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WOLF

Trump Plans Celebration; Trump Attacks Sessions in Tweet; Manafort Accused of Witness Tampering; Giuliani on Shifting Story. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 5, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, ANCHOR: One week from today. One week from today. We'll keep an eye on this story.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. See you back here this time tomorrow.

"WOLF" starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Trump versus the Eagles. The president taking on the Super Bowl champs, abruptly cancelling the team's White House visit after discovering only a small number of players would show up. What the president says is really behind the cancellation.

Tampering with witnesses. The special counsel says former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort did just that. Now Robert Mueller is asking for Manafort to be put in jail. So what does this mean for the Russia investigation? We'll discuss.

On the sidelines as President Trump prepares for a summit with Kim Jong-un, an escalating feud between the national security adviser, John Bolton, and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. The rift leaving Bolton out of an historic Oval Office meeting. All that coming up.

But fire this, two hours from now, the White House plays host to what President Trump says will be a celebration for the country. The event is a last-minute replacement for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who were summarily disinvited to the White House after it became apparent that a majority of the team simply wasn't coming. The president attacked the Eagles as unpatriotic and disrespectful and falsely criticized them for refusing to stand for the national anthem.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, so how do we get to this point from a Super Bowl party that was anticipated on the South Lawn of the White House to a concert over at the White House?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is part of the president's culture wars designed to energize his base. The latest episode of that is this attack on the Philadelphia Eagles, accusing them of not standing for the national anthem. We should point out, just from a factual bases, that there were no Eagles players who failed to stand for the national anthem during the regular and post- season of the last NFL season. And so this attack on the Eagles appears to be somewhat politically motivated. Not even somewhat politically motivated, completely politically motivated.

In the last several minutes, the White House put out a statement on all of this explaining its side in all of this, saying that essentially there were too many Eagles players who were not planning to show up. And so rather than have an event here where the president would have a small crowd size, you might say, they decided to disinvite the Eagles.

And here's the statement from the White House. We can put it up on screen. It says, the White House, despite sensing a lack of good faith, nonetheless attempted to work with the Eagles over the weekend to change the event format that could accommodate a smaller group of players. Unfortunately, the Eagles offered to send only a tiny handful of representatives while making clear that the great majority of players would not attend the event despite planning to be in D.C. today. In other words, and here's the, I guess, very standout phrase here, the vast majority of the Eagles' team decided to abandon their fans. So they're really not making any bones about it. They're going after the Philadelphia Eagles, the Super Bowl champs.

And, Wolf, I've talked to a number of sources about this. I talked to one source close to the White House who thought this was a good idea because they sensed over here that the Eagles were trying to make a massive spectacle of the fact that so many of their players disagree with the president especially on this standing for the national anthem issue, which goes back to Colin Kaepernick with the San Francisco 49ers, who was doing this in protest of police brutality and police issues.

But I talked to another source close to the White House, Wolf, who said, you know what, this may not be smart politics. Remember, the Philadelphia Eagles play in Pennsylvania. And Pennsylvania, as we know, Wolf, was critical to the president winning the 2016 election and cracking that Democratic blue wall.

Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a good point. We're going to have more on that coming up.

The Eagles and the national anthem certainly weren't the only thing on the president's mind when he tweeted more than a dozen times this morning, Jim. He also took a shot -- another shot at the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, and he wrote this. The Russian witch hunt hoax continues all because Jeff Sessions didn't tell me he was going to recuse himself. I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted. So many lives ruined. And Sessions knew better than most that there was no collusion.

Why all of a sudden is he going after Jeff Sessions yet again today? He keeps doing it almost every other day.

ACOSTA: Right, Wolf. And I think the question is, and we may hear this during the White House briefing with Sarah Sanders here in about an hour from now is, why does the president not just fire Jeff Sessions? If he's so dissatisfied with the attorney general, does not like the fact that he recused himself in the Russia investigation more than a year ago, why does he continue to have him on? There are a couple of reasons why that you hear from sources, Wolf. One is that the president is very much aligned with Jeff Sessions on this issue of immigration. As you know, down on the border right now, there's this very contentious issue where the administration is separating families coming across the border, separating -- actually separating children from their parents as they cross the border from Latin America.

[13:05:07] But, the other reason why, Wolf, I've talked to a source earlier this morning, a couple of sources this morning, and the -- the feeling is, is that the president is just, once again, using this to go after the Russia investigation. And, you know, there was a time, Wolf, over here at the White House when there are some who considered this Russia investigation to be a political liability. But more and more, Wolf, as we're heading into the midterm season, their advisers, sources close to the president, officials here at the White House, people who I guess advised the president outside the White House who see this Russia investigation more and more as a useful wedge tool to energize the base heading into the midterms. And I suspect, rather than firing Jeff Sessions, he'll continue to hit him like a punching bag right into November, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't remember a time when a president of the United States has so publicly humiliated a member of his cabinet. It really is amazing to see this humiliation go on.

ACOSTA: It's really incredible.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, at the White House, thank you.

Let's talk a little bit more about all of this.

Joining us now from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, CNN political commentator Charlie Dent. He's a former congressman from Pennsylvania. Also joining us here in Washington, Michael Shear, White House correspondent for "The New York Times," CNN political analyst Eliana Johnson, and from Michigan, former Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter.

And, Mayor Nutter, let me ask you, how much of an embarrassment is this latest development involving the president of the United States and your home team the Philadelphia Eagles? Give me your analysis, your reaction.

MICHAEL NUTTER, FORMER PHILADELPHIA MAYOR: Sure. Well, first of all, there's no embarrassment to the Philadelphia Eagles. The players have conducted themselves with dignity and grace and patriotism. And as Jim Acosta pointed out, none of the Philadelphia Eagles' players ever knelt, didn't stay in the locker room and have conducted themselves appropriately. And I give credit, of course, to Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long and a

number of the players for their leadership on the real issues. The real issues have been, as Jim mentioned, whether it's police brutality, relations between police and community, inequality, racism, a variety of issues that Donald Trump refuses to actually acknowledge and address as real issues. He just wants photo ops and to play politics. And the players are talking about real issues and using their voice and their position.

They're not going to be told by Donald Trump where to be, where to stand. He doesn't get to dictate in a Trump/Putian (ph) dictatorship that he's trying to create, to tell people what patriotism is. Again, this is someone who ran when he had the opportunity to serve the United States and overcompensates by talking about the military all the time.

And so we're proud of the Philadelphia Eagles. We're proud that they won the Super Bowl. I acknowledge and herald the players. Jeff Lurie, Coach Doug and the entire Philadelphia organization.

We had our parade. We had our celebration. He canceled on them because apparently crowd size still matters to Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Charlie Dent, you're a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, also a Philadelphia Eagles fan. The president seems to thrive tough politically when he picks a fight along these lines. This time, of course, with the Philadelphia Eagles. You think that was his intent to put the president on the offensive right now?

CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA CONGRESSMAN, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, I do. I think this is a bit of a political stunt. The president knew darn well that when he invited the Eagles to the White House for the celebration that players -- some players would not attend. He knew that full well. And to cancel this event or to disinvite the Eagles the night before I think really speaks to a political stunt and I think it's wrongheaded.

Now that said, you know, I -- these players have a right to take a knee. I never thought it was the right thing to do, but they have a right to do it. And I think the president should be bigger than this. He should stand up and let them come and have the celebration like you would with any other team. I just think this is a political stunt. The president should cease and desist from this culture war. That's not helping him, in my view, and it's just further dividing the country.

BLITZER: Eliana, I'm anxious to get your thoughts. Very few of the Eagles players were actually going to be at the White House for this event today. What's your -- what's your thought on how this all unfolded?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's so interesting, if this was a stunt, it wasn't a stunt that all White House aides were in on. They were actively planning to host the Eagles until 6:30, 7:00 p.m. last night when the disinvitation was announced. I actually think this is more a case of the president being thin-skinned and issuing a cancellation when he found out there wouldn't be a big crowd. We were told that about 81 of them RSVP'd, and then he found out it would just be a couple of them. And I think we saw the president revert back to this culture war issue of sanding for the anthem, that's kind of his safe space, when he felt slighted by the football team.

[13:10:01] BLITZER: You know, in the White House statement, Michael, the president seems to be setting some rules, as far as he's concerned, about football and the national anthem. He said this. This is the White House statement. They disagree with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the national anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.

And let's point out, once again, during the regular season, the post season, there was never an instance of a Philadelphia Eagles player getting down to kneel during the national anthem.

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, but President Trump doesn't let facts like that get in the way, right? He's talking about -- I mean he's trying to communicate a bigger sense. I think Jim Acosta had it right earlier, this is a -- this is a dog whistle to his base. He is -- he is using these culture issues.

We were all surprised when this came up in the first place, when he originally attacked Colin Kaepernick for kneeling. But it was a -- it was -- I think maybe not a strategic thing at first, but he quickly realized that when he stood before these rallies, the kind of response that he got from his base and the kind of response het gets on Twitter when he makes these kinds of statements, it's very powerful. And I think there's no -- I agree with Eliana, I'm not sure that this disinvitation was anything more than being thin skinned. But they don't -- he's not going to back off of this because he thinks it works.

BLITZER: We're going to see what happens at 3:00 p.m. Eastern when they do have this tribute, this national anthem celebration of American in lieu of the Philadelphia Eagles coming to the White House.

Guys, thank you very, very much.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort now facing new accusations of wrongdoing by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Up next, did Paul Manafort attempt to get witnesses to lie for him in court?

And the president, who's once again tweeting his ire at the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia probe. Straight ahead, I'll speak with CNN's Chris Cuomo, the host of "Cuomo Prime Time." We'll talk about that and a lot more.

And later, it's primary election day here in America. The big prize and the big stakes found in just a handful of California districts.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:16:13] BLITZER: President Trump venting more anger at the attorney general of the United States Jeff Sessions today. The president suggests he could have picked another attorney general who could block the Russia investigation if he had known that Sessions planned to recuse himself from the probe.

Meanwhile former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is facing more legal trouble. The special counsel's office is accusing him of witness tampering. He has until Friday to respond.

Let's bring in our CNN legal analyst, Shan Wu, and our justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, the special counsel's office clearly is moving quickly on this, but they're clearly trying to send a message as far as Paul Manafort is concerned.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, they -- in these court filings that they've sent in last night, in the court case here in the district of Columbia, the prosecutors say that Manafort has been in touch with witnesses, multiple witnesses, going back to February. There were a couple of witnesses that he was in touch with using Whatsapp encrypted messages, trying to essentially coach these people, telling them to perjurer themselves in their testimony to the special counsel as part of this investigation. And so that's the allegation from the special counsel. At this point, Paul Manafort's spokesman has only responded saying that he is innocent and obviously he has until Friday to respond to this -- this allegation.

It's interesting to note that the special counsel chose to make this filing, basically essentially -- asking for the judge to revoke his bail. Just last week the special counsel agreed to this bail, said that it was OK. They apparently were aware of some of these messages already. And it also, I think, is interesting that they chose not to bring a charge -- a new charge against Paul Manafort. They easily could have charged him with witness tampering, with, you know, obstructing this investigation. They did not do that. They instead are simply asking the judge to consider revoking his bail.

BLITZER: And that means he would have to go back to -- he would have to go to jail.

PEREZ: He would have to go to jail.

BLITZER: Await -- while he awaits the trial.

PEREZ: Right, he would have to go to jail while he awaits trial. Here in the District of Columbia, he's facing a trial probably in September/October later this year. In Virginia -- in Virginia he's facing similar charges and they -- they are right now scheduled to go on trial in July, but I don't think that's going to happen.

BLITZER: You know, Shan, you're a former federal prosecutor. Witness tampering clearly a very serious allegation. Is this all part of the pressure campaign by Manafort -- by Mueller and his team on Manafort to cooperate, to plead guilty and instead of trying to continue this non-guilty plea?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. And, first, I do need to say, any of my comments are based on public information because of my former representation of Rick Gates.

But based on that --

BLITZER: You were a defense attorney for Rick Gates.

WU: I was a defense attorney for Rick Gates.

BLITZER: Who was also -- yes.

WU: Right.

And so based on what we're seeing here, I think this tremendously ratchets up the pressure on Manafort. I mean Evan's point about the bail package recently having been agreed to, this has got to be one of the longest running bail negotiations in history. And so that in and of itself was an enormous amount of pressure on Manafort. And right just as that seems within reach, this comes up.

I think it is very telling that they chose not to bring charges. I mean maybe it's a timing question. But I think it also gives them a little bit more wiggle room to say, hey, we know about this, what do you think now?

PEREZ: Right. And it possibly -- he's right, it could be additional pressure to say, we know a lot more about what you've been up to. Obviously, though, you know, there is this whole principle that you're not supposed to punish somebody before they actually have been found guilty of a trial -- at trial. So it's interesting that they've chosen this route.

BLITZER: Yes, the pressure on Manafort, intense right now. We'll see what happens on Friday when they all go before this judge.

Guys, thank you very much.

Now to the credibility issue surrounding the White House and President Trump's legal team. Our Chris Cuomo asked Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about that, that 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York City and the president's role in a rather misleading statement about the meeting.

[13:20:10](BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Why do you think they chose to lie about the role in drafting this statement about Trump Junior's meeting with the Russians?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: Chris, you think maybe somebody could have made a mistake?

CUOMO: That's a lot of mistakes.

GIULIANI: Right? Why does it always -- CUOMO: A lot of mistakes.

GIULIANI: Why -- why is it always that somebody -- you think Jay Sekulow lied? Maybe he just got it wrong, like -- like I've gotten it -- I got a few things wrong in the beginning of the investigation. It was a mistake. I swear to God, it was a mistake. The guy made a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Chris is joining us now live from New York.

Chris, so what do you make of the mayor, Rudy Giuliani's, explanation that it was all simply a mistake?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Swearing to God while in Jerusalem, the holy land. A very dicey move for Rudy Giuliani when he has to know that the explanation doesn't make sense.

This is not about Sarah Sanders giving bad information when she's up there addressing the media. We don't know where she got her information. We don't know if she was told the truth. But the attorney for the president would surely know what his role was in the matter.

So what does that tell us? Either he decided to explain it in a way that was deceptive, or he was deceived because common sense -- forget about being a lawyer. If your head works, you know, Wolf, that this is the kind of situation, what the president was doing with that response, that would be known as fact.

BLITZER: Certainly. And it wasn't as if Jay Sekulow, the president's person lawyer, only said this once or twice or three -- it was like four or five times over a period of not days but a few weeks. You would think that if he was clearly making a mistake, somebody would have corrected him and said, you know, the president was involved. He actually dictated that statement. But apparently no one said that to Jay Sekulow.

CUOMO: Well, maybe. Strong point nonetheless, captain. And I'll tell you something else, when did they correct it? When it was exposed. When Trump Junior's e-mails came out. Then, in the letter, that proffer to the special counsel in the letter. Sekulow says the president dictated it.

So they never corrected it to you. They didn't correct it to the American people. They corrected it out of convenience when they knew they needed to. What does that also indicate? Well, that indicates an intention to be sneaky. And that does what? That informs the position that somebody's being deceptive. I just think it's common sense. I really do.

I don't know why they're doing this. Why they're fighting on this kind of point. Because it just sheds just a false light on everything else that they say. That's the part I don't get. I don't get why Rudy Giuliani would basically put his hand to God in the holy land and say, I know this wasn't a lie. I don't get it. BLITZER: Yes, it was simply a mistake.

And the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, she had a rough time yesterday at the White House press briefing. She's about to have another one coming up pretty soon about the conflicting stories. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said last August that the president did not dictate the statement about the Trump Tower meeting during the campaign, but the lawyers wrote to the special counsel that the president did dictate that statement. What's the reason for that discrepancy?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Like you said, this is from a letter from the outside counsel, and I direct you to them to answer that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She repeatedly said the same thing when asked several times. Does that sound, what, like she's simply passing the buck? Why can't she simply answer the question?

CUOMO: A rock and a hard place, though, right? I mean, you know, obviously I'm in the business of calling out Sarah Sanders more than defending her. But that is handled by counsel. It is external of the White House. I understand why she would want to push it to that.

She did need to answer, though, for her own declaration on this question because she didn't always say this, Wolf. She stood at the podium and she said he did not dictate it. He may have been involved in any way that any good parent would. So she did speak with knowledge, apparently, about what was done. She needs to answer for that.

However, again, I do think in fairness she is not the most likely link of deception here. Why? Because she wasn't in that fundamental planning phase of when this response was written. She is only as good as the information she is given. But the president's attorney, the president himself, the people in that room, the idea that anyone didn't know what the president's role was justifies common sense.

BLITZER: Yes, the president himself could have corrected the record after Jay Sekulow said --

CUOMO: Sure.

BLITZER: The president was not involved, didn't dictate anything. The president himself could have come out and said, well, you know what, I did dictate that statement and here's why. But he decided to remain silent on that.

There's another issue that's coming up, and I quickly want to pick your brain on this, Chris, the attacks on the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, the Mueller investigation. Clearly all of that pitting some Republicans against the president.

[13:25:10] Listen to what Senator Jeff Flake said just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: He definitely is trying to discredit it and he's certainly pushing every edge to see, you know, where members of Congress will go, if they'll support him on this or not. I think it's important that we stand up and say there are limits.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it frustrating that Republicans are not standing up to this?

FLAKE: Yes, it is. It is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Flake, of course, not seeking re-election.

What are the chances that other Republicans will now stand up against the president's attacks on the Robert Mueller probe?

CUOMO: Well, as we like to say, Wolf, do you hear that? That's the sound of McConnell and Ryan saying nothing once again. So I think you have to define, well, what Republicans are you talking about? The ones that are still in the game and that have skin in the game? We know the answer to that. It's demonstrably no, they're not going to say anything about this.

But here's the bigger truth, it's working. The president's campaign of attacking the probe is working. What's the proof? Well, if only this, Rudy Giuliani has made this conversation almost exclusively about why the president should be limited in his exposure to this process, when the opposite argument, Wolf, is equally compelling in law and in politics. We shouldn't be talking about a president needing to be subpoenaed. You know as well as a historian of this business, presidents don't have to get subpoenaed to act. And when they do, they don't fight it. Even Clinton stepped away from fighting a subpoena when he knew he was in trouble when he would sit down. Nixon fought it and lost. You don't talk about a president pleading the Fifth. He has a special responsibility to be transparent. So we shouldn't be talking about limiting it, we should be talking about maximizing it, but we're not. And that's a proof of the effectiveness of their efforts.

BLITZER: Who's on the new show tonight?

CUOMO: Anthony Scaramucci. Why? Because this Eagles culture clash looms large. Why are people defending what the president is doing here and on what basis? There seems to be a spin game and a malignancy on this issue that needs to be addressed because the Eagles -- we're both sports fans, Wolf -- we know the Eagles aren't getting treated the way the Patriots did. Why? What is going on with this in terms of timing? And in terms of what you are talking about with these misstatements of fact, or what I see as open deceptions and lies about what the president did and when with regard to Trump Junior, why is this such a consistent theme in this White House? It's not what Anthony Scaramucci said the communications strategy should be. I want him to answer for it tonight.

BLITZER: Chris Cuomo, excellent new show. Congratulations. Off to a terrific start. We'll be watching later tonight. "Cuomo Prime Time," 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Thanks for joining us.

CUOMO: Thank you, captain.

BLITZER: All right, with just a week until the North Korea summit, an escalating feud between the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the national security adviser, John Bolton. What triggered these tensions and the impact they're having on the negotiations?

Plus, it's primary day in eight states here in the United States, but all eyes are on California with its so-called jungle primary. The state's unusual election system could force some Democrats off the ballot come November. Much more right after this.