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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Special Counsel Impanels Grand Jury in Trump-Russia Probe; CNN: Mueller Crosses Trump's Red Line as Russia Investigation Follows the Money; Reuters: Grand Jury Subpoenas Issued in Connection with Trump Jr. Russia Meeting. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired August 3, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We have breaking news about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
"The Wall Street Journal" is now reporting that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury right here in Washington, D.C., suggesting that the investigation is entering a new heightened phase, grand juries being powerful investigatory cudgels that permit putting witnesses under oath or issuing subpoenas or, of course, possibly indictments.
But now we're going to talk about something else. We will talk about the "Journal" story in a second.
Let's turn to more breaking news being broken by CNN right now, remarkable reporting giving us a look inside the actual investigation that Mueller and the FBI are conducting, the diligent and detailed efforts of investigators, what they are looking at, why, possible targets in the probe.
Let's bring in CNN's Pamela Brown with this reporting.
Pamela, what are you learning about the focus of the special counsel's investigation?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, bottom line is that it's expanding.
We're learning some new details, Jake, that give us an inside look into how the focus of the Russia probe is crossing over what President Trump says is a red line that investigators should not cross, as this investigation enters its second year.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Does anyone really believe that story? BROWN (voice-over): The Russia investigation continues to widen, as
federal investigators explore the potential financial ties of President Trump and associates to Russia. Sources tell CNN financial links could offer a more concrete path to any potential prosecution.
For the president, that's going too far. He's warned that delving into his businesses is a -- quote -- "violation." Trump has maintained there's no collusion and he has no financial ties to Russia.
TRUMP: And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia.
BROWN: Now, one year into this complex probe, the FBI has reviewed financial records related to the Trump Organization, the president himself, as well as his family members and campaign associates.
CNN is told investigators have combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties. They have scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower in Manhattan, reaching back several years. And officials familiar with the investigation tell CNN special counsel Robert Mueller's team has examined the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump, dating to the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant he hosted in Moscow.
CNN could not determine whether the review has included Trump's tax returns. But even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia, but involve Trump associates, are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate.
TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch-hunt.
BROWN: President Trump, keenly aware of the increased financial focus, regularly denounces the investigation.
TRUMP: Russia is fake news. Russia, this is fake news put out by the media.
BROWN: Trump's team seeking to limit Mueller's investigation.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's point is that he doesn't want the special counsel to move beyond the scope and outside of its mission. And the president's been very clear, as have his accountants and team, that he has no financial dealings with Russia. And so I think we have been extremely clear on that.
BROWN: CNN learned new details about how Mueller is running his special counsel team, more than three dozen attorneys, FBI agents, and support staff, experts in investigating fraud and financial crimes, broken into groups focused separately on collusion and obstruction of justice.
There is also focus on targets like Paul Manafort, Trump's former Manafort, and General Michael Flynn, his fired national security adviser. CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious of Manafort when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort to coordinate information that could hurt Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House, according to U.S. officials.
In Flynn's case, the focus is now on his lobbying work for the Turkish government, which he failed to initially disclose, as required by law.
While both men deny any wrongdoing, the approach to the Manafort and Flynn probes may offer a template for how the focus by investigators on possible financial crimes could help gain leverage and cooperation in the investigation.
BROWN: And the president's attorney Jay Sekulow said to CNN in a statement that the president's outside legal council has not received any request for documentation or information about this.
And he says: Any inquiry from the special counsel that goes beyond the mandate specified in the appointment, we would object to.
And just for context, Jake, investigators don't necessarily have to go to the president's legal counsel to get the finances. You can issue a subpoena to financial institutions such as banks, and you can go to the Treasury Department for records as well.
TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, stick around. We have got a lot to talk about.
Let's bring in your colleagues on the story Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz. Also, on the phone, we have with us CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Evan, let's talk the story that had to do with Paul Manafort. Why were investigators interested in him initially, and how significant might that be for the investigation?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the things that happened, Jake, was that the investigators got ahold of intercepts. This is communications between Russian -- suspected Russian operatives talking about what they said were interactions with Paul Manafort.
They said that he was interested and encouraging their cooperation, providing some information on Hillary Clinton, dirt on Hillary Clinton that could help with the campaign.
So, what we don't know is whether or not those Russian operatives or suspected Russian operatives were telling the truth, whether they were exaggerating, whether they were making it up. And certainly one of the problems for investigators is trying to piece all of that together without the benefit of knowing whether or not these people -- again, these are people overseas -- whether they were actually telling the truth.
Obviously, Manafort's problems go beyond that, however. He has some serious financial issues going back to his business dealings with the former ruling party in Ukraine, and whether or not they were money laundering and tax issues there. That is also a part of this investigation.
Jeffrey Toobin, let me bring you in.
Turning back to "The Wall Street Journal" scoop about Mueller impaneling a grand jury here in Washington, D.C., what is the significance of that? Does that necessarily mean he's planning on bringing charges?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's very important, Jake, to say -- to answer that question, and the answer to that question is no. Just because there's a grand jury does not mean that anyone is going to get indicted.
However, no one can be indicted without a grand jury first being impaneled. So, it is significant that he has taken this step. It is also significant because grand jury subpoenas are the way that prosecutors can get sworn testimony under oath, sworn testimony from these people in the investigation. You send them subpoenas and they then testify in the grand jury.
It's also possible to issue grand jury subpoenas, which is the main way prosecutors collect evidence, to phone companies, to banks, to individuals to produce their financial records. So, it's a very important step, but I think it is important that we not overstate how important it is and not suggest that this means that criminal charges are inevitable or even going to happen.
TAPPER: And, Shimon, let me ask you. The probe in CNN's reporting, your reporting with Evan and Pamela, looking at these possible financial ties between President Trump and various Russians, how significant could that be and how far back are investigators looking?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we have learned, Jake, it goes back at least a half-a-dozen or so years.
And, you know, what better place than sort of follow the money here? Because we keep hearing that there's different properties, different real estate transactions that may involve Russians and people within the Trump world, certainly some of his family members.
So what we're told is that the FBI has now gone as far back as Miss Universe Pageant, which was in 2013 in Russia, and they have sort of been looking at the relationships that the president may have cultivated there, some of his interactions with Russians there, and are trying to sort of kind of piece a puzzle of what exactly was going on there.
And we have also learned that they have actually looked at some of his financial records, some of the real estate records at Trump Tower in New York, and that they have found some very interesting connections to Russians throughout the years.
So all of that is now a significant part of this investigation. It's a part of the investigation, the financial investigation into people, even including his family members.
TAPPER: And President Trump very clearly drew a red line. The red line was "The New York Times" reporter's term, but President Trump agreed with it, that if they were looking at his finances, that would be a red line, suggesting, possibly, that he would then try to fire Bob Mueller.
How much is that weighing on investigators?
PROKUPECZ: Based on the people we have talked to certainly, they're continuing to do their jobs.
The authority given to the special counsel certainly allows him to go outside of the probe of just collusion. It's anything that has to do with -- really with the Trump world, the Trump Organization, with the family members.
So this is not stopping -- this sort of red line issue is not stopping any of the investigators. You know, there've been other subpoenas issued in this investigation. And they're just continuing to do their work. Obviously, there is some concern for them, for the investigators going forward, but, you know, they're just doing their job here.
TAPPER: And, Pamela, does the fact that Mueller and his investigators -- and he's hired a lot of lawyers who have expertise in financial crimes.
Does the fact that they are so focused on Trump's financials indicate that they are no longer looking at collusion?
I mean, from what we have been told through our sources, they are still focused on collusion, the idea that there was some coordination between the Russians and Trump campaign associates. But there are some obstacles in prosecuting along the lines of collusion, because so much of the evidence stems from these intercepts, as Evan was talking about, foreign intercepts.
So you have foreign witnesses that the FBI can't just go and interview. And then you have to verify it. Well, how do you verify it because they could have been exaggerating or lying? And I think that is part of what has led investigators down the road of the financial avenue, as one would put it, to look to see if any more crimes were committed, but also to see if that could give them leverage in terms of encouraging cooperation among some of the subjects in this investigation. As I pointed out in my story, a lot of the leads that are coming into
DOJ that have nothing to do with Russia collusion are still going to the special counsel probe. They want to see everything they can, first see if crimes were committed, but also to see if they could gain leverage in the investigation.
TAPPER: And, Jeffrey Toobin...
TAPPER: Yes, go ahead.
TOOBIN: I just wanted to add one point about the collusion issue, is that, yes, that is the origin of this investigation, but there is no such federal crime as collusion.
The question of any sort of collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russian officials or Russian businesspeople, it is not clear if that is criminal. So what is certainly criminal is financial crimes, like money laundering, like tax crimes.
And so that's another reason why it would be very important to establish -- to establish the financial background for this case. Also, but, is the question of motive. I mean, why would Russia -- and why would the Trump campaign collude with Russia? If there is evidence of financial ties, that would allow Mueller to establish the issue of motive, which is always important in a criminal case.
And that also raises the issue of obstruction of justice. The firing of Director Comey, that certainly is part of this investigation as well. So, there is a lot to look into here, though charges are by no means assured.
BROWN: And just for perspective as well, on the heels of what Jeffrey said, part of why the FBI has been so interested in knowing what the Russians did was the concern of blackmail.
Could the Russians have some sort of financial leverage and have blackmail over the president or any of his associates? That's another reason why they want to see what is there and whether they should be any concern.
TAPPER: Evan, another player in all of this is Carter Page, of course. He was cited in the campaign by then Mr., now President Trump, as one of his national security advisers, member of his team.
What are you learning about the focus on Carter Page?
PEREZ: Well, remember, Jake, that the interest in Carter Page certainly goes back much further.
We now know that he was a subject of a FISA, the secret surveillance warrant, that goes back at least a couple of years, not just last summer, which is what had been previously reported. And that is interesting, because it's part of why the FBI suddenly took notice last summer and started this investigation. They noticed that this is a guy who had been interacting with
Russians, certainly had traveled to Moscow and did a very pro-Russia speech last summer, and then he starts becoming a lot more involved in the campaign.
That really raised their curiosity and their interest, because they wanted to know whether he was being used to get into the campaign to spy on the campaign.
TAPPER: All right. Thanks, one and all, for being here. Really appreciate it.
We have lots to discuss on our breaking news with our panel coming up.
How will President Trump react to his so-called red line being crossed by investigators and the report in "The Wall Street Journal" that a grand jury has been impaneled right here in D.C., just blocks away from the White House?
[16:18:19] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with breaking news. In our politics lead, new details on special council Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
"The Wall Street Journal" is now reporting that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury right here in Washington, D.C. This comes as CNN has learned that the Russia probe is focusing on possible financial crimes, suspected Russian coordination and alleged attempts by President Trump and others to obstruct the ongoing investigation.
Let's dive into all of this with my panel.
Phil Mudd, let me start with you, as a former CIA officer and FBI officer, how significant is it that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think significant, not only because of the fact of the impaneling, but also because who Mueller was. I spent four and a half years as his intelligence advisor, two words, speed and seriousness.
People are worried about mission creep here. Are we going to be here for months? Is this going to extent to blue dress, the old Ken Starr investigation with President Clinton? Speed and seriousness.
He's not been around that long, and already, he's talking about potential subpoenas. That's pretty quick. In terms of seriousness, I don't think he's there to look for violations that are if you will 57 and 55 zone. He's there to say, if there is something serious that's well over the bar, in terms of inappropriate cooperation with Russians, in terms of obstruction of justice.
I don't think he's bringing these people together on the grand jury because he sees minor issues that he thinks are bumps in the road. This is an indication he's moving quickly, and he sees stuff that he thinks are really worth bringing in a grand jury, which is significant.
TAPPER: And, Gloria, CNN's reporting from Pam, Evan and Shimon suggesting that there is a tremendous amount of research going into Donald Trump's finances, ties with Russians with, businesses. He talks about how he has no money in Russia. He never talks about whether or not Russians have any money in his investments.
[16:20:01] What does this suggest to you?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it suggests that perhaps they're looking for motive here. That, you know, the question's been asked time and time again, why won't the president criticize Russia? Collusion as Jeffrey Toobin points out is not a crime.
I think in trying to the get to the bottom of this, you have to look at the history. And I think from my colleague's reporting, what they're looking at is the history of the Trump Organization, and its financial dealings. Now, we have heard Donald Trump tell the "New York Times" on July 20th, he said that that would be a violation of what Mueller is supposed to do.
And so, I could see here that Donald Trump is going to be infuriated by this because he will see this as overstepping the special council's bounds.
TAPPER: And in fact, Bill, because President Trump did draw this red line, the "New York Times'" words that he agreed to the term red line, in looking into his finances, this does raise the possibility, once again, that President Trump might try to fire Bob Mueller. There's actually an attempt bipartisan bill from Senator Tillis of North Carolina, Republican, and Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, Democrat, to allow if Mueller gets fired, allow him to appeal to a judge to not be fired.
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, a couple of things. I think Jay Sekulow, the statement he made suggests that they might contest providing certain documents is outside of Mueller's legitimate authority. I suppose they could do that, it would go to court. So they could delay things in that way.
Tax returns is one things that comes to mind. I'm not sure if Mueller could get them from the IRS, or whether he has to get those by subpoena from Trump somehow or whether Trump would have to be notified, and they could contest it at the IRS, someone asked for your return. I suggest they're looking at delaying the operation. I think Mueller's on a fast track.
The other thing I would say is I think John Kelly becomes the chief of staff. He's a very important aspect of this. John Kelly, talked about this, I'm just guessing. I do not believe John Kelly would stay as chief of staff if President Trump fired Bob Mueller or tried to fire Robert Mueller. So, is Trump -- so, in a way getting rid of Reince Priebus, it was
Reince Priebus is a weak chief of staff. He might have gone along with something like that. Having John Kelly in there, suddenly, I think Trump's flexibility in dealing with the justice -- didn't we learn yesterday that Kelly had called Sessions to reassure --
KRISTOL: No Sessions, attorney general, to reassure him he wasn't going to be fired. Why is that important? Because getting rid of Sessions and a recess was one way in which Trump presumably could get Mueller fired. So, I would --
TAPPER: So --
KRISTOL: -- think Kelly as chief of staff I think gives a certain -- makes it harder for Trump, it takes away Trump's flexibility, in my view in dealing with Mueller.
TAPPER: I was thinking of the scoop one day before, which was --
KRISTOL: Can't keep track.
TAPPER: -- which was John Kelly when Comey had been fired, called Comey, offered his sympathies and said at some point, something about think, contemplation of resignation, though he wouldn't.
Phil, you agree with the idea that Kelly and the chief of staff role is significant, especially as this investigation heats up.
MUDD: Talk about a test. Look at the first couple of steps he's taken. He's removed the communication's director and he's also called evidently, the attorney general say, don't worry, your job's safe. What's the message?
Very simple. We've got an agenda, what the White House says all the time. We've got to keep our eye on the ball and we can't divert attention to conversations like the president saying, you know, Trump Tower was wiretapped. The next couple of days, we've got to bet that the president's going to have a hissy fit about this.
BORGER: Well, and can I just say that his lawyers, on the record, have said, we want to cooperate with Mueller. His attorneys are on the record, time and time again, saying this. And so I wonder what their reaction would be. If suddenly the president of the United States said I want to fire Bob Mueller.
TAPPER: Stand by, everybody, because believe it or not, there's more big breaking news in the Russia investigation. "Reuters" is now reporting that grand jury subpoenas have been issued in connection with that June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, that Russian lawyers and others.
We should say that we do not know what or who was subpoenaed. This is according to "Reuters". You remember that according to e-mails released by Donald Trump Jr., he agreed to meet with someone that he believed to be a Russian government attorney last summer after receiving an e-mail offering him very high level and sensitive information that would incriminate Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
And, Bill, I guess it's good news that intent to collude is not a crime because that seems to be what Donald Trump Jr. would have been guilty of.
KRISTOL: But other crimes could have been committed in covering up the meeting or in terms of what was given over at the meeting and the use of what was given up. But I always thought that they would find what happened at that meeting, they're going to subpoena the e-mails, text messages, contemporaneous phone call logs. They're going to subpoena the people to say what happened, and not just the people in the meeting. They're going to subpoena Donald Trump's secretary to say did Donald Jr. show up half an hour after the meeting to talk to his father, you know? And then they'll put Donald Jr. under oath and say, what did you tell your father?
BORGER: They can't get the Russians, though.
KRISTOL: So, we will find the truth about this meeting. And I, you know, if just look at it, it looks to me like a pretty suspicious meeting.
[16:25:01] TAPPER: And now we know also that President Trump himself, Phil, helped write that initial misleading statement, so misleading as to be a lie frankly about what the content of that meeting was between Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort, and the Russian lawyer, saying it was just about Russian adoption when we know from the email chain that the intent of it was dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
MUDD: And you can guarantee we're seeing about 1 percent of the story. If you think there's another shoe to drop, it's going to be about a size 18. And that shoe is WikiLeaks.
We're talking about one meeting because it's in the public record. As I look at this having seen investigations like in the past, there is a volume of information provided by WikiLeaks, stolen from the DNC and others, that's out there in the public domain.
We have this one meeting. You want to tell me there is no connection in all of months of the campaign between Trump campaign people and the WikiLeaks people, if some third rate lawyer can get in the room to talk about smoke and mirrors that she's got, I think what we're going to find is in these conversations, the subpoenas, for example, and the conversations behind closed doors, people are going to be revealing more and more that goes well beyond that.
BORGER: And, you know, you have the president then in a rally in early June shortly after this meeting talking about how we have some new information that's going to be released on Hillary Clinton. Yes, it could be a coincidence. And yes, maybe it isn't, and this is what -- this is what the special counsel's going to have to unspool. I mean, we don't know whether any documents were left in that meeting.
The only account of that meeting we have is from Don Jr. and Jared Kushner, we don't have the -- any other accounts of this.
KRISTOL: And we have a deep determination by the president though to deny that he knew about the meeting or had been briefed about the meeting or anything to do about the meeting. Why? I mean, it was a perfectly innocuous meeting, fine, Donald Trump Jr. comes to the stair and says we had a stupid meeting, we wasted 20 minutes and talking about Russian adoptions, that's not against the law.
So, why the deep -- why the such a great determination to keep arm's length?
TAPPER: Curiouser and curiouser.
Thank you so much, all of you.
You can read the entire CNN report on the Mueller investigation following the money and more on CNN.com.
President Trump called the reports that he had a very testy call with the Australian prime minister, quote, fake news. But the transcripts indicate that the only fake thing was the president denying it. What else the president said during calls with world leaders, next.