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Putin Ready to Go to Washington for Second Meeting with Trump; U.S. Economy Grows at Fastest Pace Since 2014; CNN: Cohen Claims Trump Knew In Advance Of 2016 Trump Tower Meeting; WSJ: Top Trump Official Called To Testify In Cohen Probe. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And we have learned that Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is prepared to go to Washington.

Speaking today he also extended another invitation to President Trump to meet again. This time it would be a visit to Moscow.

Our senior international correspondent Sam Kiley joins me from Moscow with more. This is very significant after the Helsinki summit. What else do we know about what Putin said?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was very interesting in answer to a question from a journalist -- a Russian journalist in the BRICS meeting in Johannesburg. He said that one of the characteristics of Mr. Trump that he's always keeping his campaign promises, and one of those campaign promises is to improve relations with Russia. He said that he had extended and he implied at the Helsinki meeting, an invitation to the U.S. president to a summit in Moscow and repeated his assertion that he was prepared to go to Washington but that there was quite a lot of preparation that would be needed, Poppy, before such a meeting could be held.

And also reiterating the Russian position that there'll be opportunities for further meetings between now and a future summit, for example, in the fringes of the G-20 and other international fora. So he's -- Putin here, Poppy, is very much maintaining the warmth of that relationship and the Russian position that they're enthusiastic about a future summit. In particular keen to talk about restarting the START treaty negotiations which is -- for the treaty that's due to run out in couple of year's time, Poppy.

HARLOW: Sam, thank you very much for that. And I should just note that we are going to hear from the president in just a few minutes. He's set to speak, we're learning from the White House, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time. As we wait for that, let's go to Jim Sciutto, our chief national security correspondent.

So, Jim, I have a lot to get to with you, but ahead of all this other reporting that you broke last night, let's talk about this. What do you make of Vladimir Putin's response here?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, so here we are, what are we, a little more than a week after a meeting that even Republicans, a meeting with the Russian president in Helsinki, that many Republicans were alarmed about. President Trump as you'll remember seeming to take Putin's word over the word of U.S. intelligence agencies on election meddling, et cetera, which the president in a rare instance on his return seemed to correct some of the statements there, dialed them back.

So that meeting with Putin not seen as a success, but it was very soon after that the president appeared to double down on this personal relationship with the Russian president, saying that he had invited him to Washington. Then we learned, well, that might be pushed back to next year as opposed to this fall. Then we learned that the Russian president might not be coming at all. He raised questions about it. Now the president says he is willing to come and that he's invited Trump to Moscow.

So, you know, once again we're all over the place on this. And I suppose the bigger question if and when this happens, Poppy, is why. What are they talking about? If the president just stood next to the Russian president and seemed to lean his way on many key issues including election meddling here in the U.S., there has been very little clarity as to what they agreed to in that meeting.

You saw Mike Pompeo grilled about this on the Hill earlier this week. So we don't really know what happened in that meeting. So why are these other meetings happening? What has Russia promised the U.S.? Have they promised anything substantial? What is in the U.S. interest? So you're in a place with still hard questions about the meeting that already took place and now you have new meetings coming up.

HARLOW: Right. Right. And the timing here is very unclear about when this will be if it happens.

Jim, stay with me. Let's me also bring in Elise Labott, she's our global affairs correspondent. She joins me on the phone.

Elise, let me get your read on this, some of the things Putin said was that he, meaning President Trump, has this invitation already, I told him about it, and Putin went on to say, he, Trump, is willing to fulfill his campaign promises, saying he viewed their initial meeting in Helsinki as useful. No word from the White House yet on this. What's your read?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Poppy, look, President Putin's in a conference of, you know, developing countries when he was talking about this. I think what's happening right here is you see President Putin almost trying to help out President Trump. You saw this at the press conference that the two men held in Helsinki.

I think what President Trump as he tries to act so deferential to President Putin, you hear President Putin says, oh, well, you know, President Trump doesn't agree with me on Crimea, President Trump is fulfilling his campaign pledges. It's almost as if President Trump's, you know, deferential nature is actually becoming an impediment to President Putin because they're not -- the two leaders are not able to really get done in terms of the U.S.-Russia relationship because of this politically charged atmosphere.

[09:05:15] It's pretty clear that they spoke about another meeting. Our understanding is that, you know, there wasn't that much agreed to in the meeting. Of course, we don't know. We do know that John Bolton, the National Security adviser, is going to be meeting with his counterpart in the coming weeks. The NSC officials are going to meet. They'll have what we call a track tier diplomacy which experts and other stuff try and repair the relationship on other types of issue. But I do think that the way President Trump is trying to cozy up to Putin I do think Putin is asking (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Sam Kiley, back to you in Moscow. Talk to us about the reaction in Moscow among Russians after the Helsinki summit and how that may be influencing Vladimir Putin now, extending this invitation to President Trump, to Moscow, and saying he also is will to go to Washington.

KILEY: Well, I think there are two approaches. The first is the sort of media reaction here, one of the influential programs, "60 Minutes," it's called which is twice a day, it's a sort of panel discussion. One of the hosts very quickly after the Helsinki summit said that Mr. Trump, the U.S. president, smelt like a KGB agent after the Helsinki press conference in particular.

In particular it seems there where Vladimir Putin had to come to the rescue of the American president saying that Crimea, we disagreed but Donald Trump was very emphatic, it's not about -- you know, he rejected my annexation. Of course we have a difference of opinion. That sort of intervention which we've now seen again at this BRICS conference in Johannesburg potentially is become frankly embarrassing to the Russians. So that's the kind of PR part of it, but then there is the real policy.

This isn't -- these are two major super powers. They are engaged in an arms race. It is an arms race that the Russians think that they're ahead of, or ahead in at the moment. And they think that there is an opportunity through Donald Trump to scale back things in the real world, putting aside the slightly awkward relationship frankly that may be evolving in terms of this almost bromance between or at least one-way bromance from Donald Trump towards Mr. Putin. But you can't possibly suggest among the Russians they're not frankly delighted about the way that this is going, that everything is still being played out of the Putin camp.

It is the -- it is the Americans that are constantly being forced into reacting. So on this occasion forced into reacting to an invitation to Moscow.


KILEY: That's the first real evidence that we've had such an invitation was extended.

HARLOW: Right.

KILEY: And is extended in private. HARLOW: Yes. Right. And as you said was already extended. That the

president knows about it and yet this is the first that we're hearing about it.

Sam, thank you for the reporting.

David Rohde is with me now, our global affairs analyst.

David, two questions for you. One, Putin said in this answer to the journalist's questions this morning, in order for them to have this second meeting, if there was going to be one, there have to be, quote, necessary conditions. Didn't elaborate what would those be. And secondly, Putin said two things. He would come to Washington or the president could go to Moscow.

If summit 2.0 were to happen, what -- I mean, what's better for the American people? For the president to go to Moscow or Putin to come here?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: First on the necessary conditions, I'm not sure what they are. And I think this is an effort by Vladimir Putin to sort of frankly disrupt American politics. This week is amazing in that you had a whole roll back by Trump's aides, they sort of tried to clean up the mess from the Helsinki summit. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is very tough on Russia. There's this National Security Council meeting on election meddling by the Russians in the U.S.

And now Putin is sort of, you know, creating all this confusion. And the question is sort of will Trump -- will he personally for whatever reasons wants to meet with Putin and it seemed like that was off. The White House said there would be no meeting in the next year until the Mueller investigation finishes, and now Putin has, you know, created chaos. And I'll be very curious to see how President Trump personally responds to this invitation.

HARLOW: David Rohde, thank you very much for being here. Sam Kiley, with the breaking news, as well as our Jim Sciutto.

We have a lot more to get to on the economy this morning. U.S. economy we just learned grew at its fastest pace in almost four years. GDP 4.1 percent in the second quarter.

Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here.

The president said yesterday we will be happy with anything that has a four in front of it. This has a four in front of it, but it's not -- it's a great number.


HARLOW: It's been accomplished before.

ROMANS: It's been accomplished before. Four times in the Obama administration. And you've seen the other presidents, the last three presidents have all had a 5 percent reading as a good quarter. Will it be a whole year of good growth, that's what remains to be seen.

Well, let's look at what was driving it in this quarter. 4.1 percent, that's bouncing back from a, well, it's kind of a weak 2.2 percent in the first quarter. And it was exports, Poppy, 9.3 percent exports gain, so that's a really remarkable gain. And that's really as my colleague -- our colleague Paul LaMonica calls it, not a sugar rush but a soybean rush.


ROMANS: You had all these soybean sales ahead of expected retaliation from China. So all these orders front loaded --


HARLOW: And that's a really important point --

ROMANS: -- and pushed through.

HARLOW: Because that could be seen as a -- I mean, a one-time blip.

ROMANS: And it could be --

HARLOW: Artificial ballooning of this.

ROMANS: Exactly. The sugar rush, soybean rush.


ROMANS: Right. It could come back in the next quarter. We saw business investment up, though, and that's probably tax cuts and businesses are having record profits right now, so you have business investment was up. Consumers, that spending was up about 4 percent. That's another very strong number. Again, a bounce back from kind of a weak first quarter. And that's probably a little bit of those tax cuts and also just confidence -- confidence for people who are spending more money and government spending of about 2 percent.

Some of that, a lot of that probably defense spending because you saw they passed that huge --


ROMANS: Spending bill that had all of that defense spending. But the soybean part in particular, but the soybean part in particular, and Morgan Stanley said soybean shipments up 9,400 percent from 2017 in the second quarter. So that was getting ahead of the president's tariffs, trying to do an end run around what will be paying for that part of the economy.


ROMANS: So -- and economists now are trying to tear apart, you know, pick apart what is the stockpiling in here and what's the natural strength and will it continue into the third quarter. Again the president promised 4 percent economic growth, annual economic growth. HARLOW: This is very different. This is one quarter.

ROMANS: This is a quarter. This is one quarter from the quarter before.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: So a bounce back from a very strong spring, a bounce back from a weak winter, now what happens. Is the trade war going to be a threat for growth going forward?

HARLOW: It's good to see, but will it last?

ROMANS: Yes. Exactly.

HARLOW: Thank you, Romans. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, the president set to speak in just minutes, 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time. He will speak on the South Lawn. He will also take questions this as we get breaking news on Russian president Vladimir Putin saying he's ready to go to Washington. Next.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: This morning, a denial from President Trump, his latest and strongest so far, saying that he had no prior knowledge of that now infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer in June of 2016, a meeting that Donald Trump, Jr., who agreed to host it, called "such a nothing."

Well, this morning, the president writes, "someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam." That someone, of course, is Michael Cohen, longtime Trump family lawyer, fixer and confidante, who's now under criminal investigation himself and who's now claiming that the president did know about the meeting before it happened and knew that Russians were offering information damaging on Hillary Clinton to the Trump team and then signed off on the meeting.

Jim Sciutto broke the story. He joins me now from Washington. What have we learned and what is the significance of it, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, I'll tell you, we're in a situation now where it's the president's word against his former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, with the difference perhaps that Cohen is telling people that he's willing to tell Robert Mueller this. He's willing to testify before the special counsel.

The headlines from the story, Michael Cohen says that President Trump knew before the Trump Tower meeting and he knew that the Russians were going to offer dirt on Hillary Clinton in that meeting.

Michael Cohen says he knows this because he was in the room when Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump, Jr., came to then candidate Trump and told him about the meeting. And in addition to that, Cohen says, our source says - or Cohen claims, I should say, our sources telling us that, in addition to that, president - then candidate Trump, rather, approved of that meeting going forward.

So, a lot that Michael Cohen says that he's willing to testify to the special counsel, and that account, if accurate, would, of course, contradict multiple denials over the course of the last year from Trump and all of his surrogates. Have a listen.


MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting.

It must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never even heard that.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST, "HANNITY": Did you tell your father anything about this?

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell.

JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: 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.


SCIUTTO: Now, last night, on our air, speaking to our colleague, Chris Cuomo, Rudy Giuliani, the president's current attorney, continued saying that the president did not know about this, but also really spending most of his time attacking the credibility of Michael Cohen.

In fact, he told Cuomo, Giuliani did, that Cohen has been a liar, he's lied many times in the last week, he's been a liar all his life, which was striking because here is how Rudy Giuliani described Michael Cohen just two months ago. Have a listen.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: He doesn't have any incriminating evidence about the president or himself. The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.


SCIUTTO: The man is an honest, honorable lawyer. That was just on May 6th, a little more than two months ago, Poppy. But last night, Rudy Giuliani, and now the president with his tweet this morning, saying that the man who worked for the current president for more than a decade is a liar and has always been a liar.

HARLOW: He called his testimony "uncorroborated" and he called him a "proven liar" last night.

Jim, before you go, it is very important to note that Michael Cohen testified under oath before House and Senate committees last year. Do you know anything about what he said to those lawmakers in that private testimony under oath about this Trump Tower meeting and whether the president knew or not?

[09:20:10] SCIUTTO: This is what I know. I spoke to a source familiar with Michael Cohen's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, and this source says that Michael Cohen did not testify before that committee that the president had advance knowledge of this Trump Tower meeting.

And we checked again and neither the Democrats or the Republicans report on the Russia investigation mentioned Michael Cohen saying that the president had advanced knowledge of this meeting.

Did Michael Cohen change his story on this? It appears he did.

And I'll just add this, Poppy. What his lawyers are saying is that Michael Cohen now wants to tell the truth, in fact, that now he wants hold country over his former boss, the president.

HARLOW: Right. We don't know - you note the House. We don't know about what he testified before the Senate Intel Committee behind closed doors on that front.

OK. Jim, thank you very much for the reporting. Stay with us.

Also, this story, a former employee of the Trump Organization calls it the ultimate nightmare scenario for the president. I'm not talking about Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, now under federal investigation and seemingly desperate to flip.

I'm talking about the Trump Organization's top money man, the chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg reportedly being called in to testify in the probe of Michael Cohen.

Cristina Alesci is working her sources and joins me now. For many people waking up this morning, this will be the first that they've heard of this man who is so entrenched in the Trump Organization, and frankly, has known the president and worked with him deeply for years. What are you hearing?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: I can't overstate Allen Weisselberg's role within the Trump Organization enough, Poppy. Let's just put it this way. This is probably as close as prosecutors are going to get to an actual interview with Trump himself about Trump's finances, about his business.

To put it in another way, one of - a former Trump employee told my colleague, M.J. Lee, that Allen knows where all the financial bodies are buried, Allen knows every deal, he knows every dealership, he knows every sale. Anything and everything that has been done, he knows every membership, anything you can think of.

This is a perfect description of Allen Weisselberg's role, based on my understanding of the Trump Organization, and it's a very clear indication that the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have crossed the red line in a way that Mueller has not.

And they're looking and they're talking to the president's chief financial officer.

HARLOW: And he was hired back by the president's father. I mean, that's how long he's been with Team Trump.

ALESCI: That's correct. And when President Trump left for the White House, he entrusted the business to three people. Don, Jr., Eric and Allen Weisselberg. That's how entrenched Allen Weisselberg is with the Trump Organization.

It is very significant that prosecutors have requested an interview, information from him. That reporting is according to "The Wall Street Journal."

HARLOW: All right. Cristina, thank you for all the reporting. Bring us more as you continue to talk to your sources.

With me now to hash through all of this are chief legal analyst and a former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin. Also, Elie Honig, former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, which is very relevant right now, is with us as well.

Gentlemen, thank you for being here. And let's just begin with, Jeffrey, what options Allen Weisselberg has now? I mean, to talk?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Unless he can take the Fifth, he basically has to talk. He's not a lawyer. So, there's no attorney-client privilege issue. There's no such thing as a CFO client privilege. If he's called to testify, he has to talk.

Now, the way prosecutors usually work, or try to work, is to have the actual financial records to confront a witness with. It's always better to show a witness documents, so that they can't say, well, I don't remember, I don't know the details.

So, it's often a complex matter to interview someone like a CFO who deals with a lot of numbers because you need the numbers first. But prosecutors can subpoena those, too.

HARLOW: They can also immunize him and try to get him to talk that way.

TOOBIN: They could.

HARLOW: How critical do you think he is because so many Americans are unfamiliar, Elie, with his name or his role. And even, Cristina has reporting that many within the Trump Organization weren't familiar with him, working with him day to day. He was really just dealing with those at the top. ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. Nobody had heard of him for the most part until a few days ago when his name was on that Cohen-Trump tape and, I think, everyone simultaneously googled him.

But just looking at that tape, right, this guy, Weisselberg, worked for the Trump Organization for 40 years. We have a two-minute snippet. And you can see from that little two-minute snippet just how important Weisselberg was.

What do they have him doing? They have him setting up this fake shell corporation that's going to funnel money to try to buy back the rights and silence these former mistresses, which could be a campaign finance violation in itself.

[09:25:07] HARLOW: A former alleged mistress. At this point, we're talking about one story.

HONIG: Yes. But it's similar to also what they did with Stephanie Clifford. If you look at that tape, the way they talk about it, the way Cohen and Trump talk about him is, he's the guy, he's got it.

As soon as Weisselberg's name gets mentioned, you can almost hear Trump says, OK. We got the guy, we got the right guy, he's going to handle the financial piece of it.

And so, you can take those two minutes, extrapolate him out over 40 years. There could be a lot there.

HARLOW: On Michael Cohen, so we know from what Jim just reported that, at least in front of the House committee, Michael Cohen did not say what sources tell Jim Sciutto he's now saying, which is that he witnessed Donald Trump being told about the Trump Tower meeting, Jeffrey, before it even happened.

But our sources also tell CNN he doesn't have any recordings or any other evidence. This is one man's word against another man's word.

TOOBIN: Well, I'm not exactly sure Jim said that about the House committee. I think what he said is his source said that Cohen didn't say - I guess the short answer -

HARLOW: I know what you're saying. I'm saying, was he asked about it?

TOOBIN: Was he asked the precise question? We don't know that.

But the key issue, now that there is clearly a conflict between Cohen's version of what went on and the president's version and the president's son's version, is there any corroboration of what Michael Cohen can say? Can he point - one thing he did say to Jim Sciutto and Carl Bernstein for their story was other people were present when the then candidate was informed.

What is their version of the facts? That's very important.

I think the issue now, as so often is the case when there's a credibility problem or a credibility conflict, is which side has the corroboration. Are there texts? Are there e-mails? Are there tape recordings that corroborate or incriminate Michael Cohen's version? That, to me, is the most important question.

HARLOW: OK. Stay with me. I have to get a break. And again, we're waiting for the president to speak at 9:30 in just a few minutes on the South Lawn. We will be right back.