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Russian Collusion Investigation Heightens; U.S. GDP Rises Despite Tariffs During this Quarter; Wildfires Ravage California and Greece; "Star Wars; Episode 9" is Slated for Release December 2019. Aired 12m-12:30a ET

Aired July 28, 2018 - 00:00   ET


CYRIL VANIER: A mixed day for the White House. Great economic news but a very messy fight between the U.S. president and his former attorney Michael Cohen. Plus, from Greece to California record temperatures in many parts of the world are feeding devastating wildfires and Princess Leia lives on. The late Carrie Fisher will be featured in the next "Star Wars."

Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier. It's great to have you with us.

U.S. President Donald Trump is fighting back against the latest acquisitions from his former attorney Michael Cohen. The president on Friday again denied knowing ahead of time about a meeting with Russian at Trump Tower in 2016. But sources say that's not how Cohen remembers it. Now if he is telling the truth it could become very problematic very quickly for the White House.

Still the president had something to cheer about on Friday. The latest government figures show the U.S. economy is firing on all cylinders and Mr. Trump was more than happy to take full credit for it.




VANIER: All the same. The president has plenty to worry about as Special Counsel Robert Mueller cracks Mr. Trump's inner circle. CNN's Manu Raju breaks it down for us.


TRUMP: Going to make America great again...

RAJU MANU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice over) President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied knowing about a meeting his son had with Russians in the heat of the 2016 campaign.

UNKNOWN: The next president of the United States...

MANU: But his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, now prepared to contradict the president under oath.

Sources tell CNN that Cohen is ready to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Trump knew in advance about the now infamous Trump Tower meeting in which Donald Trump, Jr. was expecting that he would get dirt from the Russians on the Clinton Campaign. Cohen has privately asserted that he and others were present when Donald Trump, Jr. informed Trump of the Russian offer and that Trump gave the go ahead to have the meeting. The bombshell claim directly contradicts what Trump, Jr. told congressional investigators last year.

Asked by the Senate Judiciary Committee, did you inform your father about the meeting or the underlying offer prior to the meeting? Trump, Jr. responded, "No I did not." He also said he did not know the identity of the person he called three times before and after that meeting and who's number was blocked and whether that person was his father.

The news also calls into question Cohen's own testimony before Congress and his past public statements. A source tells CNN that Cohen did not tell the House Intelligence Committee last year that Trump had advance knowledge of the meeting. After Trump Jr. said he did not tell his father about the meeting.


MANU: Cohen tweeted: "So proud of Donald Trump, Jr. for being open, honest, and transparent to the American people."

Trump also took to Twitter to push back on his longtime personal fixer. "I did not know of the meeting with my son, Don, Jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam."

Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani also denied Cohen's claims and accused him of lying in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo.


RUDY GIULIANI: I expected something like this from Cohen. He's been lying all week - he's been lying for years.


MANU: But that is not how Giuliani characterized Cohen just weeks ago on CNN's State of the Union.


GIULIANI: I do not expect that Michael Cohen is going to lie. I think he's going to tell the truth and if he does that we're home free.


MANU: Democrats said this opens a new front on the Russia probe. (BEGIN VIDEO)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA: It effectively bring the issue of collusion or conspiracy right to the President's feet.


MANU: This claim wrapping up a week that saw a stunning public fallout between the president and one of his closest confidants starting with the recording revealed by CNN of Trump and Cohen...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I tried to tell him yes...


MANU: Discussing paying off a model who alleged an affair with Trump.


TRUMP: (Inaudible).



MANU: And Thursday's revelation in the "Wall Street Journal" that the chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, has been subpoenaed to testify in a criminal investigation involving Cohen.

Now in light of these contradictory accounts about that Trump Tower meeting from 2016, Democrats want to hear from Michael Cohen again on Capitol Hill. Some are asking him to come back, testify before the relevant committees and just in exactly explain what happened especially if it appears that he is saying something different to the special counsel than what he told lawmakers in Congress. Now at the same time, Donald Trump, Jr. also under renewed scrutiny from Democrats who are saying he should come back and are also calling in the Republican counterparts to issue subpoenas to the phone companies to determine who Donald Trump, Jr. called before and after that meeting took place in 2016.

Of course that number has been blocked out but Republicans have resisted this for months and they're showing no signs of jumping on this now. Manu Raju, CNN, Washington.

VANIER: Criminal Defense Lawyer Troy Slaten joins us from Los Angeles. Troy, what is Cohen's strategy here?

TROY SLATEN, ACTOR, ATTORENY, AND LEGAL ANALYST: It's hard to guess. We've got truth, lies, and video tape. In the past he had said to congressional investigators under oath to Congress that President Trump didn't know about this meeting and now he's dangling out there that President Trump did know. This goes to the very heart of the allegation that the Trump Campaign colluded with the Russians in order to get an advantage in the 2016 election.

Now collusion itself is not a crime but it looks very bad politically and it also puts both the president and Michael Cohen in hot water potentially legally.

VANIER: So how could Michael Cohen be using this to his advantage because we don't really know why he's doing what he's doing, why he's talking about the president, why his lawyer is releasing the tape that he released earlier this week. We can only try and read into his mind why do you think that could serve his own interests?

SLATEN: Well one of the dangers of a special prosecutor or of any prosecutor really concentrating on one person or one set of facts is that the people that they are looking at will not only sing but compose meaning not only will he tell everything he knows in order to get out of trouble but maybe he will even invent facts that he thinks that prosecutors might want to hear in order to save his own skin. He's looking at protecting his family and his children.

VANIER: I want to ask you about that. I was wondering about that because that is the argument that Donald Trump is making in his tweet, right? He says, "Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam. Taxi cabs maybe?" Apparently a questionable personal business dealing of Michael Cohen's. But can you really do that? Can you go to a prosecutor and just lie in order to get some kind of advantage or does the prosecutor bite on that?

SLATEN: Cyril, you can try but it's a very dangerous game and we saw that with General Michael Flynn who lied to investigators and now has pled guilty to that federal crime. And so yes you can try and make something up but if the prosecutor finds out that you were lying to them when you were what they call being queen for a day, telling them everything you know, you have to make a proffer about every single thing that you know and if it's found that you lied about anything then not only is the deal off but everything you said can be used against you. So he is really playing with fire if he's inventing facts in order to save his own skin.

VANIER: Is it reasonable to infer from what you just said that Michael Cohen is probably telling the truth because he has a lot to lose if he's not.

SLATEN: It's so hard to say because he had so much to lose when he was testifying before a congressional investigators and he was reportedly asked about this very thing about whether or not the president knew about the Trump Tower - the infamous Trump Tower meeting before it happened and he said no and he even tweeted that in the package that you had right before our discussion he said oh it was so nice that Donald Trump, Jr. told the truth where he said his father didn't know about this. So this is putting potentially Donald Trump, Jr., in trouble. It's putting his father, the President of the United States, in the awkward position of maybe having to protect his son and it's putting Michael Cohen in the position of being asked were you lying then or are you lying now? VANIER: And real quick, what do you make of Mr. Trump's and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani's response, defense in the face of all this so far?

SLATEN: Well he has to take this position of really beating down on Michael Cohen because look there is clearly no love lost between the two of them. He is now his former lawyer. He's leaked through his attorney private conversations that were had between himself and his client. As an attorney I shudder that that would ever happen but I think that the president and his lawyers really have to go on the attack in order to paint Michael Cohen and the special prosecutor and the entire investigation as being a witch hunt.

VANIER: Well that's precisely what they're doing. Criminal Defense Lawyer Troy Slaten. Thank you for joining us.

SLATEN: Thanks for having me Cyril.

VANIER: Now new data shows the U.S. economy grew at its fastest rate since 2014. In the last three months, the U.S. GDP grew 4.1 percent over the same period last year. That surge is a result of a number of factors. First of all business investment rose as companies invested some of the money that they saved thanks to tax cuts. Second of all consumer spending and government spending also increased and somewhat counter intuitively the trade war has also actually helped as well because U.S. exports rose as foreign buyers stocked up on American products before they were hit with tariffs.

If the economy grows at 3 percent for the entire year, and remember that's just a quarterly number, it will be the highest growth rate since 2005, a fact touted by President Donald Trump.


TRUMP: During each of the two previous administrations, we averaged just over 1.8 percent GDP growth. By contrast, we are now on track to hit an average GDP annual growth of over 3 percent and it could be substantially over 3 percent. Each point, by the way, means approximately $3 trillion and 10 million jobs.


VANIER: Despite what Mr. Trump said, the last two administrations had some strong economic quarters as well. George W. Bush hit a 6.9 percent GDP growth rate in 2003. That's a quarterly rate mind you comparing like with like. Then the Obama Administration reached 5.2 and if you go back to Bill Clinton's economy back in 2000, he hit 7.8.

Monica Mehta joins us now, managing principal at the investment firm, Seventh Capital. Monica, if you had to grade Donald Trump and his economic performance. Out of 100, how much would you give him?

MONICA MEHTA, MANAGING PRINCIPAL AT SEVENTH CAPITAL: I think in his own words he would give himself 110. I think right now I would give him an A, an A-. In general, you can't really complain about the economy right now. There are - consumers feeling confident. In general, if you want a new job, the job market is good enough that you can leave your current position and find something new. Consumers generally feel confident and when they feel that way they're spending.

Businesses have gotten a huge boon from the tax cut and you saw that play out in terms of spending in the first quarter which was up by 11 percent and in this last quarter it was up by 7 percent for things like infrastructure, equipment, intellectual property. But I think in this last set of GDP numbers that came out today, there was definitely a big give me in there for Donald Trump which came in the form of a one-time advance with a lot of companies that are fearing trade war that rushed to push exports now before tariffs come in in July and you saw in particular with soybeans. So there was a huge rush to export soybeans. When you look...

VANIER: So if that means that there's a temporary surge in exports then what happens when that trade war actually really kicks in and the tariffs really start to bite. That's got to go down then.

MEHTA: Absolutely. So the reason that they're rushing to export is because they're expecting demand for U.S. goods to go down from China once the 25 percent tariffs hit and they're already starting to see in the category of soybeans where we did see this big rush to export, we're already seeing China, the buyers in China moving deliveries towards Brazil. So they are anticipating an impact for the categories that are going to face these tariffs.

VANIER: So I want to put up on the screen the Wall Street numbers for Friday because you would expect Wall Street to be exuberant, jubilant on a day when we understand that there's 4.1 percent economic growth for the second quarter. In fact Wall Street was down -0.3 percent. Not a huge number, but it's still down; it's still in the red. Why?

MEHTA: Well I think in the short term when you look day to day markets are not perfect. There could be a number of different data points that cause markets to behave a certain way but I think looking into the third quarter and the fourth quarter there's another really important nugget that came out with today GDP numbers which is business inventories. So business inventories are much, much lower than they are typically - low enough to the point that economists are actually projecting that this 4 percent GDP number that we saw for the second quarter could actually - actually be closer to 5 when they come back and report for the next quarter.

The other you could see is as businesses build up these inventories that are not currently shown in the numbers, a boom to third quarter and fourth quarter production. So those are two things that could continue to push this economy along that also were sort of highlighted in today's numbers.

VANIER: So does that mean these numbers are sustainable and that we might be even seeing even better numbers in spite of the fact that we're moving into a trade war with China.

MEHTA: You know I think - I think there's two big things that people should be looking at. One is what's going to happen with these tariffs and what's going to happen with trade wars. I think that is actually the biggest risk factor that we're facing for the markets and for the economy and it can just be as little as the threat of a trade war that can make people and businesses pull back.

The second thing is interest rates. So what's going to happen to interest rates? Are they going to continue to go up and at what point do short-term rates get higher than long-term rates? That's what we call interest rate inversion. When that happens, almost for the last 40 years you see this very predictable pattern of the stock market basically hitting its peak within six months and then another six months after that bottoming out; it's almost like clockwork.

So when you start to see that movement happening with interest rates, you know that you're up for trouble.

VANIER: Monica Mehta, thank you very much for coming on the show. Always a pleasure to speak to you.

A deadly inferno engulfing homes, this one in California but it's just one of dozens of devastating fires across the globe right now. We'll tell you about that when we come back.


VANIER: Imran Khan is declaring victory but the European Union is casting doubt on Pakistan's disputed election. It's observers say there were signs of a systematic effort to undermine the ruling party in Wednesday's vote. Some parties are conceding to Khan but others are threatening protests unless there is a new vote. Khan is seen as the military's favorite candidate and there have been allegations of blatant vote rigging. The European Union is urging people who want to challenge this election to do it through legal means.

A lot of big weather stories today. Japan is bracing for a powerful typhoon that could dump up to 500 millimeters of rain in 24 hours. Typhoon Jongdari is threatening to unleash its heaviest rainfall on the region just around the capital of Tokyo but officials warn that it could also hit the western parts of the country where more than 200 people were killed by deadly flooding and land slides just earlier this month. Our meteorologist Derek Van Dam has been working on this pretty much all month. You told us about this quite a few times and it's not over.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well it was a typhoon a few weeks ago that caused the flash flooding. Now the ground is extremely saturated so additional rainfall means that there is nowhere for that water to go; it's going to flood once again if we do indeed see this typhoon reach those regions and unfortunately that's what the forecast calls for. Let's get to the details. We'll show you exactly what they're expecting here across mainland Japan. We have Typhoon Jongari that is the name of this particular system. It is equivalent to an Atlantic Category 2 hurricane.

Winds at the moment according to the joint typhoon warning center, 160 kilometers per hour; not a very organized system. It's starting to lose some of its rotational organization to it meaning there signs that it is weakening but it is still going to pack quite a punch and the rain threat is the major concern here because of it. I mentioned just a moment ago, this particular storm will bring rainfall to areas that have seen extreme rain just a few weeks ago and the ground is extremely saturated at the moment.

Nonetheless Tokyo all the way to Asaka, Kochi, and the Hiroshima region, this area will see strong winds. How strong? Well we can time it out and tell you exactly what our computer models are anticipating. Really we're expecting the strongest of winds to impact Tokyo later this evening; local time around 6 - 7:00 tonight. Your winds could easily gust between 80 to 100 kilometers per hour. Just to the south and west higher winds expected there near the center of the circulation, again which will make landfall just south of Tokyo but the rainmaker, this is the big concern. I keep harping on that because it is such an area of problem for this area.

Just keep in mind this is a very mountainous part of the world so the water that falls on top of some of those high mountain tops will seek right down into the valleys below and unfortunately that's where the general population lives. Look at the population density. You can see from Tokyo to Asaka, we're about 1,500 people per square kilometer, so there are going to be hundreds of thousands of people impacted by this particular storm with winds and heavy rain.

VANIER: All right Derek Van Dam has been working on this with the teams from the CNN Weather Center. Thank you. We appreciate it. This is also something that's in Derek's wheelhouse, we have to tell you about the wildfires in California. Dozens of fires have engulfed tens of thousands of acres(ph) in flames. Some neighborhoods are now just smoldering remains. And it's not only California experiencing this extreme weather. Dan Simon reports on this.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice over) 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 a lot.

SIMON: Deadly and out of control, it is charged some 45,000 acres as firefighters try to contain it.


SIMON: In some neighborhoods the difference between a home spared and a home scorched is just a few feet.

DOMINIC GALVIN, RESIDENT OF FIRE RAVAGED REGION: I have no idea what we're going to do tomorrow. Hell, we don't know what we're going to do tonight.

SIMON: Dominic Galvin and his wife Sylvia never imagined they'd see their house like this. GALVIN: We didn't think the fire was going to come here so we didn't really take things out. It's like everybody else that we're 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is that new normal; that unpredictability, the large explosive growth fires.

SIMON: Sadly, scenes 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The temperature rose 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 3,400 daily high temperature records have been broken or tied including unprecedented numbers in the north. Montreal Canada at 92 and in the Sahara Dessert, thermometers peak at a deadly 124 degrees this month. So are we ready for triple digit temperatures and the consequences to go from extreme to expected? Here in Redding, the answer is no.

SYLVIA GALVIN, RESIDENT OF FIRE RAVAGED REGION: Fire to my left is gone. There's nothing.


VANIER: And Greece's prime minister says he is anguished about his government's response to the wild fire that killed dozens of people this week. Alexis Tsipras says he is taking full political responsibility. Critics say the government failed to set up adequate evacuation plans that could have saved more people. Officials expect the death toll to rise as the days go on. Firefighters and volunteers are still looking for missing people and fingers crossed, possible survivors.

Disney and Lucas Films have announced the cast list for "Star Wars: Episode 9" and it includes a major surprise. Don't worry, it's not Jar Jar Binks.


VANIER: You will never tell yourself that something is impossible after this. A Russian army veteran who is a quadruple amputee has set a Russian diving record by descending 30 meters in open water. He is the only such person to accomplish this feat. Dmitry Pavlenko, that's his name, lost all four limbs in a landmine blast when he was 19. Russian record keepers witnessed his 15 minute dive Thursday in the Black Sea. In a galaxy far, far away, we all fell in love with this princess.





VANIER: An now, Princess turned to General Leia Organa will be back for "Star Wars, Episode 9" this despite Carrie Fisher's passing in 2016. Director J. J. Abrams announced that they would use unreleased footage shot during "Star Wars, the Force Awakens." This newest film which will conclude the Skywalker saga begins filming next week. Expect it land in our galaxy, December 20, 2019.

That's it from us this hour. Thanks for watching CNN Newsroom. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll have the headlines for you in just a moment.