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President Trump Intensifies Campaign To Undermine Mueller's Russia Probe; Death Toll Rises As California Wildfires Rage Out Of Control; Six Women Accuse CBS CEO Les Moonves of Sexual Misconduct. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 30, 2018 - 07:30   ET



[07:32:12] DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump tweeting out his most direct attacks at Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation. It comes as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is set to go to trial tomorrow. It's the first prosecution in Mueller's probe.

Joining us now, former attorney general Alberto Gonzales. He is the author of "True Faith and Allegiance" and he's dean of the Belmont University College of Law.

Attorney General Gonzales, good morning. It's good to see you again.


GREGORY: I've known you for a while and covered you for a while. I always forget what I should refer to you as. I've known you in all your incarnations. So, it's good to have you.

I want to ask you first about Paul Manafort because we haven't talked a lot about it this morning. Let's remember that this was President Trump's campaign manager for a time.

And we'll put up a full screen that reminds people what he's facing now in federal court. Two different trials in Virginia, also in Washington.

Thirty-two counts tax evasion and bank fraud. This is related to money that Russians set up in an account for him for the purpose of promoting a candidate who was sympathetic to Russia in Ukraine.

There's dozen of witnesses, two different trials, as I mentioned.

What's at stake here, Gen. Gonzales, in the Manafort case firstly, and then how does it relate potentially to what Mueller is investigating?

GONZALES: Well, it's --

GREGORY: More broadly about collusion, I should say. GONZALES: Yes. It's hard to tell with respect to the second point. Obviously, I don't know what Bob Mueller knows. None of knows what Bob Mueller knows so how it relates it's hard to tell.

But as to the first point, obviously, Manafort's liberty is at stake. Most of the other folks involved in the Mueller investigation have either pled, you know.

And so, I think that the real concern here for Paul Manafort is that he's elected to go to trial and perhaps he's betting on the fact that he's innocent and/or that he's hoping that President Trump will grant him a pardon. But obviously, he's taking a big risk by allowing this to go to trial.

GREGORY: This is a campaign manager who had close ties to Russia -- Russian leadership, Russian oligarchs, Russian money. And this at a time when the Russian government was authorizing attempts to meddle in our election.

But there's a big difference between that and making the leap to whether Manafort has anything that would implicate Trump or those around him in potential collusion because at this point if they were going to make a deal with him for cooperation it would have happened by now. That's not happening. He's going to trial.

GONZALES: Well, I think that's a fair assumption. And I -- again, I think Bob Mueller has used a strategy of putting pressure on potential witnesses -- of people that -- who would have information about Russia conspiracy and perhaps, even the role -- the actual personal involvement of the president. But there were not -- we haven't seen this happening here.

[07:35:08] And again, it may be a situation where Paul Manafort truly believes that he's innocent or he's willing to take a risk here that even if he -- if he is convicted in this trial that the president will come to his rescue and grant him a pardon down the road.

GREGORY: More broadly, as we look at the Mueller investigation and the president's latest attacks on Mueller, his attorney Rudy Giuliani suggesting essentially -- my words, not his, that it's the president's view that Mueller should put up or shut up -- the attacks by some conservative Republicans in the House trying to impeach Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

What are your overall concerns about how they're trying to attack the process and the players?

GONZALES: Well, part of the damage that occurs with respect to these kinds of attacks it calls into question not just the integrity of this investigation but generally, the integrity of the Department of Justice overall. And I think that's very harmful to American society and to the rule of law.

Listen, I've listened to some of these -- the discussions this morning about possible conflicts of interest and Bob Mueller's integrity being compromised. There is a process within the Department of Justice where people look very carefully to make sure that we don't have any potential conflicts.

I think above anyone else, Bob Mueller is aware of the importance of having a clean investigation here. And to the extent that there are any concerns at all about his being impartial, I think those have been reviewed not just by Bob Mueller himself but more importantly by the career individuals whose job it is within the Department of Justice to look into these kinds of things.

So, I hope that people will understand that this is an important investigation. It's very complicated.

Any time you have an investigation that looks into foreign ties it's going to make the investigation more lengthy. And so in terms of white-collar investigation, in terms of special counsel investigations, this investigation has not -- has not been overly prolonged or protracted.


GONZALES: And I think we need to continue to have Bob -- allow to have Bob Mueller continue this investigation.

GREGORY: This is -- you were the attorney general so you can get into this level of detail.

If there were mistakes make or if there were falsehoods, say, in an application for a FISA warrant on behalf of the FBI -- those kinds of mistakes, intentional or otherwise -- does it amount to kind of a junk in-junk out that you can't trust the process? You can't trust the results of the investigation if those mistakes occurred?

GONZALES: Well, they may depending on the facts and the circumstances. We have to remember that I think the FISA application that's being attacked here was renewed multiple times. It was renewed by different judges.

And so, I think that provides some level of comfort that, in fact -- that the information that presented to the FISA court was, in fact, reliable and dependable enough to allow the Department of Justice to move forward with a surveillance.

But I think that we do have procedures in place. We have multiple individuals within the Department of Justice that look into this.

Whenever someone came to me with a FISA application I would sit down and review it. I would ask questions.

And the last question I always asked, does this application meet the statutory requirements under FISA? I always asked that.

That was the last question I always asked because I knew it was very, very important that the American people have confidence in this process since much of it is, in fact, out of the public eye.

GREGORY: Can I just get you quickly on the record, Gen. Gonzales, on all of this Michael Cohen news? As a potential witness to Bob Mueller, how important or unimportant is he in the end?

GONZALES: It depends on what Bob Mueller already has from other witnesses. It may be that Michael Cohen isn't that important. Obviously, there's some questions relating to his credibility and therefore, Bob Mueller may want to rely upon other witnesses, other documentary evidence.

So it really depends on what Bob Mueller and his team already had in place.

GREGORY: Alberto Gonzales, former attorney general. Alberto, always good to see you -- thanks.

GONZALES: Thanks for having me.


We've been reporting, as you know, on these raging wildfires that have turned deadly and there is one family's heartbreaking story that they share with CNN, next.


[07:43:05] GREGORY: Raging wildfires in California blamed for killing at least six people, including two firefighters plus a woman and her two great-grandchildren. That's woman's husband describes to CNN his final phone call with his loved ones moments before they died.

CNN's Dan Simon live in Redding, California. He has more this morning on just a devastating story to hear and even to report.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, David.

This was one of the toughest conversations I've ever had with somebody. This is a 76-year-old man who is broken after losing the most important people in his life.

Ed Bledsoe and his wife Melody, they were raising their great- grandchildren. They've had them since birth. Five-year-old James, who they called Junior, and 4-year-old Emily.

On Thursday night at about 7:00, Ed left the house really just to run a quick errand. About 15 minutes later he got a frantic phone call saying that the fire was quickly encroaching his house.

Inside, his great-grandkids and his wife. They were trapped by the fire.

Ed picks up the story from there.


ED BLEDSOE, WIFE AND TWO GREAT-GRANDCHILDREN KILLED IN CARR FIRE: I talked to Junior on the phone until he died.

He just kept saying grandpa -- he said come and get me. He said come and get me. The fire is coming in the back door. Come on, grandpa.

I said I'm right down the road. He said come and get us.

Emily said I love you, grandpa. Grandma says I love you, grandpa. And then Junior says I love you, come and get us, come and get us. I said I'm on my way.

My wife was the greatest woman in the world and my grandkids was excellent.


SIMON: Well, Ed says he did everything he could to get back to the house but when he got close the police had basically closed off the streets and he couldn't get there. He says his wife tried to protect the kids by covering them with wet blankets.

And it just goes to show you how fast this fire approached the community.

[07:45:02] I can tell you that over the weekend that crews did make some progress. This is one of the areas that has been impacted near Redding. So much destruction -- 874 structures destroyed.

But back to Ed for a second. He just says that there was nothing he could do and obviously, he feels a tremendous sense of guilt that he left the house -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh. Could you imagine what his life is going to be like moving forward?

I mean, to those of us who don't live in wildfire country it's like why couldn't they leave the house? And then we see you there and we see that houses are surrounded by the wildfire. There's no way out.

Dan, thank you very much for reporting that heartbreaking story for us.

So, what is fact, what is not? These are the questions we wrestle with often. We want to take the claims put out there by our leaders and put them under the microscope.

So here on NEW DAY, our CNN senior political analyst John Avlon is going to bring us something called the "CNN Reality Check." I look forward to that -- John.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am thrilled to announce that in the second quarter of this year the United States economy grew at the amazing rate of 4.1 percent.


JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's time for a reality check because 4.1 GDP growth is impressive but it is far from uncharted territory. In fact, the economy grew over four percent four times during the Obama presidency.

But, Democrats who want to denigrate these numbers and do so at their peril. No one wants to see a party root against the success of the U.S. economy for political gain.

That said, there are storm clouds on the horizon.

And I'm old enough to remember when Republicans, like Paul Ryan, railed against the deficit and debt as generational theft. You might remember this.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The facts are very, very clear. The United States is heading toward a debt crisis.

The only solutions will be truly painful for us all but that doesn't have to be our future. The way we respond to this challenge will ultimately define our generation.


AVLON: Well, that was then and this is now because the projected deficit and debt are exploding, climbing to over $1 trillion in deficit next year while the national debt has climbed to over $21 trillion for the first time ever.

Now, we know that Donald Trump proclaims himself as the king of debt as a businessman but this is a little ridiculous.

Now, a prime driver of the growth as well as the deficit and debt are Trump's corporate tax cuts without closing lobbyist loopholes. Business profits are at 9.3 percent. That's the good news.

But wait, there's more.

The corporations -- or the amount the corporations are contributing in taxes, that is down dramatically -- 1.3 percent as a share of our overall economy and that's close to a 75-year low. Profits up, revenue down.

Now, in fact, the Koch network, not exactly unfriendly to business or Republicans, is now calling the $1.3 trillion spending bill quote "the most fiscally irresponsible budget in the history of our country."

So don't believe the hype. Deficits and debt do matter. The rules of gravity don't change simply because your party is in power.

And that's a reality check.

CAMEROTA: John, fantastic reality check.

AVLON: Well --

CAMEROTA: I like when we insert a little reality back into our world.

AVLON: You know, perspective is the thing we have the least of in our politics.

GREGORY: The question is how they answer what they're doing on the deficit now and part of the answer is that economic growth will be part of the solution.

AVLON: That's their hope but that's the problem. Corporate profits are up, but revenues down. They have to hope for a lot more goose and that's what they've been pushing, saying oh, this is going to continue for months and months and months.


AVLON: But the next step will be -- well, blame the Fed. Let's look at cutting social spending. Those are going to be very tough politically, as well as in terms of just reality and fairness.

CAMEROTA: More goose and more golden eggs. Thank you. Thank you, John --

GREGORY: Thank you, John.

CAMEROTA: -- very much for that.

GREGORY: Coming up next, a "New Yorker" story taking on the most powerful man at CBS. Ronan Farrow with the story, coming up next.


[07:53:08] CAMEROTA: In just a few hours, the CBS board of directors will meet to consider the fate of their CEO Les Moonves after allegations of sexual misconduct by at least six women.

The women spoke to Ronan Farrow in a piece for "The New Yorker."

Moonves issued his own statement saying, in part, "Throughout my time at CBS, we have promoted a culture of respect and opportunity for all employees, and I have consistently found success elevating women to top executive positions across the country.

I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes and I regret them immensely.

But I always understood and respected, and abided by the principle that no means no, and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone's career."

Investigative journalist Ronan Farrow joins us now. Good morning, Ronan.


CAMEROTA: So, what are these women alleging that Les Moonves did?

FARROW: You know, these are very serious allegations Alisyn, and two of these women term what they went through -- assault -- and I think have a fair case that it would be within the conventional definitions of assault. We are talking about encounters in which women allege they were pinned down and struggled to escape. It's serious stuff.

But I also want to point out that in some of these cases, more than the initial incident, these are women who said what was scarring was the threats of retaliation. That there appeared to be a pattern of saying this is going to harm your career. And I think that's worth all of us looking at in a corporate context.

CAMEROTA: And not only the threats that this is going to harm your career -- I mean, these women allege that it did harm their career.

FARROW: Well, I'm glad you pointed that out because in some of these cases it's not a gray area.

Look, Illeana Douglas, whose allegation, in part, Leslie Moonves has confirmed, was fired after this from her deal with CBS and obtained a settlement. And, you know, we looked at the documentation for that -- that absolutely happened and it's not disputed.

[07:55:03] CBS disputes why she was fired and why the settlement happened. But what her lawyer and a lot of people who were involved in the process at the time recall is that this happened right after what she, at the time, was calling a sexual assault and that they all knew about that.

CAMEROTA: And on that same point, Illeana Douglas is an interesting case to look into because when Les Moonves, in his statement, says I always respected the principle of no means no, it's not what she's alleging. I mean, she's alleging that she was pinned and that she said no and that he blocked her exit from the door.

FARROW: Not in a number of these cases, that's right.

CAMEROTA: So his statement -- I thought it was interesting that his statement went as far as it did. That his statement got as specific as it did.

I thought it was interesting -- you know, often these guys just give a blanket denial when they're accused but I thought it was interesting that he said decades ago I may have done some of these things because then, in that case, the public can say well, obviously the rules have changed ever since #MeToo. Maybe this was old, bad behavior.

But when he gets as specific as no means no, that's not what your reporting found.

FARROW: That isn't these women's recollection.

And I would also point out that our reporting is not that this was decades ago. The most recent of these cases was in the 2000s.

I'll let his statements speak for themselves but the article, I think, also speaks for itself.

CAMEROTA: One of the more recent episodes that you unearthed is from 2006 and I believe at that time he was already married to Julie Chen.

And, Julie Chen, as you know, is a well-known T.V. host. In fact, she's going to be on T.V. today on her show. It's called "THE TALK."

And she has unequivocally come out and supported her husband and stood by him. It will be interesting to watch what happens today.

Do you have anything in terms of why -- do you find it unusual that a wife -- a wife who's in the public would make such a public statement?

FARROW: You know, it's not really for me to weigh in on Julie Chen's statements. Obviously, I feel for any family member going through the repercussions of allegations like this.

And I think in the minds of the sources in this story the goal here was not to take down Leslie Moonves. The goal here is to air stories that were buried, sometimes for a long time because these women were terrified, and to protect the next woman who comes along, both with respect to Les Moonves and with respect to a culture around women and a culture of retaliation that a lot of people -- dozens of people said extended across various parts of this company.

So I think what these sources want is accountability. This is not about tearing down an individual. And, of course, that's painful for a family and for someone like Julie Chen.

CAMEROTA: That's such a great point.

So let's talk about that culture.

So, after Charlie Rose was so publicly called out and fired, what happened at CBS after that? Was there a reckoning?

FARROW: What these sources say is no.

We are talking to people who say they were retaliated against very recently at that company, and that individuals who knew about Charlie Rose -- and that includes Jeff Fager -- many of the sources in this story say that he was aware of that abuse. He's, obviously, the executive producer of "60 MINUTES" and for a time, reported to Moonves as the head of the news division there.

People also said that there were allegations against him. We talk about six employees who describe inappropriate touching from him.

So the pattern, Alisyn, that is described in this story -- and we're careful not to overgeneralize. This is certain facets of this company. Obviously, it is a very large corporation.

But the pattern is that you have allegations at the top, and then allegations a layer down, and then allegations a layer down from that. And in each of these cases we have people saying we spoke up and we were retaliated against.

There was not accountability. They didn't do anything. CAMEROTA: So now you've gotten the board of directors' attention and they will be doing an investigation, they say, and they will be having a meeting about all of this.

But, on the flip side, Les Moonves is incredibly important. He's vital or he's seen as being vital to this company just as Matt Lauer was seen as being vital to the company and Charlie Rose was seen as being vital to the company and Harvey Weinstein was seen as being vital to his company.

So what do you think the board will do?

FARROW: Well, you talked about those points of comparison. Certainly, in terms of how vital someone is to a company, Leslie Moonves is vital in a way none of those other names were.

And I think one of the things that made these women so afraid to speak out -- I mean, this took months and months of complicated conversations. These were not people knocking on my door.

Even Illeana Douglas, who did reach out after the Weinstein story, didn't reach out saying I'm ready to go on the record.

They were all scared and I think that comes from the fact that this is someone who is at the heart of the financial fortunes of a company that is a really important institution.

And it will be an interesting test of resolve and of whether a company and a board is willing to live up to the kinds of statements we've seen since the popularization of the #MeToo movement because this is more than cosmetic. I think accountability here will mean potentially taking a hit in terms of the bottom line.

CAMEROTA: Ronan Farrow, thank you for your excellent reporting and always sharing it with us on NEW DAY.