tv Washington Week PBS July 14, 2017 7:30pm-8:01pm PDT
robert: the russia probe widens, shifting the white house into crisis mode, again. i'm robert costa. we get the back story on the new revelations involving the president's son, son-in-law, and a former russian spy, tonight on "washington week." president trump: i have a son who's a great young man, took a meeting with a lawyer from russia. nothing came of the meeting. robert: president trump defends his son's decision to talk with a russian attorney who offered damaging information about hillary clinton. >> for me, this was opposition research, they had something, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories i have been hearing about that were underreported for years, not just during the campaign. robert: and the president's son-in-law, jared kushner, also under fire, for attendance at that meeting, and for failing to list dozens of foreign contacts on his security application.
>> his security clearance must be revoked immediately. robert: we look at the latest revelations involving the president's inner circle. plus, bleak prognosis. republican lawmaker roll out a revised healthcare bill and face immediate opposition from fellow republicans and pressure from the president. president trump: we have to get this done, repeal and replace. mitch has to pull this off. robert: we explore it all with mark mazzetti of the "new york times," amy walter of the cook political report, michael scherer of "time" magazine," and ashley parker of "the washington post". >> celebrating 50 years, this is "washington week." funding is provided by -- >> we've all been affected by cancer some way, somehow. dana-farber cancer institute is pursuing breakthroughs every day
to help end cancer, like identifying genetic mutations for targeted therapies and teaching your immune system to attack cancerous cells. by constantly using information in completely new ways, we're cracking the cancer code. learn more at discovercarebelieve.org. >> additional funding is provided by -- boeing. newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation, committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator, robert costa. robert:good evening.
even a trip to paris could not keep president trump away from the ongoing russia scandal. under pressure, his namesake, don jr., released emails that revealed he was open to russian assistance. earlier this week, junior posted that the 2016 campaign led him to have an email chain that prompted a sit-down with a russian lawyer who he was told had, quote, some official documents, and information that would incriminate hillary clinton and her dealings with russia and would be very useful to your father. music publicist rob goldstone who brokered the meeting with the russian turn to told -- attorney told the younger trump that the information was high-level and sensitive information but was part of support for mr. trump. trump jr. replied, if it's what you say, i love it. once the "new york times" broke the story, don jr. tried to set the record straight with an appearance on fox news.
>> as far as you know, this is all of it? >> this is everything. robert: special counsel robert mueller is reviewing the email exchanges as part of a broader investigation. two congressional committees have invited paul manafort, don jr. and jared kushner to testify under oath about their contacts with russia. inside the white house, a case study in crisis mismanagement, according to your reporting, ashley and michael, we see a big picture here, after months and months of denials on the russia story from the trump white house. finally has this episode cracked open the whole controversy? michael: the message the defense that president trump has used for months now is that this is all fake news, this is all bogus, there's no substance to it at all. what we have here is not only evidence that there was an intent to work with russia to get information during the campaign, we don't know whether that actual actually happened yet but also evidence that
knowing this email existed, this white house, these senior officials, didn't put it out for weeks after they knew they had it. jared kushner didn't disclose it initially. he had two times he had a chance to disclose on his security clearance application this meeting. he failed the first two times. they say he did it the third time. and even this week when they were asked about the "new york times" about this, they kept changing their story, even after don jr. says on hannity, that's everything, we learn today it wasn't everything. there were other people in the room including another russian-american who used to serve in the russian military. so the idea, one thing you really haven't heard much from this white house over the last week is that fake news thing. they've lost that defense because they haven't been able to be transparent and it makes it electric like -- look like there's more to come. robert: what's going on inside the white house, ashley? you have a team of lawyers, so
many lawyers inside the west west wing, and they still seem blind-sided. ashley: the situation is not good. in my reporting i talked to one republican close to the white house who described it as a category five hurricane and another friend of the white house operative described it as house of cards, the dystopian netflix series. and there's just a lot of mistrust and in-fighting. this is a white house, to begin with, in-fighting is a core value and immediately when the emails came out, instead of trying to manage the problem, they turned on each other and tried to figure out who's leaking, who gave this to the "new york times" and further you have these legal teams who are siloed and feuding with each other. the president's legal team and his son-in-law's legal team. they don't want the two men understandably talking with each other. there are a lot of tensions and you throw in the president's
namesake son, don jr., who hired his own legal team and talking about his own p.r. team and a lot of people who are not coordinating for legal and cultural reasons and it's a really tricky thing to handle. robert: they were trying to handle it as they were on air force one, the president flying back from his trip. mark, the "new york times" broke this explosive story. did "the times" expect donald trump jr. to release these meals emails and what do you make of the story that a former russian spy was in the room last summer? mark: first off on don jr., we didn't know where the story was end up. the story kept evolving over the weekend, the white house story or don jr. kept evolving. on saturday, the meetings was about russian adoptions and on sunday we approached them and said we know it was about getting dirt on hillary clinton and they said we know everyone does this and then we said we
know it was based on a promise from the russian government and we said we were approaching with the actual emails and we would publish them and donald trump jr. put his out a couple of minutes before our story ran. we didn't know how it would play out but clearly, as everyone has been saying, i guess the significance is that for months we have all been writing about meetings with russians that first, never existed until we reported that they did and then the question, though, was, what are these meetings about and this question of collusion. here you have one meeting with actual people on an actual date where there was at least interest on part of the trump campaign in getting information, working with the russians and as michael said, we all need to know what happened afterwards so i think that is the significance, without sort of saying this is going to be it, which it's not, it's significant. on the question of the meeting, and who were the participants,
the wrinkle today was the added participant that hadn't been reported was a russian-american lobbyist. he had served in the soviet military, actually, he was a kgb unit inside the military hunting for inside the military and has been out of russia for a long time, has been a fixture in washington and has been someone who is well known to members of congress because he's been actively advancing the kremlin's interests so he's another interesting character to look at. robert: amy, is the president paying a cost for this controversy, with republicans in washington or with republican base voters across the country? amy: everybody here around the table sits and talks with republicans who are worried but no one is breaking with the president and clearly voters aren't, either. the most recent gallup poll,
among republicans he has an 83% approval rating. the danger for republicans in thinking they still have their base, is to, one, that they don't have independents. independents, now, for the last many months, not just since this story broke, but overwhelmingly disapprove of the president and the bigger challenge for republicans especially talking about mid tern election year, while the base is sticking with the president, they're not enthusiastic. the democrats dislike donald trump with the heat of a thousand million suns. it is not an equal amount of like from democrats, literally a 2-1 difference in terms of enthusiasm. so the challenge is the base, i don't think -- is not going to leave donald trump. that's not the challenge for republicans. it's can you win in 2018 if you're only getting 30% of
independents and your base is still not as excited and that's why really for republicans the question is, can the republican congress pass a healthcare bill, do something on taxes and come back in an election year saying, ok, it was kind of rocky, thanks for sticking with us, here's your reward. robert: republicans are maybe not just paying attention to the drama over donald trump jr. but looking at policy. you have a sanctions bill that passed the senate against russia sitting in the house. the white house doesn't love it because they'd like to have more control over negotiations with russia over getting rid of sanctions and yet the president was flying back last week from the g-20 dealing with this issue but trying to reshape u.s.-russian relations last week, a real endeavor from the president to try to rethink a traditionally chilly relationship. michael: he went to poland and gave a rousing speech, a defense of poland and nato.
he's trying to reset relations with russia, talk with putin about a ceasefire which seemed to have some effect in syria. the president and his team keep trying to turn the page on this and every time they try -- this has been going on for months -- to turn a page, they fail. and i think one of the things at the root of that is that the president and the family members around him are refusing to do what everyone at this table knows, what all their lawyers know, you do in this situation. if you have an email and they had this email for weeks, that says something that is incriminating. you try to get in front of it and they didn't do that. even last weekend they didn't do that. robert: story offer story. michael: they were acting as if this email would never come out. mark: and there were divisions within the trump white house, the trump universe about whether to come clean immediately, to draw it out.
robert: what were those decisions? you must have seen it up close working on the story for the "times." mark: without getting too much into who was talking to whom about what to do, but there were some who advocated that there was -- that the best thing to do would be to sort of produce the email, talk about what the story's about, what the meeting's about and not have it drag out because it looks incriminating. >> and the backdrop of all of this is donald trump is basically the world's worst client, he is not a lawyer's dream. we have reporting that his legal team goes to the white house and they tell him, whatever you do, mr. president, just don't mention this and they have not yet arrived back at their law office when he has tweeted about the subject they told him not to mention. he's also someone who, when you're under legal investigation or facing legal problems, you need to compartmentalize and he'll be in a meeting about immigration or water policy and will suddenly mention russia which is not what lawyers
advise. amy: and isn't much of this, too, what they learned on the campaign and business life which worked for him is not working now so he's doubling down on what has always worked. this isn't a campaign, this isn't a real estate business. this is governing, it's very different and they refuse to make that turn. michael: and it worked even though donald trump was told by people like us it wouldn't work so the lesson for him throughout his career is people telling me what to do are wrong and i'm smarter than them. mark: you look at all the people from the trump orbit affected by the russia controvert. paul manafort resigned. former general flynn resigned as national security adviser and now it hits the president's son.
ashley: and it's incredibly frustrating for the president because he feels his family is unfairly brought into this and though he doesn't exhibit a ton of loyalty to his staff is at times, the one loyalty is familial and that even extends to jared kushner. mark: more than any other president, he's brought his family into it having them so close. jared kushner will testify before the congressional intelligence committees. of the players you mentioned, and including a few others, including don jr., jared kushner is a government employee so there's legal implications for him not filling out his background clearance or continuing to having to update and not coming clean in the beginning so there are implications and he'll have to answer for why he didn't. so the stakes are a little bit higher, not only because of the
meeting that we're talking about now, this meeting that happened last june, but subsequent meetings that everyone's reported about -- in november and december, where he was meeting not only with the russian ambassador but meeting with a banker, sergei gorkoff, head of a bank under sanction and all this smoke about what was happening during the transition so kushner's been a player in all of these meetings. robert: if you're a democrat looking ahead to the midterm elections, do you seize the russia issue in a way they did not in the special election in georgia? amy: i think you're looking at the issues that are important, healthcare and the economy. russia is right there with the environment, somewhere around 12% or 13%. robert: when is that going to change? amy: i don't know that it's ever and when i talk to democrats, they understand this.
when it comes to what impacts your day-to-day life, this conversation does not put food on the table or take care of your healthcare. the healthcare bill will be the biggest, most important vote that some republicans have already taken, that senate republicans may take. this is the issue that democrats, i think you'll hear a lot about on the campaign trail, especially a bill that right now is polling at about 30%. michael: there's something fascinating, the president said, in an on the record interview on air force one, he said the democrats are making a huge mistake and made the argument that by focusing on russia, they were doing something like they did during the campaign which was make a character argument about the president -- the end of the campaign was about his treatment of women and he won because voters cared more about the economy so it's very clear that not just the president, but others in the white house, they're not in a happy place but they still see this opportunity.
robert: do we see this, robert mueller, the special counsel, the man everyone's waiting on. will he focus more on possible obstruction of justice? or is this don jr., these emails, does it change that investigation? mark: what we know, there's not a lot we know specifics about the mandate but we know his mandate will be to look at what happened last year during the campaign and any possible collusion, right? this meeting fits right into that. during the campaign, questions of collusion. so this would be squarely in what he's looking at. the question really is, how far afield might he go, might he feel authorized to and when he might run into real anger at the white house. remember, the president can fire him. but the -- from these issues of campaign collusion spin out other questions, financial ties to russia possibly, real estate deals all over the place. there are many places mueller
could go and he's building a team that could lead him there. ashley: and also lying. one thing the president, in his real estate dealings and career, made his name on was fudging the truth, speaking hyperbollically, one aide called it puffery but one thing the president's legal team and the legal teams for his son-in-law and son are trying to impress upon him is this isn't manhattan real estate and you can't lie to the feds and investigators. robert: on capitol hill, senate republicans rolled out their new plan to replace the affordable care act and they faced the same old problem, opposition among republicans. moderate senator susan collins of maine and conservative rand paul of kentucky announced they will vote no on the procedural vote next week. patty murray isn't a fan of the bill but ted cruz is. >> they made their bill even
worse, even meaner. >> it's not the ideal bill i'd like to pass. i suspect there may not be a single senator for whom it's the ideal bill they'd like to pass but it does represent a bill that reflects the concerns expressed across the conference. robert: the revised bill which will be evaluated over the weekend by the congressional budget office earmarked $45 billion for opioid addiction treatment and keeps the previous rollback of medicaid, a sticking point among republicans. we could talk about russia and don jr. all night but we have an update on healthcare because this is a key priority for the republican party for nearly a decade and it hangs in the balance in the senate. michael: it does and we didn't get much closer this week than the week before. i don't think that means this is dead. it's still very much a live animal and the reason is that mcconnell is systematically
testing people and what he did in this version is he changed some of the regulatory suf, -- stuff, won an endorsement from ted cruz, gave regional candy to people for opioid treatments and more money for rural states like alaska. what he didn't do is address the cuts in medicaid funding compared to current law and he still has space to address that and i think he's setting up a situation in which he can focus his pressure one by one on the half dozen or more people who are holding out on the bill. robert: what's the white house's role in trying to sell this bill? ashley: this is very different when it was a full-on press. mitch mcconnell told the white house privately, told reince priebus, i want to do this on my own so the person they've sent out the most is the vice president, mike pence, and he's a former house member, he has
some relationships. he's been working with members. i think one thing, if they do not get the ball across the line and i agree, they very well could -- but it's an open question how much responsibility in the president's mind the vice president will bear for that failure because what the president will see is a failure, correctly, and the vice president will have been the closest, most public figure pushing it. robert: the president's still the president. amy: and when you look at polling and just the broader sense even on capitol hill, whose responsibility this is, it's actually mitch mcconnell. even the president said, mitch, you have to get this across for me. when you look at the polling, when you ask voters, if this fails, who will you blame, the majority pick congress. very few among democrats or republicans pick the president so the president has delegated this to his folks in the senate and he's been very clear that he sees it as their responsibility
to get him something that he can sign but it's really important, i don't think you can overstate this, that nobody is selling this bill. we talk about process. we talk about hold-outs. we haven't heard anything from republicans about why this is such a great bill and who's out there selling it. i did a story this week looking at how much money's been spent on this actual, the healthcare bill. and a lot of the ads are running in those states you mentioned of the hold-out senators, close to $6 million has been spent in advertising. $5.8 million of it has been against the bill. nobody's out there promoting it. so the question is not just, is mitch mcconnell going to be able to get something across the finish line but who will sell it, something that's right now really unpopular. robert: that's fascinating. it brings up this vexing question for republicans, michael, maybe the affordable care act is actually settled law in the minds of many people, including some republicans, and as much as mcconnell may try to whip certain senators, at the
end of the day, that's the reality he faces with many people. michael: it's certainly more popular now than the replacement they've come up with. it's not settled law in that it's broken. there will have to come a point in coming months or years where they pass another bill to fix it, otherwise the individual market will basically collapsed. it's already collapsing in a lot of states. that will give bargaining power to both sides to force some changes. republicans know if they miss this chance, they're going to sit down at the table with democrats and they're going to be at an enormous disadvantage because at that point democrats will have the upper hand and say you're going to do it our way this time. robert: fantastic conversation, thanks, mark, ashley, michael, amy, for being here. and thanks everybody for watching. our conversation continues online on the "washington week" extra where we'll tell you why former presidents george w. bush and bill clinton say partisan
politics has never gotten in the way of their friendship. you can find that later tonight and all week long at pbs.org/washingtonweek. i'm robert costa. see you next time and enjoy your weekend. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive. they understand the challenges of today and research the technologies of tomorrow.
some call them veterans. we call them part of our team. >> additional funding is provided by -- dana-farber cancer institute. more at discovercarebelieve.org. newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation, committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org.]