Team Trump on defense amid Trump Jr. scandal

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," July 12, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're the most powerful country in the world, and we are getting more and more powerful because I'm a big military person. As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That's what Putin doesn't like about me, and that's why I say, why would he want me? He would like Hillary where she wants to have windmills. He would much rather have that because energy prices would go up and Russia, as you know, relies very much on energy. There are many things I do that are the exact opposite of what he would want. So when I keep hearing about that he would've rather had Trump, I think probably not.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Trump with an interview with Pat Robertson on "The 700 Club" on CBN talking about Vladimir Putin. Obviously this falls after this investigation has heated up. Donald Trump Jr.'s meetings, he tweeted about all of that this morning. "My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest witch hunt in political history. Sad!" "Remember, when you hear the words "sources say" from the fake media, oftentimes those sources are made up and do not exist. Why aren't the same standards placed on the Democrats? Look what Hillary Clinton may have gotten away with. Disgraceful." And finally, "The White House is functioning perfectly, focused on healthcare, tax cuts, reform and many other things. I have very little time for watching TV."

That may have been reaction to all the stories we saw today. "Politico," "White House is helpless." Aides feel helpless in this scandal exploding. "New York Times," "Rancor at the White House as Russia story refuses to let the page turn." "Washington Post," "Category five hurricane, White house under siege by Trump Jr.'s Russia relations," and A.P., "As Russia scandal touches his son, Trump privately rages."

OK, let's bring in our panel, Guy Benson, political editor of, Lisa Boothe, columnist with the "Washington Examiner," Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief at "USA Today," and Richard Grenell, former U.S. spokesman at the United Nations.

OK, Guy, the president today, and the reaction to all of this coverage?

GUY BENSON, POLITICAL EDITOR, TOWNHALL.COM: I think that the White House problem right now is one of credibility. I've seen some of the arguments about Donald Trump, Jr. and his actions, and to me they are decent arguments. For example, this isn't certainly treason. It's probably not even a crime. I think there's a good case to be made on those two points. People are saying look at Ukraine and their interaction with an operative at the DNC during the election campaign this past year to the benefit of Hillary Clinton and that party. I think that's a fair point to make as well.

The problem is you have this blanket assertion from the president, the vice president, all the way down, that there was no collusion, there were no meetings with Russians. This is all a fairy tale. And then slowly but surely the thread gets pulled and there are retractions and backpedaling and revisions of the public record, a big one being this whole Donald Trump, Jr. situation because he very explicitly said I never met with a Russian national in an arranged meeting. Clearly that was not true.

BAIER: Susan, and as all of these different players lawyer up inside the White House, that's when you start to get what perhaps is described in some of these pieces about the chaos of lawyers telling them to do one thing. That's how "The New York Times" gets these emails apparently from Jared Kushner's lawyers is what we assume from the writing of the email, of the story. Your thoughts on the description of the chaos?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": We certainly have competing power centers here that are using leaks against one another. And it is hard to avoid the impression that this is a chaotic situation and one that has overwhelmed everything else.

At the White House, they are basically bystanders to the big debate in the Senate on health care, for instance. They have sublet that to Mitch McConnell. They are not talking about the tax bill that they've promised to provide details for. This issue, this Russia issue has overwhelmed everything. And it looks to me like it only gets worse because each time you have a disclosure, it leads to another disclosure. Each time you find out about a meeting, it gives investigators both on the Hill and in the special counsel's office new people to go talk to, to compare their stories, to get someone to tell about some other meeting that we don't yet know about. There is no sign at all that the stream of disclosures that we've been seeing are about to stop.


RIC GRENELL, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I think I'm the only one who doesn't live in Washington, D.C. here, and people don't care about this. There's such a difference between listening and acting. I think Donald Trump, Jr. listened to something that was brought to him. He didn't act on it. He didn't remember, and nobody in the meeting remembered because literally it was nothing. It was a crazy person coming up with some idea that when they heard it, they were, ah, we're not doing anything with this. Jared Kushner left the meeting early.

I've been on a lot of campaigns, and when you are on campaigns, you do a lot of listening. You only act on information that's relevant, that's going to help you, that's substantive. Clearly they just dismissed this, and I was glad to see Donald Trump, Jr. give us the emails, show us exactly what was said so we didn't have to hear the interpretation from the media. I don't think people care about this at all.

BAIER: But to Susan's point, you do have a "Wall Street Journal" headline tomorrow that will say "Russian officials overheard discussing Trump associates before campaign began." U.S. intelligence starting in the spring of 2015 detected conversations in which Russia government officials discussed meetings with Trump associates. Again, these leaks seem to be coming out drip by drip, and this may be another one that catches everybody's attention tomorrow.

LISA BOOTHE, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Right. And this is certainly not going away. I do think that the collusion narrative was drying up, and then all of a sudden you have the story. So clearly people are not going to ignore it and we're going to continue to see a daily dose of headlines basically until Robert Mueller reaches some sort of conclusion.

But I also think there is a lot of self-righteous indignation for people that shouldn't be self-righteous. Politics is not a white and black industry. It's a very murky and gray industry, and most people in politics operate in that grey area. And particularly listening to people like Robby Mook when, as Guy mentioned, you do have this story about the Ukrainian government trying to work with team Hillary Clinton to undermine the Trump administration and hurt them.

BAIER: Trump campaign.

BOOTHE: Yes. There was a Hillary Clinton donor behind the dossier that surfaced. This is also a woman who set up her own private server and deleted tens of thousands of emails with the intent of running for president of the United States. You also look at the Obama administration used the IRS to target conservatives and was potentially using government resources to keep tabs on the Trump team. And then you also look at "The New York Times" whose executive editor said that he would be willing to break the law to release the Trump tax returns. So I think there is a lot of grey area here. Unfortunately everybody is operating in it. So if you are a voter at home I think your biggest takeaway is that I can't really trust anyone anymore.

BAIER: Yes, and the president clearly is hitting on that again and again about the media, Guy. Here is Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Turley on this particular meeting with Donald Trump Jr.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I don't see any crime at this point. At the moment, I see no legal jeopardy for Trump, Jr. But of course we have to know more facts. Simply using the material that you know is obtained illegally is not at the moment regarded as a crime. And I think it would be wrong to prosecute somebody for that non-crime.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: While they might be chumps, that doesn't make them criminals. The fact that they had this meeting is not evidence of treason.



BENSON: Correct. Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Turley have been voices of sanity and reason on the left throughout all of this. They were saying let's hold on the whole obstruction of justice issue as well. I think if you are a conservative, or if you're anyone in the country, we should be drawing distinctions. You might be doing things that are bad, that are unethical, that are sleazy, that are not illegal or crimes or impeachable offenses. And I think the fact that you have members of Congress on the Democratic side filing an article of impeachment, or trying to, the fact that you have a senior senator who was Hillary Clinton's running mate using the word "treason," that is reckless, that's irresponsible, and that is classic overreach.

And frankly, I think it emboldens Trump and rallies has party around him when the other side takes what is a bad story for the Trump administration and runs with it in the other direction way too fast. People say, all right, this is getting ridiculous, and that helps Trump.

BAIER: Susan, what about the interview today where we learned in that CBN interview, he goes into detail about defending the effort to establish a relationship with Vladimir Putin and then talked about the success, he calls it, of the Syrian cease-fire.

PAGE: Well, and of course the Syrian cease-fire was an achievement.

BAIER: And we're on day four, I think, now.

PAGE: Right, although it's been totally overwhelmed by the latest disclosures on Russia. And I agree with you, Ric, I don't think a lot of Americans think Russia is top of mind. It's not their number one concern. It does seemed to shake the about 40 percent of Americans who support Donald Trump.

But this is not at its heart a public relations battle or a political battle, even. This is going to be a legal battle over what Robert Mueller finds and whether he finds that the law was broken and where his investigation takes him. We are now at the end of this investigation. We're at the beginning of this investigation. We can't predict where it's going to go and what the legal consequences might be, and that is the pea inside the shell, not watch the shell game, watch what it's going to actually matter at the end of the day.

BAIER: Because a lot of these characters inside the White House, tangentially inside the campaign, are probably going to be under oath at some point answering questions, and that changes the dynamic.

PAGE: And the consequences for not telling the truth under oath are much more serious than the consequences for not telling the truth to a reporter.

BAIER: But back to Syria, this is something that should be touted.

GRENELL: Absolutely. And I don't buy that reporters are too busy focusing on this Donald Trump, Jr. stuff. Get the political reporters off the front page. We have got serious policy stuff going on. You can do both. We can walk and chew gum here. We've got to be able to tout some foreign policy. Look at what's going on between Qatar and ally Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This is a big, serious problem. That should be on the front page as well.

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