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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Slams Mueller Directly, Claims Conflicts of Interest; Giuliani: Cohen is Lying About Trump Knowing of Russia Meeting; Trump Lawyer Now Arguing Russian Collusion No Big Deal?; Trump Willing to Meet With Iran With No Preconditions. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 30, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So you're telling me that President Trump is tweeting angrily about potential conflicts of interest on a presidential trip to his own golf course.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Fury raging inside the president, spilling out all over Twitter, the new unprecedented personal attacks targeting special counsel Mueller and why some of them don't stand up to a simple fact-check.

This just in. Rudy Giuliani still talking. Now he's floating the idea of a meeting before the meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower. Where did that come from?

Plus, a fire half the size of New York City burning so hot it's creating its own weather patterns, destroying almost 1,000 buildings, taking more lines -- the scene in California AS thousands go through hell to get out.

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin this afternoon with the politics lead. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Chuck Grassley, was just minutes ago asked whether the president's son Donald Trump Jr. may have misled members of Congress.

As you know, the President'S former lawyer Michael Cohen, sources say, claims that President Trump knew about that Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton ahead of time. Both Trump Jr. and President Trump Have strongly denied that -- quote -- "If he misled the committee, he's lying to Congress. That's a crime," Grassley said about Donald Trump Jr. "And that would be up to the prosecutors, not me."

A remarkable statement by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee about the president's son.

This as President Trump comes close to breaking his own monthly record for Twitter attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. This was a presidential Twitter weekend that was notable for its harshness and vitriol, with Mr. Trump calling out Mueller by name and claiming that the investigation is -- quote -- "rigged" and a -- quote -- "illegal scam," which, of course, according to his own FBI director and director of national intelligence, it is not.

But even as the president denies any wrongdoing, there has been a notable change in strategy and what critics call a moving of the goalposts for Trump allies on his legal team, in Congress and the media, with many proceeding from having suggested that any possible suggestion of collusion is an unhinged and evidence-free conspiracy theory to now suggesting that any possible election assistance from a foreign and hostile nation would be no big deal.

Take a listen to Republican Congressman Darrell Issa and President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: If he's proven to have not told the whole truth about the fact that campaigns look for dirt and if someone offers it you listen to them, nobody's going to be surprised.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I don't even know if that's a crime, colluding about Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins me now.

And, Jeff, the president did not address Mueller and in the nearly 40- minute news conferences afternoon with the prime minister of Italy. But his feelings on the subject are quite clear, and he seems to be getting angrier.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, no question about it.

And I think the anger is rooted in strategy. Of course, one thing that is happening this week that is different from any other time at this investigation, it is the first time that one of Trump's associates, the former campaign chairman, is beginning to have his charges heard in court this week.

Paul Manafort, of course, will be standing a trial in Alexandria, Virginia. So the president clearly trying to discredit Bob Mueller. He didn't talk about it today, but it's clear that Mueller is on his mind.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump taking new aim at the Russia investigation, as the fraud trial of Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort opens this week. The president has Robert Mueller on his mind, personally calling out the special counsel in one weekend tweet after another.

He often rails against the investigation, but seldom dimensions Mueller by name like this. With the Italian prime minister visiting the White House today, the president taking questions, but not calling on reporters trying to get his take on what his lawyer Rudy Giuliani has spent hours talking about on TV.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you feel betrayed by Michael Cohen, sir?

ZELENY: The president did say today he would meet with Iran without preconditions in what could be the latest chapter in his ongoing feud with the regime.

TRUMP: I'm ready to meet anytime they want to. And I don't do that from strength or from weakness.

QUESTION: Do you have preconditions for that meeting?

TRUMP: No preconditions, no. If they want to meet, I will meet, anytime they want.

ZELENY: But earlier in the Oval Office, the president also not taking questions about the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

ZELENY: Yet the president and his allies are trying to discredit Mueller, just as Manafort stands trial on financial fraud charges.

Giuliani also insisting without evidence Mueller has a conflict with the president.

GIULIANI: You explain it, Mueller. Stand up and be a man.

ZELENY: On CNN's "NEW DAY," Giuliani also saying he's not sure collision with Russia would be considered a crime.

GIULIANI: You're not going to be colluding about Russians, which I don't even know if that's a crime, colluding about Russians. You start -- you start analyzing the crime, the hacking is the crime. The hacking is crime. Well, the president didn't hack.

ZELENY: It's a sign the president's legal team is trying to move the goalposts on the Russia probe.

As the investigation moves closer to Trump's inner circle, Giuliani is trying to distance the president from Manafort, the man who helped him secure the Republican nomination two years ago.

[16:05:05]

GIULIANI: He was never involved in intimate business relationships with Donald Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So, as for now, Jake, the president's layer Rudy Giuliani is doing the talking for the president on all things Russia, all things Michael Cohen, and he's doing quite a lot of talking, Jake. TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Let's talk to our experts.

Laura Coates, our former federal prosecutor, I want you to take a listen again to Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, discussing what the crime might have been.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: Which I don't even know if that's a crime, colluding about Russians. You start -- you start analyzing the crime, the hacking is the crime. The hacking is crime. Well, the president didn't hack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Before we get to the obvious moving the goalposts that is going on here, what could be the crime?

He's right in the fact that collusion is technically not a crime. But what might be a crime?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what he's trying to say if he hates the C-word, collusion, but there are other ones that actually fall under the actual umbrella of collusion, like conspiracy or campaign finance violations or general crimes that nature.

What he is suggesting is -- first of all, collusion is a crime in the antitrust world. It's being used here to show that umbrella term of a concerted activity between two or more people to then try to plan for a crime or other nefarious behavior.

So if there is some indication they actually are doing just that, it could very well fall under that. Whether you like to term collusion or not, this is a game of semantics, not of substance. I think Mueller wants the substantive arguments out there.

Giuliani really wants to play the tomato-tomato. Doesn't fit this category.

TAPPER: So, Phil, as a former FBI official, what might you be looking for if you were investigating this?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Certainly nothing Rudy Giuliani says.

Look, the guy is a mouthpiece. He's not a lawyer. The issue here is, if he bothered to read the indictments, the things people have been indicted for, think of Michael Flynn, think of Paul Manafort going on trial this week. That was money and lying. It's not cooperation with the Russians.

If I'm Don Jr., if I'm somebody else, Jared Kushner, I'm worried about money. I'm worried about Michael Cohen talking about dirty money. I'm not necessarily worried about collusion. But the story that we're hearing now is correct. Collusion is not a

crime. That said, if you sit down with a Russian and you know that's a Russian agent, and that Russian agent offers you something of value, for example, interfering in social media insertions in Pennsylvania, that's something of...

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That would never happen in Pennsylvania.

MUDD: That is accepting something of value from a foreign power. I wouldn't call that collusion. I would call that conspiracy. That is illegal.

URBAN: So let's just like -- let's think about this all, right?

So the first case we have up out of the blocks, Paul Manafort. Paul Manafort case, Mueller has already said he's presenting no evidence of any interaction with the Russians whatsoever. This is a case about -- for bank fraud, right, and money laundering. That's the first case out of the block.

TAPPER: But, David, there are plenty of other cases that have to do -- there were 12 Russian military intelligence officers.

URBAN: What is the connection between those...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Papadopoulos.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Papadopoulos was so far in the orbit of this campaign, I can tell you, I was involved in this campaign, in a more than just a passing way. And Papadopoulos and Carter Page were nowhere to be seen.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: David I think what people are having a hard time with is his, last February of 2017, Donald Trump said there was nothing -- we knew nothing about Russia. There was nothing going on there.

Now five Americans have been charged with criminal charges. You have multiple Russians charged. You have a Dutch official charged. There's more and more things coming out.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: This investigation is ongoing. I know it's a favorite talking point of people who support Trump that nothing has been found. But it hasn't been concluded.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: Mueller has not concluded the investigation. There's a lot more we keep learning.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Laura will tell you, if you're going to open, you open big .

You're not going to open -- look, this has been going on for how many months and we have one meeting.

(CROSSTALK)

COATES: Let me tell you, the phrase I would use is go big or go home.

And this case, Mueller has not gone home. And he's also gone big, with over 300 different charges have been filed. And, by the way, I wouldn't conflate the issue of saying simply because there has not been a direct connection to Donald Trump asserted by Robert Mueller or his team does not mean there has not been collusion between members of the campaign, including people like Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and Michael Flynn.

And you have that conflation to say that nothing has happened.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Of the 35 witnesses, I mean, I'm sure you looked at them. Not one of those people are from the campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: In that one case.

Can I ask you a question. You see this shifting of goalposts, though, because you are still talking about how there was no collusion, but there are a number of people, Rudy Giuliani, Darrell Issa, people in the Trump-supporting media, who are saying even if there was, who cares, no big deal.

URBAN: Yes. And I'm not quite why they're saying that, right, because I -- again, I believe it didn't happen.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: There is no -- the Russians meddled, absolutely.

Did the Russians meddle in conjunction with somebody on the campaign? Maybe Carter Page, who is out in la la land someplace, right? But there was no orchestrated effort by the campaign which included the Russians.

[16:10:12]

COATES: Well, I will say I agree with one point you have raised.

And that's the idea of, well, Paul Manafort, there is a great deal to lose in terms of the credibility of Robert Mueller's investigation if it's an unsuccessful trial, not because there's nothing there, but because people have hinged everything on somebody who was the campaign chairman of Donald Trump's campaign, and they should.

But it doesn't mean there's nothing there. It just means that so far...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Jen, I want to -- let's take another crack at Giuliani talking about Mueller's investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The investigation isn't done yet. You know how long these things take.

GIULIANI: Yes, it is. Of course it's done. If they're looking at his tweets, the investigation is done. If they in fact -- we're going to do obstruction by tweet on a president of the United States?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, first of all, the White House's official position is that the tweets from President Trump, who uses Twitter like no one else in presidential history, that they're official statements.

And we have talked about this before. Potentially an official statement can be obstruction of justice. I'm not saying it in this case. But it can be.

PSAKI: Well, look, I think this is always a battle the White House has domestically, internationally about what President Trump's tweets mean and what they don't mean.

Giuliani, as I think we have talked about a little bit already, is somebody who's like a bombastic surrogate.

I mean, he clearly has no idea what's happening, is not really speaking for the White House, isn't really speaking for the investigation. So whether Trump's tweets should be part -- should be an obstruction -- part of the obstruction case, I guess that's for Mueller to decide.

But they're ultimately presidential statements.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: As an FBI official, do you think that a tweet or a presidential statement can be obstruction of justice or intimidation of witnesses or anything along those lines?

MUDD: I suppose so.

But I think it's unlikely. I think David hit the nail on the head. And, look, this is where I think the president is successful. He keeps talking about obstruction of justice. I don't think there will be a charge. If I had to bet in Vegas, I do not think there will be a charge about cooperation or conspiracy with the Russians. The charges I suspect, the continued charges if there are more will be related to money.

And the answer from -- and we're seeing this in the strategy from Giuliani and the president -- the answer is going to be to a bunch of middle class Americans, which I find stunning, financial fraud is sort of second-rate. If you avoided tens of millions dollars of taxes, not a big deal. We came into this investigation to see about Russian.

Financial fraud ought to be dusted off as something that's insignificant. If you find that during an investigation, what are you supposed to say? You are supposed to say, Paul Manafort, it's OK if you hid a bunch of money from the IRS? I can't do that. Why can Paul Manafort do it? That's what the president is doing it.

COATES: I'm really surprised by that, Phil, because I think you know, of course, that an obstruction charge is never an endgame for an investigative unit.

Their goal is not to try to charge somebody, simply trying to avoid what they're looking for. It would be akin to giving you a speeding ticket and ignoring what you were actually fleeing from. And so I would doubt that would be their actual endgame.

Having said that, it doesn't mean that they're not going to find charges if there are out there to do so. I wouldn't be so dismissive. I'm wondering why you are

TAPPER: Well, we have to take a break. We're going to come back and after the break, you will answer that question.

Robert Mueller not the only target of President Trump's ire -- who Rudy Giuliani is busy calling names.

And then could getting a gun be as simple as downloading a document and then hitting print? We're sorting fact from fiction when it comes to the new 3-D printed guns that will be available starting this week.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:40] TAPPER: Over the past three months, President Trump has really stepped up his Twitter attacks against the special counsel investigation. As you can see, 20 in May, 26 in June 18 this month. He can beat his record, one more day.

I want to -- before the break, Laura was challenging you, Phil. You said that you don't think there ultimately will be obstruction or even sort of conspiracy charges. Why not?

MUDD: Well, look, Laura didn't challenge me. She asked me a question. Let's be clear.

(LAUGHTER) TAPPER: She politely challenged you.

MUDD: Yes, I think there's some rules of the game that I would apply. And that is that special counsel knows he's going to into shark pit, snake pit, shark --

TAPPER: Tank.

MUDD: Whatever it is. He's not going to charge 57 in a 55 zone. If you want to get over the bar on conspiracy with the Russians, I want to see something that is significant and I want to see intent behind it. I think the likelihood that he can show that somebody in the campaign, Don Jr., Jared Kushner, received something substantial from the Russians and that they intended to receive it, there might be snippets of that, but I think to get over a bar where he's standing in front of the American and saying I'm confident we can win this in court, I'm not too sure about that, Jake.

TAPPER: But, David, let me ask you, there are a lot of observers, supporters of the president even who say if he's innocent, why does he act the way he does? Why is he constantly attacking the special counsel? He's acting in their view, like somebody who has something to hide.

URBAN: Look, so, again, I think the president conflates the two things, right? I think the president conflates the investigation, Russian meddling with attack on his legitimacy as president, right? And I think he sees it as affront to that. The president was dually legally and elected by the American people and I think that he sees this as an attempt by Democrats and others to undermine that.

TAPPER: The president repeated one of his talking points that all of Mueller's investigators are angry Democrats. Mueller himself, of course, is a long time registered Republican. CNN analysis found Mueller has assembled a team of at least 17 lawyers and dozens of FBI agents to help with his investigation. Nine of the lawyers donated to Democratic candidates before 2017, according to federal records. Eight of those lawyers gave only to Democrats while one has donated to Democrats and Republicans before.

But as we know, Jen, you're not allowed when you're hiring people, especially for a legal case, to ask them what their politics are or even to look into who they've given money to.

PSAKI: Right. And, look, I think the ultimate question here is, is it impact how they're doing their jobs? If it's not impacting how they're doing their jobs, it doesn't matter, just like it doesn't matter if they had given to Republican candidates in the past.

[16:20:03] This is about one thing. It's about questioning and delegitimizing the Mueller investigation, which is an ongoing campaign by Trump and his team because they know that at some point, this is going to come to a conclusion next year. They need their supporters and their people to rally behind them as this being a witch hunt, which is why they keep saying that and why they keep, you know, throwing mud into the pit here about whether or not this is a legitimate process.

TAPPER: As a former FBI official, does the fact that there are people, prosecutors here who have made political donations, does that bother you? Does that trouble you?

MUDD: Well, I know some of them and some of them -- my friends have been named in the press. These guys are serious as a heart attack. So I think my experience, personal experience with them as great investigators.

Let me flip the question for you. So, in the United States of America, we want to go into an investigation saying, Mr. Mueller, I'd like to determine who everybody voted for on your team and who they contributed to because we are going eliminate people, whoever voted for a Democrat or contributed to the Democrats. Is that what we're going to do? The only people who can participate in a political investigation are people who voted for the candidate?

That doesn't sound like America to me.

COATES: You know, by the way, it doesn't matter whether Mueller or Rosenstein or any of the other lawyers are particularly of partisan affiliation because unlike other countries, perhaps, you can't charge a crime based on a prosecutor. A felony has to go through a grand jury. And so, the grand jurors have decided and determined that there are at least charges to bring back. If that's the case, their partisanship is not an issue and it should not be held over everything else.

URBAN: So, two things, there's no such thing as prosecutorial discretion.

COATES: There is, to have the grand jury requires me to actually (INAUDIBLE) to them.

URBAN: And the flip side is there has to be some Republicans in the Department of Justice. You can choose them. There are going to be some good lawyers.

PSAKI: So, should we be taking issue to the fact that Mueller is a Republican? That he should lead the investigation?

URBAN: I think if you're Director Mueller, when you put your team together, knowing it's going to be under incredible scrutiny, you might not pick some folks who donated 100,000 bucks to a Democratic caucus. This isn't somebody writing a check for 500 bucks in the case for one of these lawyers. So, I'm just saying, if you're looking to track --

TAPPER: But don't you just want the best lawyers?

URBAN: No, you do. You do. But you want to make sure, I would think you want to make sure there are folks who aren't necessarily hyper partisan. I'm not bothered by someone who gave 2,500 bucks, or like $500, but there are a few who are substantial Democratic donors and that does trouble me a bit. TAPPER: I do recall when Ken Starr was the independent counsel going

after Bill Clinton. There were a lot of accusation that he was secretly a partisan Republican. It turns out, he was a conservative Republican and I think that's born out in his subsequent appearances. He also stuck to the letter of the law.

PSAKI: True. Look, and that was sort of Mueller himself was a prominent Democratic donor and somebody who had given hundred of thousands of dollars, that would be a big story and be a problem.

URBAN: I'm just saying it's an -- I'm saying it's an optics.

TAPPER: Optics, sure.

Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

President Trump's lawyer raising a possibility of another meeting before the famous Trump Tower meeting, only to say that first meeting never happened. What is Giuliani getting at here?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:47] TAPPER: In our politics lead, Trump's new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, going after his old lawyer. This morning, comparing Michael Cohen to some of the most notorious traitors in literature and world history, suggesting that Michael Cohen is akin to Benedict Arnold and to Brutus who killed Julius Caesar, literally stabbing him in the back. Not to mention, of course, Shakespeare's Iago from the acclaimed Othello.

But amidst all this erudite allusions, Giuliani also seemed to stumble a bit, mentioning something we had not heard about before, that Michael Cohen is alleging that two days before the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians, some on Team Trump held a planning meeting.

What's this?

Jessica Schneider has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Rudy Giuliani on the attack, going after Michael Cohen personally.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The guy is unethical. He's a scum bag. He's a horrible person.

SCHNEIDER: And pushing back against the revelation that according to sources, Cohen claims he is prepared to tell the special counsel the president knew in advance about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 and approved of it.

GIULIANI: Cohen, you know, always goes too far. And when you're lying, there's always a track for you. So, we said, there was a one- on-one meeting that Donald Jr. came in and told them about the meeting was about to take place.

Well, there are two witnesses who say it didn't happen.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The president and his son.

GIULIANI: Right. And the biggest --

CAMEROTA: And they have a self-interest in saying --

GIULIANI: And Cohen has a much bigger self-interest in saying the opposite in order to get himself favor with Mueller.

SCHNEIDER: But even as Giuliani denied any knowledge by the president, he seemed to muddy the waters about what meetings before the Russian meeting may have taken place. Giuliani brought up for the first time, another meeting without the president three days before the Russians met at Trump Tower. Giuliani said reporters had been asking questions about its occurrence and Giuliani is now trying to make clear it didn't happen.

GIULIANI: There wasn't another meeting that has been leaked, but hasn't been public yet. That was a meeting, an alleged meeting, three days before. He says it was a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. with Jared Kushner, with Paul Manafort, with Gates, and possibly two others, in which they, out of the presence of the president, discussed the meeting with the Russians.

We checked with their lawyers, the ones we could check with, which was four of the six, that meeting never ever took place. It didn't happen.