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tv   Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer  CNN  July 11, 2017 2:00pm-2:30pm PDT

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breaking news, the smoking e-mail. attacking hillary clinton in setting up this 2016 meeting with other top campaign figures and a russian lawyer. is this a smoking gun? black and white. the vice chairman of the senate intelligence committee says it's now black and white that russia tried to help donald trump. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want his son to testify, one suggesting it may even be an issue of treason. transparency. president trump has kept quiet with his son's involvement in
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russia, and issuing transparency even as donald trump jr. has changed his story in recent days. the regime has been celebrating its new long range missile. there are no signs it might not be successful as claimed. how great is the north korean threat to the united states? i'm wolf blitzer. you're in "the situation room." >> announcer: this is cnn breaking news. breaking news. a bombshell revelation today draws the most direct line yet between the trump campaign and russia and it comes in the form of e-mails released by none other than donald trump jr. the e-mails set up the june 2016 meeting between a russian lawyer with trump jr., a trump campaign manager, paul manafort, and trump's son-in-law jared kushner. in the first e-mail an intermediary relayed a message that russia's state prosecutor, quote, offered to provide the
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trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate hillary. closed quote, the e-mail said the information, once again quoting, would be very useful to your father. this is obviously very high level and sensitive information, but it's part of russia and its government support for mr. trump, closed quote. trump jr. replied, quote, i love it. the russian lawyer who met with trump and his colleagues said they want the information badly. president trump has been uncharacteristically silent on the russia meeting and his son's involvement but issued a simple statement today saying, and i'm quoting, my son is a high quality person and i applaud his transparency. lawmakers are not staying silent. there are bipartisan calls for the president's son to appear before congress while hillary clinton's former running mate, senator tim kaine, said trump jr. may have even committed
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treason. i'll talk with senator richard blumenthal. the white house is clearly on the defensive right now over this truly stunning revelation by donald trump jr. let's begin with our senior white house correspondent jim acosta. jim, take us through the e-mails and the president's rather subdued reaction. >> they are not loving it over here at the white house, wolf. the president defended his son today not in a tweet but in a sober statement read by the white house. aides to the president say he is frustrated with the russia story, but today he only has his eldest son to blame. the e-mails are astonishing. released by the president's own son, donald trump jr., the messages reveal top level officials with the trump campaign met with a russian lawyer, who an intermediary suggested was offering support from the kremlin. the e-mails first reported by the "new york times" promised, quote, very high level and sensitive information that would incriminate hillary clinton. the messages between trump jr.
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and an acquaintance, rob goldstone, outline how russian pop singer amin agalarav, whose father is tied with the kremlin, wanted them to meet with attorney natalia veselnitskaya. it also included jared kushner and paul manafort. he sa trump said, how about 3:00 in our offices? thanks, rob. i appreciate you setting this up. trump jr.: if it's what you say, i love it. especially later in the summer. the president's son tweeted photos of the e-mails along with a statement that reads, i first just wanted to have a phone call, but when that didn't work out, they said the woman would be in new york and asked if i would meet. i decide to do take the meeting. the woman said publicly shef wa not a government official and had no information to provide.
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the lawyer apparently stated she had information regarding campaign promises by the dnc which she believed mr. trump might find important. i agreed with a very tight meeting schedule. i was told she didn't work for the russian government. >> translator: it's very possible they were looking for such information, they wanted it so badly. >> reporter: sarah huckabee sanders read a brief statement for the president about his son. >> my son is a high quality person and i applaud his transparency. >> reporter: also they wondered if he could be brought up on treason. >> i think that is ridiculous. >> reporter: but it overshadows anything from the trump team. >> it's disgusting. it's so phony. >> reporter: to the vice president. >> just to button up one question, did any adviser on the trump campaign have any contact
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with the russians who were trying to meddle in the election. >> oh, of course not. >> reporter: to the president himself. >> mr. president-elect, can you state categorically -- >> he once refused to answer whether his associates had contacts with the russians and has repeatedly rejected the story as fake news. >> the entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. but i can always speak for myself and the russians, zero. >> reporter: now mr. trump's advisers are defending the president's son's actions as something campaigns do. >> they wanted the dirt. >> which is what political campaigns do. >> reporter: now, as for rob goldstone, he is referring all questions to his attorney, and as for the white house officials here, they refused to answer any questions from whion camera. in the past these briefings have been held off camera so they don't step on any message of the day. the president had no message of the day today.
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he is staying behind closed doors with no public appearances on his schedule, wolf. >> president trump may be keeping mostly silent on the stunning developments involving his son. lawmakers are clearly speaking out. let's go to capitol hill right now. our senior congressional reporter mana raju. what are you hearing. >> reporter: paul manafort, jared kushner, donald trump jr. will be central at least in part on investigations of the house and the senate side, both the top democrat and the senate intelligence committee and the democrat committee say they want to hear from donald trump jr. in a closed session and anybody else who was involved in setting up that meeting, believing this is in part an effort by russia officials, by kremlin-backed associates to try to influence the trump campaign and the democrats believe this is the first clear evidence of efforts by trump officials to work with
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russian officials to go after the clinton campaign. now, adam schiff, the top democrat on the committee and the house committee, just spoke to reporters about his concerns. this is what he said. >> we now know that the response that the president's son gave to the russians was that he would love it if they would provide damaging information about hillary clinton. rather than report this overture by the russian government to provide damaging information to intervene in the presidential election and a way to help his father, neither the president's son nor the campaign reported this information to the fbi. when it became obvious that the e-mails were being dumped, when it became obvious this was being done by the russian government, when our own intelligence community issued a statement in october affirming that this was being done by the ruians, did the trump campaign then disclose that, in fact, they had received an overture to receive damaging
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information? the answer, of course, is no, they didn't. >> now, notable, wolf, who is not by adam schiff's side was mike conaway who is the republican from texas who is leading the russia investigation. we have not heard from him yet, but i did have the chance to speak to the senate republican leading the republican investigation, richard burr, who said he did not want to comment on donald trump jr. himself, but i asked him if this is more evidence about collusion. some other republicans are speaking out saying they are very concerned that donald trump jr. had this meeting and, knowing that this could be coming from the russian government, here are some republicans and democrats raising concerns. >> if you're offered assistance from a foreign government in your campaign, the only answer is no, so i'm not going to condemn the guy in an e-mail, but this is something that is the most problematic thing i've seen thus far. >> there clearly was a russian
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government effort to discredit clinton and to help trump and that trump officials at the most senior level were aware of that. >> we're now beyond obstruction of justice in terms of what's being investigated. this is moving into perjury, false statements and even into potentially treason. >> reporter: now, wolf, a number of democrats are not really willing to go as far as senator kaine by raising this as treason. he does want donald trump jr. to testify in public, believing he should turn over all records to the senate intelligence committee, and i asked him specifically about if he has any concerns about this meeting. he just said this is something that an intelligence committee will look at. he did not answer that question, and when two other reporters asked him similar questions, he punted. certainly different leaders on the hill. >> let's bring in analyst jeffrey toobin.
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jeffrey, how serious is this, these e-mails from a legal perspective? >> it's certainly very serious, but it's also important to say there is a long way to go, and these e-mails in and of themselves are not proof of any crimes. two things to think about. one is, it is a crime for campaign officials to solicit anything of value from a foreign government. so the question is, was anything solicited here of value? were e-mails solicited, was hacking solicited? that is a question investigators will want to explore. the other issue is that jared kushner, who is now a very high white house official, he's copied on these e-mails. the question is, did he disclose this meeting when he filled out his security clearance? if he intentionally left it off, that's a crime. it's not a crime if he simply forgot or made a mistake. this meeting, though, certainly
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seems pretty dramatic even in the context of a dramatic campaign, the idea that he simply forgot about it, which strikes me as probably a little hard to believe. >> the idea that the campaign cannot accept money from foreign nationals or other things of value. opposition research is something of value. campaigns spend a lot of money to get opposition research. this would be opposition research. is that a crime? >> well, it would be a crime if a court agreed that it was something of value. i'm not aware of any criminal cases yet where anything of value is defined as research. but it's not out of the question, and again, it's always important in these circumstances to remember we have a very important but small slice of information. what do the other e-mails show? what do the witnesses say? was there any surveillance? all of this you would have to
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have director mueller accumulate and then he would make a decision. you don't make a decision based on these very provocative e-mails. >> some have suggested that the first thing donald trump jr. and his colleagues should have done once they were offered this information from a foreign national, this russian lawyer, is immediately go to the fbi to law enforcement and report this. should they have? >> of course. i mean, that would have been a much more prudent course. or even if they didn't want to do that, you don't send the campaign manager, the candidate's son, the candidate's son-in-law, the top people, to meet with this woman. i mean, that was the craziest thing to do. maybe you send a low-level person with instructions, simply write down what she says. we'll evaluate it and then maybe get back to her or not. to put these top people involved suggests that they thought nothing wrong -- nothing was wrong with meeting with such a high-level person who is identified in the e-mails as
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someone who represents the russian government. >> jeffrey, you're going to be back with us in a little bit so don't go too far away. joining us now, democratic senator richard blumenthal. he is a key senator of the intelligence committee. thank you for being with us. >> thank you for having me. >> what was your reaction when you heard what was going on this morning with these e-mails? >> as a former prosecutor, my reaction was these e-mails are a textbook example and evidence of criminal intent. i can almost hear the closing arguments of the jury using "i love it," repeating again and again, "i love it." those three words are going to haunt donald trump jr. because they are a clear signal that he is looking for information, dirt, on hillary clinton from the russian government and expecting an agent of the russian government to be providing it to him, and having the meeting showing, and again
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signalling, the trump campaign is open for business. we will accept information no matter how it is obtained legally or illegally. and that is potentially a violation of the fbi, yes, treason, and it is potentially a violation of the prohibitions of defrauding the government through conspiracy, against cyber fraud and abuse. there are a slew of statutes that may have been violated here. but the bottom line is that we are beginning to understand why donald trump the president may have been so eager to fire jim comey if he felt that his own son was at risk. and we should begin looking for alarm lights flashing about possibly firing bob mueller. because clearly this investigation is coming closer and closer. there is a lot of fire here. more has been smoke. closer and closer to the
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president of the united states. >> i want to follow up on both those points you just made, but very quickly, did you know about this meeting in june of last year or these e-mails before the "new york times" reported them over the past few days? >> the answer is, wolf, no. we owe a huge debt of gratitude as a democracy to the free press for disclosing them. we are far from indictments or charges. jeff toobin is absolutely right that there is much more to be known about this story, but it will probably be known from the press before we know about it from anyone else. and i think where this story is going is disclosure about additional meetings. this meeting was not the end of donald trump seeking information from the russian government, and the russian government perhaps disclosing to him that, in fact, they obtained information by hacking into dnc computers and others. >> well, you said you're fearful now the president might actually fire the special counsel robert mueller as he fired the former
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fbi director james comey. s is that a serious concern you have? is that at all realistic? >> it is a realistic concern. in fact, i intend to raise it tomorrow in the hearing with the nominee for fbi director christopher wray. i met with privated and asked him questions about the potential firing of robert mueller, because the closer he comes to the president of the united states, the more worried senior may be for himself and his son, the more fearsome and apprehensive that possibility may be. >> have you done the research? would the president of the united states have direct authority to fire mueller? >> he has no direct authority to fire mueller. but he could appoint a deputy attorney general if rod rosenstein refuses and resigns to do that task, so i want to
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know from christopher wray what he would do if that happens if he is confirmed as fbi director. these points are all speculation right now, but they are the reason we need to think ahead and be prepared for the eventuality that none of us could have anticipated. we have a free press -- again, i can't stress it enough -- the "new york times" and the "washington post" and others like cnn who have done such a tremendous job. >> you mentioned the word treason, a very powerful word. your senate colleague tim kane of virginia, the democratic vice presidential nominee, he goes to it directly and says it is possible it's treason. on what basis would you use the word treason involving the president's oldest son? >> if the president's son, donald trump jr., intended to be part of a conspiracy to interfere with the lawful election procedure in this country, if he meant to, in
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effect, sabotage our democratic institutions by aiding the russians in doing so, i think that that kind of charge would have to be considered by a prosecutor. >> because i looked in the u.s. constitution, and it's -- this is how they define our founding fathers, the crime of treason. treason against the united states shall consist only in levying war against them or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. you believe that potentially that definition of treason would fit what was going on in that meeting? >> here's what i believe very strongly, wolf. the russians attacked our nation. they did it through the cyber domain. their action in my view was, in fact, an act of war. they sought to sabotage our elections. they, in fact, endeavoredo interfere with 21 states in
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administering the tallies and accounts of votes that are part of our lawful election system. they attacked our democracy in a way that would mean treason for anybody who aided and a betted or provided them comfort in doing so. now, we are, in fact, engaged somewhat in speculation. i want to emphasize that i know no more than what has been revealed publicly, or little more, but we need to think seriously about the consequences of these starkly illegal claims and potential charges. >> senator blumenthal, we have more to discuss, including new information we're getting on the special counsel right now. i want you to stand by. we'll resume our special coverage right after this. i realize that ah, that $100k is not exactly a fortune.
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our breaking news. e-mails released by donald trump jr. show in advance of his meeting with a russian lawyer last summer, he was offered damaging material on hillary clinton by an intermediary claiming to represent the russian government. we're talking with senator richard blumenthal. senator, stand by. we have new information coming in to the situation right now. we're getting this information, and we're learning new information about the special counsel robert mueller's plans to examine all of this. >> right. this is probably not going to come as a huge surprise entirely, but the investigators working for robert mueller are now planning to examine the meeting and exchanges, e-mail exchanges, that donald trump jr. today disclosed publicly. the full details of the meeting and of these interactions was not fully known to the fbi. the fbi has been taking a look at this, as you know, for about a year. but they didn't know all of
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these interactions, at least, i'm told, untilrecently. what has happened more recently is that jared kushner, the president's son-in-law, has amended his form that he submitted in order to get a permanent security clearance from the fbi. as part of that process, jared kushner disclosed this meeting because he attended it, as you know, with paul manafort, the then-chairman of the campaign, as well as don jr. so all of this is now one reason why the fbi is going to take a look at all of this, the fbi investigators that are working with robert mueller's team. it should be noted that the fbi has in the past year taken a look at don jr.'s finances, his associations as part of the broader look at whether or not there was any collusion or whether or not there was any ties to russia that crossed over into criminal territory. obviously that is something that has been going on now for about a year. >> donald trump jr. released the e-mail chain only after he was
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notified by the "new york times" that they had it and they were about to publish it so he decided to release it before it was published by the "new york times." >> exactly. >> let's get back to senator blumenthal. the fbi only recently learned about this meeting with the russian lawyer. are there other meetings that investigators have not yet uncovered? >> i believe very strongly, wolf, that there are a trove of additional e-mails bearing on criminal intent, on the substantive criminal actions that may well have taken place, and the reports that provide public confirmation of this kind of suspected activity, i think, will ailed the investigators, if only because they are likely to precipitate cooperation by other potential subjects or targets of
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the investigation, knowing that progress is being made. a lot of the progress of the investigation will depend on the momentum that it has. these kinds of disclosed reports will aid in that momentum. they will also, very importantly, aid in our efforts here on capitol hill to persuade the president to support a sanction order or our colleagues on the house side to support a le legislation that's already been passed by the senate, overwhelmlying, a 98-2 vote for sanctions, greatly increased sanctions and codified sanctions against the russians making them pay a price. that is terribly important because otherwise they are going to repeat this criminal action, perhaps with other campaigns. >> you say you believe there may be other meetings and e-mails, but do have any evidence to back that up? >> only the fact that these e-mails seem to indicate such a
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strongly rooted desire for this kind of information that it seems almost impossible that this was a one-off, that they abandoned this effort after this seemingly unsuccessful meeting. but the fact that there was no useful information here is not a defense to a conspiracy charge because the purpose and intent are nonetheless to get this information to cooperate and collude with the russians. >> you said earlier, senator, you met one on one with president nominee director christopher wray. did you ask him specifically if he's willing to be independent from the white house if the white house asked him to stop the russia investigation, for example? >> i am convinced after my conversation with christopher wray that he will be independent, that he will protect the integrity of the fbi. i will


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