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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump-Cohen Relationship Crumbles in Matter of Days; WH: Trump Open To Putin's New Invite To Visit Moscow; Thousands On the Run As Northern CA Engulfs 44k Acres. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:30:07] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our politics lead, in the immortal words of Taylor Swift, now we've got bad blood, we used to be mad love. So, how did Michael Cohen go from being willing to take a bullet for President Trump to making accusations that could be pretty damning for President Trump according to sources?

CNN's Tom Foreman filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump's defender --

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You guys are down and it makes sense --

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWER: Says who? Says who?

KEILAR: Polls. Most of them. All of them?

FOREMAN: His trusted adviser.

COHEN: The words the media should be used to describe Mr. Trump are generous, compassionate.

FOREMAN: And most of all, his lawyer.

COHEN: My job is I protect Mr. Trump. That's what it is. If there's an issue that relates to Mr. Trump that is of concern to him, it's, of course, concern to me.

FOREMAN: Michael Cohen is all that to Donald Trump and Trump returned the favor with an extremely rare close relationship.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, FRIEND OF MICHAEL COHEN: It was much more than an attorney/client relationship. It was something much deeper, almost father and son kind of thing. Donald Trump knew that Michael always had his back.

FOREMAN: The two native New Yorkers joined forces about a dozen years ago when Cohen bought a condo in a Trump building and by most accounts they bonded quickly over their shared values and sharp elbows. Soon, Cohen was handling real estate deals, helping run some companies and even coordinating transportation for Trump.

COHEN: They say I'm Mr. Trump's pit bull, that I am his -- I'm his right-hand man.

FOREMAN: When Trump's campaign lit up, the portfolio expanded to include alleged payoffs to women claiming sexual relationships with the client even as the president has steadily denied them.

REPORTER: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael's my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael.

FOREMAN: And as the Russia investigation tightened, Cohen famously told "Vanity Fair" last year, I'm the guy who would take a bullet for the president.

Then came April --

TAPPER: Breaking news, the FBI today raided the offices of President Trump's long-time attorney Michael Cohen.

FOREMAN: The president erupted.

TRUMP: It's an attack on our country in a true sense.

FOREMAN: But while he shouted witch hunt, Cohen has since gone another way, telling ABC, I don't agree with those that demonize or vilify the FBI. I will not be a punch bag in anyone's defense strategy and now, I put family and country first.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: For his part, Trump who used to warmly mention Cohen seems to have stopped even using his name publicly, let alone saying nice things about him -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Sticking with my experts here, how much worse is this going to get between President Trump and his former fixer, son, whatever?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: You know, if the past is prologue, it's not going to get any better. It's just going to get nastier and nastier and say nastier things about Cohen because that's what he does. It just keeps on piling it on.

He already threw out the taxi medallion issue that Cohen is dealing with in New York. You can only imagine that he's just going to get more and more personal because that's what this president does. He wants to tear him down, vilify him so no one will take him seriously, particularly in his own circle.

TAPPER: Although I have to say like this is a problem, Olivier. It seems like it's a problem that could have been avoided if President Trump had, I don't know, brought him into the administration in some small role. I mean, this is a guy who literally knows, well, I don't know about literally, but who figuratively knows where the bodies are buried, right?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: Hopefully only figuratively.

TAPPER: Hopefully only figuratively. And if he had not felt, you know, like he was on a limb and President Trump was not selling him off, then perhaps he could have avoided the whole problem.

KNOX: Well, maybe, because remember, there are an awful lot of people who are actually already cooperating with Bob Mueller's investigation. So, I don't know that necessarily he would have -- could have tracked a different path. There are a lot of self-inflicted wounds here starting, of course, with the decision to fire FBI Director Jim Comey, the original --

TAPPER: Right, of course.

KNOX: -- original mistake here.

I don't know if it's going to get worse for him or if he's going to go to the Manafort route.

TAPPER: Yes.

KNOX: Mana-who?

KUCINICH: Yes, right.

TAPPER: If he doesn't know him at all.

Jeffrey Toobin, what was your take on Sam Nunberg who seems to be saying that he does think that President Trump was told at the very least after the meeting took place which is something the President Trump denied. He said he didn't find out about the meeting until "The New York Times" broke the story in the middle of 2017?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: A year later. Yes. I mean, I thought Sam Nunberg, you know, what he said had the ring of truth. And, in fact, you know, what I keep coming back to is Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mail to Rob Goldstone which where he says if it's true -- that is that the Russian government has the information it wants to provide, if it's true I love it.

Doesn't Donald Trump Jr. want to please his father? Doesn't he tell his father this meeting is coming?

[16:35:02] And as you have pointed out, this speech is planned about precisely the subject that was going to be discussed at this meeting at Trump Tower. The idea that Donald Trump has never been told about this? I mean, it just has always seemed implausible to me.

KUCINICH: Yes.

TOOBIN: And if anybody knew, Michael Cohen was the one who was going to know that this information was passed to Donald Trump.

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. TED CRUZ: Yes, the time line events has always been suspicious. Where this gets worse, if there are people within the Trump circle that can explain and add context to the events which we have already seen.

The big question number one, did the Trump campaign knowingly solicit the use of stolen information? And then step two which is complicated and worse, was there a possible deal to accept election help from the Russians in exchange for sanctions relief? All these questions circle back to those three questions and only people like Michael Cohen with inside knowledge of what's happened in the walls can provide that information.

SYMONE SANDERS, FORMER NATIONAL PRESS SECRTARY, BERNIE 2016: I guess the question becomes, though, who can we believe? I mean, if you put Michael Cohen up against the president, I'm going to take Michael Cohen.

But, there -- you know, Hope Picks who once worked in this White House not so long ago denied that the president had any knowledge of payments.

TAPPER: To Karen -- to help keep Karen McDougal quiet.

SANDERS: To help keep Karen McDougal quiet, and then a tape comes out where seemingly Donald Trump is on the tape discussing payments to who Lord knows who.

TAPPER: I think to AMI, the American Media.

SANDERS: To AMI --

KUCINICH: To buy the rights in her story.

SANDERS: For the story.

KUCINICH: Yes.

SANDERS: So, who can we believe in this -- who can we believe in the president's orbit? We know we can't believe the president. And if we can't believe him about this, what else can we not believe the president about?

KUCINICH: And here's the difference between Cohen and Paul Mana-who is Cohen -- the president thinks that Cohen betrayed him. He taped him. He now is being represented by Lanny Davis.

TAPPER: Yes, former Clinton spokesperson.

KUCINICH: Yes, exactly. So, I think the fact the president sees it as a betrayal, not someone who got caught by the law I think that's a key difference.

TAPPER: Jeff? TOOBIN: Just to add a word about skepticism for Michael Cohen. I mean, remember, that tweet you just showed earlier where he praises Donald Trump Jr. for denying that his father knew about the Trump Tower meeting, he apparently has testified about this before the House Intelligence Committee and perhaps the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well. What did he say there? Is he changing his story, the one under oath?

I mean, those are factors to consider, as well. Also, his motive, he is now hoping to get a deal, perhaps immunity. He wants to tell the prosecutors what they want to hear. Perhaps what they want to hear is that Donald Trump Sr. knew about this meeting.

So his motives need to be scrutinized, as well.

TAPPER: What do you -- I mean, who do you believe when there are a bunch of unbelievable narratives?

KNOX: Well, I tend to look at the people under oath, for example, even though that's not always reliable indicator. But, right now, this is a trial balloon from team Cohen. And it's not -- you know, he's alluded to the possibility of corroborating witnesses. Rudy Giuliani had that weird comment about corroborating witnesses, as well.

So, you got to check. This is what Bob Mueller is surely doing is cross referencing all of these different threads to figure out, OK, I have the following people in real time e-mailing each other about this meeting.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

It might be the last thing President Trump needs right now, why Vladimir Putin may have made the president's bad week even worse. Stay with us.

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[16:43:22] TAPPER: Breaking news in the money lead today. Wall Street ending the day on a sour note. The Dow closing down 76 points, that's despite an impressive economic report. The U.S. economy grew 4.1 percent last quarter, its fastest pace since under President Obama in 2014.

This morning, the president's chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said, quote, this is a boom that will be sustainable as far as the eye can see, unquote.

President Trump gave a hastily arranged statement on the South Lawn earlier today to tout the significant economic growth last quarter. He also took a moment to celebrate the administration's success in securing the remains of American service members killed during the Korean War. Those fallen heroes are right now in the air on their way to the United States.

But even amidst these moments of accomplishment, CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports, the cloud of controversies are fouling the president's mood.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a sun-splashed morning at the White House, a cause for celebration.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am thrilled to announce that in the second quarter of this year, the United States economy grew at the amazing rate of 4.1 percent.

ZELENY: The president trumpeting the soaring economy, growing at its fastest pace since 2014.

TRUMP: These numbers are very, very sustainable. This isn't a one- time shot.

ZELENY: For a few moments at least, the clouds of controversy hanging over the Trump administration swept aside. The president also hailing North Korea for handing over what are believed to be remains of U.S. troops killed in the Korean War.

TRUMP: At this moment, a plane is carrying the remains of some great fallen heroes from America back from the Korean War. They're coming to the United States.

[16:45:03] ZELENY: In most presidencies it would be a better way to end the week, but in this one so many other questions are looming. For the third straight day the President not answering questions about his longtime protector Michael Cohen turning against him. The White House also still grappling with fallout from the Helsinki summit where the President sided with Vladimir Putin over the U.S. Intelligence Community that believes Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The President convening a meeting today of his national security council to discuss election security after downplaying the threat only a week ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is Russia still targeting the U.S. Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you very much. No.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: All right, let's go. Make your way out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, you don't believe that to be the case?

ZELENY Meanwhile, the diplomatic dance over the next potential Trump- Putin meeting continued. After the White House delayed until next year its invitation for the Russian president to visit Washington, Putin extended an invitation of his own today.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT, RUSSIA (through translator): We are ready for such meetings. We are ready to invite President Trump to Moscow to be my guest. He has such an invitation, I told him that and I'm ready to go to Washington. I repeat once again, if the right conditions for work are created. ZELENY: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying the

President is open to visiting Moscow upon receiving a formal invitation. All this as questions about the President's mood hung over the White House. We asked his Chief Economic Adviser and longtime friend Larry Kudlow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's his mood like at the end of such a week like this?

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, UNITED STATES NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Very positive, upbeat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to answer questions --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Larry Kudlow there saying the President's mood upbeat perhaps on the economic news. But Jake, as the President flies off to New Jersey where he'll spend the weekend in his golf retreat, I am told by people who've talked to him all day long he's actually growing increasingly concerned and worried about these investigations. It's the New York investigation with Michael Cohen, of course the Russian investigation and Paul Manafort's trial set to start next week. One Republican close to the White House said it's getting closer and closer to his inner circle. How do you think he feels? Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House. And Olivier you were just remarking that Putin is talking about having President Trump come to Moscow or maybe he comes to the United States the same day that the White House is holding a briefing, a meeting with his national security team, President Trump's national security team to talk about election interference.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: This has been a really weird diplomatic dance, Jake. The -- of course it was the Helsinki summit first, then the President got upset about the Helsinki courage and so he directed his aides to announce that he was inviting Vladimir Putin to Washington this fall. The Russian respond --

TAPPER: Which by the way makes no sense, but OK, keep going.

KNOX: The Russian response was a variation on well, I won't go to the dance with you but if you're at the dance maybe I'll dance with you. It was well no, there were -- there's other summits and venues and things and you know, and they didn't commit to coming to Washington. And then the White House said, OK, well anyway we're not going to do this until 2019. Parenthetically they seem to be saying that the Mueller investigation be done by then, the reason for skepticism there. And then today Vladimir Putin comes out and says oh actually if we can get the working conditions right, I'll come to Washington you know what, you come to Moscow. I'm not really sure what's going on behind the scenes here but this has been a really weird kind of Ping-Pong conversation about a possible new summit between President Trump and Present Putin. TAPPER: And meanwhile, Jackie, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill

disconfirmed report in your publication The Daily Beast that Russia's GRU intelligence agency tried to break into her office computers, a hack of her. She's up for re-election this year. McCaskill said in a statement, while this attack was not successful it's outrageous that they think they can get away with this. I will not be intimidated. I've said it before and I will say it again, Putin is a thug and a bully. And yet, even while Putin continues to attack the American election system, President Trump is trying to figure out where they're going to have dinner together.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, and President Trump said -- one of his many statements I think it was last week that he doesn't believe that that the Russians are currently trying to hack into the midterm elections. They are prime example, you know. We reported it yesterday. It's happening. And what is he doing to stop it.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Nothing.

TAPPER: And actually just a few days -- just a few a few days ago, Symone, President Trump three days ago -- you're right about what he said a week ago, but three days ago he said acknowledged and publicly quote on his concerns that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming election but he said with no evidence whatsoever and there doesn't appear to be any evidence of it at all that the Russians will be pushing very hard for the Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Maybe he knows something we don't know because perhaps he talked to the Russians. Look, I don't know. If the White House was really serious about you know, our election integrity in securing the 2018 midterms, perhaps the meeting he had at the White House today would have you know, lasted longer than 30, 40 minutes. He's done cabinet meetings with the full pool spray that's lasted longer than this election security meeting today. I just don't think the White House is taking this seriously and that's unfortunate. We're a little over 100 days from the midterm elections and if folks do not think that -- not only candidates but the folks that work for these candidates are our potential targets, I think they're living in an alternate reality. I know people that work at the Democratic National Committee and the D-trip -- Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee during 2016. They -- it was terrible, absolutely terrible for them personally and I just hope that we don't see the same thing this fall.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I guess my basic question is what are they going to talk about? The only thing the Russians want to talk about is sanctions relief. The only thing we know that came out of the secret meeting that Trump had with Putin was the possible interrogation by Russian agents, Americans associated with the sanctions. And so what else is there to talk about? And I think we have to remember the Senate rejected that idea 98 to zero as soon as it became public almost within what 24-48 hours. The Senate passed a bipartisan unanimous resolution. The Senate never moves that fast on anything. And so let's pause on everything until Trump tells us what he wants to speak with Putin about.

KNOX: So the two things we heard the most about are some kind of an arrangement regarding Syria. Bashar Assad being of course, sort of a client of Moscow and we hear about North Korea where there are a lot of American concerns that even when China was actually enforcing the sanctions in North Korea, what was happening to some Russian entities we're doing what's called backfill. So Chinese company leaves, Russian company comes in, those are two of the biggest things that we hear about. And then there are conversations about whether or not to extend the New START, Nuclear Arms Control Treaty. The problem is if we're doing this all with a one-on-one or one-on-one plus interpreters, it's very hard to reach a concrete agreement without all the other people in the room --

CARPENTER: We want to see the full assembly of the Trump Administration officials telling us they all have the same message.

KNOX: Watching Mike Pompeo trying to argue that there's a difference between what the President says in American policy, testifying in Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

TAPPER: It's fascinating.

KNOX: I know what he means and there is a dichotomy especially on Russia between the President's rhetoric and the actual policy but that's the fruit of --

CARPENTER: The rhetoric was the problem.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. Coming up next, out of control. This wildfire already blamed for killing two people, now threatening thousands of and experts say it's only getting worse. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Stunning new images from the west coast of the devastation in our earth matters series today has more than 44,000 acres in Northern California have been engulfed in flames. The rapidly expanding wildfire has claimed two lives so far. One a Redding City fireman and the other a bulldozer operator trying to contain the flames. This is now threatening close to 5,000 homes and businesses and it's just one of 88 large fires scorching the nation right now. CNN's Dan Simon is on the scene for us in Redding, California. Dan, any word how long -- how long it's anticipated it will take to contain this fire?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, unfortunately, no. This fire just at three percent containment and the temperatures today expected to hit triple digits. In the meantime, you can see what the fire did to this subdivision behind me completely flattened it. And Jake, no one really expects police to come banging on your door telling you only have minutes to leave but in this case, people really were caught off guard. This started as a small brush fire on Monday. It stayed that way until the winds kicked up last night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SIMON: The devastation is beginning to set in for people in Redding, California. The aptly named car fire which officials say was first sparked by a vehicle has ravaged the region since Monday and doubled in size in just the last 12 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's taken out alive.

SIMON: Deadly and out of control, it is charged some 45,000 acres as firefighters try to contain it. In some neighborhoods, the difference between a home spared and a home scorched is just a few feet.

DOMINIC GALVIN, LOST HOME IN FIRE: I have no idea what we're going to do tomorrow. Hell, we don't know we're going to do tonight.

SIMON: Dominic Galvin and his wife Sylvia never imagined they'd see their house like this. We didn't think the fire was going to come here so we didn't really take things out like everybody else that was scrambling at the last minute to get out when we saw the fire on the ridge.

SIMON: Officials say extreme temperatures and strong winds make this fire all the more fierce. It is one of three major blazes burning across the state and one of 88 across the country.

JONATHAN COX, CALFIRE: This is that new normal, that unpredictability, the large explosive growth fires.

SIMON: Sadly, it seems like this are becoming the new normal worldwide as temperatures rise due to climate change. In Greece, experts say extreme summer heat accelerated the suspected arson fire that turned these iconic whitewashed hillsides black with ash. The flames rose so quickly some families ran into the sea for relief.

DORIS KOUNTOURIOTIS, SURVIVED GREEK FIRE: The temperature was so high so nobody could do anything. As you can see houses, cars, everything destroyed.

SIMON: The Greek fires have claimed more than 80 lives so far. In just the last few weeks, more than 3400 daily high-temperature records have been broken or tied including unprecedented numbers in the North. Montreal, Canada at 92 and in the Sahara Desert thermometers peaked at a deadly 124 degrees this month. So are we ready for triple-digit temperatures and their consequences to go from extreme to expected? Here in Redding, the answer is no.

SYLVIA GALVIN, LOST HOME IN FIRE: It seems like part of my life is gone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: And you can see that the fire continues to smolder in places. And Jake, folks continuing to brace for more problems tonight as this area remains under a red flag warning. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Dan Simon, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Tune in to Sunday morning to CNN State of the Union. My guest will be the Director of the White House Economic Council Larry Kudlow, former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci and former New Orleans Mayor and possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Mitch Landrieu. It's at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern on Sunday. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Jim Sciuto who is in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching. I'll see you at Sunday morning.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, Trump's fixture Briggs, President Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen is ready to testify the candidate Trump --