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Report: Trump Denies He Knew of Trump Tower Meeting with Russians; Cohen Alleges He Witnessed Donald Trump Junior Talking to Father About Russian Meeting; Trump Is Open to Putin's Invitation to Moscow; U.S. Economy Grows at Rate of 4.1 Percent, Fastest Pace Since 2014. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin, thanks for being with me on this Friday afternoon.

The president ends the week with some of the best and the worst headlines of this administration thus far. On the best side, he's hailing economic growth. The nation has not seen in four years. On the same day that he is denying the first public accusation that he knew about a direct link between his campaign and the Russians. This is all coming down to this man we talked about all week. His closest ally. Sources say Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen is ready to tell the Special Counsel Robert Mueller that it was Donald Trump who was indeed aware of that infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 ahead of time.

On top of all of these blockbuster developments, Vladimir Putin. The Russian president has now invited Trump to Moscow while saying he is ready to visit Washington. Welcome to Friday. We'll take a deep dive into all of it. Let's start with Jeff Zeleny. Let's talk about what Michael Cohen is saying he was part of with regard to that Trump tower meeting. What did he say?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon. You'll remember the Trump Tower meeting that we've been talking about so much over the last year or so. It was back in June of 2016 during the presidential campaign. Now he's saying that Donald Trump who was running at the time had just secured the Republican nomination, that he was warned in advance of the meeting with the Russian operatives. Of course, the idea was all to provide dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

President Trump has always said he did not know about that meeting. Donald Trump Jr. at the meeting, he said his father did not know about the meeting. But Michael Cohen is now saying that he believes the president knew in advance and he's willing to testify to that as well. This is a statement on Twitter. We saw it this morning, apply. It says, "I did not know of the meeting with my son Don Jr. It sounds like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam. Taxi cabs maybe? He even retained Bill and Hillary's lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice."

So of course, the president they're talking about Lanny Davis who is representing Michael Cohen. A lot of names, the takeaway is this: Michael Cohen saying he will tell Bob Mueller that President Trump knew about that meeting. Of course, the president said he did not know about that meeting. We'll see who has more credibility here. There are reasons to suspect both of their credibility, actually.

BALDWIN: Credibility, the key word. We'll get into all of that. Thank you. At the White House. Here's the "if." If Michael Cohen is the one telling truth, then candidate Trump knew that his son, son-in- law, and campaign chairman were meeting with the Russians, it would contradict more than 15 denials, 15 on camera or in print by this president and other members of the Trump inner circle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did the president learn that that meeting had taken place?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I believe in the last couple of days, is my understanding.

JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: One key point is this is not a situation where the president was involved in this meeting. Was not aware of this meeting. Did not attend this meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't know about this meeting until a few days ago?

SEKULOW: That's correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you tell your father anything about this.

DONALD TRUMP JUNIOR, THE PRESIDENT'S SON: No. It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell. I wouldn't have even remembered it number start scouring through. It was just a wasted 20 minutes which was a shame.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you know at the time that they had to meeting?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I didn't know anything about it. It must have been a very unimportant meeting. I never even heard about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one told you a word. Nothing.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Nobody -- I didn't know anything. It sounded like very unimportant meeting.


BALDWIN: 15 different ways. So, while these denials of what Trump knew didn't change, remember what did go through a metamorphosis.

[14:05:00] It was what it was actually about. Don Jr. Said it was about Russian adoptions. We've come to learn that narrative was directed by the president. Then we learned the point of the meeting was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. After the truth was revealed, Trump Jr. That nothing came of it. Let's to go CNN nonlaw enforcement analyst, Josh Campbell, who used to be an FBI supervisory special agent, MJ Lee, former federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno, and Caroline Polisi, a federal and white collar criminal defense attorney.

Happy Friday. Let's dive in. MJ, first to you. You have two men. Cohen and Trump. Both of whom have a, shall we say, loose relationship with the truthful, does this come down to who is more credible?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It does. It absolutely does. This is a he said, he said situation right now. And as you said, between two men who don't have reliable records of telling the truth and I think all of this is exacerbated by the fact that the stakes could not be higher for each of the two men. For Donald Trump, the fact that he himself has denied that he knew about this Trump tower meeting. The fact that the people closest to him, including his lawyers, his very own son, have all denied this on the record and of course, the fact that the Trump tower is such a key piece of the Russian investigation, the stakes are very high for the president. For Michael Cohen, he is in potentially a lot of trouble and he will presumably be looking for a way to try to be valuable to investigators. He is thinking about his own family, about himself and whether or not he is facing jail time.

BALDWIN: So, to my lawyers, the key piece that Michael Cohen says is that when Trump came into this knowledge about the Trump tower meeting, that there were other people in the room. There's no audio recording of this conversation. So, in terms of evidence, how does Cohen prove that?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I will take that one. Sure. Corroboration. Can these people corroborate what Michael Cohen is saying?

BALDWIN: The other people in the room.

MORENO: Right. Who are they? What would they say under oath will they back him or the president? Who are they? There's unlikely to be any other contemporaneous evidence. Probably no other evidence, no recording. So, it comes down to the credibility of these other people.

BALDWIN: Do you think Mueller already talked to the other people in the room?

CAROLINE POLISI, federal and white collar criminal defense attorney: I do. I think Mueller, as in everything in this case, Mueller knows a lot more than we do. The implication of Giuliani last night said he is pretty sure the other witnesses in that room would testify to the fact that this did not happen in the way that Michael Cohen is saying it happened. That's where you get into Michael Cohen's motivations. He has a dog in this fight. A classic tried and true technique on the part of criminal defense attorneys to try to draw out the underlying motivation of a cooperating witness. Well, Michael Cohen doesn't want to go to jail. So maybe he is making it up.

BALDWIN: Good enough motivation. There are three signs, Josh Campbell, that it is Michael Cohen who is telling the truth so let me just explain this to everyone. One, that Trump teased that he would be giving a speech on Hillary Clinton's misdeeds. He is saying, did you see all the Hillary stuff that she's been doing? I'm going on expose it. That never happened. When he threatened it, it happened to be the same day that Trump Jr. accepted this Trump Tower meeting.

We also know about before and after the Trump Tower meeting, we know about Don Jr. placed a number of calls to a blocked phone number. Some have wondered, might that blocked person be his father, the president? And then lastly, we know that Trump was physically in Trump Tower the day of this meeting.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN NONLAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: And in law enforcement we call these clues. At some point you draw a line through the clues and see what direction it leads you. And obviously we have talked about Bob Mueller he knows a lot that we don't know right now. If you look at some of the issues we talk about these phone calls obviously the public who are watching or reading the tea leaves, we don't know who that number was.

In law enforcement there are laws on the books that allow the government to subpoena this type of information from communication companies and they have to provide these kind of records.

BALDWIN: Mueller would know.

CAMPBELL: Mueller will be able to get to that. To me as a former investigator, there is a fourth reason, a bit glaring as we look at the reporting from Jim Sciutto and Carl Bernstein, and that is the fact that here we have Cohen saying there were other people in this room. Now, if he were to conjure this up, concoct it out of thin air, this notion that there was a meeting, it would be better for him to say he met one-on-one with the president. That would be the ultimate he said, he said. There would be no one else to corroborate that. The fact that he is opening the aperture and say no, there are others who may be able to tell the story as well, these are not potential witnesses. And I can tell you that Bob Mueller, the Southern District of New York they are going to take note.

BALDWIN: Precisely what we were just talking about. But we know about when Don Jr. was up on capitol hill some months ago, he testified the opposite of what we're hearing from Cohen. Not only that but Cohen did as well and now he's reversing.

[14:10:00] LEE: That's why the timing is very, very curious. Reporting on Michael Cohen the last few months, it is always interesting what his friends, associates end up telling reporters. None of those are actually coincidences.

Cohen has been trying to project to the world what he's thinking, what he is thinking, what he is feeling because he wants that message to get to Trump. I'm not saying about where this could have come from, I'm saying in general it is usually not a coincidence when you hear something specific about what Michael Cohen is thinking. You're right. When he testified in the House, in Congress, he did not say, and this is according to the house intelligence committee reports that have come out. He did not say at the time that this is something that Donald Trump knew about. This Trump Tower meeting. And in that kind of a setting, this meeting is so, so critical. And yet he didn't go there then.

BALDWIN: You're nodding.

POLISI: Yes. And Alan Futerfas, who is Don Jr.'s lawyer, came out with this vague and opaque statement, just blanketly saying that they're confident the information that Don Jr. provided was accurate but not really getting to the heart of the matter which was, this did not take place, he did not the tell his father about it. So, we're seeing the larger implications, not just potential collusion but another prong of the Robert Mueller's investigation, obstruction of justice. If it can be shown that Don Jr. lied. He is potentially liable not for perjury because it wasn't under oath but false statements. If it can be shown that Trump did know about it, he crafted the false statement on Air Force One. That's huge implications.

BALDWIN: Everybody, stand by. We are about to have a wow moment. Stand by.

We now have the photo. This was taken by "Politico." What we have spotlighted, I cannot believe what we have been discussing and what is happening. This is DCA. This is Reagan Airport in Washington, DC, the man spotlighted on the left of the screen, just sitting there hanging out. This is Robert Mueller. This is the special counsel who is the one we've been saying knows way more than we all. He is the one leading this Russia probe into Trump and the Trump campaign.

On the right side of the screen in the ball cap is the president's son, Don Jr., who is the person who was part of the Trump Tower meeting Michael Cohen now says his dad knew about. Sitting feet from each other in the Washington, DC Airport. Awkward!

LEE: Can I just say, the best part about this, too, is that this is Gate 35 X at DCA which is famous for people who unfortunately spend too much time at that airport as being the dreaded gate where you have to get on to the shuttle, get to the gate. I do not like that gate. The fact that that photo was taken there is just --

BALDWIN: Point being, they would have had to have taken the bus together, all the way to the gate, sitting next. This is a -- wow.

MORENO: Interesting, having worked for Bob Mueller, I know that he has two ties. A red one and a blue one.

BALDWIN: Are we reading into the ties?

MORENO: It looks as though, I would be curious to see where he's headed. Is he taking a little vacation which is much deserved or going to hunt for more clues? Very interesting.

POLISI: My guess is he's keeping his head down. Blinders on. No contact there. BALDWIN: Don Jr., I see you, but I don't want to see you. Thank you

for all that. Despite only a week since the backlash over his summit with Vladimir Putin and Helsinki, the president is not open to Putin's new invitation to Moscow. We'll talk to Fareed Zakaria about all of that.

Next also the economy is roaring. And the president says today's announcement of a 4 percent growth is not a one-time shot. It is sustainable. So, hear what's behind that. And whether he's right that it is sustainable.

And new fallout from Sasha Baron Cohen's TV stunt. This from the Arizona town shown with some folks who live there who are racist. Watch the video for yourself. We'll talk live to the man who says Sasha Baron Cohen got it all wrong


BALDWIN: We're back watching CNN. Vladimir Putin has just showered new praise on President Trump and he says he's ready and eager to meet again in Washington or Moscow. That's right. Putin has extended an invitation for President Trump to visit Moscow and the White House responded with this statement this morning. I'll read it for you. "President Trump looks forward to having President Putin to Washington after the first of the year and he is open to visiting Moscow upon receiving a formal invitation."

Host of CNN's show "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," how about on the timing of this, ahead of the president's big speech on how strong the nation's growth is, boom. Putin slides it in. It is almost like he knows U.S. politics better than we give him credit for.

[14:20:00] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: And it almost seems like they coordinate. Look, the bromance continues. Neither side seems fazed by the issues. It is not right to say it's odd. I think both sides want to act in defiance of the main stream press. Anything to be ashamed of, embarrassed about, what they're trying to say we're going to do what we're going to do, and we're not cowed by all this PR.

BALDWIN: Never mind there's proof that Russia is attacking democracy when it comes to the mid-terms, never mind there's now proof that Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill's computer system, Russians were trying to hack her. She's vulnerable this fall still. The president is open to it.

ZAKARIA: What President Trump seems to view the Russian relationship and his relationship with Putin, not as one where he is dealing with a power that is involved in a series of adversarial aggressive attacks against the United States, but rather, one where they are co-managing a whole bunch of difficult issues. If you think about the way the president treats Putin, it is so different from the way he treats our actual partners and allies, the Germans, the Brits.

You can't imagine that statement coming out about any other over he would everything else has an edge. But you don't pay your bills. But you have tariffs on our products. With Putin, if you think about it, there is not one case I can think of where president Trump has said anything negative about Putin. You can think about the negative comments about the prime minister of Germany, Canada, England.

BALDWIN: What about the Putin side? I found it note worthy in this invitation to Moscow, that Putin has put necessary conditions on the visits. And I'm wondering, what would those conditions be?

ZAKARIA: It is very strange. Maybe -- Putin has a goal here. In Trump's case, I don't understand what the strategy is. Certain what the strategy that preserves American interests is. In the case of Putin, he has a goal. He is trying to get rid of sanctions, the Magnitsky Act, the big businessmen, the officials, he is trying to get rid of the E.U. sanctions on Russia, on products. My guess is that what he is trying to do is to build a relationship with Trump where eventually, Trump says, both publicly and privately to the Europeans, you guys should knock off these sanctions on the Russians.

So maybe the conditions have something to do with the Magnitsky Act, sanctions. Something like that. With Putin there's a clear strategy. There's purpose. You know what he's trying to do. With Trump we still don't understand. How is all this serving American interests?

BALDWIN: Great question, with regard to Putin, why do you think it has taken so long to respond to the president's invitation? It was kind of hanging out there. You invite someone to dinner your friends don't really like. When the person doesn't respond, well, never mind, I'll hold off on that dinner for a while and then the person responds, OK, I'll come to dinner.

ZAKARIA: It's a very good question. We're all guessing, it is striking. My sense is that the Russians, and this I have from talking to some Russian officials and former officials. They have been very frustrated by what seemed to them for a while a kind of paralysis in relations with Russia. Because Trump clearly wanted to do certain things. Because of the Russian meddling, because it became public, he tried fire Comey. The whole thing blew up.

So, Trump couldn't be particularly conciliatory toward the Russians because would it suggest there was this quid pro quo. So, the Trump administration kind of froze and then Congress started to pass these tough sanctions on Russia. The administration couldn't reject them, so it went along with them. The Russians are trying to figure out what's going on here? We thought we had a guy who was going to be friendly to us and instead we're getting a kind of paralysis from the administration. The pushback from Congress. What should we do? What's the best way to play the hand?

And the reason Helsinki was so important is that I think Putin made a breakthrough. Putin found a way to talk directly to Trump. Look what has happened since then. What Trump has indicated, he will stick with his guns, he's invited Putin to the White House. Putin has now invited him. If you don't worry too much about the sequence, look at the substantive reality that Trump and Putin have now decided to openly declare the bromance. They don't care if people find it awkward, they don't care if people are gossiping. The bromance continues [14:25:00] BALDWIN: They're out about it. Thank you. We watch you every Sunday morning on CNN, 10:00 eastern and pacific. Thank you so much.

Coming up next, President Trump does this victory lap after news that the economy is growing at the fastest pace we've seen in nearly four years. Is it sustainable? Also, ahead, Roseanne Barr once again trying to explain the racist tweet that got her fired. Hear her first TV interview since her ABC departure.


BALDWIN: Really positive news on the economy for President Trump and Americans obviously the president fulfilling a major economic promise. The second quarter economic growth rate is out in the U.S. economy is booming. economic news. The U.S. economy is booming. The number hitting 4.1 percent, growing at the fastest pace we have seen in nearly four years.


TRUMP: We're on track to hit the highest annual growth rate in over 13 years. And I will say this. Right now, and I'll say it strongly, as the trade deals come in one by one, we're going to go a lot higher than these numbers and these are great numbers. Once again, we are the economic envy of the entire world. When I meet the leaders of the countries, the first thing they say invariably is Mr. President, so nice to meet you, congratulations on your economy. You're leading the entire world. They say it almost each and every time."


BALDWIN: Let's put this 4.1 percent growth just into context for you --