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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Did John Bolton Try to Blow Up North Korea Talks?; Manafort Accused of Witness Tampering. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 5, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:31:51]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our politics lead.

And a remarkable admission this morning by President Trump, starkly stating there would be no Russia investigation were it not for Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal.

He tweeted -- quote -- "The Russian witch-hunt hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn't tell me he was going to recuse myself. I would have quickly picked someone else" -- unquote -- admitting he wanted an attorney general who would have squashed the investigation, per his wishes.

At the same time, we're also learning about new accusations against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, whom special counsel Mueller says tried to tamper with witnesses in his own case.

CNN's Jim Sciutto has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort accused by the special counsel of tampering with witnesses, encouraging them to lie for him in court.

In a new filing, prosecutors claim that Manafort repeatedly contacted two people who worked for him, identified only as persons D-1 and D-2. Manafort and a confidant asked them to make the -- quote -- "materially false claim" that he had lobbied on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians only in Europe, when, investigators say, in fact, he had lobbied the U.S. Congress for those Ukrainian politicians from 2011 to 2013.

Manafort allegedly made the contacts in February, just days after prosecutors unveiled new criminal charges against him. Using encrypted text messages, Manafort wrote to the person known as D-1 -- quote -- "We should talk. I have made clear that they worked in Europe."

In another encrypted text, Manafort's confidant outlined Manafort's -- quote -- "quick summary" that -- quote -- "our friends never lobbied in the U.S." JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: The Mueller team is very thorough and they're doing their jobs very well. So they are speaking to all of the witnesses. And if someone has attempted to tamper with a witness, the Mueller team is likely to learn about that and follow up on it. And that is why we may be looking at revoked bail or additional charges for Paul Manafort.

SCIUTTO: Paul Manafort's spokesperson told CNN -- quote -- "Mr. Manafort is innocent and nothing about this latest allegation changes our defense. We will do our talking in court."

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges related to his failure to disclose his U.S. lobbying work for a foreign government and to bank fraud and other financial crimes. Investigators continue to probe the possibility that Manafort coordinated with Russians during the 2016 presidential election.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Willing to risk being caught witness-tampering in a case where they are watching every move, so it tells me that he's not certain he will get a pardon. And, frankly, I think a pardon in these circumstances would be another act of obstruction of justice by the president.

SCIUTTO: Days after Trump's lawyer admitted that Trump himself dictated the original explanation of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians, a misleading explanation, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN the changing stories were not lies, but a mistake on the part of Mr. Trump's original lawyer.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I don't think anybody was lying. I think a mistake was made in the very early stages of an investigation. I don't mean an investigation. Very early stages of a representation by a lawyer, which happens all the time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:35:07]

SCIUTTO: Why does it matter that the White House story on that Trump Tower meeting changed repeatedly and why does it matter that the president was involved?

Because we know that this is an active line of inquiry for the special counsel, under the bucket, if you can call it, Jake, of possible obstruction of justice.

That is a fair question beyond the idea that the White House completely reversed its story in 12 months' time.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

You're never going to believe why the White House national security adviser has been benched for the North Korean summit. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: A judge will consider next week whether former Trump

campaign Paul Manafort should go to jail while awaiting trial, after new allegations by special counsel Robert Mueller that Manafort tried to tamper with witnesses in the federal tax and money laundering case being built against him, using encrypted technology to suggest that witnesses make what the Mueller team says are false claims.

[16:40:02]

Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara joins me now for more.

Preet, thanks for coming.

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Sure.

TAPPER: How significant are these new allegations against Manafort from the Mueller team?

BHARARA: They are very significant.

It is basically, in every single way you can think about it, as a lawyer and as a defendant, it is a complete disaster. First, it may result in his bail being revoked, which means he goes to prison pending trial, which is not that far from now, but it's a significant impediment for him being able to prepare for his case.

And also, obviously, when you take someone's liberty away, that is a serious thing. It also could result in the addition of more charges under 18-USC-1512, which is an obstruction of justice statute.

And separate and apart from those two things, it may also result in a greater likelihood of his conviction on the underlying counts, because, in all likelihood, I think a judge would allow in evidence of the fact that he was conscious of his guilt in going to these other witnesses and trying to coach their testimony.

So, in every way, both in terms of his liberty, the likelihood of prevailing in this case and everything else, it is terrible for him. And the other consequence, I will say, also is -- you never know for sure, depending on the psychology of a particular defendant, but, as everyone always speculates about somebody who is not at the top of the food chain, you wonder if someone is going to flip.

People are having that same conversation about Michael Cohen. They've been having it about Paul Manafort. And, in my experience, the one thing that gets the mind to focus is loss of liberty.

So, sometimes, people are tough, and they don't want to flip and they don't want to give the game away with respect to someone else higher on the food chain when they are out and free, even if it is home confinement. You still get to watch THE LEAD and other shows on television, presumably.

But you are not free if you are in prison. And there have been time after time people who have refused to cooperate and flip on other folks who change their mind once they are behind bars. And I think that could very well happen here.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Two days ago, President Trump tweeted, distancing himself from his former campaign chair, writing -- quote -- "Paul Manafort came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time."

Not particularly accurate, but, beyond that, some have speculated that the president could pardon Manafort. Why would president -- why would Paul Manafort try to tamper with witnesses if he were definitely expecting a pardon?

BHARARA: He's probably he doesn't know for sure.

The president is a fickle person. He does things that are unexpected. He does other things that are expected. He toys with things. He could change his mind at the last minute. Last week, he said that he was thinking about pardoning Martha Stewart and Blagojevich, the governor from Illinois, and he hasn't done those yet.

Maybe he will, maybe he won't. No one ever knows for certain because he likes to play the game of surprise, whether you are talking about a criminal case or you're talking about North Korea. So, I'm guessing he was hedging his bets and trying to figure out a way to prevent himself from being convicted in the underlying case.

TAPPER: Just a few minutes ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders again refused to comment on the fact that she, according to President Trump's own lawyers, was not honest when she denied months ago that President Trump dictated the deceptive statement about the Trump Tower meeting.

She said -- she seemed to suggest there was like a legal reason why she wasn't going to do it.

Is there a valid legal reason for her not to weigh in and say, hey, I got that wrong, I'm sorry?

BHARARA: Not that I'm aware of.

I think it is a way to insulate herself from telling more lies and having to come clean on why she was telling the lie before. It also could be protective of Donald Trump, because I suppose a defense that she has is she was told a false statement and she repeated it trusting what the president and his staff were telling her.

But at the time she made the false statement about the dictation of the letter, the special counsel had already begun his investigation. So the reason that she's giving now also obtained before, so it doesn't make a lot of sense, other than she doesn't want to get into more hot water.

And, look, it is a significant thing not just that Sarah Sanders has been caught saying something that was not true. But the president's lawyer Jay Sekulow -- and I have been talking about this for a few days -- when you have a lawyer who doesn't get the facts right -- and this happens with Rudy Giuliani also -- repeatedly, publicly, that also causes the lawyer to lose credibility both in court and with respect to the prosecutor.

So when they have to go in and plead the case to the special counsel's office and their lawyers and investigators and say, you have this wrong, or don't go here, or my client deserves the benefit of the doubt, they have reduced credibility every time they say something that turns out to be false.

And that is to the detriment of the client and also the process.

TAPPER: All right, Preet Bharara, thank you so much.

BHARARA: Thanks.

TAPPER: Appreciate your time, as always.

Did President Trump's own national security adviser try to sabotage the upcoming summit with North Korea?

Shocking reports coming up about John Bolton's Libya model comments.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking news about the President's summit with North Korea. One of his top foreign policy advisers now stands accused within the own -- his own administration of having tried to sabotage next week's meeting. Several sources tell CNN that State Department officials believe that National Security Advisor John Bolton made those Libya model remarks deliberately to get the talks off track. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is one of the Correspondents breaking the story. Jeff, why would Bolton go rogue with the remark and what are you learning about the President's reaction to Bolton's comments behind closed doors?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we're learning that the President was caught off guard by all of this when he saw his new National Security Advisor on television talking about this. He was surprised by it. He wasn't sure why he was doing it. Now to remind folks, this is exactly what the President saw why he was surprised last month when John Bolton said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN, SENIOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: But is it a requirement that Kim Jong-un agrees to give away those weapons before you give any kind of concession?

JOHN BOLTON, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think that's right. I think we're looking at the Libya model of 2003-2004.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Now we've heard a lot of discussion about the Libya model. People who are supportive of John Bolton, they say he was talking about the disarmament not the essential removal of the leader there. But the reality is the President wondered why he was saying that. So in recent days, we are told that State Department officials believe John Bolton was, in fact, trying to blow this up or perhaps inject some reality into it or slow the meeting down. That's one of the reasons John Bolton was not in the Oval Office last Friday for that meeting. It's one of the reasons he's essentially on the sidelines. He's going to go to Singapore we were told but he's not going to play a central role in that. And Jake, what is really happening here, the State Department and John Bolden are sort of at odds here. Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State has the President's full directive to go forward with this meeting. The question is if it takes a longer period of time, will John Bolton's hardline view you know, now he's had this for a long time, will he be able to influence that on the President going forward or not? But for right now it's Mike Pompeo show. The President giving him a lot of latitude, John Bolton has to support on other matters but not on North Korea.

[16:50:54] TAPPER: Is President Trump angry with John Bolton about this?

ZELENY: He is on this specific point we're told, he was confused by it, not sure why he's bringing up. But several people we talked to said he still has his support on other matters. And John Bolton of course, has been around for a long time so a lot of the conservative media advisors and others support him so the President does as well for now.

TAPPER: Although remarkable that State Department officials are attacking Bolton --

ZELENY: I think that's the more important thing here, the tensions between the State Department and the White House on this specifically here left to watch how these Singapore talks play out.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much. People running for their lives from a wall of ash miles high, the desperate escape and search for those who didn't get away. We go there live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Breaking news in the "WORLD LEAD" today. Some horrifying scenes as families race to escape1,300 degree lava and layers of ash spewing from a volcano in Guatemala. Minutes ago the official death toll rose to 72 after the country's Fuego Volcano blew its top. And officials just warned that the volcano is getting even more active. This drone footage showing towns buried in ash. Only the treetops visited in some place visible in some places. Right now day's survivors are searching for lost loved ones and these destroyed neighborhoods, hope unfortunately it's fading for many. CNN's Patrick Oppmann is live for us near the site of the eruption. Patrick, this is a very dangerous place right now.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It continues to be a dangerous place and just behind me, that mountain range behind me, that is where the Volcan de Fuego, the Fire Volcano is located. Let's just set the scene again for our viewers. We're talking about how on Sunday, local time about noon, people are sitting down to lunch going to market and without any warning this volcano essentially blew its top and instead of other places that were like and why -- the lavas goes slowly down the communities and people have an opportunity to escape, instead of here that smoke cloud, that is a mixture of lava, Jake, of ash and flaming rock and it was coming down the mountain so quickly towards these communities at the bottom of the mountain that only people did not have enough time to run away, they couldn't even drive way. As you were saying, Jake, the danger is not over yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OPPMANN: A desperate search for survivors is now underway in Guatemala. Those who escaped still reeling after the Fuego Volcano's sudden eruption Sunday afternoon. This pyroclastic cloud of ash, rock, and volcanic gases tore through villages at more than 100 miles an hour, destroying everything in its wake. Mandatory evacuation orders came only hours after the mountain roared to life leaving little time to flee.

CONSUELO HERNANDEZ, VOLCANO SURVIVOR (through translator): My mother's house was buried with my entire family inside. My three sons two daughters and my grandson, my mother, my sisters, my nieces, and nephews, I went to a bridge nearby to get help. I said the lava was coming back and they didn't listen to me.

OPPMANN: Entire communities once nestled in the foothills of the mountain are now buried beneath debris. Cars have been pushed and piled from the force of the volcanic flow. This vacation resort once pristine, now unrecognizable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has been very hard to see kids families, whole families knowing that they're buried under the ashes and knowing that they're there and we cannot do fast, we cannot work fast in order to get them out.

OPPMANN: Consuelo Hernandez told first responders she believes she's the only one of her family that made it out in time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): No not everyone escaped. I think they were buried.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): How did you get out?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Because we saw the lava was pouring through the cornfields and we ran towards a hill.

OPPMANN: This afternoon, teams of rescuers opened to pull more like this infant alive from their homes. Any and all survivors are being carried out with care but this deadly eruption has left an apocalyptic scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically there's no homes left. And to my assumption, I don't think there's nobody left there with life.

OPPMANN: Guatemala is observing three days of mourning as fuels begin for the few victims that have been identified. Whitepaper signs taped their coffins lists the names of parents, friends, and children. All this as officials warn the Fuego Volcano remains active and dangerous for days to come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OPPMANN: Three of the survivors have been sent to the U.S. for treatment, Jake. So some badly needed help is finally coming to the people of Guatemala.

TAPPER: All right, Patrick Oppmann in Guatemala, thank you so much. That is now it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.