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Mueller Examining Tweets; Trump Organization Finance Chief Subpoenaed; Feds Have Cohen Tapes; Jordan to Run for Speaker; Deficit Poised to Skyrocket; Aired 1:00-1:30p ET

Aired July 26, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Get your "Time" and read that story.

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

Don't go anywhere. A lot more breaking news. "WOLF" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

We begin with breaking news involving the Russia investigation and President Trump's Twitter account. "The New York Times" now reporting that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing the president's tweets. According to the report, Mueller is focusing in on tweets and negative statements about the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey. And he wants to talk to the president about those tweets.

Let's bring in our CNN legal analyst Ross Garber, former assistant U.S. attorney Kim Wehle, and CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

This sounds like a pretty big deal. We know that Mueller is looking into obstruction of justice. And if the president's tweets or public statements bolster that, that could be a problem for the president.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, no question. And we had some indication of this based on the questions that the special counsel submitted to the president's lawyers as reported some months ago by ourselves in "The New York Times." If you look at those questions, they ask, for instance, what was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions? What was the purpose of your September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, again in these questions that the special counsel provided to the president's lawyers regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?

So what's happening here is the special counsel is looking at these tweets, which, again, as you said, Wolf, these are public statements by a U.S. president, and how they interact with private interactions with the individuals involved. For instance, James Comey, he has a conversation with him, asks him questions about the investigation, et cetera, makes public comments as well. Do those public comments and those private meetings, whatever pressure was perceived to have been placed by the president on a Comey or a Sessions in those private meetings, whether that together adds up to an attempt to either obstruct the investigation or perhaps tamper with witnesses. Because if you are publicly attacking people involved in this investigation, and these two federal prosecutors sitting next to me know that better than me, that could, under some circumstances, provide evidence of that.

Now, I should say that the president's lawyers have said that all these questions that are under scrutiny here, including the president's firing of James Comey, were very much within the president's power. He is the president. He can do that. That's, in effect, the president's lawyer's defense.

BLITZER: You make a very important point. "The New York Times" says specifically that Mueller -- and, Kim, I want you to pay attention -- is examining whether the actions, the tweets specifically, add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry. Those are specific suspicions.

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Sure. So the statute wants to know whether there's an actual intent to obstruct justice or intimidate witnesses. So what Mueller has to do is essentially get together evidence that climbs into Mr. Trump's head at the time and proves that he had these conversations, he made these tweets in order to affect the Mueller investigation.

And what's interesting is that usually when these things happen, they happen behind the scenes. We've also heard things about secret tapes with Cohen, et cetera. This is a president who doesn't seem like he -- feel like he's accountable to anyone. And he's done things that are unprecedented. And it looks like now it's coming back to hurt him potentially.

BLITZER: What's your take, Ross?

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, for sure. They're working on building a timeline.

You know, the other reason I think Mueller would want to talk to the president is there are other people who have access to that Twitter account. And so one of the questions will be, did the president tweet these things himself? Did somebody else tweet them? And what was the interaction there? That, I think, is going to be one of the key points.

BLITZER: There's another story that's breaking right now. And I want to discuss that. It's in "The Wall Street Journal." And this is certainly going to irritate the president as well. He gets deeply irritated by all these Russia Mueller probes. He calls it a witch hunt, a hoax.

Allen Weisselberg -- this is according to "The Wall Street Journal" -- who's been a long time described financial gatekeeper for the president going back to the Trump Organization -- he has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in the criminal probe of Mr. Trump's former lawyer and fixer for a dozen years, Michael Cohen, who's being criminally investigated by the Southern District of New York.

SCIUTTO: Well, it should be -- we should note that he's apparently a witness in the investigation. He's not being accused of any wrongdoing himself.

BLITZER: He's being subpoenaed to testify as a witness --

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

BLITZER: Not as somebody who himself is under any criminal investigation.

SCIUTTO: But it's certainly a window into Trump's personal business. As the story notes, and we've often said on the air, Weisselberg is often described as the most senior person in the organization other than Trump himself. So --

BLITZER: Or a Trump member of the family.

SCIUTTO: Well, exactly.


SCIUTTO: So very involved in the business. As a witness, would be able to describe business practices, which are now -- and we should note that the president's long-time personal lawyer and fixer is under criminal investigation for his business practices. So that is something that comes very close to the president.

[13:05:14] Again, the president is not personally accused of any crimes here. But certainly in this environment, it is uncomfortably close to the president from a legal standpoint.

BLITZER: Yes. In "The Wall Street Journal" story, Kim, Weisselberg is accurately described as the executive vice president chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. And, once again, he's described as the most senior person in that Trump Organization who's not a Trump.

WEHLE: Yes, so there's two lines of inquiry here. One is obstruction of justice, which we just discussed. The other is following the money trails, the various money trails that are involved here.

What I think is interesting is at the same time we've heard yesterday that some members of the House Republican caucus have introduced articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein on the idea that, oh, the criminal justice system is somehow broken. Here we've got a situation, we've got multiple parts of the Department of Justice. We've got Mueller. But this is the Southern District of New York. They answer directly to Jeff Sessions. So the way this investigation is going for Mr. Trump, it's going to be very hard for himself or his allies in Congress to shut it down. BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Ross, because in "The Wall Street

Journal" report, Mr. Weisselberg is described as not only handling financial matters for the Trump Organization --


BLITZER: But has also been linked to payments, this is according to "The Wall Street Journal," made to two women who alleged they had sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. And in that audiotape that Michael Cohen, the president's long-time lawyer, recorded of a conversation he had just before the election with Donald Trump, the name Weisselberg comes up. Let me play that clip. Listen to this.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and spoken --


COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up --

TRUMP: So what are we going to pay with?

COHEN: With funding. Yes. And it's all the stuff --


COHEN: All the stuff because here you never know where that company -- you never know where he's going to be.

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct. So I'm -- I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it.


BLITZER: Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. That's Allen Weisselberg. David, by the way, is David Pecker, we believe, who's the -- in charge of AMI, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," who paid Karen McDougal $150,000 to keep her story secret about her allegation that she had an affair, a sexual affair, for nearly a year with the president.

GARBER: Yes, so, Wolf, here's one of the big problems is what we're seeing is prosecutors sort of pulling on threads and it's turning out, not surprisingly, to be a big problem for the president. And, you know what, it would be a big problem for lots of people in this kind of situation. What started off as a Russia probe has now expanded and expanded and expanded. And now we're talking about the CFO of the Trump Organization actually being put in front of a grand jury. And as you know, in front of a grand jury, you don't have a lawyer with you. And they can ask very wide-ranging questions. And so it's -- you know, I think if you're -- if you're the president, if you're somebody in that organization, it's very, very troubling.

BLITZER: Yes, Michael Cohen knows a lot about -- for 12 years what was going on with Donald Trump's business dealings and other dealings. Allen Weisselberg, I suspect, knows even a lot more.

GARBER: Sure. Yes.

BLITZER: And, as I said, this is going to make the president very, very unhappy to hear that Weisselberg is now being called as a witness to testify before the grand jury.

There's a lot more legal developments unfolding right now. I want all of you to stick around.

We're getting some new details in the case involving the president's former fixer, Michael Cohen. A new report now says the feds have more than 100 audiotapes involving President Trump and others. And we're now learning what was the last straw before Cohen's team leaked that tape.

Plus, fireworks erupt when the secretary of state refuses to reveal any details of the president's conversation for two hours and ten minutes with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. The question is, why? We'll discuss.


[13:13:31] BLITZER: Now to the fallout which continues from the leak of that secret audio recording between President Trump and his long- time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. What are the legal implications for all of that, for Cohen specifically? What was the final straw that convinced him to turn on Donald Trump and release the recording? And how many more tapes does Cohen have?

Let's bring back CNN legal analyst Ross Garber and former assistant U.S. attorney Kim Wehle.

Kim, according to "The Washington Post," the government seized at least 100, maybe many, many more, 100 recordings of various conversations that Cohen had on the phone discussing matters that potentially could relate to Donald Trump, among other issues.

WEHLE: Yes, well, what's interesting about an audiotape is that they don't die, they don't lie, and they don't miss remember. So it's -- if Mr. Cohen flips and he gets in a room with prosecutors to give context and background on these conversations, I think that could be very powerful evidence if it were ever to go before some kind of a jury. In addition, it sounds like Mr. Cohen is simultaneously doing a PR campaign to the American public to suggest that he's a loyalist to the rule of law and he's -- he is the guy he says he is. He was just a regular guy who worked for Trump and Trump turned his back on him.

BLITZER: How worried should Donald Trump, the president of the United States, be about all of this? GARBER: Look, I think any time you potentially have your lawyer, your

confidant, turning on you, you should be very, very concerned. And it's unclear whether Cohen is actually doing a -- sort of a public relations tour or he's still playing to one person.

[13:15:04] I tend to think it's the latter. I still think he's probably engaged in sort of a very high-stakes, high-tension dance with the president on this because, you know, right now his problem is, one of his big problems is, he doesn't have a team. He's out there alone. He's not on team government yet from what we know and he's certainly not on team Trump. And so he's out there alone. He's very vulnerable. And, you know, as we know, Lanny Davis isn't going to be there with him in prison, if that's what -- if that's what winds up happening.

BLITZER: Lanny Davis is his lawyer right now, one of his lawyers.

GARBER: Yes. I think right now he's looking for a team.

BLITZER: Well, he's got some other lawyers as well.

He has not been criminally charged with anything, Michael Cohen. He's under criminal investigation. They raided his home, his apartment, his hotel room, his safe deposit box. Among other things, they took these 100 phone recordings. But -- you know, it doesn't look like, as far as we know, he hasn't been charged with anything. As far as cooperating, since he hasn't been charged with anything, would he be cooperating with the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York?

WEHLE: Well, they might have potential charges that they could sit down with him and say, listen, this is what could happen, and he could do what is known as a proffer. And they'll have an exchange, a conversation about what information he could give in exchange for some kind of leniency from the government. And surely we know from what's been made public that he is vulnerable on a number of fronts, bank fraud, issues relating to his former taxicab service, as well as these payments that were made.

In addition to his contacts with the Russians and, you know, prior to -- or during the campaign. There's a lot of intersections here that puts him really in the center of this story. And he really has the keys to the Trump kingdom in a lot of ways. So I think Mr. Trump has got to be concerned about it.

BLITZER: The fact that he authorized Lanny Davis, his lawyer, to release that audiotape of a conversation he had that he secretly recorded with Donald Trump, just before the presidential election, sounds to me that is a declaration of war and there's no opportunity for Michael Cohen now and Donald Trump to work together.

GARBER: I think you'd be surprised. It was certainly a declaration of a battle. But we've seen the president and others, including Kim Jong- un, you know, sort of get into it together and then the president decides to sort of back off. So I think what's happening probably right now is that Michael Cohen is sort of -- is firing shots and seeing what that gets him. I mean I think it's -- it seems unlikely that at this point he's

cooperating because I doubt prosecutors would be very happy about the release of that tape and all the talking he's doing. So I think right now he really is, he's probably just looking for a team now.

BLITZER: But his goal would be to get, what, a pardon from the president of the United States? Is that what you're saying?

GARBER: There are lots of things the president could do. Certainly, you know, an end game is the pardon. Only the president can pardon him. In cooperation with prosecutors, usually you have to plead guilty to crimes and potentially do time in prison. And they'd ask for leniency. But only the president could pardon him.

In addition to a pardon, though, the president or the organization, the Trump Organization, could, if appropriate, pay his legal fees, which have got to be mounting and will probably get even higher. So I think that's another thing.

WEHLE: And apparently there's some agreement to do that and there's some question as to whether they follow through on that.

I mean the pardon is kind of tricky, I think, because there's a question as to whether constitutionally the president could prospectively pardon all possible federal crimes.

BLITZER: Even before charges.

WEHLE: Right. So we don't know what's on the table right now, if anything. Maybe that is why we don't know. And, in addition, of course, if he's charged by New York state, that's not going to affect the pardon power. So the pardon power, we talk about it a lot. The president's exercised it. But I think it's tricky. In addition to the fact he couldn't pardon him for obstruction of justice, anything related to that.

BLITZER: Yes. Right. But the criminal investigation in New York right now is being done by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who's a federal -- it would be a federal charge.


BLITZER: It wouldn't be New York state charges against Mr. Cohen.

GARBER: Exactly right. Yes.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

More on the breaking news. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, now looking at the president's tweets for evidence, possible evidence, of obstruction of justice. We have new details.

Also, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, breaking with members of his own party as some Republicans now push to impeach the deputy attorney general of the United States, Rod Rosenstein. You're going to hear what just happened. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:24:01] BLITZER: Two pieces of news coming from Capitol Hill this hour. One, the House deciding not to vote on an effort to impeach the deputy attorney general of the United States, Rod Rosenstein. This means the issue has been tabled, at least until September when the House of Representatives is back in session. But perhaps even further, here's what the House speaker, Paul Ryan, just said.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It is appropriate that we conduct oversight of the executive branch and that we get full compliance with the executive branch on what are very legitimate document requests. Do I support impeachment of Rod Rosenstein? No, I do not.


BLITZER: Speaking of House speakers, the other news we're following right now, Congressman Jim Jordan says he will run to replace the retiring Paul Ryan as speaker of the House. Jordan is a staunch Trump ally. He supported the impeachment articles proposed against Rod Rosenstein yesterday. He's also, by the way, been accused recently of ignoring episodes of sexual assault while working as a wrestling coach at Ohio State University many years ago.

[13:25:01] Let's get reaction to all of this.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, so let me get your quick reaction to Jim Jordan, a colleague of yours, announcing he's going to run for speaker of the House. Does he have your vote?

REED: Well, you know, we -- I have just put out a proposal with 24 other Republican and 24 Democratic members that want to reform the rules of the House. And we are open to any candidate for speaker that wants to embrace those rule reforms to get the institution working for the American people. I haven't had a chance to talk to Jim about his position on it, but that's what I'm really looking at in regards to who I will vote for as speaker of the House.

BLITZER: But knowing his position on so many issues and his background, do you think he's someone who's qualified to be the speaker if the Republicans maintain the majority in the House of Representatives?

REED: Well, you know, I have a lot of respect for Jim Jordan as a colleague here in the House of Representative. But, you know, at times I've disagreed with his tactics, with his strategies as part of that group that they call the Freedom Caucus in regards to how they've gone about legislating in the House of Representatives. But given my commitment to change the institution of the House to get it working again, break this gridlock is what we're calling it, break the gridlock of the House of Representatives, I'm open to any candidate who is willing to support those rule reforms, to get the House working again for the American people. So I'm open to sitting with him and having a conversation.

BLITZER: And what about those articles of impeachment against the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein? Do you support them?

REED: I do not. I believe going down this path, as the speaker indicated, as others I think share the same sentiment with me. We need to get to the bottom of what is going on with the Mueller investigation. We need to conduct our oversight over the administration and the Department of Justice. But impeachment is something that I do not see in this case, nor do I believe is in the interest of the American people to bring forward on the floor of the House. Let's focus on solving and getting this investigation to a conclusion and then answer the questions that it brings.

BLITZER: All right, let -- I know you had a chance to meet with the president's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, over at the White House earlier this morning. Did you talk about the federal deficit? Because it's absolutely ballooning right now under President Trump and the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate. Take a look at this. The Congressional Budget Office, nonpartisan as you know, now expects it to hit $1 trillion by next year. How do you explain that to voters who sent Republicans to Washington to shrink that deficit, come up with some sort of balanced budget?

REED: Well, that -- this is why I disagreed with our leadership on the last recent spending bill, where I voted against it, because I think we did the right thing in tax reform to grow the economy. We're seeing economic growth, job creation in America that we haven't seen in decades. That is a key component of the solution to the problem of the national debt.

But, Wolf, what we need to do is get the spending under control. This is a spending-driven problem. And, you know, to my colleagues on our side of the aisle, let's roll up our sleeves and work across the aisle to solve this spending problem that's causing this deficit crisis in our -- in our time.

BLITZER: Do you support borrowing $12 billion from China to help U.S. agricultural -- to help American farmers deal with the tariffs issue that the president has himself put forward that has hurt American farmers?

REED: Well, I appreciate the offer of assistance. And bringing this disruptive trade policy to the table is something I support the administration on because for too long have we let this trade imbalance take hold and these unfair trade practices keep us from a fair and level playing field. So I'm supportive of the administration's actions and recognizing that in the short term there are going to be consequences to that disruption. But I think, at the end of the day, this policy will bring long term growth to our farmers, long term stability. And that's a better position to be in than the short-term hiccups we may see on the horizon.

BLITZER: So you support that $12 billion expenditure?

REED: I do. I do believe that's an appropriate response given the disruption that we're seeing. But I do believe we need to negotiate these issues out and get that trade situation stabilized. And we're going to see long term growth for our farmers and others.

BLITZER: Specifically on this issue, I therefore conclude, congressman, you disagree with the House speaker, Paul Ryan, who says he hates all these tariffs. They are simply taxes on the American public as the cost of goods and services in the country are going to go up as a result of these trade wars.

REED: The tariffs are part of a bigger picture. We have to take on disruptive models that are going to get the trade relationships with China, with the E.U., with Mexico and Canada, for example, to a place where it's fair and balanced, that we have reciprocal trade, where we're able to compete in a fair way on the -- on the world market. That is where we need to go. And so I see the tariffs as a tool in the tool box that is disruptive, hasn't been used before, but now is sending the message to our partners, come to the table, let's negotiate this, and hold countries accountable to the rule of law of trade.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman Tom Reed of New York, thanks so much for joining us.

REED: Thanks so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, a big development in the investigation into the president's long-time fixer, former lawyer Michael Cohen. We're now getting word that the man in charge of the Trump Organization's finances has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

[13:30:13] Plus, the former Fox