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Did Trump Submit Inaccurate Financial Disclosure Form?; Senate Report: Russia Wanted to Help Trump in 2016 Election; U.S.-North Korea Meeting Falling Apart?. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired May 16, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: What's more, these documents have been sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, along with a letter that says, "You may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing."
With me now is Walter Shaub. He's CNN contributing -- a contributor, and former director of the Office of Government Ethics. He's now the senior director of ethics for the Campaign Legal Center.
Walter, when you look at this, does this detail to you any violation on the part of the president?
WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, yes.
I mean, this is a very big development. And, apparently, the Office of Government Ethics' current acting director believes so, too.
His letter to Rod Rosenstein is tantamount to a criminal referral. And that's because it would be a crime to knowingly and willfully omit any required information from a report. And on the cover page of the report, the acting director, Dave Apol, wrote that OGE agrees with the assessment and I -- me and a number of other ethics officials out in the world who have said that this was always a reportable debt.
And the president omitted it from last year's report. Now, the implicit defense raised by Rudy Giuliani in a number of forums so far has been that he didn't know about the debt. But, of course, on the form itself, President Trump acknowledges that Cohen had been asking him for reimbursement, and he did make the reimbursement.
So, now the only question comes down to whether or not Cohen raised the issue before June 14, 2017, when President Trump filed his financial disclosure report.
KEILAR: We noticed that you tweeted about a rather bizarre encounter over these forms when you worked in the Trump administration. Tell us what happened.
And just let me note the only reason I can talk about this is because we wound up having to release a letter subject to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The letter detailed how President Trump's attorney Sheri Dillon visited OGE and sat across the table from me and ask that President Trump not have to certify that his financial disclosure report was true.
Now, there have been millions, literally millions of financial disclosure reports filed. And they're as individual as snowflakes. They only have one thing in common, and that is that every last one of them, the filer certified that the contents were true.
And the request was that the president be the first person in history to file a financial disclosure report without having to certify it was true. It was a breathtaking, surreal moment. And of course we refused to grant that request. Now I'm very glad that I did, because he certified that his report was -- quote -- "correct and complete."
KEILAR: And what's the point of a -- what's the point of a financial disclosure if you can't say this is, to the best of your knowledge, factual?
And I would point out that Rudy Giuliani has claimed that President Trump began repaying the debt to Cohen at the beginning of 2017.
Even if we assume that that was February or March, instead of January, that's well before the June 14, 2017 filing date. So it's just completely implausible that he didn't know about the debt. Now, the only other defense they may raise is that perhaps his attorneys didn't think that it was reportable.
But I can confirm that no one ever asked the Office of Government Ethics last year if it was required to be reported. And so they shouldn't be allowed to just on their own make the decision it didn't have to be reported if they knew about it. And if the attorneys didn't know about it, which is probably the most likely scenario, then it means that the president concealed it even from his attorneys.
And that's really troubling, that we're in a situation where the president, who is supposed to be the model of government ethics, is filing a potentially false and certainly incorrect financial disclosure report.
KEILAR: His team is saying that he didn't know what the money was specifically spent on. Right? So there's this issue of knowing the debt, knowing what the debt's for. You chuckle at that.
SHAUB: Yes, because all debts are disclosable. There isn't a regulation that says filers and particularly presidents must disclose hush money payments to porn stars. It says that filers have to disclose all liabilities, any sort of debt.
So, it's irrelevant that he didn't know what the debt was for. It was disclosable. There's actually an OGE opinion way back that even says that attorneys fees can be disclosable. The opinion was actually extremely broad and said all attorneys fees are disclosable at any time.
I think it's fair to note that, in practice, OGE has only required them to be reported when they're overdue. But they're describing this as a debt or an expense separate from attorneys fees.
So that means that the president can't rely on the idea that these were attorneys fees and they hadn't come overdue yet. It was a debt. And whether he knew it was for a hush money payment to an adult film star or something else, he knew he had a debt and it was reportable.
Also, it's just implausible that his attorney would have settled a case so personal in nature without talking to his client. First of all, it would probably be an attorney ethics violation, but even beyond that, it just defies credulity to go out there and say, oh, I settled a debt for the president -- I entered into a settlement for my client without telling my client.
In fact, Rudy Giuliani had gone out and said that's normal for his firm. And when his firm separated...
KEILAR: And his firm responded. That's right.
SHAUB: They said, that's ridiculous. We would never do anything like that, which I think is a strong statement about how implausible this story that Michael Cohen was running off and paying off people for the president and keeping it a secret from him.
KEILAR: Walter, thank you so much. Fascinating to talk to you, as always.
And now to the biggest document released yet on the most infamous meeting in the Russia investigation. The Senate Judiciary Committee released nearly 2,000 pages of transcripts on the 2016 meeting inside of Trump Tower with all of these figures here that you see on your screen.
And the testimony shows how frustrated Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump camp became when they didn't get any dirt on Hillary Clinton, as promised.
As for President Trump's involvement, Don Jr. told Senate investigators he did not tell his father about the meeting and that they did not directly discuss the response to reporters after the meeting became known.
But one exchange Don Jr. did describe was the crafting of his initial statement about the meeting, claiming that it was all about Russian adoptions.
Here was the quote. The question to him was, "To the best of your knowledge, did the president provide any edits to the statement or other input?"
And he responded -- quote -- "He may have commented through Hope Hicks."
Joining me now, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, CNN political correspondent Sara Murray, and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, a former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.
Well, let's first -- obviously, this is fascinating to look at these transcripts. And we have had people poring over all of these pages, you guys among them. Good work.
Is there anything in here that is going to be of interest to the special counsel?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think everything in here is going to be of interest to the special counsel.
There is so much ambiguity in the answers to these -- by these witnesses and so many "I don't remembers," that Mueller, who has the power to subpoena and charge people with false answers, is not going to accept that answer, in the same way that the congressional people took.
So, I think there's a lot of stuff here that needs to be examined by Mueller, most notably whether there was a thing of value delivered or solicited on June the 9th, which is a crime, and/or whether there was any sort of follow-up to that meeting.
There's a particular interest -- something of particular interest to me in the transcript is -- of Don Jr.'s testimony -- he says in -- in response to a question about what is called exhibit five, that there was a follow-on e-mail from Goldstone to Don Jr. where he's saying V.K., the Russian Facebook equivalent, is prepared to launch Promote Trump 2016.
They had a mockup of the Web page that was going to be used to promote Trump in 2016. Don Jr. says, I don't know if that ever happened, but he said Paul Manafort was interested in it, and that's why we're following up.
So, there's a lot in just that one little dialogue to say, is this the predicate for the Russia social media campaign? Does this link to WikiLeaks? All those things are things that Mueller has to find out about.
KEILAR: And Paul Manafort, who we just had up on the screen there, I mean, he should have known that this was a problem, right, that the Russians were reaching out.
Some of the inexperience level in the campaign with Don Jr. and Kushner, but he's a veteran. SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I
think the thing that has former campaign aides scratching their heads when they look at this stuff is, you know, they see Donald Trump Jr., they see Jared Kushner, and say, they guys were novices.
Maybe they didn't understand. Paul Manafort has been in politics for a long time. And anyone who has ever worked on a major political campaign has gotten an overture like this from a sketchy character, from someone who claims to have ties to foreign leaders.
And what they do is, they direct those inquiries to their counsel at the campaign and then onward to the FBI. And so when other campaign aides look at this, they're just aghast that none of these normal protocols were followed, particularly by somebody like Paul Manafort, who has been doing this for decades.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: But if you read the transcripts of Manafort, he was completely bored by this meeting. It says that he...
KEILAR: Because they released a page of his notes that he took on his phone.
PROKUPECZ: Well, also the people -- other people that were in the meeting who testified, they said that he generally seemed bored, uninterested.
PROKUPECZ: Because once this went from being about dirt to what this really was about, which was adoptions, he completely lost interest.
One witness described him as looking at his phone throughout the rest of the meeting, in a meeting which lasted 20 to 30 minutes.
So, yes, you would think Manafort would know better. But I'm not even sure he -- in the end, he was really paying attention.
MURRAY: And they described Jared Kushner, other witnesses...
MURRAY: ... as agitated when the Russian lawyer launches into the fact that this is going to be about adoptions, essentially sanctions, and trying to get that changed, that Kushner says, wait, wait.
KEILAR: Because let's just be clear about that. Russia suspended adoptions in response to sanctions on those close to Putin.
MURRAY: What they are talking about are sanctions and adoptions. They're essentially interchangeable when we're talking about it in this.
MURRAY: But Kushner is essentially saying, look, I don't -- like, what are you talking about?
KEILAR: Actually tells -- tells her to start over.
MURRAY: Tells her to start over.
She starts to say the same thing over again and another witness in the room says he looks even more agitated. So, it was pretty clear that this meeting was not going like they thought it would.
KEILAR: Can I ask you -- I want to ask you about another point that we learned, though, that is so interesting.
KEILAR: And that is Donald Jr. talking about there being a meeting between was it Kislyak, right?
KEILAR: It was Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, at the meeting, and is it Paul Manafort? I just want to make sure I'm getting...
PROKUPECZ: It was in the office, in his office, when he came back from the gym.
KEILAR: And Flynn.
PROKUPECZ: Yes, Flynn.
KEILAR: He says he has gone to the gym, and he gets back from the gym, and there's this meeting happening in his office.
ZELDIN: Right. Right. This is why I asked -- answered your first question when you asked, will Mueller be interested in anything? He's got to be interested in everything.
KEILAR: Wouldn't he already know that, though?
ZELDIN: I understand that.
ZELDIN: But this just goes to show that there was a serious effort on the part of the campaign to have contact with the Russians. We don't know why. We don't know whether there was a quid pro quo.
We don't know whether there was coordination or conspiracy, laws violated, but we know there was outreach. And with respect to this June 9 meeting...
PROKUPECZ: On the Russians, there was certainly outreach. I don't think today's transcript tells us whether or not folks in the Trump campaign were reaching out to the Russians for any kind of help. Certainly, the special counsel...
KEILAR: But they were accepting it.
KEILAR: They were willing to accept it.
PROKUPECZ: If you read what is in the transcript, and let's say you believe them -- and I understand there are issues of I don't know and questions that were not answered about phone calls and whatever.
But if you read the transcript, there's every indication here from the people who -- from the translator, who has really nothing to gain by giving testimony in this case, that there was -- you can see that people there were confused by what this was about.
As Sara said, people were agitated. Clearly, the Russians did everything they can to try and get to the Trump campaign. And they were successful.
ZELDIN: May I just add one thing to that...
KEILAR: Real quick, yes. Final word on this.
ZELDIN: Which is that the fact that the meeting didn't turn out the way it was thought to be by Kushner and them doesn't mean that there wasn't follow-up efforts, because we see in July the WikiLeaks stuff is released.
We see the e-mail that I just read about following up with V.K. and Facebook. So, the fact is, they could get intelligence back saying, this meeting didn't turn out the way we, the Russians, hoped, and they, the Trump Organization. Let's continue this and get the record set up better.
And that's what we could see going forward. And that's what Mueller has got to look into.
KEILAR: Michael Zeldin, Shimon Prokupecz, Sara Murray, thank you so much to all of you. Next: President Trump says "We will see" when asked if a summit with
North Korea is still on the calendar. The new threats from Kim Jong- un and why he specifically mentioned the new national security adviser, John Bolton.
Plus, just in, more than 300 women and girls sexually abused by Larry Nassar get a $500 million settlement -- what Michigan State is saying about their massive payout.
KEILAR: North Korea now says that Kim Jong-un may back out of the planned meeting with President Trump next month.
President Trump says -- quote -- "We will see." But White House aides are scrambling to try to figure out the North's new insistence that it is not going to be cornered into giving up its nuclear weapons.
Officials tell CNN the administration was really caught off-guard here when Pyongyang abruptly lashed out over U.S.-South Korea military drills and suspended what were to be talks just today with South Korea.
I want to bring in Kaitlan Collins, our CNN White House reporter.
So, Kaitlan, North Korea's statement actually cites what happened to Libya and Iraq, this is noteworthy, as examples of why they should keep their nuclear capability.
Is the White House saying anything about this?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it really depends on which White House official you're asking.
If you talk to the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, today, as we did she said they're not following the Libya model, as has been reported, but they're following the Trump model here.
But that's not what the national security adviser, John Bolton, said just a few weeks ago, when he said he actually is picturing Libya when he's thinking of how to handle the North Korea situation.
Listen to what else he had to say about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: But is it a requirement that Kim Jong-un agree to give away those weapons before you give any kind of concession?
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think that's right. I think we're looking at the Libya model of 2003-2004.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: So, in their statement threatening to cancel the summit, the North Koreans noted that Libya met what they said was a miserable fate, because, of course, Brianna, after Libya agreed to give up its nuclear weapons, the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, was overthrown and brutally killed several years later.
So, they are citing that as a concern here. But the bottom line is, the White House is trying to figure out if this is an empty threat from North Korea or what it actually means, though they are insistent that they are still moving ahead with the plans for this summit to happen in Singapore.
But the anticipation has been building for weeks about this summit. The president today offering a very measured approach when asked about this threat from North Korea to pull out and scrap this meeting entirely.
But, really, Brianna, we are left with one big question mark over whether or not this big summit is actually going to happen after all.
KEILAR: And, Kaitlan, do we know if there's going to be a White House briefing? Because Sarah Sanders, when she spoke with reporters on White House grounds earlier today, hinted that there might be.
We're looking at a live picture in case it does happen. What are you hearing?
COLLINS: Sarah Sanders did hint the there may be a briefing, but the public schedule which they release to reporters that often includes whether or not there will be a briefing, they typically would have done so by this time in the afternoon, still has not been updated.
There is still no schedule with a briefing listed on there. And the president actually is holding an event on sanctuary cities any minute now. So, he will be doing that. There likely won't be any White House briefing during an event where the president is speaking.
COLLINS: So, we will hear from the president. There is a chance he could say more on North Korea after we heard from him earlier in the Oval Office with the president of Uzbekistan.
There could be more to say. There could be an update from the president. But, right now, we've just seen measured tones from him. And, really, it's well summed up in those two words, Brianna, "We'll see."
KEILAR: We'll see.
All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you very much.
We are monitoring that event that the Kaitlan talked about on sanctuary cities. We're going to bring that to you if there is any news coming out of it.
To discuss what we were just talking about, I want to bring in Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, and David Sanger. He is our CNN political and national security analyst and he is national security correspondent for "The New York Times."
What do you make, David, of North Korea citing this Bolton reference of looking at the Libya model for North Korea, and the fact that that's what Bolton even said? Do you think that it's perhaps counterproductive, in the face what could be a historic meeting, for Bolton to have said that?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, a few things, Brianna.
First, what the North Koreans are doing, putting up a lot of dust around the storm -- around the summit, whether or not it will even happen, entirely predictable.
I think -- you know, I have covered North Korea in negotiations since the Clinton 1994 crisis talks, and there have been four or five since. This has been a pattern in each and every one.
So the only folks it's new to is the Trump administration. Second, on Mr. Bolton's comparison to the Libya handover, it was a faulty analogy to begin with. It's an understandable one for him to make. He was in the State Department as a senior official who helped put together the Libya turnover, but, remember, Libya only had equipment that they had purchased from A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear head, and surreptitiously brought to Libya.
They hadn't unpacked most of it. They had no nuclear material. They certainly had no weapons. Basically, they had crates full of equipment they didn't know what to go do with, and they turned it over to the United States and to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
There's no comparison, no real comparison to what North Korea has.
KEILAR: North Korea has a full-on program, right, with decades of research behind it.
SANGER: Not only a full-on program. They have got 20 to 60 weapons, depending on which intelligence agency you believe.
SANGER: They have got facilities everywhere. They got tons of material to account for.
It's a vastly more complicated case.
KEILAR: So, Michael, what do you think? What do you think even about the White House saying -- we heard from Sarah Sanders today. It seems like we may be hearing her in a briefing today. But she said, we weren't surprised by this, essentially, and she said -- and if the talks don't happen, basically, she said, that's OK. That didn't really seem like perhaps an accurate representation.
What we know from behind-the-scenes reporting is that they were totally scrambling, totally caught off-guard by this news about North Korea.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, hi, Brianna. It's nice to be on with you and David.
I think to a -- I agree with everything David just said. I also think back to his book, "The Inheritance," that he wrote to describe the world that Barack Obama was inheriting from George Bush.
And the reason I think of it is because Donald Trump came into office regretting the inheritance that he got on North Korea from both Bush and Obama, both of whom had been unsuccessful in finding a way to stymie the program.
And Trump came in, by all reports, with the view that he wanted to solve this problem. He just didn't want to be another American to do a bad deal with North Korea that would give some temporary respite and otherwise allow their weapons systems to go on unimpeded.
So, a big part of Trump's instincts on this, like John Bolton's, are to solve the problem once and for all, complete and immediate denuclearization. But those of us who have followed this for a long time, like David and myself, know that that's extremely unlikely to be something North Korea would agree to.
And when Kim Jong-un used the expression denuclearization a few weeks ago with Secretary Pompeo during one of their meetings, he was probably thinking of a very long process, that, maybe or 30 years down the road, when a lot of benefits have been received by North Korea, the whole security situation has changed, maybe the U.S.-South Korea alliance has been weakened or dismantled, maybe, at that point, he could denuclearize.
But he probably didn't mean it any sooner than that. So, in a way, he's walking back any big expectations that we have of an immediate home run.
It doesn't mean the summit should be off. I think there can still be a productive step-by-step process, but we're going to have to get our patience about this and figure out a good, smart way to get engaged on that kind of a step-by-step, gradual denuclearization. I think it's the only game in town.
KEILAR: David, what do you think about the prospects of a summit?
SANGER: I think Michael is right.
I think it's likely that it would happen, in part because it was Kim Jong-un's idea. It was not even Donald Trump's idea. And Mr. Trump, to his credit, immediately embraced it.
But that's a different thing from going into it thinking that these two leaders, both of whom are known for their volatility, are going to come out with some agreement that is instantly going to go into effect.
It's going to be the start of a process, not the end of one. And that's what makes this one unusual, because the usual way you negotiate these things -- this is more Michael's territory than my own -- is, you begin at the staff level, you move your way up, and ultimately the meeting between leaders is usually what happens to seal the deal.
This is happening in reverse, to try to set the right tone, but that means that, once they separate, once they leave Singapore, assuming it happens, you then have bureaucracies on both sides, militaries on both sides that are going to be gnawing away at some of the details.
KEILAR: David Sanger, Michael O'Hanlon, thank you so much to both of you for your perspectives.
SANGER: My pleasure.
KEILAR: Some more breaking news.
Were the Russians trying to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton when they meddled in the 2016 election? The findings of a 14-month Senate Intelligence report has just been released. We will talk about what it reveals about Vladimir Putin's motives.