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WH: Trump Open To Moscow Visit, Waiting On Formal Invite; Trump: Inner Circle Deny He Knew Of Meeting In Advance; Sources: Michael Cohen Is Prepared To Tell Mueller Trump Knew And Approved Of Trump Tower Meeting Beforehand. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


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[11:00:26]

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in for Kate Bolduan. It is a morning of breaking news and big headlines at the White House. Just minutes ago, we learned that President Trump is open to accepting a brand-new invitation from Russia's president. Vladimir Putin has invited President Trump to Moscow.

This comes hours after sources told CNN that the president's former Attorney Michael Cohen is ready to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and deliver a potential bombshell in the Russia investigation.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House for us. Jeff, this has been a whirlwind 24 hours. Let's just start with the very latest, this new invitation from President Putin.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question. Good morning. The fallout from that Helsinki summit is indeed continuing with his back and forth between Washington and Moscow over will there be a second meeting between the two presidents. Now we are learning a few moments ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that President Trump is open to going to Moscow if he has a formal invitation.

They also say they still look forward to having Vladimir Putin here in the U.S. after the first of the year. Of course, this is a bit of a walk back from last week when he invited him here in the fall, which, of course, many Republicans across Washington were saying should not happen during or right after the midterm elections.

Now, of course, this is all coming on the heels of that strong economic news. As you said, Ana, we saw the president in the south lawn of the White House really talking about this economic growth, 4.1 percent growth of GDP in the second quarter. Certainly, very strong.

A sign of a robust economy. Of course, there are questions, can this be sustained or not? But without a doubt, very good news here. Ana, if that was the main headline of the day, that would indeed be a good news for this administration.

So many self-inflicted wounds, if you will, still coming from the variety of controversies and investigations and secret tape recordings that are still coming from a variety of affects before the president took office.

The latest, of course, Michael Cohen. That bombshell development where he is now alleging that President Trump, then-Candidate Trump, knew about that Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016. Of course, President Trump has repeatedly denied that. Said he did not know.

So many developments on that front with Michael Cohen, the White House watching that very carefully. Last night, I was told the president's mood was growing increasingly more worried about this investigation. Certainly, the strong economic news, good news here. The administration would be off to a great start if it was not for the self-inflicted wounds of the investigations -- Ana.

CABRERA: All those Russia headlines. Jeff Zeleny at White House for us, thank you.

Let's find out more now about what Moscow is saying about this possible upcoming summit. CNN's Matthew Chance joins us from Russia. What are you hearing there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All this, of course, Ana, stems from a press conference that was being given by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president in South Africa. He is attending an economic summit there with various other world leaders from emerging markets.

He was talking to Russian journalists. He said, we are ready to invite President Trump to Moscow. Then he went on to say, he already has this invitation already. I told him about it. Indicating there President Putin, the president of Russia, that that invitation had already been extended.

It's not clear when it was extended. It may have been at that closed door meeting the two presidents had in Helsinki. Certainly, the Russians have been much more up front about revealing details of what was discussed in that room without any witnesses apart from the translators, during the Helsinki summit.

But again, it's poured fuel on the fire of this controversy of the ongoing relationship and contacts between Russia and the United States, or at least their presidents.

President Putin also taking the time to praise Donald Trump during his answer to the questions being posed by Russian journalists in South Africa, saying that the thing with President Trump, his great virtue, is that he always wants to keep his promises to his voters.

A reference perhaps to the fact that Trump during his campaign said he wants to make a better relationship with Russia and from the Russian point of view, he is insisting on continuing to do that -- Ana.

CABRERA: He obviously has been listening to President Trump too. Talk about how much he is doing as far as keeping those promises to the voters, to those people who he needs in his base. Matthew Chance live in Moscow. Thank you.

Joining us now CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, and CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. So, Elise, why all of this back and forth and drama involving these future meetings between President Trump and Putin?

[11:05:11] ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's a great point, Ana. I think one thing that President Putin might be doing is just trying to continue what he has always wanted to do, which is create chaos in the U.S. political system. He saw how much controversy was caused by that second invitation by the president to Washington.

Then after a while, President Putin did not respond. They were kind of leaving the White House hanging. Then President Trump said, I'm not going to have this meeting. I'm going to wait until the Mueller investigation. He called it a witch hunt is over.

Now that the White House is starting to recover, President Trump announces that he issued this invitation. I think he is taking a little bit of pleasure on it. But I think another thing that's really struck me in all this is that I think President Putin may be starting to figure out that all this deferential nature by President Trump to President Putin is creating a little bit of a liability for the president.

You saw at the press conference him trying to help President Trump say. We don't agree on Crimea, on a lot of things. I think that President Putin is not really getting what he thought that he would get from President Trump because of this political firestorm.

CABRERA: Nic, how is the rest of the world, especially U.S. allies, likely to view this?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, I think what we heard from President Putin today, with part of his statement being that he will meet again with President Trump, but only if certain conditions are met.

And I think the rest of the world is going to be looking on as they have been since the Helsinki summit last week, to try to figure out precisely what was said, what was agreed, what was firm, what wasn't, what was ideas, that were exchanged between President Putin and President Trump.

Is President Putin here signaling to President Trump that certain conditions need to be met? You need to make good on some of what we discussed during that meeting. I think if that is the case, the international community will certainly be looking to see what they are, what the agreements were, was it on Crimea, Syria, what are the implications, how will it affect them, affect their national security view as the United States is a good, strong, solid ally?

Because after the president's visit to NATO, that remains an ongoing question for a lot of people. I think it will be viewed in that context. Having said all of that, of course, it is generally viewed that for Washington to have a dialogue with Moscow is fundamental to part of global security and stability.

So, it's going to be welcomed, but it's in the details and what President Putin has said. There's conditions. What are they? What are the implications of them?

CABRERA: It's a mystery, that first summit. We don't know the details what was discussed, what was agreed upon, what areas they plan to work together or in conflict with each other on. Elise, do you get the sense that Putin is trying to play up their personal rapport, the fact they have this one on one connection?

LABOTT: I do. The reason why, Ana, is because we don't know what came out of this summit. When you talk to officials and diplomats, they say, well, nothing is coming out of the summit because there's been no announcements from President Trump. There's been no instructions to his staff that the National Security Councils are going to meet.

It's almost what happened in that meeting are really all they have. If President Trump isn't going to brief on what happened and where things go from there, then nothing is really going to change in the relationship.

That better relationship between Trump and Putin and possibly helping Putin on the world stage is all the two men have because things between the U.S. and Russia are exactly as they were before the summit.

CABRERA: I wanted to read the exact words that we heard from President Putin in Russia today when he -- from Russia when he was talking. He says, there has to be necessary conditions. But he is ready to come to Washington. He wants President Trump to go to Moscow.

Nic, you referenced those possible conditions. What could they be do you think? Is he saying, you can't ask about Russia meddling? You can only talk about Syria. What do you think it is?

ROBERTSON: You know, you would expect him to want to have sanctions lifted on Russia right now. You would expect him to want to be able so to have an economic benefit from this meeting, something he could show to the Russian people that he is getting something out of this other than giving away a soccer ball and appearing to be the sort of having the whip hand there in Helsinki.

So, he will want something for his domestic audience. I think perhaps that is more than just a handshake, smiles, good atmosphere because the economy in Russia is hurting. That is a huge political issue for President Putin.

[11:10:04] Syria, an engagement with the United states more actively on a political outcome in Syria could be something else. The issue of Crimea, Ukraine, how to tackle that, where Putin is positioned on that.

LABOTT: A nuclear treaty. ROBERTSON: All of these things. But I think there's another thing we can look at here as well. Let's play the long game, which is what Putin does. This guy has been leader in Russia effectively for 18 years. He is on his second term of president. This is his last term as president.

Six more years if President Trump gets re-elected, if the relationship is good between the two countries in six years' time, he has more leeway, you would imagine, to fumble around the political system of Russia and come up with an outcome that still leaves him in ultimate power.

This is still a lot about the two men, about their egos, their positions of power and influence. Putin, you have to know this time is looking that six years down the road to position himself for continuing authority.

CABRERA: Nic Robertson and Elise Labott, thank you both.

Coming up, President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani is now slamming Michael Cohen's credibility. Claiming the president never knew of that Trump Tower meeting in advance. Who is telling the truth?

Plus, why didn't Michael Cohen tell congressional investigators about this Trump Tower meeting and what he says the president knew. We will ask Ranking Member of the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff next.

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[11:15:00]

CABRERA: This morning, a huge question hangs over the White House. Who is telling the truth, the president or his former personal attorney? Sources tell CNN that Michael Cohen says he witnessed Candidate Trump signing off in advance on that Trump Tower meeting between key members of his campaign including his son, Don Jr., and Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Now this morning, the president says his former fixer is lying. Here is his tweet, "I did not know of the meeting with my son, Don Jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam." If Cohen is telling the truth, it would make liars of the president and those closest to him. All along they have said that he learned of this meeting only after "The New York Times" asked about it a full year later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone): Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?

PRESIDENT TRUMP (via telephone): I didn't know anything about the meeting. It must have been a very important -- must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never heard about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you tell your father anything about it? DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell. Let's focus on what the president was aware of. Nothing. He was not aware of the meeting. Did not attend the meeting and was only informed about the e-mails very recently by his counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: CNN's M.J. Lee is joining us now. So, M.J., timing is suspect. He has had a year to come out with this information. Why now?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right, Ana. I mean, the timing just speaks volumes of when this story is coming out. The fact that it's coming out now because remember, Michael Cohen testified before Congress last year. A source familiar with his House testimony tells us he did not make this claim about Donald Trump having prior knowledge about this Trump Tower meeting in that House testimony.

Also remember, when the House Intelligence Committee reports -- when those came out, those also did not mention Michael Cohen making this claim. It's striking that this story is coming out now. Not only that Michael Cohen says he believes this happened, that Donald Trump knew about this Trump Tower meeting beforehand.

But also, that he is making it clear that he is willing to take this to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. I think the question, Ana, that we have been asking all along of whether Michael Cohen has incriminating information about Donald Trump, it's clear that Cohen now wants the world to know and he wants Donald Trump to know that the answer to that question is yes.

CABRERA: What is the president's legal team now saying about all of this, besides what we read in the president's tweet?

LEE: Well, they are simply calling Michael Cohen a liar, Ana. That is striking because if you recall Rudy Giuliani earlier this year referred to Michael Cohen as an honest man, an honorable man, someone that he believed would tell the truth. That's not what he is saying anymore. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Didn't know about it. I know that. I have been over this in great detail. I've talked to the corroborating witnesses. There's no way you are going to bring down the president of the United States on the testimony, uncorroborated, of a proven liar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: So, now that Michael Cohen is being more vocal, the Trump camp strategy is to tear down his credibility, call him a liar, and say he is willing to make up stories to save himself from his legal troubles -- Ana. CABRERA: M.J. Lee, thank you.

Joining us now to discuss all of this is Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, which did its own investigation into Russia's election interference. Let me get your reaction to the reporting that Cohen is prepared to testify now that Trump knew of that Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, even before it happened.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's quite a bombshell if it's true and if it can be corroborated. It would mean the president was willing personally to accept Russian help during the campaign. It would inform why he made those cryptic comments that same week that he was going to share information about Hillary Clinton that the public didn't know at that point.

[11:20:01] So, it effectively brings the issue of collusion or conspiracy right to the president's feet. It's significant because it would mean that the president's son lied about it under oath.

There the issue is, did the president have any role in that false testimony before Congress? So, there's another important issue there in terms of whether perjury was committed. Subordination and perjury was committed. This opens up a whole host of questions that Bob Mueller will need to get to the bottom of.

CABRERA: If true, how much trouble is the president in?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, it would be I think part of the conspiracy case that Bob Mueller is investigating. It might also be part of the obstruction case. If the president played a role in having his son testify falsely before Congress, if he made an effort to essentially conceal from federal authorities his own role in that Trump Tower meeting, his knowledge of it, it would also go to the obstruction of justice issue. It is very important because these are some of the facts that go right to the president himself.

CABRERA: Cohen testified before your committee. I know it was in private. Did this come up?

SCHIFF: You know, I can't go into the specifics of the testimony. I can certainly tell you this was a core area of our concern that we asked every witness about, including Michael Cohen. I can tell you that with certain witnesses who might be those corroborating witnesses of what Cohen has to say, they refused to answer our questions.

So, Hope Hicks wouldn't answer our questions about how they fashioned the false statement that portrayed it as a meeting about adoptions. Corey Lewandowski wouldn't answer those questions. Steve Bannon wouldn't answer those questions.

I would assume that Bob Mueller is going to forced them to answer those questions. So, the question is, does any of that testimony corroborate Michael Cohen? They were clearly unwilling to share this with Congress. The Republicans on our committee really didn't want to know the answer and were unwilling to find out.

CABRERA: But just to confirm, you did talk about this Trump Tower meeting with Cohen?

SCHIFF: We certainly asked the questions. I can't go into what the substance of his testimony was.

CABRERA: What were the questions specifically that you asked?

SCHIFF: Well, I'm not going to go into specifics. I can tell you that obviously with the Trump Tower meeting, which is such a central event in the course of the Russian interference in the election and Russian offers of help, this was an approach at the highest levels of the campaign.

Any witness that had potential knowledge of that meeting or what the president knew or what the origin of the meeting was or what took place, we asked any witnesses what their knowledge was.

CABRERA: Can you say whether Cohen was consistent in the testimony he gave you with what this current reporting is?

SCHIFF: I don't want to characterize his testimony. The only testimony that I'm aware of that is public on this was released by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That shows Don Jr. denying his father had knowledge of this.

Now, I will say this also, we have urged the majority to make our transcripts public, something they promised to do. Something they continue to refuse to do. We have also urged them to make these transcripts available to the special counsel.

So, he could determine whether people were telling the truth or committing perjury, people like Erik prince and others we have had concerns about. The Republicans have refused to do so and opted to protect witnesses who may have committed perjury.

CABRERA: You mentioned Don Jr., but do you believe Cohen was telling the truth?

SCHIFF: You know, I really don't want to characterize his testimony. I think the key thing with Michael Cohen is can his comments, if these are verified -- can they be corroborated? Are there other witnesses? What is reported is that Cohen is saying there were others that were part of this conversation. Others would be in the know. It's obviously going to be very important for Bob Mueller to find out. That I think is the key issue.

CABRERA: You heard Giuliani in that sound bite M.J. tossed to question Cohen's credibility. Trump, his lawyers, members of his administration like White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, they have all denied the president had any prior knowledge of this meeting 15 plus times by our count. If Cohen's story is true, why is it just coming to the surface now?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all, for Rudy Giuliani to question someone's credibility is a bit laughable. I don't think he has any credibility on the subject given how many misstatements and false statements he made about what the president knew and when he knew it about any number of matters.

So, he is not really in a position to be throwing stones at anyone. In terms of why is this coming to the surface now? I think it's playing that Michael Cohen feels he is facing great jeopardy from the investigation in New York. He is eager to cooperate.

It certainly looks like the president has basically decided that this person who had been loyal to him his whole life, the loyalty runs in one direction. It runs to Donald Trump, not from him.

[11:25:06] So, I think Michael Cohen is sending a message to special counsel that when you are done reviewing all the documents and what you have seen, both to New York and special counsel, that I'm interested in cooperating. I know there's been a lot of speculation about who leaked this information. I don't know the answer.

That's less important than the substance of it. If this was leaked by the Trump administration, it's the most inept defense strategy I have ever seen. I think it's Michael Cohen's way of telling counsel, I'm ready to come in and give states evidence.

CABRERA: Hopefully, we will all know what the truth is here in a matter of time. Meantime, today, Putin said he is ready to come to Washington. He's invited President Trump to Moscow. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says President Trump is open to visiting Moscow upon receiving a formal invitation. Your thoughts?

SCHIFF: Well, I think that Putin realizes that Trump needs this meeting far more than Putin does. The last meeting in Helsinki was an unmitigated win for Putin and disaster for Trump. It's certainly understandable why Trump would want to try to bail himself out with a different kind of a meeting.

It's also understandable why Putin is playing a bit hard to get and saying, no, you come to Moscow. I don't need to come to the White House. So, it's clear that Vladimir Putin feels he has the strongest hand to play here.

Given the dissembling by our president about what took place in that meeting and whether the Russians interfered and, of course, how can we escape the irony today that this meeting the president is having about the upcoming elections is on the two-year anniversary of the president publicly calling on the Russians to hack his opponent's e-mails. So, I think Putin feels like he's in a pretty strong position.

CABRERA: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you very much for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, much more on Michael Cohen, shocking new claims of potential legal implications of that next.

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