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Rudy Giuliani Ramps Up Campaign to Discredit Mueller Probe; Interview with Representative Denny Heck; Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 30, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:22] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. I hope you had a good weekend. And we have a lot of news to get to.

President Trump begins the week with his most open direct and personal attacks to date on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In at least two opportunities to repeat tone down or step up those attacks on camera. The president meets with visiting prime minister of Italy today. That happens in the 12:00 noon Eastern hour. The two do plan a news conference after. He will almost certainly be asked about a seemingly unprompted barrage of tweets over the weekend declaring the so-called witch hunt, quote, "an illegal scam" and accusing Mueller of numerous conflicts of interest including what the president claims was a very nasty and contentious business relationship.

Let's begin this morning at the White House. That's where we find our Abby Phillip.

Good morning, Abby. Well, we just heard a lot from the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, right here on this network. What are you hearing from the White House?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. It was quite the interview with Rudy Giuliani this morning, in part asking him to respond to some of these very pointed tweets from President Trump over the weekend in which he accuses Robert Mueller, the special counsel, of having conflicts, personal conflicts with him, business conflicts with the president's businesses.

But we asked Giuliani or CNN's Alisyn Camerota asked him in the last hour to explain what kinds of conflicts Mueller might have, and here's what Giuliani said.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: How can the president make this claim and not support it?


CAMEROTA: Why is it up to Robert Mueller to have to support the president's tweet?

GIULIANI: Because he has the conflict, not the president.

CAMEROTA: What's the conflict?

GIULIANI: I can't tell you. I'm not sure I know exactly what the conflict -- I have a good idea what it is. It's one that would have kept me out of the investigation.


PHILLIP: So Giuliani is not quite sure what the conflict is but he still believes that the conflict would have kept him out of the investigation. It seems that both of those things can't be true at the same time. But we'll have an opportunity potentially to ask President Trump to expand on his comments. Today, as you just mentioned, he's going to have a press conference later this afternoon and also a pool spray in the Oval Office with the prime minister of Italy. That's another venue where reporters have often tried to ask him questions.

Last week the White House tried to punish a CNN reporter for asking questions in that setting. So we'll see how they choose to handle today's availabilities -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And these two men certainly on the same page on a lot of things, including immigration. So -- and Russia. It'll be fascinating to watch.

Abby, thanks, appreciate the reporting. I'm joined now by criminal defense attorney Caroline Polisi. And let's get to the conflict issue. Let's pull up what the president wrote over the weekend. He said, quote, is Robert Mueller ever going to release his conflicts of interest with respect to President Trump. And he went on.

You actually have an interesting take on this. You heard Giuliani would not tell Alisyn what on earth the president was talking about -- about this alleged conflict of interest. The White House wouldn't tell CNN either when CNN asked this weekend. You think you know what it's about, though, and you think it has merit.

CAROLINE POLISI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, look, I think that there are three things we know that President Trump himself has stated, that, you know, there's this lingering potential dispute over fees at his golf course and then of course the other issue besides the fact that Mueller had worked for Wilmer Hail, which is the law firm that had represented Jared and Ivanka, which actually ethics experts inside the DOJ actually cleared, clear him to -- said that that's a go, they vetted him to do this representation ethically.

But the issue is that Robert Mueller interviewed for head of the FBI with President Trump just days before his appointment as special counsel. So, you know what, I think as everything in this case, Donald Trump is grasping at straws here just as Giuliani is doing, too. They're using things with sort of a kernel of truth and then distorting them way out of proportion to undermine the entirety of the investigation.

HARLOW: I want you to listen to something else that Rudy Giuliani was emphatic about in this long interview and fascinating interview that Alisyn conducted when it comes to the "New York Times" reporting that Mueller's team is now looking into the president's tweet, specifically tweets about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, tweets about fired FBI director James Comey, as to whether or not those are signs of or evidence of obstruction.

Here's how Giuliani sees it.


GIULIANI: If they're looking at his tweets, the investigation is done. If they are -- we're going to do obstruction by tweet on a president of United States as an article of impeachment? Go read the "Law Review" articles about that. It's laughable. It's scary.


HARLOW: Does he have any legal ground to stand on there since the White House has said that tweets are the official word of the president?

POLISI: Absolutely not, Poppy. No ground to stand on there.

[09:05:01] Look, the tweets aren't going to be used as a smoking gun evidence on the part of the prosecutors in this case but they certainly add credence to sort of a mosaic theory of an obstruction of justice case. If you look at his tweets and then you see what he was doing behind closed door in terms of pressuring Comey, you know, asking Sessions to, one, reverse his recusal and two, see if he could actually fire Sessions and appoint a yes man in that position to oversee the Russia investigation while at the same time he was letting these tweets out which can be seen as witness tampering.

If he was aware that there was an ongoing investigation he was -- had an effort to tamp down this investigation, absolutely those can be used in any prosecution against the president. And even if they weren't to be introduced at a trial, they certainly are helpful for Robert Mueller and his team in terms of assessing the president's state of mind at the time that he made these really crucial decisions.

HARLOW: OK, Caroline, appreciate the legal expertise this morning. Thank you very much.

Now back to Michael Cohen. Take a look at this. This 2017 tweet that he wrote about that meeting at Trump Tower. It's notable that Cohen tweeted this just after -- minutes after Don Jr. went on FOX News and said his father knew nothing about the Trump Tower meeting, and after he testified before Congress.

Let me read it. "So proud of Donald J. Trump Jr. for being open, honest and transparent to the American people. This nonsense needs to stop." That was then. We now know of course that Cohen thinks anything but this and he thinks that the president needs to be forthright and he says that the president knew about this Trump Tower meeting with the Russians.

With me now is Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Washington. He sits on the Intelligence Committee and has questioned Michael Cohen under oath.

Thank you for being here.

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: You're welcome.

HARLOW: That testimony was in October of last year. I know that you cannot say what he testified to, what he answered. But can you confirm for me that you or a fellow -- one of your members of Congress on the Intel Committee asked Michael Cohen, did the president know about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians before it happened.

HECK: So our pledge of confidentiality would extend to that question, too, Poppy, unfortunately. However anybody, just based on common sense, can deduce for themselves what it would make sense to ask of a witness before --

HARLOW: So that would be a logical question for you or one of your fellow members of Congress to ask.

HECK: Yes.

HARLOW: OK. You recently said, quote, "We've moved to collusion to conspiracy." Conspiracy is a federal crime. I mean, conspiracy by whom and for what?

HECK: So collusion is not a federal crime.

HARLOW: Right.

HECK: In fact, while there is a dictionary definition of it, it's not a crime whatsoever. I alleged that this is now fertile ground for exploring the possibility of conspiracy because of Michael Cohen's allegation that the president knew beforehand about the meeting on June 16th as I recall in Trump Tower, that included the president's campaign manager, his son-in-law and his son. Meeting with the Russians.

HARLOW: You said on MSNBC in the past few days that you don't see a reason for Michael Cohen to lie. That struck me because Michael Cohen is under federal criminal investigation. Should he be charged, he would have cause to lie, no?

HECK: Well, not if you believe that if he continued to lie that the president might pardon him as has been rumored over and over again. So he had to make that political calculus for himself. The fact of the matter is that neither Michael Cohen nor President Trump frankly are very reliable sources and Director Mueller is going to have to rely upon a body of evidence. This just being one element of it.

HARLOW: Let's talk about the party going forward. You know, when you look at what Democrats should run on in the midterms and in 2020, there is increasing evidence that Americans' faith in Robert Mueller has declined. That's gone in CNN polling from 48 percent back in March, down to 41 percent most recently.

Should this be a warning sign to your fellow Democrats saying don't run on this, don't make this issue number one if you're trying to win your race?

HECK: Poppy, I don't know of a single Democrat anywhere in America who is running on the basis of the Russia investigation. Here's what I hear them running on, lowering prescription drug prices, making sure that people with preexisting conditions are protected so they can have health insurance, trying to build an economy that not just grows but grows fairly by rebuilding --

HARLOW: Respectfully, Congressman, you and others talk and tweet a lot about the Russia probe and a lot about Trump and Cohen --

HECK: I -- Poppy, I talk a lot about Russia investigation when you invite me on your program and ask me about it.

HARLOW: You don't tweet about it?

HECK: Not much.

HARLOW: Do you think your other members of Congress should tweet about it and write about it less?

HECK: I think that Angie Craig in Minnesota and Lisa Brown in Washington and Antonio Delgado in New York and Abby Finkenauer in Iowa aren't talking about the Russia investigation at all.

HARLOW: Let's talk about some of the issues and just how far left you think the party should go. It was fascinating listening to Mitch Landrieu, former mayor of New Orleans, yesterday on with Jake Tapper.

[09:10:05] You're 99 days out from the midterms and he was asked sort of, you know, how far left should the party go. Let's listen.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you concerned at all about your party as critics say lurching to the left?

MITCH LANDRIEU (D), FORMER NEW ORLEANS MAYOR: I have always talked about governing from the middle. I'm what they call a radical centrist, there's not many of us left anymore. And yes, it is really important for us to make sure that if we are given the responsibility to govern that we'd govern in a pragmatic way, in a big time way that makes sense.


HARLOW: Is he right? Do you think Democrats should heed that warning from this self-proclaimed radical centrist?

HECK: I think the Democratic Party has always been strongest when it is agreed that it is a big tent party. We're strongest when we're inclusive and we have all elements, including those from the left, including those who are centrists but the common denominator is that we want to solve problems.

HARLOW: And there are a number of them to solve for the American people right now regardless of party. Do you think your party is doing that? And I ask that because of the difference that we see from these two women.

Let's pull them up on the screen. You've got Nancy Pelosi, who's been there for a long time, is an incredibly effective fundraiser, I think we have it. And you have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who just won in New York's 14th with this victory that even she was stunned by, but she's someone who says abolish ICE, you know, tuition-free public college for everyone. Medicare for all. So which one of them embodies the big tent of your party right now?

HECK: All of them. That's the point of being a big tent party.

HARLOW: You can't -- but can -- frankly, can you have it all? I mean, you really -- you're either abolish ICE or you're not. You're either, you know --


HECK: Or --

HARLOW: -- free college or you're not. You're either Medicare for all or you think that's too expensive and won't work, right?

HECK: Or at the end of a conversation about the current practices and policies of ICE, you reform ICE. You change the guy who's in charge of ICE to begin with but you also have them take a different approach, and you don't throw out their border enforcement relating to sex trafficking and drug interdiction. But you make sure they perform up to the spirit of what they originally intended. And what they originality intended to do was not separate families, not rip babies out of the arms of their mothers.

HARLOW: So you're not in the camp of abolish ICE.

HECK: I am not.

HARLOW: Is that correct? You say reform ICE.

HECK: That's correct.

HARLOW: Is there any 2020 contender that you think is too liberal right now, too left for the field right now that would cost Democrats the election?

HECK: Poppy, the starting gun for the 2020 presidential election goes off at 8:01 p.m. on November 6th, 99 days from now. Ask me that after --

HARLOW: All right. Well, let me ask about the midterms then. For Congress, is there any candidate that is too left, too liberal for the party? Do you think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who we had on here the morning after her victory, is too left for party as a whole?

HECK: So I happen to have had the honor to chair the candidate recruitment committee for the last four years of House Democrats, and I can tell you that the candidates that are running throughout the country reflect the interest and the desires and the aspirations of their districts. That's why I'm optimistic about the outcome of November 6th.

HARLOW: But you think she's more representative of New York 14th, of the district than of the country?

HECK: As determined by the primary election outcome, yes.

HARLOW: Thank you for being here.

HECK: You're welcome.

HARLOW: We'll have you back and ask you that question. We appreciate it. Thanks for the time.

As I mentioned, 99 days until the midterms and the president throws his own party a curveball threatening a government shutdown. What would that actually mean and look like for Republicans come the midterms? Also deadly wildfire still raging across California leaving a path of destruction, tens of thousands forced to flee. We'll have a live report.

And it has been years since the plane MH-370 disappeared with all 239 people on board. Will we ever really find out what happened? Investigators are out this morning with a new report.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Welcome back. President Trump is threatening to shut down the government in September over immigration and funding for a border wall.

He wrote over the weekend he's willing to see the government shutdown if Democrats do not give us the votes for border security, which includes a wall.

With the midterms 99 days away, what would a shutdown mean for Republicans hoping to stay in the majority in Congress? Let's talk about it with our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and our political analyst Molly Ball. Thanks for being here. Happy Monday one and all.

Especially, Ron, are you in LA? Is it very early Monday morning in LA?


HARLOW: Well, thank you for getting up very early for us. Let me begin with you, Molly. Is this for real or is this bluster from the president? Because even McConnell is saying, look, this would put a lot in jeopardy. You've got the Kavanaugh nomination that they would like to see, obviously get the votes that it needs in Congress to get him on the high court before the term starts in October.

So, is the president really willing to shut down the government with all that at stake? MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Nobody knows because, at this

point, this is a routine threat from the president. He has literally made this threat every single time there has been a funding bill up. And he has yet to do it.

So, whether he would follow through this time - one of the things that the Republicans in Congress have learned in nearly two years of trying to figure out how to get along with this president is that his attention is somewhat inconstant and his threats are not necessarily followed by intense focus on outcomes.

So, in the past, so far, they have made spending deals with the Democrats, with some involvement from the White House, but not a lot of direct involvement from the president. They've put them in front of him and he's signed them.

However, he is annoyed that the wall funding still hasn't come through. And so, at any point, he could decide to be an obstacle, and that is something, as reflected in leader McConnell's comments, that very few Republicans in Congress think would be a good idea politically.

HARLOW: Right. It would be hard to name one who thinks it's a good idea politically. Ron, listen to this. This is McConnell and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson together on the radio over the weekend.


[09:20:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the funding of the border wall going to wait until after the midterm elections?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Probably. That's something we do have a disagreement on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you're not worried about a government shutdown?

MCCONNELL: No, that's not going to happen.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I certainly don't like playing shutdown politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how damaging would that be for Republicans ahead of the November races?

JOHNSON: I don't think it would be helpful. So, let's try and avoid it.


HARLOW: So, I mean, Ron, will top Republicans be able to talk the president down from this ledge?

BROWNSTEIN: I think in the end, probably. Look, the history of shutdowns is that they don't work. They don't provide the leverage that whoever is executing it believes will get them what they want. That was certainly true in the mother of all shutdowns back in '95 and

'96 with the Republican Congress and Bill Clinton. Really, that was the turning point that led to his reelection in 1996.

And I think it's worth noting a couple of things. The president is talking about shutting down the government over a border wall that, with astonishing consistency, 60 percent of the public, have said they oppose in every poll. I mean, the number just doesn't move by more than a point or two.

And it's also worth noting that there are many Democrats who believe that one of the reasons why Ralph Northam won so convincingly in Virginia as governor and why Doug Jones won in Alabama was not only because of policy, it was simply the idea of a return to normalcy. I mean, politics that was not living on DEFCON 5 all of the time.

I mean, there is a level of conflict coming out of Washington that is, I think, unnerving for a certain segment of the public, particularly, I think, in these white collar suburban districts, which is the epicenter of Republican vulnerability.

I mean, it was kind of overlooked. But in the NPR/Maris poll last week, 60 percent of Americans and 68 percent of college-educated whites who are, again, are in those kind of key districts, said that they were embarrassed by Trump's behavior as president.

And just the sheer level of conflict, the idea of shutting down the government right before the midterm election, I think, would be viewed as a gift by Democrats running in those suburban districts that are at the tipping point of the election.

HARLOW: I want to turn the corner and talk about the he-said-he-said that continues and goes on in the saga, Michael Cohen and the president and what the president knew or did not know about that Trump Tower meeting with Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Republican Congressman Darrel Issa of California, who, of course, is in a tough district for a Republican, but here's what he said over the weekend on Fox News, basically saying it's not such a big deal if it does turn out that the president lied about this. Let's listen.


NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS HOST: What he's proven to be a liar, congressman?

REP. DARREL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, 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 is going to be surprised. There are some things in politics that you just take for granted.

Businessmen listen to almost everyone that might be helpful.

CAVUTO: Yes. ISSA: And, by the way, they make pragmatic decisions about how to make bad stories go away. In business, a problem is something money won't solve.


HARLOW: Molly, really? I mean, he's not a businessman anymore. He's the president.

BALL: Well, he does still have an interest in his business, so arguably he is still -


BALL: Look, I think that what we are seeing is a continual evolution, a continual sort of falling down the slippery slope of attempts to explain and account for whatever the particular reasoning of the president is at the time and it has gone from nothing happened to if something happened it wasn't illegal or if something happened it was fine.

And so, I think we are very close to Republicans openly arguing not only that, sure, there was collusion, but who cares, it was fine, everybody does it, but even that it was a good thing and that it was some kind of strategic genius on part of the campaign as the facts continue to refute previous denials and explanations.

HARLOW: Here is, Ron, part of the concern among Trump's lawyers, the president's legal team, and why it seems they want the Mueller probe wrapped up now or yesterday really. Listen to Giuliani this morning.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST, "NEW DAY": If he does not wrap it up by September, are you worried this will affect the midterms.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Yes. I don't know which way. I mean, yes, the people against him get excited about it, but it's one of his biggest rallying cries, don't impeach. Vote Republican because they'll impeach.

I think it sure as hell confuses the midterm and it could become a - go off on a ridiculous thing about impeachment.


HARLOW: It is interesting this new Quinnipiac poll, Ron - you've seen it, right? - shows that if Democrats retake the House, 65 percent of Democratic voters say they should proceed with articles of impeachment against the president.

I mean, if it's not wrapped up by the midterms, of which there's no indication it will be, which party does it help, does it hurt?

[09:25:02] BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all, I think as your previous guest, there are no Democrats - there are vanishingly few Democrats running on the idea of impeachment.

I mean, they want to run primarily, I think, on healthcare and the tax cut and that is kind of the argument. I don't know - I mean, I don't think it has a huge effect on the midterm if it carries over because I think it kind of fits into what is the general - it reinforces, perhaps, the current we already see.

The president has a consistent strategy. Amid all of this, he is trying to turn out more of the Republican base than the president's party usually turns out in a midterm. But the price of that is that everybody - it's not only Republicans who hear the tweets and the arguments that he's putting out.

Yes, he has clearly had an effect on House Republicans and that move them in the direction because of what he's done with the base that Molly talks about it, being willing to excuse almost any behavior, but everybody else is listening too.

And if you look at the polling just over the last week, as I said, 60 percent saying they are embarrassed by his conduct as president, 61 percent saying that they believe he speaks the truth only rarely or not at all. Forty point majority saying they trust the intelligence services more than him about Russia meddling. Everybody is hearing this.

And if you're a Republican in a swing district, most of which voted for Hillary Clinton, many of which are white collar districts at a point where his disapproval among college-educated whites is back up to 60 percent post Helsinki, is this really helpful?

It may make the rubble bounce in places that are reliably Republicans, it may help Republicans in some of the Senate in deep red states that Democrats are trying to defend, but in the battle for the House, the president is polarizing the electorate in a way that leaves most of the Republicans defending key seats on the short end of the stick.

HARLOW: Ninety-nine days to go. You will be here with us, both of you, all along the way. Appreciate you being here this morning, Ron and Molly. Thank you.

Ahead for us, those deadly wildfires in California, six people including two firefighters have died battling the blaze. Still ahead, how the weather, the dry air, soaring temperatures are slowing the efforts to try to contain this.