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As Trump denies prior knowledge of Don Jr. meeting, Russia continues U.S. election hacking

President Trump is pushing back against claims that he knew in advance of a 2016 meeting between his son and a Russian lawyer. According to CNN, Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen says that the then-candidate approved a meeting that had promised "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. Judy Woodruff discusses that with Nick Schifrin, plus new details about U.S. election systems vulnerabilities.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There were more questions today about what President Trump knew about alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 election, and new details about vulnerabilities in our election systems ahead of this fall's midterms.

    Nick Schifrin joins me now to discuss what we know.

    Hello, Nick.

    So the president's former attorney, former so-called fixer, Michael Cohen, is reportedly saying that the president knew ahead of time, something we hadn't been told before, that this meeting that took place between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer in the months leading up to the election in 2016, the president knew about it.

    The president is saying today it didn't happen, he didn't know.

    So, if it's true, what's the significance of it?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This goes to the heart of whether the president knew or didn't know that Russia wanted to get him elected and was actually meddling in the election.

    And that is something he specifically said he didn't know at all about. So, this meeting took place, as you said, in July 2016. It was between the president's son Donald Trump Jr, the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the campaign manager at the time, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

    And we now know that Veselnitskaya had connections to senior Russian government officials and Russian intelligence and was offering — quote, unquote — "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

    Fast-forward to last summer, when this meeting was revealed. And Donald Trump Jr. specifically said that he never told his father in advance.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And…

  • Sean Hannity:

    A lot of people going to want to know this about your father.

    Did you tell your father anything about this?

  • Donald Trump Jr.:

    No. It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell. I wouldn't have even remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And now Cohen is saying that Donald Trump Jr. did let his father know about that meeting in advance.

    And that could mean the president knew that Russia was trying to help get him elected. And that is something that he has consistently denied. And that direct line between Russian interference and the president has never been proved before.

    And, as we said, the president denied it today. In a tweet he said, "I didn't know of the meeting with my — the meeting with my son Don Jr."

    And he goes on in that tweet to accuse Cohen of lying to get out of considerable legal trouble. And we should understand the Cohen is in legal trouble. He's under investigation by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in New York.

    So, he does have incentive to play nice with prosecutors. He's not introduced any evidence. And he has said in the past that the president didn't know about this nothing.

    So, right now, this is he said/he said. But, at the very least, Judy, it is a big break between the president and a longtime fixer and someone, frankly, who knows a lot about his history.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, of course, the other part of this investigation going on that the special prosecutor is looking at is the role Russia played in the 2016 election.

    The intelligence agencies in this country say that interference is ongoing right now. And, today, yesterday, we got our first confirmation that Russians are still interfering.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, absolutely.

    So, Russian intelligence has always tried to do a few things in the U.S., one, sow discord, two, assist actors who Russia believes it can help, and, three, punish actors who oppose Russia.

    So, in 2016, that meant helping Donald Trump and hacking in order to discredit Hillary Clinton. Now we know the first target or one of the first targets in 2018 is Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

    Now, McCaskill ticks all the boxes of why Russia would target her, one, close with Hillary Clinton, two, very anti-Donald Trump. Three, she's vulnerable. She's one of 10 Democrats who are running in states that elected Donald Trump.

    And, four, she's vociferously anti-Vladimir Putin. And, today, she acknowledged that, yes, her office was hacked and targeted. And she put out this statement. She said that: "Russia continues to engage in cyber-warfare against our democracy. While this attack wasn't successful, it is outrageous that they think they can get away with this. I will not be intimidated. I have said it before and I will say it again. Putin is a thug and a bully."

    Now, what happened here? McCaskill staffers received e-mails that looked like legitimate e-mails from Microsoft. They were in fact fake. They were told to insert their passwords on a separate page. This is called phishing.

    And last week, Microsoft, the executive Tom Burt revealed that the very hackers who were doing this were the same hackers tied to Russian intelligence.

  • Tom Burt:

    That organization was registering fake Microsoft domains and using them for a variety of purposes. And by using fake Microsoft domains, it made the whole scam that they used to infiltrate and control their targets look more legitimate.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And this is one technique that worked in 2016. But, as we know, this time, it didn't work. But it does prove that Russia continues its efforts to hack and influence the 2018 election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, finally, quickly, Nick, we know that, on Monday, connected to all this, the president's former campaign manager Paul Manafort goes on trial. What should we be looking for?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, this IS the first court test for special counsel Robert Mueller. He's accused Manafort of making millions as AN unregistered agent of Ukraine, hiding the money, laundering it into the U.S., and then lying about it to the FBI.

    Manafort's denied any wrongdoing. Mueller says he will have about 35 witnesses, including Rick Gates, Manafort's former business partner. And, again, this is not about Russia. This is not even about the president himself. But the special counsel is putting pressure on Manafort, hoping, perhaps in the future that he will provide some information on the larger investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because he worked so closely with President Trump.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin, thank you very much.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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