thing is that the Department of Justice did put out a statement last night that mentioned Anthony. It related to secret information, but -- and I didn't ask him about that when I was talking to him last night, but it does appear that his conversations with the Justice Department resulted in a statement about leaks.
PRESTON: Can I just one up your extraordinary? I think it's extraordinary that the president said it was OK for Anthony Scaramucci to go out and attack his chief of staff in public. That in itself is extraordinary.
BORGER: Well, ands here's the thing, here's the bottom line. You're never going to stop leaks while you have competing power centers inside the White House.
LIZZA: Yes, that's right.
BORGER: What you need to do is have a White House that has one agenda. And I think Scaramucci would probably agree with me. What you need to do is have a White House that has one agenda, which is presumably the agenda the president of United States, and people who work together.
But this is a president who is always, you know, he has run his business this way. You know, he likes the competition in a way he likes the chaos, in a way he likes people to compete with each other. In a White House, it doesn't work. When you have competing power centers to this degree, you're going to have leaks. That's just a fact.
BLITZER: All right. I just want to point out to our viewers, Mark Preston, you are starting a Sirius XM radio program this weekend; is that right? PRESTON: I am, I am. It's called "Full Stop with Mark Preston".
Gloria is one of my first guests, actually, talking about how she views Washington now and what it was like 20 years ago.
BLITZER: What time?
BORGER: With Dana Bash.
PRESTON: Noon with Dana Bash, on Saturday, 5:00 on Sunday.
BLITZER: All right. We'll be listening. Everybody will tune in to that.
Guys, standby. Everybody, standby.
Other important news we're following, even though Vladimir Putin today insisted once again there was no Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, his denials came as U.S. Senate investigators were learning explosive new details about the extent of Putin's corruption and his meddling.
I want to go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's up on Capitol Hill.
Brian, very dramatic testimony today. Tell our viewers what happened.
BRIAN TODD, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Those details you talk about came from Vladimir Putin's bitter enemies. One of them, his most bitter enemies, a financier named Bill Browder. Today on Capitol Hill, Browder gave a jarring new account of that mysterious Donald Trump Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer, and a Putin's behavior which Browder equates with that of a mafia don.
TODD (voice-over): An enemy of Vladimir Putin makes a bold appearance on Capitol Hill and tells senators of what he calls Putin's kleptocracy.
BILL BROWDER, FORMER BOSS OF RUSSIAN WHISTLEBLOWER: Vladimir Putin I believe to be the richest man in the world. I believe he's worth $200 billion. That money is held all over the world in banks in America and all over. The purpose of Putin's regime has been to commit terrible crimes in order to get that money.
TODD: Bill Browder is a wealthy financier who spent years working in Russia. He's now waging an anticorruption campaign against the Russian president.
Browder claims Putin demanded a cut from Russia's richest businessman who feared being targeted for prosecution by the regime.
BROWDER: And he said very straightforward, 50 percent. Not 50 percent for the Russian government or 50 percent for the presidential administration of Russia. Fifty percent for Vladimir Putin.
TODD: CNN cannot independently verify Browder's assertions about Putin's wealth or his maneuvering, and he provided no evidence in his public testimony. Browder is not an objective observer of Putin and he admits he's got a personal ax to grind.
Browder hired a Russian lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky who exposed a $230 million fraud scheme benefitting people linked to Putin, a scheme which Browder says ripped off his firm. Magnitsky was arrested and jailed under suspicious circumstances and later died in Russian custody.
BROWDER: Sergei Magnitsky is dead. He suffered terribly and is dead because he was my lawyer.
TODD: Today, Browder dropped another bombshell in Congress, tying the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. last year, Natalia Veselnitskaya, closer to Putin. Browder admits he's got no firsthand knowledge of that meeting with Trump Jr. but says he knows about the players in the meeting.
Veselnitskaya is linked to Putin, according to Browder. A man named Peter Katsyv, a high ranking official in Putin's government.
BROWDER: She's working with the Katsyv family, which is a senior Putin regime family. The Katsyv family works very closely with Yuri Chaika, who's the general prosecutor of Russia, and Yuri Chaika is effectively Putin's enforcer.
TODD: Veselnitskaya and Kremlin officials deny she's ever worked for the Russian government. But Browder believes Russian intelligence would have known about Veselnitskaya's Trump Tower meeting in advance with the goal to push for the Magnitsky Act to be overturned. That American law spearheaded by Browder sanctions individual Russians close to Putin.
BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE": His allies, his oligarchs, his chiefs of police in the military can pillage the country and then store those assets in the West. And they're permitted to do so by Vladimir Putin as long as they get loyalty in return. What they then give Putin back in return is enthusiasm, support, a cut.
TODD: Putin denies that and says the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia is not legitimate.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): What we see is merely a growth of anti-Russian hysteria and the utilization for Russophobia for domestic politics.
TODD: But Bill Browder's effort to uncover Putin's alleged deeds, he says, has come at a huge personal cost.
(on camera): What are the security threats you have received?
BROWDER: The Russian government has made numerous death threats against me. They want to kill me. They'd like to kidnap me. They'd like to have me arrested and sent back to Russia.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Putin and his aides have repeatedly denied Browder's claims. They say that Browder committed financial crimes in Russia, which they have convicted him in absentia of and which Browder refused. Now, as for Browder's claims that Putin has amassed huge personal wealth, Putin has called that accusation, quote, garbage -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Is there any indication, Brian, from Browder that this Russian lawyer offered Donald Trump Jr. anything in exchange for the Russian's request to kill the Magnitsky Act?
TODD: Well, Wolf, Browder says he's got no firsthand knowledge of that, but he says the Russians would not have asked for that to be repealed if they didn't have something to offer them in return. The question is, what did they offered?
BLITZER: Brian Todd, excellent reporting. Thanks very much.
That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.