Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Lawyer Now Arguing Russian Collusion No Big Deal?; CBS President Facing Sexual Harassment Allegations; Trump Willing to Meet With Iran With No Preconditions. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 30, 2018 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Brooke Baldwin.

Ninety-nine days now before the midterm elections, and President Trump is putting his party in a tough position, moments ago doubling down with his threat of a government shutdown, all of this involving his border wall.

This as he took reporter questions alongside Italy's prime minister.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don't get border security after many, many years of talk within the United States, I would have no problem doing a shutdown.

It's time we had proper border security. We are the laughingstock of the world. We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world.


HILL: Tough talk on Congress that was followed up by a more open attitude toward Iran. Two months after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump says he is now willing to meet with Iran's leader, Hassan Rouhani, with no preconditions.

We want to get straight to CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, who has more of the details on what the president said.

And let's start specifically with what he said, Kaitlan, about Iran.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, that was quite something to hear the president say he was willing to sit down with him and open to sit down with the president of Iran with no preconditions set ahead of that meeting.

Of course, that comes after the president's tweet just about eight or so days ago saying that he would threaten Iran with consequences they had never seen if they continue to threaten the United States, which, of course, followed in May, when the president withdraw from the Iran deal, essentially saying that it was way too generous to Iran.

Now, there you heard from the president as he stood next to the Italian prime minister who the president shares a lot of common ground with, essentially making the case for sitting down with the leader of Iran, the president of Iran, comparing it to his sit-downs with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, both of which have happened in recent months.

Now, the president was saying he is open to that, but it does raise a lot of questions, like how that meeting would be facilitated, because, of course, for the sit-down with the North Korean leader, we had South Korea there to help the United States facilitate that meeting, to encourage that sit-down. But diplomacy with Iran and the United States is not something that U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are big fans of.

But the president was explaining his hope for something like that like this:


TRUMP: I believe in meeting. I would certainly meet with Iran if they wanted to meet. I don't know that they are ready yet. They are having a hard time right now. I don't do that from strength or from weakness.

I think it is an appropriate thing to do. If we could work something out that's meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet.

QUESTION: Do you have preconditions for that meeting?

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


COLLINS: So you see there, Erica, a very different tone than what the president was communicating on Twitter just in recent days. And he now sounds open to sitting down with the leader of Iran, no preconditions set for that meeting, as there were no preconditions set for his meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, or for the North Korean dictator, even though the State Department says that Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism.

HILL: Kaitlan Collins with the latest for us there.

Kaitlan, thank you.

I want to bring now in CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfeld Davis, White House reporter for "The New York Times," and David Catanese, senior politics writer for "U.S. News & World Report."

It was striking to hear the president talk about meeting with Iran in this way.

Julie, as we are hearing all this and seeing it play out, the big question, of course, will be, how is this going to play not just domestically, but most importantly internationally? How is this going to play, of course, with Iran in terms of the messages that they are getting now from this White House?


And it is worth noting that when the former President Barack Obama said that he would meet with the leaders of Iran and other countries that have been adversaries of the United States for a long time, he got hit very hard by Republicans for that.

And this president, though, has shown a willingness, even an eagerness. And you heard him say it right there. He wants to meet. For him, it seems in many of these cases like the goal more than anything else is the actual meeting. And he feels very confident in his ability to come up with some deal that would be better than what we have had in the past once he is there at the negotiating table.

That certainly hasn't happened yet with regard to North Korea. We will see what happens in terms of Russia. He just said today that we are keeping the sanctions on Russia for the time being. So, there isn't a lot of evidence that he has been able to negotiate his ways out of these tense relationships, but certainly, as Kaitlan noted, this is going to be a lot more complicated to facilitate on the world stage if he is really serious about it than some of these other encounters.


And we will have to see how the Iranians respond to this, given the president's tough rhetoric toward Iran just in the last few days.

HILL: And he did, to your point, Julie, said very clearly today, look, I like meetings. I like to meet.

David, when we look at this on a broader level, as is standing there next to the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, effusive praise from the Italian prime minister, clearly very pleased with Donald Trump, called him a great negotiator, which one could imagine played very well with the president standing there next to him.

From what we heard from these two coming out of their meeting after being asked questions by reporters, has anything changed in terms of where the U.S. stands now with its European allies?

DAVID CATANESE, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": I mean, look, I think if you talk about the other European allies, the relations are much more frayed, if you talk about our traditional allies of Germany, U.K.

But I think with Italy there, there's a big partnership here and they agree on many issues, immigration being one of them. Italy has struggled with its own immigration problem. And you see many residents over there talking about they want their own wall to protect from immigration.

So there's an agreement with President Trump on that. You also saw agreement on Russia, that you want to deal with Russia, rather than isolate with Russia. You saw the -- saw the Italian leader praise President Trump, saying, hey, we have to deal with the counterparts we're dealt with.

I think the bigger picture here on this potential Iranian leader, if there was a moment that you would have the Republican Party, members of the hawkish part of the Republican Party, push back and say that this was not the right thing to do, I'm not sure if we will see that.

It'll be interesting to see reaction from Republicans on Capitol Hill after this, because like on many issues President Trump has single- handedly change the issue matrix on a lot of these issues.

HILL: And surprising people in a moment with that change.

Also some surprises for Republicans when it comes to what we're hearing from the president specifically on immigration, and not just today, when he was standing there next to Prime Minister Conte, but this threat which he doubled down on, twice on Twitter again today speaking about a government shutdown in relation to funding for border security.

And specifically -- well, here is what Mitch McConnell had to say. Take a listen.


QUESTION: Is the funding of the border wall going to wait until after the midterm elections?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Probably. And that's something we do have a disagreement on.

QUESTION: So, Homeland Security won't get funded before the midterms?

MCCONNELL: Probably not. But most of the government will be covered.

And then at the end of the year, if we can't reach an agreement on that, we will do what is called a continuing resolution for that little portion of the government spending that is left unpassed in individual bills.

QUESTION: So you're not worried about a government shutdown?


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


HILL: Mitch McConnell not worried about a government shutdown. The president was very clear: "I would certainly be willing to close it down to get it done. I would most certainly be willing to consider a shutdown if we don't get proper border security."

Julie, he did say he does not have a red line here. He also, though, did not talk about dates. And that's important, especially when you take into account we just heard from Mitch McConnell.

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Well, I mean, he clearly relishes this fight. I think he relishes talking about the fight, probably more than he actually relishes having it.

But from the very beginning, the president has been really frustrated at his inability to get a significant amount of wall funding in any of the spending agreements that Congress has been able to reach. We remember -- you remember, earlier this year, he had a few hours there where he was threatening to veto a huge omnibus spending bill because it didn't have border wall funding.

This is something that he feels very strongly about. And then he also thinks that it really activates the Republican base in a way that will be helpful to Republican candidates in the midterm congressional elections.

And I think that's why we're hearing him talking more and more about it and we will continue to hear him talking about it on the campaign trail. I think some Republican leaders and the rank and file for sure take issue with him on that. They would rather not talk about a wall and a shutdown over the wall in midterm elections, where suburban voters, independents and those who are not core Republicans necessarily are really crucial to Republicans' ability to maintain the Congress.

But the president very much relishes this debate.

HILL: Relishes the debate, relishes the idea of a fight.

David, is this president at all concerned about those Republicans who don't want to see it for the very reasons that Julie just laid out?

CATANESE: While he's primarily concerned about himself. I think at some point there will be a political adviser say, hey, do you really want to shut the government down a month before the election for senators like Dean Heller, who is in a tough fight for his life? We may lose the Senate over this.


I'm sure that will be conveyed to him eventually. But there is close to zero percent chance that President Trump gets his border funding before September 30, before this midterm election.

You just heard it there from Senator McConnell. I don't think Senator McConnell will allow the government to shut down. But, look, this -- President Trump is completely unpredictable. That's the one thing that we can say about him.

I think once it gets closer and he sees how closely contested these elections are and how power of the Republican Party hinges on them, he will probably back off those statements.

HILL: We will be watching for all that.

David, Julie, appreciate it, as always. Thank you.

CATANESE: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Well, how much could some of that be a distraction for one of the things the president wasn't talking about, wasn't asked about?

His attorney Rudy Giuliani now saying collusion with Russians isn't really a crime, also challenging special counsel Robert Mueller to be a man. We're going to dig into all of that from his wild CNN interview this morning.

Plus, the president launching his most personal attack yet against Robert Mueller with a series of false claims. We will discuss.

And the wife of CBS president Les Moonves addressing the sexual misconduct allegations against him -- what Julie Chen to say on her show, "The Talk," this afternoon, and what the network is now doing about the accusations.



HILL: When it comes to the Russia investigation, President Trump has repeated time and time again the two words we all know so well, no collusion.

Today, however, President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani telling CNN he's not sure collusion with Russia would even be considered a crime. Take a listen.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: 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.


HILL: All this as the president launching a new strategy to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller, alleging a -- quote -- "conflict of interest" and a contentious business relationship.

My colleague Alisyn Camerota asked Giuliani to explain.


GIULIANI: He's referring to a dispute which I imagine Mueller -- I imagine he disclosed to Mr. Rosenstein when he appointed him, because it would involve something that actually wasn't settled even to this day.


GIULIANI: But that's up to the president and Mueller to describe.

You have every right to say, OK, you explain it, Mueller. Stand up and be a man.

CAMEROTA: Wait a minute. This doesn't make sense. How can the president make this claim and not support it?

GIULIANI: Because he doesn't have to.

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 is the conflict?

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


HILL: Confused at all?

Joining me now to talk more, two former federal prosecutors, CNN legal Renato Mariotti, and Berit Berger, who worked for the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, the office, of course, which is currently investigating former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

I actually want to start just where Alisyn left off there, because that is something that is remarkable. We're not getting any detail, as we saw, from Rudy Giuliani, nor from the president after this tweet that called on Mueller to reveal his conflicts of interest.

Berit, this is a special counsel who was appointed by, obviously, this administration. The Department of Justice ethics experts looked at him and said, no problem, you're good to go. You can do this job.

I mean, what are the chances that something actually fell through the cracks that now the president has stumbled upon something that is a legitimate conflict of interest for Robert Mueller, more than a year in?


I think it's incredibly unlikely that there is some new conflict of interest that we haven't already heard about and that the lawyers at the Justice Department have an already cleared. Just to follow that, though, and it's interesting he is saying, yes, Mueller, stand up and be a man and address this.

But that's not how prosecutors work. They don't address things over Twitter. The prosecutors would address this in a court of law if there was a motion filed about this, but that's the venue that it would happen, not over Twitter.

HILL: Which is something, of course, that Rudy Giuliani, based on his own career, would know intimately, yes.

BERGER: Would know, correct.

HILL: Which is fascinating in and of itself.

We also are starting to see this shift. So, as we were saying in the beginning, it was no collusion, no collusion. Now Rudy Giuliani shifting, as we just heard there, saying, well, you know what, collusion, maybe it's not really a crime.

Renato, could this actually be a really smart strategy for the president, for Rudy Giuliani and just start laying the groundwork there, so no matter what happens, nothing to see here, collusion is not a crime?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a smart strategy if there's evidence out there that it is going to make it difficult for you to continue to assert that there's no collusion.

If there was no evidence out there, I don't think that we would see the shift in strategy. So what this tells me is that there's something that Rudy Giuliani has seen that has made him decided that a shift is important.

And it's quite a shift, because we have been hearing no collusion quite a bit. So now what we're hearing is collusion is not a crime. And technically speaking, that's correct, in the sense that there's no word collusion that you will find in the U.S. code.

But there are plenty of crimes that involve cooperating with Russians. For example, criminal conspiracy to have foreign contributions to a presidential candidate in the United States, which Robert Mueller did charge a number of Russians with doing, that would be effectively what we would call collusion.

HILL: There's also as, you know, sort of this new line on collusion, there's still this old familiar one when it comes to the investigation itself.

And the tweet that we saw from the president over the weekend trying to discredit, of course, the special counsel and even sort of grasping at straws when it comes to Twitter. Here's what Rudy Giuliani had to say specifically to Alisyn about -- about looking at those tweets. Take a listen.


GIULIANI: 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 as an article of impeachment, go read the law review articles about that. It's laughable.


It's scary.


HILL: Number one, we do want to point out time and time again we don't know where the investigation stands. There is no timeline to this investigation.

Rudy Giuliani seems to be laughing if off, saying if we're at the point where we're looking at this obstruction by tweet, there must be nothing left, it almost sounds as if he's saying.

Is it a smart move, Berit, for Rudy Giuliani to be saying this less than 24 hours after his client had slammed the special counsel in a tweet?

BERGER: Look, as we've said before, obstruction of justice can come in many different ways. It can certainly come with bribing a witness. It can come, as I have said before, with threatening somebody with a crowbar.

It can also come via tweet. So as long as the intent is there, you can satisfy the obstruction of justice statute. So, for Rudy Giuliani to be saying, oh, they're desperate if they're going after obstruction by tweet, I don't think he's fully understanding the fact that obstruction can be proved by many ways.

HILL: Can be proven by many ways. How concerning should those tweets be at this point?

CATANESE: I would be extremely concerned if I was the president.

I think, at this point, I would be very surprised if Robert Mueller didn't conclude that the president obstructed justice. There's a lot of evidence out there, and tweets are just one form of communication. I agree with you on this point. Tweets are one form of communication. There's a lot of evidence that the president had an intent to obstruct or impede the special counsel's investigation.

And he took more concrete actions than just tweeting. He fired James Comey. He tried to pressure the attorney general to un-recuse himself. I mean, now he's concerned -- he wasn't concerned about conflicts of interest in that circumstance.

I think those are very concerning. And Mueller should be using all of the president's thoughts and words and actions when evaluating his intent.

HILL: Well, I guess will just have to wait to see what that eventual evaluation is. Appreciate it. Thank you both for coming in today.

BERGER: Thank you so much.

CATANESE: Thank you.

HILL: Moments ago, the wife of CBS president and CEO Les Moonves addressing the sexual misconduct allegations against him -- details on what is happening inside the network to deal with them. Also ahead, new body cam video sheds light on the police shooting death of a Minneapolis man. You will see the emotional, tense moments, as this family interrupted a news conference with the county attorney.



HILL: Julie Chen standing by her husband Les Moonves today. Those comments coming on her CBS daytime show, "The Talk."

What did she have to say? Well, all of this coming after "The New Yorker" broke the story which detailed how six women have accused Moonves of sexual harassment. Chen speaking out about those allegations for the first time on camera just a short time ago.


JULIE CHEN, WIFE OF LES MOONVES: Now, some of you may be aware of what's been going on in my life for the last few days.

I issued the one and only statement I will ever make on this topic on Twitter. And I will stand by that statement today, tomorrow, forever.


HILL: So that statement reads: "I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the late '90s. And I have been married for almost 14 years. Leslie is a good man and a loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being, I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement."

CNN Money senior reporter Dylan Byers joins me now.

And, Dylan, in the interest of full disclosure, I do want to point out that I did work at CBS for a number of years.

So getting out of the way, we know now that the CBS board of directors is in fact a meeting right now. What do we know about what's happening behind closed doors?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: Well, the problem, Erica, is that we don't know much because that meeting is still going on.

They have been in that meeting for well over three hours now. And part of the reason for that is because there's more on the table here than just the fate of Leslie Moonves. They also have all of their usual business to attend to. But, of course, the elephant in the room are these accusations from the six women against Leslie Moonves and accusations from even more women against the company culture.

So, in that vacuum, what we have are actually not just Julie Chen, but several high-ranking women at CBS, across the CBS company, who are actually coming to Moonves' defense, saying either that the "New Yorker" article doesn't represent the man they know, they can't square that with the man whom they have worked with for so many years, or even, in some cases, calling from some nuance in our thinking about how we think about things that may have happened decades ago.

So, meanwhile, what the directors are doing now, identifying a select committee to oversee the investigation into the accusations. That committee will then select a law firm to conduct an investigation. What does all that mean? It means we are probably days, if not weeks, away from the conclusion of that investigation, and from knowing what Moonves his fate will be at CBS.

HILL: And a lot of this, too, is seeing headlines not just for the allegations and for what they're trying to figure out, but, of course, Les Moonves was working pretty hard to prevent a merger with Viacam -- Viacom, rather. What's the impact on that?

BYERS: Sure. Absolutely.

So there's sort of a context here, which is that Moonves has been pitted against Shari Redstone, who is the chairwoman of Viacom and CBS.

She is trying to reunite both of those companies, one of the sort of subplots of the mergers and acquisitions era that we're living through in the media industry. Moonves has resisted that. And he has gone so far as to sue Shari Redstone in his attempt to block that merger from taking place.

Now, look, front and center in this story, of course, are the accusations