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Trump Calls Ex-Adviser Liar; Professor Caught in Russia Inquiry; Papadopoulos Dismissed by Officials; Bannon Urging Pushback; GOP Speaks on Indictments. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 31, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:44] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we go. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me on this Tuesday afternoon.

The White House, that press briefing will begin in just a little while. And we'll take it live, as always.

This will be the administration's first chance to comment after the president just launched his first attack against George Papadopoulos. There we go. I've only said it 20,000 times now.

The former Trump campaign adviser has pleaded guilty to an act that hits at the heart of the Russian investigation. Papadopoulos admitted he lied to federal investigators after his communications with Russians during the presidential campaign.

News of his plea agreement was released on the same day that the president's former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, and his associate, Rick Gates, were indicted for conspiracy and money laundering.

And today President Trump tweeted this. Quote, the fake news is working overtime. As Paul Manafort's lawyer said, there was no collusion and events mentioned took place long before he came to the campaign. Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar. Check the Dems.

So let's start at the White House ahead of the briefing there with our correspondent Sara Murray, who is live. The president obviously trying to play this down, calling Papadopoulos a liar this morning on Twitter. But if he doesn't care so much, then why is the chief of staff saying it is distracting him?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. We saw John Kelly last night essentially admitting, look, this is something that is weighing on the president. The investigation is weighing on him. He has other things he needs to be doing.

But there also seems to be this coordinated effort from the president, as well as allies, to try to be little and disparage George Papadopoulos, who, of course, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating. Listen to what one of Trump's former campaign advisers had to say about Papadopoulos versus what then candidate Trump had to say about him.


MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: He was the coffee boy. I mean you might have called him a foreign policy analyst, but, in fact, you know, if he was going to wear a wire, all we'd know now is whether he prefers a caramel macchiato over regular American coffee in conversations with his barista. He had nothing to do with the campaign.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you want, I could give you some of their names. I wouldn't --

REPORTER: I would be delighted.

TRUMP: George Papadopoulos. He's an oil and energy consultant. Excellent guy.


MURRAY: So from an excellent guy to the coffee guy. You see how Trump and his allies have been trying to downplay this man's role. But it does sort of raise the question, Brooke, the president has insisted from day one that there was no collusion, that the special counsel is not going to find anything. So it's a little bit curious that the White House and the president's allies outside the White House feel the need to come out there so strongly and hit this guy so hard now that he is cooperating with the FBI.

BALDWIN: We will see how the spin continues today. Sara Murray, thank you so much.

We also may be closer to uncover the identity of this mystery figure referred to as "the professor" in this federal complaint against Papadopoulos. Joseph Mifsud, pictured here, is an academic based in London. He fits the profile that's described in this affidavit as an overseas professor, a citizen of a country in the Mediterranean, and someone who flew to Moscow for a conference in April of last year.

So to Nic Robertson we go, our CNN international diplomatic editor for this piece of this.

And so who is this Mifsud character?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: That Mediterranean island is Malta. He was a professor for various different academies in London in diplomacy, (INAUDIBLE) and diplomacy and international law, working with various different British universities.

A source who knows him and has known him for a couple of years now told me that in early April last year, this is all that time in question, early April, that he was meeting with Mifsud, with Professor Mifsud. That Mifsud said that he was sort of bragging with his relationship with Russian officials, including President Putin. That he'd had dinner with him and a group of other people. My source describes him as being very pro-Russian. And, indeed, Mifsud had said to my source they, meaning the Russians, have got a lot of stuff on Hillary Clinton.

[14:05:10] Also, Mifsud introduced my source to George Papadopoulos. They met the day after the introduction. Papadopoulos introduced himself to my source as being a foreign policy representative of President Trump and wanting the source to help him reach out to various different country leaders to tell them what President Trump might be saying publicly wasn't the entire picture. But he was trying to use this source -- Papadopoulos was trying to use the source to make contact in the context of a foreign policy adviser, President Trump with other leaders.

Now, my source says of Papadopoulos that he was a nice guy. But he didn't appear to sort of know the issues in-depth. Indeed, he found his age and his lack of real deep knowledge on some of the issues he was talking about quite startling and surprising. And he did comment on that particular issue back to Mifsud, again, at a later date, being surprised that this guy doesn't really seem to measure up to the bill of being a -- of having the wherewithal of be a foreign policy adviser for a U.S. presidential candidate, Brooke.

BALDWIN: All these names and the details starting to emerge. Nic Robertson, thank you so much for all of this on Mifsud.

As we are waiting for this White House daily briefing to begin, and we hear from Sarah Sanders from the podium, let's talk.

I have with me CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, former special assistant to Robert Mueller when they were at the Justice Department, CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa, CNN political commentator Errol Louis and Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics.

Um (INAUDIBLE) Sara Murray (INAUDIBLE) you know, the how the sound (INAUDIBLE) be when we have a graphic to show the connections he has very high within the Trump orbit.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's right. I'm glad you played the audio of the president saying he's an excellent guy. Photos, of course, hit the web immediately showing him at high level meetings with Donald Trump, as a matter of fact, his national security -- or one of his foreign policy advisers during the campaign.

We should also keep in mind that, you know, Michael Caputo is -- he's a great political warrior, great turn of phrase. That's the guy who said, you know, sort of coffee boy.

BALDWIN: Coffee boy.

LOUIS: On the other hand, you know, only one person involved here was under oath. Only one person went to court and said, I did all of these things and I'll tell you all about it. And he's been talking about it for months now.

So if you want to have a swearing contest between the White House crew and somebody who swore under oath what he did --


LOUIS: We'll see how that plays out in court.

BALDWIN: So I'm wondering, if I'm Papadopoulos, to you, sir, thinking of this legally, to both of you. If I'm Papadopoulos and I'm hearing now thinking I had some role, clearly as this foreign policy adviser, name checked by the president but -- you know, to "The Washington Post" and this president is calling me a liar and this is all being downplayed, downplayed, isn't my -- aren't I going to talk more?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he's probably talked all he's going to talk.


ZELDIN: But surely he's not winning any fans from the White House. But the thing that strikes me -- and you're an active defense attorney -- the thing that strikes me is Carter Page was on TV yesterday, Corey Lewandowski's on TV today. Caputo's on TV today. They're all making statements. If these statements prove to be untrue statements, Then they're just building another case for Bob Mueller for false statements. Not lying yet, but it will be compared with other statements and then they're going to be interviewed. And the one thing that the Papadopoulos case teaches all of us who have practiced law is, don't lie.


ZELDIN: And these guys need to just shut up.

BALDWIN: You're going to get caught.

ZELDIN: It doesn't make any sense, especially when you read the case and you see it says that this is, one, a small part of a larger case. And that, two, the interests of justice are yet to be vindicated. And that all Papadopoulos told us was what was necessary to take the plea, but there is other stuff. It says right on the thing (ph), there's other information here, but we're not yet releasing it. It doesn't make any sense to me what they're doing.

BALDWIN: I think there is a whole bunch of, I don't know. Like, if anything, you know, I think what this is sending, what Bob Mueller is sending the signal -- it's a strong signal to the White House, but it's also -- shows all of us, none of us who saw the Papadopoulos story coming is -- they've got a lot going on that none of us know about.

That said, if you are potentially in this net, if you're looking at the indictments and you're potentially in the net, in the ether of what's to come, are you thinking, hmm, I've been watching what's happening in the last 24 hours. Should I cooperate? Should I reconsider talking?

[14:10:04] ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that's exactly what's on your mind.


RANGAPPA: And if you've already talked to Mueller, and you may have been -- may have had some amnesia, say, when you were speaking with him or the agents --


RANGAPPA: You may want to reconsider whether it's time to come clean because basically the unsealing of these things at the same time is Mueller's way of saying, here are your options. Do you want to be Papadopoulos or do you want to have, you know, a big box on your ankle and your passport taken away and stuck in your house? So --

BALDWIN: These are -- this is your menu.

RANGAPPA: This is your menu.

BALDWIN: You choose.

ZELDIN: Right.

RANGAPPA: Yes. Bon appetit.

BALDWIN: Totally.

ZELDIN: And if you -- and if you look just to that exact point, Papadopoulos doesn't agree, he gets five years. He agrees, he's at zero to six months under the sentencing guidelines. Manafort, he's about 11 to 12 years if he just goes to trial and loses. If he cooperates fully, he's got four to five years. Big incentive to cooperate under the sentencing guidelines.

BALDWIN: Is -- Caitlin, I'm coming to you in a second, I promise. But just focusing in on the legal angles. Is President Trump in any trouble whatsoever for calling Papadopoulos a liar, for bashing a potential witness?

ZELDIN: No, I don't think so. Not yet from a legal standpoint.


ZELDIN: If his language tends toward obstruction, that is witness intimidation, then theoretically.


ZELDIN: If he says to somebody, if he says to Manafort, just be quiet, don't --

BALDWIN: So calling someone a liar isn't intimidating or obstructing. That's not -- that couldn't be perceived as, stop talking.

ZELDIN: It could be in the broader context. And I think as a one-off tweet, probably not. Others will chime in. But if he gets to the point where he says to somebody, be quiet and I'll pardon you, that's obstruction. If he says to somebody -- RANGAPPA: That's right.

ZELDIN: You keep talking and you'll -- they'll be hell to pay, that could be witness intimidation. I don't think we're at either yet --


ZELDIN: But that's sort of the parameters.

BALDWIN: OK. What are you thinking, Caitlin, listening to all of this?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLOTICS: Well, interesting enough, you know, the Papadopoulos case is huge because when you look at that footnote of the affidavit yesterday it says that he has been talking --

BALDWIN: Lower level.

HUEY-BURNS: Exactly, but he has -- he has been talking. So he goes from being a bit player in the Trump campaign of -- those of us who covered the campaign knows he didn't play an outsized role of that -- of Manafort, but he was talking to the highest levels of the campaign.

And now he is at the center of this investigation. I think this provides a lot of problems from the White House, and for Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Remember, when the Manafort news came out, Republicans and the White House were able to make the argument of, well, this doesn't have anything to do with the campaign. You can argue on those merits, of course, as well.

When the Papadopoulos news came out, that made it very difficult to spin this because this hits at the center of Mueller mandate, which is Russia, collusion perhaps -- allegations of Russia collusions. So to downplay his efforts in that campaign, you can do that. But you also have to explain, OK, why was he talking to senior officials. And he's been talking and cooperating with the FBI. And so Republicans on The Hill are just waiting for other shoes to drop and they don't know what to say. A lot of them are remaining silent and that silence is becoming deafening.

BALDWIN: So curious to see how Sarah Sanders handles this today.

Stay with me. I have so much more for all of you.

Coming up here on CNN, the White House briefing set to begin any moment now as CNN has details about how President Trump is reacting behind the scenes to this Mueller probe. We'll have that for you. We'll take the briefing live.

Also, questionable comments from the chief of staff, John Kelly, praising confederate General Robert E. Lee and saying the Civil War resulted from an inability, a lack in this country to compromise. Huh? Is General Kelly more like Trump than the country previously thought?

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:18:18] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

As President Trump is in a word seething over the Russia investigation, he is also torn by this tug of war in his inner circle over how to handle these next few steps. Administration officials say his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who, as you know, left the White House, just as recently as August, is suggesting the president push back. He says to the president, get combative, do things like cut funding or slow down document production in court.

On the other side, the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, and White House attorney Ty Cobb are urging the president to cooperate -- cooperate so he can get through this investigation as fast as possible.

My panel is back.

And so, Asha, just first to you on this. If the president, again, this is just the Steve Bannon idea of how to handle this whole Mueller situation. If the president takes his advice, would that then be obstruction of justice?

RANGAPPA: You mean if he takes his advice to fire Mueller?

BALDWIN: No, no, no, no, I'm not even going there.


BALDWIN: I'm just saying like not, you know, handing over documents, cutting funding to certain things, things that are pertinent to this investigation that Mueller is asking the White House, if he's fighting him tooth and nail, is that a problem for the president?

RANGAPPA: It is a problem for the president. I mean, it's -- look, all of the president's actions go to his motive or his state of mind in this original obstruction case going back to why he fired Comey, OK? That is what the main obstruction case is about. And the question is, did he do it with corrupt intent? This is an incredibly difficult crime to prove because you have to get into somebody's heart. And if he starts taking every measure that he can to stand in the way of Mueller's investigation or to dissuade him, they could become their own counts of obstruction, but they are going to also bolster this case that he really wanted this Russia investigation to go away because he had something to hide or he is afraid of something

being exposed. So he is a little bit in a corner, in my opinion, in terms of how aggressive he can be against Mueller.

[14:20:22] BALDWIN: Errol, just knowing the Steve Bannon role, both pre and then during and then post White House, how influential, how likely might the president actually take him up on these ideas?

LOUIS: Well, I -- you know, you have to keep in mind that when Bannon says fight this to the last ditch in both the legal and political sense, he's not telling Donald Trump something that the president doesn't want to hear. In fact, it's the other side of his brain. I mean this is the way Donald Trump conducted his life in commerce. This is the way he conducted his campaign. It's the way he's conducted his young presidency. Always fight back. Never give an inch. Doesn't matter what the "Access Hollywood" tape shows you doing, just say that it's all a lie. It doesn't matter if you have no intention of suing any of the women who were making accusations about sexual assault, say that you're going to sue them all. It doesn't matter, you know, if you lied for a couple of years about this birtherism conspiracy theory, just stick with it.

So I don't see the Bannon strategy as something that's going to be foreign to Donald Trump. It's probably what he instinctively would do absent any other sort of options.


LOUIS: And, I mean, the one thing I think is worth noting, though, Brooke, is when the Papadopoulos plea was exposed yesterday, was revealed yesterday, Donald Trump went silent on Twitter for about 20 hours. And that doesn't happen very often.

BALDWIN: No, it doesn't.

LOUIS: I think he really got thrown for a loop by what's going on. And so, you know, whether he's going to seethe some more or take the advice of his lawyers or do whatever it makes sense to do, I think that silence really was the right thing to do because getting into an attack on the judiciary, on the courts, on the special counsel, ultimately on Congress, it's going to all backfire sooner or later.

BALDWIN: That is precisely where I was going to go next, Errol. Thank you for that.

Let me just pause and play some sound. We just heard from the top Republican on the Senate side, Mitch McConnell, commenting on this special investigation, commenting on the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Here he was.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: The special counsel has his job to do. The job we have here in the Senate is the investigation being carried out by the intelligence committee so far on an entirely bipartisan basis with Senator -- Chairman Burr and Ranking Member Mark Warner working on that. That's our role in it. And the special counsel has his job to do. And we're going to concentrate on what we're doing here in the Senate.


BALDWIN: All right, so acknowledging that Bob Mueller has his job to do and respecting that, so says the top Republican on the Senate side.

Are you surprised, just piggy backing off of what Errol said, that the president has withheld? I mean, yes, he called Papadopoulos a liar, but he hasn't said a darn thing on Mueller on Twitter. ZELDIN: And smartly so. And Ty Cobb has been counseling him to cooperate with Mueller, which is the correct strategy. All those lies that you've just outlined, absolutely true. You don't want to lie to Bob Mueller though. It's one thing to lie in the broad discourse of communications. But you don't lie to Bob Mueller because he will indict you for that lie.

And so Ty Cobb is saying to him, Mr. President help yourself here. And for 20 hours, you're absolutely right, he helped himself. He's not yet been able to resist the irresistible impulse that he gets to communicate. But he's on very dangerous ground. If he starts slow producing or if he starts trying to instruct Rod Rosenstein to cut funding --

BALDWIN: Taking Bannon's advice.

ZELDIN: He gets much, much closer to Asha's point that this becomes obstructionist behavior.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Asha.

RANGAPPA: Yes. So I think that this is going to be the tension between fighting this in the court of public opinion and fighting this in a court of law. And I don't think Donald Trump understands the difference between the two and why there are consequences for doing it one versus the other.

I actually think that maybe the last 24 hours his lawyers were successful, they locked him in a room with some mittens on and, you know, like whatever, but, you know, he needs to listen to his lawyers. And he can -- he can fight back against Mueller in legal ways. He can exert certain privileges.


RANGAPPA: He can -- you know, he can litigate all this stuff. But if he starts using the power of his office and the influence that he has over his staff and the people who work for him --


RANGAPPA: To try to impede it, that's when it becomes a problem.


ZELDIN: Right. You have to look at the impeachment articles against Nixon and Clinton, you'll see exactly the truth of what she has said.

BALDWIN: I'll take your word for it. Not going there yet. But take your word for it.

And just finally to you, Caitlin. I mean imagine a world in which we had a Democrat president.


BALDWIN: And we were listening to Republicans and all of this was happening but the political roles were reversed.


[14:25:02] BALDWIN: What would that look like from Republicans?

HUEY-BURNS: Right. Exactly. You would -- if this were the Clintons, for example, you would see it. And, in fact, you're already kind of seeing it, right? Last week the Republicans tried to run a counter narrative going after Clinton for the Uranium One deal, which was not true, and also going after the Clinton campaign for the famous dossier.

Back to your point about Bannon, I think Bannon reflects the Republican base that wants the Republican majority in Congress to be fighting back more. And at the same time, however, you are seeing a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill say, let the special counsel do its work because we don't want to cross that line.

In fact, you had some conservative Republicans calling for pulling out funding from this investigation. Can't really do that because it's not under DOJ's purview, it's under Treasury. But given that, it didn't even come up to the floor which shows the complications of this.

And you also have people saying that to fire Mueller would cross a line that we don't even want to go. So they're sending these signals now just in case. But I think that divide is pretty interesting.

BALDWIN: A lot of tough questions coming at Sarah Sanders momentarily.

Guys, thank you all so very much. Fascinating times in which we live.

We're waiting for that White House briefing to begin any moment now. We'll bring it to you live.

Also, we're going to talk about those comments in that interview from last night from the president's chief of staff, John Kelly. He was praising the confederate general, Robert E. Lee, and saying it was a lack of compromise that led to the Civil War. More on his comments when we come back.