Return to Transcripts main page


Cohen Says President Trump Knew About Trump Tower Meeting; Trump Touts Economy; Trump Open to Meeting Putin in Moscow. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 15:00   ET



DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we talked about, we also saw some evacuations at the nearby hospital, just as a precaution. There were some infants there in the neonatal intensive care unit. They were taken to another hospital just to make sure, in case the flames advanced on that hospital.

But we have said it time and time again. With climate change, we're seeing more of these wildfires. And, unfortunately, Brooke, the weather forecast not looking good over the next several days, triple- digit temperatures today, 110 degrees, also a red flag warning in the area.

So, we could see more problems again tonight -- Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Awful. Thinking about all the families, the hospitals, everyone in California again.

Dan Simon, thank you so much to Dan and crew. Let's continue on.

Top of the hour. You are watching CNN on this Friday afternoon.

And you never know who you will run into when you fly the friendly skies. Two gentlemen just found that out. I want you to take a look at this absolutely fascinating photo from Politico taken at the D.C. Airport.

On the right, Donald Trump Jr., on the left, Robert Mueller, the man investigating events involving Don Jr. and his dad. The only thing more awkward, if they sat next to one another on the plane. It just so happens Jr.'s infamous meeting and Mueller's investigation of that meeting in Trump Tower is one of the days biggest news stories.

And let me tell you why. The first public accusation the President Trump knew about a direct link between his campaign and the Russians. And this is coming from the man who was Trump's closest ally. Sources say Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen is ready to talk to Robert Mueller, again, the man in that photo, that Trump was aware of that Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 ahead of time.

That is the meeting where Russians sat in Trump Tower with a number of folks from the campaign, top campaign officials, including Don Jr. there in the photo, hoping to get some sort of dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The major player not seen here is President Trump. And he had this to say about Cohen's claims.

This is what the president tweeted: "I did not" -- in all caps -- "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. Taxicabs maybe? He even retained Bill and crooked Hillary's lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice."

So, Julie Hirschfeld Davis is with us, CNN political analyst, reporter for "The New York Times," White House reporter.

And, Julie, before we get into all things Cohen, this Politico photo, talk to me. I mean, is this not crazy?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, it can be very small town, Washington, D.C. It is a pretty striking coincidence. And you can only imagine what the conversation would be like if the two of them actually caught each other's eye and actually were aware that they were on the same flight.

But it may be that Mueller has a lot more questions for Don Jr. now, after this latest round of leaks coming from Michael Cohen's team. Certainly, the story around this meeting in Trump Tower that Don Jr. has told partially -- or told partially last summer, when my colleagues here at "The Times" first recorded on it, has continued to change.

And this is just the latest iteration. Now, as you pointed out, the president denies that he knew about this, but this certainly puts that whole meeting in a new light.

BALDWIN: So you have this -- what Cohen is now saying, which is actually different from what Cohen had testified, different what Don Jr. had testified up on the Hill. He is now saying that Trump knew about it. So we're going to talk more about that in a second. That's significant, number one, today.

Number two, this morning, the news from Vladimir Putin that he has now invited Trump to Moscow and has accepted this invitation, a few days late, to come to Washington. Tell me what you know about that.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, it's fascinating, right, because, after all of the negative reports coming out of the summit in Helsinki and the president's performance at that news conference, he sort of issued this very sudden invitation via Twitter, and he said it was going to be coming from his national security adviser, for Putin to come to Washington, which caused a bit of a stir.

And then, in Moscow, it was received very coolly. They said, well, we have gotten the invitation, but we will see. And it was sort of -- it gave the sense that the president was going hat in hand to say, please come see me at the White House. And President Putin wasn't up for it.

Now, after the president had basically walk that back on Wednesday, saying, well, this won't happen until that after the 1st of the year, until after the Mueller witch-hunt is concluded, now Putin has come back and said, oh, well, actually, I would like to meet.

And it strikes me that this has all been very much on Vladimir Putin's terms, as was the summit in Helsinki. And so he seems to still be taking the initiative here in the relationship. And because of this new wrinkle in the Mueller story, the news that they are considering arranging not just a White House meeting, but one in Moscow, for President Putin and President Trump just kind of throws additional fuel on the fire and all the questions surrounding what might what my Donald Trump's involvement have been in this meeting during the campaign.


BALDWIN: It does.

Julie Davis, thank you so much.

Let me stay on this.

Here's the if. If Michael Cohen is telling the truth that then candidate Donald Trump knew that his son, his son-in-law and campaign chairman were meeting with the Russians, it would contradict not one, not two, 19 denials, either on camera or in print, by the president and other members of the Trump inner circle.


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

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

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: One key point is, this is not a situation where the president was involved in this meeting, was not aware of the meeting, did not attend this meeting.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And he really never -- he didn't know about this meeting until a few days ago?

SEKULOW: Yes, that's correct.

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

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: No. It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell. I wouldn't have even remembered until you start scouring through the stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.

QUESTION: Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?

DONALD TRUMP SR., PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't know anything about that?


It must have been a very important -- it must have been a very unimportant meeting, because I never even heard about it.

QUESTION: No one told you a word, nothing?


DONALD TRUMP SR.: No, nobody told me. I didn't know -- it's a very unimportant -- it sounded like very unimportant meeting.


BALDWIN: And while denials of what Trump knew certainly didn't change, just remember what did go through this metamorphosis, what the meeting was actually about. Right?

Remember, Don Jr. actually first said it was about Russian adoptions. And then, in the end, we came to learn that that narrative was directed by the president. And then we found out that the point of the meeting was actually to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

After the truth was revealed, team Trump says, well, nothing came of it.

Much to discuss with me.

CNN legal and political commentator Ken Cuccinelli. He used to serve as the attorney general in the great state of Virginia. And CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, who served a special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.

So, gentlemen, welcome.

And, Ken, I want to start -- I want to start with you because at the Senator of this Cohen v. Trump, you have two men, both of whom have a loose relationship with the truth. Doesn't this come down to who is more credible?

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, when you when you take a fact that has two binary alternatives, he knew or he didn't know, then only one of them can be right.

And that's what we have got here. This isn't an object of opinion. Either the president knew at a certain time or he didn't. And we're getting all sorts of stories about this. And, of course, one of the newest ones is coming from Michael Cohen.

Having worked on a presidential campaign, I do find the notion that a candidate would know much of anything about who the others on the campaign are meeting with is highly unlikely, just because they're -- the candidate is occupied in a way that nobody else is.

BALDWIN: But this was no ordinary campaign.

(CROSSTALK) CUCCINELLI: No. Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not. It was completely unconventional. So that's absolutely true.

But what works for every campaign is that there is more things to do and more people to talk to than then there is time between pick your date and Election Day. And that drives business of the candidate. So maybe had something come of it, maybe had they gotten Hillary Clinton dirt, they might have had -- it'd be more likely, it would be more plausible that they talked to Donald Trump.

I think under the current circumstances, with what we know, it seems less likely to me.

BALDWIN: Let me come back to the dirt piece in a minute because there is a new detail that's emerged that's pertinent to that.

But, Michael, Ken is right. It is he said/he said. It is credibility. But one key detail on the Cohen is that he says there were other people in the room, right? There were people with Cohen and Trump when Trump was made aware, according to Cohen, of this Trump Tower meeting.

And we know that there's no recording of any of this. So it all comes down to evidence. How does Cohen prove what he says is fact?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the easiest way for Cohen side of the story to be corroborated is if there were, in fact, other people at this meeting who weren't Don Jr., Manafort or Kushner or other people, then it's obtaining those individuals' testimony as to their recollection.

But the other thing here I think that undermines a bit of what Ken is suggesting is that it's almost impossible to explain away the June 7 announcement by the president -- by candidate Trump that he was going to have a big announcement after the June 9 meeting.

So you have a timeline of June 2, the initial inquiry to Don Jr. about whether he would like to have this meeting, June 7, the president makes this pronouncement that he's going to have a big speech to give.



BALDWIN: Hang on.


BALDWIN: More important, let me finish your thought, because this exactly what I was thinking of when Ken was talking.

It's a speech that he is teasing that he will give on Hillary Clinton's misdeeds? All the stuff that Hillary Clinton's been doing, he's going to expose it. That's what he was teasing. Go on.

(CROSSTALK) ZELDIN: And he never gave that speech.

BALDWIN: And he never gave that speech.

ZELDIN: So, to me, implied in that is knowledge of this upcoming meeting.

When he knew it is only to be determined, but it was clearly, in my estimation, before June 9. So that timeline would also corroborate if they could prove the truth of Cohen's testimony that it indicates that Trump knew it in an additional way.

BALDWIN: So that is one -- that is one potential clue in investigative-speak, Ken, that could be telling for investigators.

Also, it's the fact that before and after this Trump Tower meeting, we know that Don Jr. was making these calls over and over to some blocked number, right, question mark, over who that person was on the other end. Could have been the president, his father.

And, again, the speech that Michael mentioned, how do you explain that?

CUCCINELLI: Yes, well, I certainly agree with Michael that that becomes one circumstantial element on the scale. But if you look over the history of that campaign, and that -- the primary is when I was involved in. I worked with Ted Cruz in that.

There were a number of instances where candidate Trump sort of teased something that then didn't happen. I mean, it is one of the reasons we call it such an unconventional campaign. No ordinary candidate would do that. And, of course, the relevance here is, it was teased to the subject matter that I guess the Russians teased Don Jr. too, right?

And that's why this looks more significant of all of his various teases through the campaign.


ZELDIN: If I may add, Brooke, just one additional potentially corroborative point, is that after the fact of the meeting, we now can establish that Donald Trump lied about the denial of the content of the meeting, the Air Force One statement, which he dictated.

So if that is proof his state of mind previously, that also would be added to the analysis as to who is to be believed.


Lastly, we will throw the picture up.

And because, Michael, you worked with Robert Mueller, you have seen this picture with Robert Mueller and Don Jr. at DCA, what do you think -- do you think Mueller is aware of Don Jr.? You know the man. What is he thinking? (LAUGHTER)

ZELDIN: I think he wants to go to Bangor, Maine, and have a vacation, because I think he's been working pretty hard.

All I can hope is that they're sitting in separate sections of the airplane, because that would be pretty awkward.

BALDWIN: Tie off. Ready for vacation.

Michael Zeldin, Ken Cuccinelli, thanks, guys, so very much for that.


BALDWIN: Coming up next, President Trump hits at benchmark for 4 percent growth that he had promised during his presidential campaign. Is this sustainable?

My next guest breaks down what's really behind this economic win right now.

And the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, says he'd be happy to come to the White House. And not only that, he said to the U.S. president come on out to Moscow. Details on the strategy behind today's announcement.

And later, North Korea sends home what is believed to be the remains of dozens of U.S. troops killed during the Korean War. This is a moment families have been waiting 65 years for. What happens next to identify the soldier -- soldiers?

Coming up.



BALDWIN: Some positive news, economically speaking, today.

The president fulfilling a major economic promise. The second-quarter economic growth rate is out, and the U.S. economy is booming. The number hitting 4.1 percent, growing at the fastest pace we have seen in nearly four years.


DONALD TRUMP SR.: We're on track to hit the highest annual average growth rate in over 13 years. And I will say this right now. And I will 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 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: All right, context is everything. So look at what's on your screen here. And over the past two decades, you can see the spikes under each president.

And so today's figure is the highest we have seen since 2014.

With me now, senior political commentator Catherine Rampell.

And so, Catherine, the numbers are great. I read your piece. I knew there is a but. You're saying don't read too much into this 4.1 percent.


CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The GDP growth number is very noisy from quarter to quarter. It bounces up and down. It was not so great last quarter -- or excuse me -- first quarter of this year. It was much better obviously in the second quarter of this year.


So because there's so much noise in the data, you don't want to read into -- too much into one quarter, whether it's good or bad, right?

BALDWIN: Why do you say noisy? Noisy meaning?

RAMPELL: Noisy meaning it's just -- it goes...

BALDWIN: All up and down.


RAMPELL: Yes, it goes up and down.

What you care about is the trends. So one term -- or one quarter of strong growth does not indicate necessarily a transformed economy, right?


BALDWIN: The president today people are going to say it's not sustainable; it's sustainable.

RAMPELL: Well, if you look at basically every major forecaster from, the CBO, to the Fed, to private forecasters, like the Penn Wharton Budget Model and others, they all say that we will have relatively strong growth this year and next year as a result of this fiscal stimulus that we have from the tax cut and this spending hike.

And then, after that, within a few years, we're going to fall back to 1.8 percent growth. And that's because you have a sugar high, right. You have these fiscal stimuli that are boosting the economy in the near term, but as they fade away, you go back to all the long-term challenges that this economy, including that we have an aging work force, productivity growth is relatively slow.

So we have a lot of challenges that are not going to be addressed by these fiscal policies. And, in fact, in the long term, they're probably -- probably going to hurt and growth, because they're loading up the government with so much debt.

BALDWIN: One explanation, I look at you, and I feel like you always come on, we're talking about trade war, tariffs and that kind of thing.

And you point out in your column, and I want you to make the point for the viewer, that maybe one of the reasons why this number is where it is because businesses were freaking out over this trade war, and that people stockpile materials, afraid of prices.

RAMPELL: Right, right. They were trying to front-run the tariff.

So Trump the taking away from this strong growth number the exact opposite lesson that he should be getting, which is that trade wars are bad and are actually bad for growth in the long run.

In the near term, as companies worry about barriers, about not having access to foreign markets, about not being able to get the goods that they need to make their own products here, they're going to ramp up activity so that they can try to beat out those tariffs and other trade barriers.

So soybeans is a great example of this. By various estimates I have seen, soybean exports rose something like 3000 percent. I saw one 9000 percent projection. yes, crazy, right? These are crazy numbers for the second quarter of this year, because everybody was trying to front-run the tariffs that we knew were coming in July.

And of course, that's not going to be sustained later this year. So you have this big spike in activity ahead of the tariffs. And then you will see reversal later on. So, again, indications that this strong growth probably won't be sustained.

BALDWIN: So you're the expert in all this economic nuance, but a lot of people out there -- I was just talking to a poor farmer the other day, and he -- they're obviously struggling. And we were talking about this $12 billion bailout.

But at, the end of the day, I'm thinking of voters going to the polls thinking of the November midterms, and I'm wondering despite all of the negative headlines swirling out there on Russia and hush payments and you name it, Cohen tapes, the end of the day, how much will views positive numbers for now factor into voters' minds?

RAMPELL: Well, I think what matters, as I said, is whether it's sustained and whether any of it translates to paychecks.

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: So, ask you closer to November?

RAMPELL: As we get closer to November.

And so far, pay has been flat. Year over year in June, average hourly earnings were flat, adjusted for inflation. So, if that continues, maybe Trumponomics is working for some businesses out there, but it's still not working for workers. And that probably won't help him at the polls.

BALDWIN: Catherine Rampell, thank you so much.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: The White House says it is -- quote, unquote -- "open" to a visit to Moscow after Russian President Vladimir Putin extended an invitation today. We will dig into Putin's strategy with that public announcement coming up.



BALDWIN: Vladimir Putin has just showered new praise on President Trump and says he's ready and eager to meet again in Washington or in Moscow.

CNN has learned Putin has extended an invitation for President Trump to visit Russia. The White House responded with a statement this morning. This is what it says: "President Trump looks forward to having President Putin to Washington after the 1st of the year, and he is open to visiting Moscow upon receiving a formal invitation."

Jill Dougherty is with me, CNN contributor and former CNN Moscow bureau.

And, Jill, first just on the timing of these invitations this morning. All of this happening before Trump gave this big speech on the economy. What do you make of the timing piece?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the timing actually happened because President Putin was in Johannesburg at a BRICS meetings.

So, you can't necessarily say, oh, it was timed precisely to that. I didn't think maybe it was. But, Brooke, all this reminds me of like two men at a doorway, and one says, no, please, you go first. No, you go first. No, please.


DOUGHERTY: I mean, it has that feeling, because, remember, it seems like a long time ago, but President Trump invited President Putin to Washington.

And then it was very interesting to watch. For a number of days, the Kremlin didn't really say yes, no or anything. It's kind of said, hmm, we're thinking about it, we're thinking about it. And then all of a sudden, President Trump kind of withdraws that, says, let's not do it until January. And then you have this.

So, I think what you have got is, both sides would like to get together, there's no question. But when they do it and how they do it, because, especially, let's say Putin -- well, both, but Putin coming to the United States --