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WAPO: Trump Dictated Son's Misleading Statement on Meeting with Russian Lawyer; Republican Senator Fires Off at Own Party; Pence Slams Russia after Putin's Retaliation. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired August 1, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- paper or on social media. So, we know that the president's staff and family, now report to the man you're seeing in the screen right there, the new chief of staff, General John Kelly. But does the president's Twitter account report to him as well?
CNN Kaitlan Collins at the White House with the very latest, this story of presidential dictation, Kaitlan, very significant.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is, John. "The Washington Post" is reporting now that Donald Trump personally dictated this statement that was first given to "The New York Times" about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting at Trump Tower with that Russian lawyer. Now, the word was that they drafted the statement as they were flying back on Air Force One from the G20 summit in Germany. And that it was the president's idea to say that the meeting was primarily about Russian adoption and not about campaign issues.
Now, this is according to that story in "The Washington Post" from last night. Now we know that later on that came to not be true, that this meeting was more about that Donald Trump Jr. was under the impression that he was meeting with a Russian government attorney who had incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. The subject line of these e-mails was literally Russia, Clinton, private and confidential. So, we later found out that that was not true.
Now, the Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow is saying that this whole new revelation that the president personally dictated this statement is not relevant. Let's put his statement up on the screen what Jay Sekulow said today. Saying, "Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate and not pertinent." Now this is the same lawyer who went on television two times after all of this came out to strongly deny that the president had any role in drafting this Donald Jr. statement.
BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House. I think we do have one question we want to get to you, Kaitlan, about General John Kelly and so far, his role inside the White House. What are you learning about whether or not the situation inside is getting more buttoned up? COLLINS: Well, we're really seeing John Kelly impose some order on this very divided West Wing. And it's very evident how much power the president is giving John Kelly. We were told yesterday that all staff, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump will be reporting to John Kelly and not directly to the president as they have been doing these past few months when Reince Priebus was in the White House. So, we are clearly seeing just how much power Donald Trump is giving to John Kelly to impose some order on the West Wing.
BERMAN: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks very, very much. Appreciate it.
All right, joining us now on our panel -- joining us Asha Rangappa, CNN legal and national security analyst, Craig Fuller, former chief of staff to vice president George H.W. Bush and Ryan Lizza, CNN political analyst.
Asha, I want to start with you with the legal implications here. It is not against the law to lie to the press or the American people, which is shocking and unfortunate in many ways. However, however, if the president was as involved as "The Washington Post" reports in dictating this message, this answer that was quite misleading about the nature of the meeting, what could it expose him to and those around him?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, John, we need to get away from looking at each isolated event and seeing whether or not that it's legal, whether or not it's legal. When a prosecutor is building a case, they are going to look at everything in the totality. And so, what this shows is a level of direct involvement and actually directing the way that this is being put out in an attempt to conceal.
So, if we go back all the way to Comey's firing, his desire for this Russia investigation to go away, we need -- you know, we start to wonder, what are the motives for that? And now there's certain - there's a personal investment in covering this up. So this is just adding to evidence that Mueller can connect, collect and connect. And it will expose everyone who is around him on that day when he was, when that message was being created for them to explain and give their accounting of events.
And I think it's going to start putting people in a position of having to decide whether they are going to be loyal to the president or whether they are going to tell the truth and people are going to get tripped up in that process. So, I think it's not just exposing the president to potential liability. It's exposing everyone around him to it. This has been going on for a long time and I think it's going to get even more complicated as the story continues.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Craig, as someone who was a chief of staff, albeit to a vice president, so you get the role and you get the inner workings of the White House. How bizarre is it, the extent to which according to "The Washington Post" reporting this morning, the president was involved in drafting this initial statement on behalf of his son? I mean, pull aside the G20, then dictating it on Air Force One, despite the repeated sort of pleas of those around him to be more transparent.
[10:05:08] CRAIG FULLER, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, VP GEORGE H.W. BUSH: So, I think, Poppy, from the beginning, this White House has done a very poor job managing the story. And this is just one episode that's perhaps more interesting because of the specifics that are now becoming known. But, honestly, shaping a statement, trying to shape this story is probably not that unusual. The notion that it was somehow dictated is a little different.
A big question, in my mind, is what did the president actually know when he was dictating a statement? Was he just trying to put a good spin on something? Did he actually know what the facts were? Did he really intend to mislead? And if that's the case, it's another shot at the veracity of this White House. And I'd say --
HARLOW: But even if he didn't, then should he be shaping any message if he hadn't seen the e-mails. If he didn't know the extent of it, right?
FULLER: Classic answer is if you don't know the facts, you don't shape the message. You're absolutely right.
BERMAN: Ryan Lizza, lay the political ground work here. How big of a deal is this coming right now as it does in this moment of you know, turmoil inside the West Wing?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, it seems pretty significant - I mean, what "The Washington Post" reports is that the president personally overruled other administration officials who wanted to put out a full -- a more full account of this meeting and that's why this question of what did he know. It seems like -- maybe I need to re-read more closely The Post piece, but it seems that the whole debate was, that he was being told, hey, we want to put out a more accurate account of this and he was overruling his aides and saying, no, we are just going to say it was about adoption.
And so, you know, not to put too fine a point on it, but you have the president of the United States covering up an explosive e-mail that. Of course, we know was evidence that the Trump campaign was at the very least open to the idea of colluding with Russia, which is the one thing the president and all his advisers said was not the case. So, pretty big deal.
As you just pointed out, it's not illegal, but from - what most of the legal analysts have pointed out is when you have a special counsel out investigating potential obstruction of justice and you are in the middle of what arguably is this cover up of this meeting. That seems pretty dicey for the president and it opens up all the people who were on that plane and involved with this at the very least, getting a call from Bob Mueller to get to the bottom of what was happening.
HARLOW: Asha, from a legal standpoint for any liability for the president here. -- How much does it matter how much he knew about the intent of this meeting, the fact that as we learned from the e-mail chain, that Don Jr. released himself, that it was a concerted Russian government effort, for example. Is that the line that matters a lot for the president, what he knew?
RANGAPPA: Well, certainly, if he knowingly concealed something then that is going to have a greater weight in terms of going to his intent to cover up potential -- you know connections with Russian government officials. But, I think, it was already mentioned, even if he didn't know, I think that there's - there is a question that's raised of why he would get directly involved to even shape this message.
Now, it's possible that he just simply - he is thinking politically and does not grasp the kind of criminal liability that he may be putting himself and his staff out to. And maybe he's not worried about it because in many ways, as the president, he enjoys many privileges and immunities that make it very difficult for any kind of criminal charge to be brought against him. But that is not true for the people around him. And he's making it more difficult for lawyers, for his family's lawyers and for his staff. And so, I think, no matter how you slice it, this is not good.
BERMAN: So, Craig, you know we just got a statement from the president of the United States on Twitter, he writes this morning, "Only the fake news media and Trump enemies want me to stop using social media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!"
Now, Poppy and I were arguing. I actually think this is incredibly innocuous.
HARLOW: We don't argue. Don't believe him.
BERMAN: I think this is innocuous. I think this actually - fall within the realm of president to restraint on social media. --
HARLOW: But I think this shows that Kelly is not holding the Twitter handle right now.
BERMAN: Craig Fuller, what do you think most importantly -- what does this show about the extent of General John Kelly's reach in power inside the West Wing?
FULLER: I think we are going see more discipline with General Kelly there. I don't think you are going to stop the tweeting. But I did think that at least there was time taken today to try to consider what message to put out.
[10:10:02] And I suspect that is what will happen in the future, you'd simply -- especially on this Russia case, you simply cannot have the president tweeting about it and expect him not to bury every other news story that his administration is trying to put out.
HARLOW: All right. So, that's one point Berman. Lizza, can I get you on my team on this one? Come on, we go way back.
LIZZA: Let me just start in an anecdote that I reported yesterday in a piece. Kelly was out in Aspen talking to national security officials and he told - this was two weeks ago -- a week and a half ago - and he told these officials that he believed he had convinced President Trump that he didn't actually need to build a full, physical wall on the border, that you could start calling it a barrier, and you could do it with surveillance and technology.
And he said, he was telling his national security officials many of them were very skeptical of Trump, very skeptical of Kelly for working for Trump. That he thinks he's got this relationship with Trump where he can change his mind about things. And some people were impressed with that. And then he added, but you never know with Trump, he could tweet something and change his mind and that's it.
So, he's going into this -- I took from that anecdote that he's going into this job, one, with a sense that he thinks he can manage Trump. He thinks he has good enough relationship with him, and two, that - but he also understands the sort of volcanic nature of Trump and he could change it at any time. But, he clearly doesn't have the Twitter password, you know, considering the president is still tweeting. But that tweet is not -- does not even rank in the top 50 or 100 of Trump's most controversial tweets.
BERMAN: Yes! So, I win.
HARLOW: No, that is - that is one point Poppy.
Sorry, we are out of time. And we have to go now. Craig Fuller -
LIZZA: Poppy always wins.
HARLOW: It's a great lesson. Ryan Lizza, Craig Fuller, Asha Rangappa, thank you.
Flake fires off. The Republican senator telling his own party it needs to stop rationalizing the president's behavior.
Plus, an e-mail prankster dukes top White House officials. What did he find out and how did he do it?
BERMAN: And a new Russia sanctions. Are new Russian sanctions coming soon? Vice President Pence standing his ground as the Kremlin retaliates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But the president and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia, a better relationship, the lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[10:16:33] BERMAN: All right. This morning Senate Republicans are at a bit of crossroads on health care. The question is, move on or try to push ahead with possible fixes to the current system despite the failed repeal efforts. This is one of the many issues that could come up today when Senate leaders meet for their weekly luncheon. And will some Republicans say, move on, now. We have tried this. Other Republicans do want to go back to the drawing board.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI), BUDGET COMMITTEE: Well, we can't move on from health care because Obamacare is a mess.
MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: You have the political consideration that you promised folks you would do this for seven years. You cannot go back on that. So, yes, they need to stay. They need to work. They need to pass something. And I think that's not only official White House position on this right now. It's sort of the national attitude towards it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Let's discuss. Republican Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey is here with us in the flesh, nice to have you here, not remotely somewhere.
So, regardless of what you guys, what Congress does, what the president may do very shortly is threatening about five to six million Americans. And that is if you pull these subsidies from insurance companies that are part of Obamacare. They actually go to making health insurance somewhat affordable for five to six million Americans. He has threatened to do that. He has threatened to pull the funding away from you guys and Congress as well. What would you do if the president makes that choice?
REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think we should fund that through the appropriations process. And I did not like the fact in the Obama administration it was not done through the appropriations process.
HARLOW: Which got a caught up in the courts.
LEONARD: And that is being mitigated in the courts. And I'm a member of the first branch of government, article one. And I think this involves the appropriations process. And we should appropriate the funds.
BERMAN: So, you will try to get the money if he pulls the money?
LEONARD: That's correct.
BERMAN: Let me ask you in general for health care right now. Because we set it up there, there is this discussion about whether or not Republicans should move on, you know go on to tax policy, go on to something else or you know dig in again and try to fix health care right now. Where are you?
LEONARD: I think we can do both. I want to move to tax reform. And I think in September, we should move to tax reform, John. However, I'm a member of what's known as the Problem Solvers Caucus. And we have put out a plan regarding the individual market. It's not a complete plan. But I hope that we examine that and it's completely bipartisan in the House of Representatives.
BERMAN: And it does, by the way, include these subsidies he's talking about right there, which is significant.
HARLOW: So, I'm sure you read the front page of "The Washington Post" this morning and the story that the president himself dictated on Air Force One, this completely misleading statement about that meeting that his son Don Jr. had with the Russian attorney. Your response to that? Troublesome to you? If so, what level?
LEONARD: I was the first Republican on Capitol Hill to call for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself regarding the Russian matter. This is not being investigated by two very confident committees in Congress, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, and of course, obviously by Mr. Mueller as well. And I'm sure that we will get to the bottom of all this.
HARLOW: Yes but isn't that Jeff Flake just called out those kind of answers in his op-ed. Today, as you know, he said that sort of as Republicans not calling out the president on things that you do not agree with cannot continue. He said he's done it. So, how do you feel, personally, about the president dictating what we now know from this reporting that the White House is not countered - is misleading to the American people?
LEONARD: I try, Poppy, to lead by example and I always try to be truthful with the press.
HARLOW: You wouldn't do it?
LEONARD: I don't think I would do it, no.
BERMAN: Poppy brought up the Jeff Flake piece that was in "Politico" today, part of an essay, and he's running a whole book also, really which seems to setup questions as he has or Republican senator has right now about the Trump presidency.
[10:20:05] Let me just read you something that he writes. "Too often, we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, 'Someone should do something!' without seeming to realize that that someone is us."
"And so, that unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication, and those in positions of leadership bear particular responsibility."
You were talking about your role and the first branch of government as you put it. Do you think you and your fellow Republicans need to do more to stand-up to this White House?
LEONARD: We should stand-up where we think it's appropriate and we should support the president and we think that's appropriate as well. And I'm comfortable in doing both. I've indicated where I disagree with the president and I've indicated where I agree with him. But certainly, we are an independent and separate branch of the government. And we have constitutional responsibilities.
And for example, we passed overwhelmingly last week the sanctions bill against Russia and Iran and North Korea. And I hope and expect the president will be signing that even though he indicated perhaps he would examine it. But I think Congress really stood up and indicated this is the policy that should exist here in the United States.
HARLOW: You say -- quickly to wrap up, it's appropriate. We should stand-up where appropriate and -- we're not appropriate. Where is it inappropriate for members of Congress to stand-up?
LEONARD: I agree with the president on certain of his policies, for example, on tax reform, I think we should move forward and other areas as well. I favored the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. And where appropriate I will support the president and where inappropriate, I will not.
BERMAN: Has his six months and I guess we're what, just short of 200 days in office for the president, has it gone like you thought it would?
LEONARD: I think that it's been a very challenging time. However, I do think that General Kelly will be excellent as chief of staff, so long as everyone in the White House can report to him. I think there can only be one chief of staff and that should be General Kelly.
BERMAN: Think or hope?
LEONARD: I think that General Kelly will be successful.
HARLOW: Thank you.
LEONARD: Thank you.
BERMAN: Congressman, great to have you here with us. Really appreciate it.
All right, just days after its latest missile test, North Korea engaging with USS is highly unusual submarine activity. So, what does this mean for the president's vow to quote, "Handle North Korea." Stay with us.
[10:26:45] HARLOW: A day after Russia said it would seize two U.S. diplomatic properties in Moscow. The U.S. appears to be moving out of them. This is new video from the U.S. embassy in Moscow. It shows moving trucks, personnel taking items out of that diplomatic country residence. This comes as the vice president says major changes are needed if Russia and U.S. relations do not improve.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: For there to be a change in our relationship with Russia, Russia has to change its behavior. And by these sanctions, by my presence here, by the president's powerful affirmation of the objectives and the values of our alliance in the West, our hope is that we will move toward better relations and a better future and a more peaceful world as a result.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. The vice president was speaking in Tbilisi in Georgia. That is one stop on the vice president's tour, which also includes the Baltic States. This is an effort to reassure NATO allies who are nervous about Russian aggression. Those concerns could escalate even more. "The New York Times" is reporting that a military exercise by Russia could involve up to 100,000 Russian troops.
Joining us now to discuss this, Paul Menichelli, he's a former policy adviser and State Department official under President George W. Bush.
Paul, thank you so much for being with us. Vladimir Putin kicking out these U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia, these huge military exercises, which have been on the schedule, but 100,000 troops including in nations like Belarus there, certainly seems fairly provocative. What message do you think Vladimir Putin is trying to send?
PAUL BONICELLI, FORMER POLICY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it is two messages. One, he's sending to his own country that he is large and in charge and he's also sending a message to Belarus which has been playing -- with you know, whether or not it wants to stay in the Russian orbit. So, that's sort of his attempt to clamp down on them, Lukashenko and that government.
But it also is an attempt to send a message to the world and the United States that Russia is going to continue to do what it always does, which is come above its way and exert its authority, all of which is a desperation move by a weak country and a weak president who knows that if he loses the energy markets in Europe and if he has a U.S. president stand-up to him, everything begins to crumble.
HARLOW: It's also - you know testing the ability of NATO to respond, right? And the resources of NATO by spreading out its troops so much along Poland and along these Baltic nations as well, so the U.S. responds that is appropriate, you believe, is what?
BONICELLI: I think it's appropriate for the U.S. to respond and the NATO countries to respond, and not just in words, but in deeds. To match everything that he does. It's not quite relevant because our weapons and our abilities are greater than his. But to match those things, follow the Kissinger Rule, do unto others as they do unto you plus 10 percent. Because that's all that Putin understands is if a U.S. president or if the West stands up to him, he risks a bloody nose which he cannot afford at home because he's not really an elected leader.
BERMAN: You know along those lines, you seem to suggest a similar posture toward China and North Korea. You said, recently that the U.S. never frightened China or North Korea enough in the past. What exactly do you mean by that?