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John Kelly Running Tight Ship in White House?; Russia Probe Expanding; President Trump Begins 17-Day Vacation. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 4, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

In just a couple minutes, President Trump will set off for a vacation, 17 days, a little R&R in New Jersey at his golf club there.

But, as he takes a break, federal investigators will not be. In fact, CNN has learned that special counsel Bob Mueller is expanding the investigation beyond possible collusion with Russians during the election to the finances of both the president and his associates.

Plus, Mueller has issued grand jury subpoenas regarding that June 2016 meeting the president's son Don Jr. held with the Russian lawyer and others, according to a source.

As this Russia probe is widening, President Trump is using it to try to deepen his support.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?

They can't beat us at the voting booths, so they're trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. They're trying to cheat you out of the leadership you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us and, most importantly, demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution.


BALDWIN: Let's begin the hour with CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, you had some incredible, incredible reporting with Pam Brown and Evan Perez, specifically on what these investigators are looking at in terms of finances, right, long before this presidential campaign. Tell me about that.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this sort of now has gone way past to history in terms of way as far back as 2013, maybe even further back than that. And it's really starting around the time that the president visited

Russia for the Miss Universe Pageant, and the FBI investigators and now Bob Mueller's team, the special counsel, has really been digging in to some of the meetings that were going on there, looking at some of the connections for perhaps whether they were cultivating relationships with people around Trump during their visit, during their time in Moscow.

They have also been looking at the various real estate possessions and properties with Trump names to see who has been occupying some of those spaces. You have Trump Tower in Manhattan, where there's a lot of office space and there's obviously a large residential building. And they have found some connections to Russians that they're now looking at and sort of investigating.

You know, those connections have certainly raised some eyebrows. And other connections, you know, other business properties across, really, the world that may have some connection to Trump, that is all now in focus.

BALDWIN: OK, so much more to your reporting. Everyone watching, go to to read the whole thing.

Shimon, thank you so much.

Here is a response from the president's attorney regarding Mueller's grand jury. Let me read this for you here. They're saying: "The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of this work fairly. The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller."

It goes on: "Former FBI Director Jim Comey said three times the president is not under investigation and we have no reason to believe that has changed."

Let's talk this out with Vermont law school professor Jennifer Taub, an expert on white-collar crime, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, who is former special assistant to President George W. Bush, and Republican strategist Rick Wilson.

So, welcome to all of you.

And, Rick, I was reading what you wrote, and many lines I could pull from you. You said that Thursday, this grand jury news was the single worst day in the single worst week of the Trump presidency. Tell me why you say that.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Aside from Donald Trump's pep rally last night in West Virginia, every piece of news this week was chaotic and added to the burdens he faces.

And the fact that Bob Mueller is now -- has established a grand jury in D.C., and isn't just relying on the grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, this means that things are getting serious now. The rubber has hit the road. Folks are going to be brought before a grand jury. That is a completely different avenue than this sort of tangential research that's been going on about these connections so far.

And we're now at the point where these folks are going to have to lawyer up, where they're going to have to be in there in the grand jury, facing up to questions, including probably the president himself. And the fact that he wants to pretend this isn't happening is no longer relevant.

The house is on fire. And this entire week has been one long downhill train wreck.

BALDWIN: Another line from you, Alexa, order more schadenfreude, all right?

That's Rick's take.

Scott, how do you see it? Do you read this grand jury as the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?


SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's not unexpected.

I mean, once the special counsel got rolling, I think getting to a grand jury was something that everyone should have anticipated. And I think the statement from the president's lawyer is the correct P.R. statement. We're cooperating. We want to see this come to an end, and we want to see ourselves exonerated.

That's the correct public posture. It took them a while to get there, but that's the correct posture. I do think if you want to fight back against the chaos narrative, the one good thing that's going on good in the White House, General Kelly taking over as chief of staff.

I'm very pleased with the reporting sort of the regimented way he's now running the White House.

BALDWIN: Running a tight ship.

JENNINGS: I think that's going to pay off for the president, yes.


Legally speaking, Jennifer, you know, we think back to the Clinton administration, we think back to Whitewater, and that was a whole investigation, right, that -- let's all remember that it actually began with the investigation of this land deal and landed them on this White House intern named Monica Lewinsky and a dress.

So, given that, is it unusual for this kind of investigation to cover this much ground?


Not only is it quite usual. This goes with the broad mandate that Rod Rosenstein gave to special counsel Robert Mueller. He was given the authority to investigate any collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

But, also, what's important to remember is, under law, he's also authorized to investigate and prosecute federal crimes that arise during the course of this investigation with the intent to interfere with the work that he's doing.

So, that would include...

BALDWIN: Finances.

TAUB: ... crimes like perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, witness tampering, false statements, and the like.

BALDWIN: So, speaking of Whitewater, special counsel Ken Starr said this today about the Mueller investigation.


KENNETH STARR, FORMER SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: You're moving beyond collusion with Russian operatives or Russian interests or the Russian government itself and into that which doesn't seem to have a direct tie to Russia. Then these questions are, in fact, raised. And it becomes a litigable, as we say, question, that people are going squawk about it and disagree about it.

I don't think that it is clear one way or the other, but I do think it is a -- certainly a serious matter when a special counsel is accused, and I was accused of that, of exceeding his or her authority.

That's a serious matter, because we do not want investigators and prosecutors out on a fishing expedition.


BALDWIN: I mean, Rick, and he admits it there, but you know, you talk to a lot of people, he is Mr. Fishing Expedition. Can you appreciate the irony there?

WILSON: Oh, the irony is pretty rich in that one, but I will say this. Bob Mueller is a man of enormous probity and reputation. He is not a person who's going to chase down rabbits that don't have a direct bearing, I think, on this case.

He is a serious individual. He is a person who understands the role of the special counsel and understands the law intimately. And so I think that you're going to have the objections from the Trump world that people are looking into their financial arrangements, which they have a long history of financial dealings with the Russians.

They have admitted it themselves. And they're trying desperately to not have any of that brought into the record or the examination of this. And I think, you know, as Scott said, they said the right words today. But the reaction Donald Trump always displays when we're getting towards his taxes or his financial dealings always becomes hyperbolic, and I think you're going end up seeing him overreact, even when Mueller is riding down pretty much the center lane of his ambit here.

BALDWIN: Scott, how do you see it?


JENNINGS: Well, first of all, Mueller is a man of high integrity. I don't know anybody who thinks he's anything other than that.

But you can see how this would be enormously frustrating to the president and the people around his campaign. This whole thing started with the concept that they colluded with the Russians to somehow steal an election from Hillary Clinton.

And we're now way -- well away from that. There's no evidence yet of any collusion. They're looking into it. But if you're looking into things that go on in business dealings and other financial transactions that happened well before a presidential campaign, it's easy to see why the president would be extremely frustrated about that stuff coming up when this whole thing started in something completely different.

So that's the genesis of the frustration.


BALDWIN: Go ahead, Rick.

WILSON: Scott -- I appreciate that, Scott, but the fact of the matter is, it does speak to his priors. Donald Trump had a long set of business relationships all the way back to Atlantic City and including folks like Felix Sater and Bayrock, these long complicated financial dealings with Russians and Russian oligarchs and Russian mobsters that have been intimately entwined with the Trump Organization for many, many years.

And I think that speaks to the fact that people don't realize that the Russian government, the Russian intelligence services, and the Russian organized crime, those are things that are very, very interrelated and interconnected.

And so I think it's important that Mueller be able to go through these things, because it establishes a lot of the priors of Trump's behavior towards Russia, Russians, and Putin.


BALDWIN: No, and Jennifer was the one who said it. Let me just re- cite it. I have the statute in front of me.

They can look into any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.

And let me ask you. Jennifer, while I'm talking about you, the grand jury issuing subpoenas of witnesses, how do you read that? How does that change the investigation and what does it say about the stage they're in right now? TAUB: Well, I guess, Brooke, two things.

One thing, I just want to correct something that was said earlier. This investigation did begin last July, which was well before the presidential election. So, it was not an investigation launched to somehow suggest that there was a direct impact on voting.

I mean, this is sort of a ridiculous claim folks make. It would be like after Watergate, people...

BALDWIN: You're correct.

TAUB: Yes, OK.

So, going back to your specific question about how things change, look, everyone would expect that, eventually, special counsel Mueller would turn to a grand jury. But this is a really big deal for the general public, because we have been fed a steady diet from the White House that this whole Russia investigation is a witch-hunt or fake news.

And so now this fact that Mueller is turning to a grand jury, with all of its tremendous power and responsibility, is a huge comfort to the public.


We're going leave it.

Jennifer Taub, thank you. Scott Jennings, Rick Wilson, thank you all.

Next, making his presence felt, President Trump's new chief of staff, we just alluded to this a second ago, General John Kelly proving to be a gatekeeper of sorts here -- new details emerging today about the kind of shop he's running in the West Wing, his style during meetings, the limited access he's providing to the president, and even for those closest to the president, including his own children.

And moments from now, the president will get to take vacation, starting this afternoon, 17-day working vacation. We know that Ivanka Trump, there she is, with child in tow, boarding just a moment ago. We will bring you the president live there and talk about what he will be doing in Bedminster in New Jersey.

We will be right back.



BALDWIN: President Trump's new chief of staff, John Kelly, already making his presence felt here, week one in the West Wing, sworn in with a mandate to instill order in President Trump's pack of unruly aides.

When you pick up "The New York Times" today, there's this whole report on General Kelly and all these details, including how he demands that even the president's own daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, run any face-to-face meetings by him, General Kelly, first.

Quoting "The Times": "Mr. Kelly cuts off rambling advisers mid- sentence. He listens in on conversations between Cabinet secretaries and the president. He has booted lingering staff members out of high- level meetings and ordered the doors of the Oval Office closed to discourage strays."

Tim Naftali is joining me, CNN presidential historian, and with us, CNN military analyst General Mark Hertling, who served more than 15 months in Iraq with General Kelly, did multiple operations together.

And so, General, just beginning with you, just more great detail out of this piece too, how "The Times" is saying General Kelly had told his new employees that he was hired to manage the staff, not the president.

You know the man. Does that sound like General Kelly to you?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first, Brooke, what I would say a normal chief -- I'm smiling because it sounds like what every chief of staff does in any military organization.

BALDWIN: What they should do.

HERTLING: What they should do, in fact, what they're trained to do.

But, yes, John Kelly is that kind of guy. He is very pragmatic. He's very disciplined. He brings rigor to a staff process. I have seen him to do that. He listens very intently to his subordinates. In this case, it's the president's staff, and then he issues orders.

I watched him do this with his Marines. We worked together on many things and shared intelligence. He's very precise in what he wants, as all good commanders are, because he knows it's no time to fool around and he suffers no fools, because you have got a job to do.


BALDWIN: General, what about the fact, though, I said, so he's managing the staff, but he is letting the president be the president? He's not curtailing his TV watching. He's not keeping him off Twitter. What do you make of that?

HERTLING: Well, a chief of staff can only do so much. And I think John has probably focused primarily on the processes and the discipline within the staff itself.

And if he feels -- and he's considered part of the axis of adults that are in the White House -- if he feels he can improve upon those things, that there will be more consistency in terms of orders, John knows the Congress. He is related to them in a former Marine job as congressional liaison. He knows how to work with bosses. He's worked with defense

secretaries, commandants in the Marine Corps, and diplomats, so he knows these kind of things, but he can only do so much. He can only provide that discipline and rigor to the staff process and getting the information to his boss. What his boss does with it, he can't control.


Tim Naftali, I was quoting James Baker earlier this week. And he was saying, and I'm paraphrasing him as saying, the best chief of staffs are those who focuses on the "of staff" part of the title and not the "chief"'s piece.

You tell me. You look at presidential history. What is truly the role of the chief of staff and especially what makes one successful?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, making the trains run on time is very important.

But I think it's also important to keep in mind that there's some management of the chief executive involved. But nobody, no unelected person can go before the cameras and say, my job is to manage the most powerful person in the world who's been elected by the American people.

So, I think, if you look at chiefs of staff, they have taken very adroit ways, they have used adroit ways to try to manage their boss.

Kenny O'Donnell didn't really have a full chief of staff position, but he was a gatekeeper. He worked closely with Bobby Kennedy to limit some of President Kennedy's liaisons with women, because they were causing a problem for the White House.


H.R. Haldeman, Bob Haldeman, knew that Nixon loved end-runs. And there was a man named Chuck Colson who was a dirty trickster. And Haldeman knew he couldn't control every meeting that Nixon had with Colson.

So, he had staffers in the Old Executive Office Building call him when Colson would walk across the street to Nixon's hideaway office, so that he would know in advance.

BALDWIN: How about that? How about that?


BALDWIN: And, apparently, General Kelly is making sure he is keeping those Oval Office doors closed. Fewer people can have Oval Office privileges. He's even making Ivanka Trump come to him, General Kelly, before seeing her dad.

Last question, much lighter note. General Hertling, I understand that Leon Panetta said that he urged

General Kelly to -- quote -- "buy a big bottle of Scotch" when he agreed to take the job. Do we think he's bought it?

HERTLING: No, I think, knowing John, he's probably bought a bottle of Irish whiskey, because he's not a Scotch drinker.


HERTLING: But, yes, you always need those when you're in the toughest of jobs in your bottom right-hand drawer, to be sure.

BALDWIN: Just in case.

General Hertling, thank you so much.

Tim Naftali, thank you.

Coming up next here, this amazing interview. CNN's Dana Bash sat down not just with one, but both of these female Republican senators who have been standing up to President Trump. Hear what happened behind the scenes as the health care fight went down, what Senator John McCain said to them after the vote -- remember his thumbs down? -- and what they think of Bob Mueller's investigation.



BALDWIN: Defying the president's red line.

CNN has learned special counsel Bob Mueller is now looking into the president's finances as he investigates possible collusion with Russians during this election.

And two Republican senators here, first Susan Collins, she is championing the investigation's expansion.

In this exclusive interview with our own Dana Bash, she says Mueller should explore whatever avenues necessary.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I believe that the special counsel has a very broad mandate, and he should follow the leads wherever they may be.

And, thus, I do not think his investigation should be constrained beyond the mandate that he was given when he was subpoenaed.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the president called that a red line.

COLLINS: The president can't set red lines for Bob Mueller.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Dana Bash with me now.

Dana Bash, I love that you got these two ladies together, first of all. I have love for you for doing that. You know, Lisa Murkowski also part of the sit-down, and so these were two of the three no votes on that latest and last iteration of health care.

What did they share with you about that day? You were on the floor, I mean, the behind the scenes.


And, yes, they were one -- they were two of the three who eventually sunk the Republicans' bill to replace Obamacare. But these are the only two who were against the whole process from the beginning.

And so I really did want to get them together, because the two of them have been friends for a long time. They just happened to sit next to each other. Every senator has assigned seats on the floor, and their desks are right next to each other.

And so I was watching them, at least during the first vote, and I wanted to get from them what was really going on inside each of them and among them and their colleagues during this really intense process. Here's part of our conversation.


BASH: I was watching you with your desks next to each other, you could sort of sense a bit of relief that each of you had that you had one another. Did I read that right?

COLLINS: I will say that I was very happy that Lisa was literally sitting next to me as we were voting from our seats, which, as you know, is unusual and issues for only very important votes.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: To have that -- that weight, that responsibility, knowing that your vote really is that pivotal, it does help to know there is another kindred soul close by.

BASH: Can you give me a sense of the kind of pressure you had and how you handled it? How did that bear itself out? Phone calls?

COLLINS: Well, phone calls, meetings. I had a private meeting with the vice president at one point.

BASH: Was it hard at that point? You ran on repealing Obamacare. This is the time. The bell is ringing. Go.

MURKOWSKI: I had an opportunity when we were at the White House -- the second time we were over there -- and it was a very directed appeal, that we need to come together as Republicans.

I made a statement to the president with my colleagues and with his team there that I'm not voting for the Republican Party. I'm voting for the people of Alaska. COLLINS: And I remember being so proud of you for saying directly to

the president what your obligations were.

And that's the way I feel, too. The people of Maine don't expect me to be a rubber stamp.

BASH: Did Senator McCain come to you before he cast the -- just last vote against the health care bill? Did you know?

COLLINS: Well, I so remember when both Lisa and I were talking with John McCain on the Senate floor, and he pointed to both of us and he said, "You two are right on this issue."


And to have the conversation that we had after the vote, we had one of those conversations that --