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Jury Selected for Manafort Trial; Trump: Collusion Not a Crime; Facebook Shutting Down Dozens of Pages Ahead of Midterm. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 31, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking new, Manafort on trial. In the first big court test for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort goes on trial, accused by prosecutors of hiding millions in secret income from taxes. Could Manafort turn on President Trump to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison?

Russia attacking again? Facebook shuts down dozens of pages that it says may have been tied to Russians spreading disinformation ahead of the midterm elections. Is the Kremlin once again targeting U.S. voters?

Saving General Kelly. White House chief of staff John Kelly announces that President Trump has asked him to stay on until at least 2020. The retired general has been fighting rumors of an imminent departure almost since he took the West Wing job. Is that job now safe?

And Kim's new missiles. A new report warns North Korea may be building new long-range missiles that could pose a risk to the United States just weeks after President Trump pronounced that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, the first trial in the Mueller investigation gets under way as a jury is quickly seated and prosecutors label former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort a shrewd liar who, they say, ran a global scheme to avoid paying taxes on millions of dollars in secret income.

Manafort faces 18 counts of tax and banking violations and could face life in prison. And he still faces another trial related to foreign lobbying.

I'll speak with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by with full coverage.

But first let's go straight to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez. He's outside the federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Evan, you were inside today for the opening statements. What did the prosecution have to say?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, prosecutors made it clear that they were going to put Paul Manafort's extravagant -- what they called his extravagant lifestyle on trial, essentially. It's going to be used to illustrate how Paul Manafort was using, for years, offshore bank accounts in Cypress and in other countries to hid up to $60 million that he got paid by Ukrainian oligarchs, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors pointed to Paul Manafort and said that he was, quote, "a man who believed the law did not apply to."

So it's clear that they -- prosecutors are going to paint a picture that they were using -- that Paul Manafort was using these complex financial instruments, offshore shell -- offshore shell bank accounts, Wolf, as a way to hide money that he was using to fund, paying for $6 million in real estate that he paid for in cash. Twenty-one thousand dollars that he used to buy a wash, and $15,000 that he spent on a jacket that is made from an ostrich.

Prosecutors made clear also that they want -- they want jurors to simply follow the money, Wolf.

BLITZER: How did Manafort's defense team, Evan, respond?

PEREZ: Well, the defense basically said that Paul Manafort did not intend to deceive the IRS or the government, that he wasn't trying to hide this money that he received from the Ukraine. That he met with the FBI in 2014 and laid out that he had been paid $27 million, for instance, from Ukraine. And also identified some of the offshore bank accounts.

And they also made clear, Wolf, the defense is going to put Rick Gates, Paul Manafort's former deputy, on trial. They called him the star witness, and they called out the government for barely mentioning Rick Gates in their opening.

Rick Gates obviously also served on the Trump campaign. As a matter of fact, he stayed on the Trump campaign even after Paul Manafort was -- was fired from the campaign.

One of the things we're not going to hear in court, Wolf -- and we've talked about this a little bit -- is we're not going to hear much about President Trump. That prosecutors and the defense are going to try to make this only about the financial instruments, about the taxes and about bank accounts that, according to the government, Paul Manafort was lying about.

They want to make sure that Russia and the collusion question never enter into this trial.

The jury is now, right at this moment, hearing from the first witness. This is a court that moves very, very quickly as you mentioned, Wolf. Tad Devine, he's a Democratic strategy is now on -- in court, testifying for prosecutors. We expect that the defense is going to be able to also raise questions to Tad Devine, essentially showing that Paul Manafort worked for not only Republicans. He also worked with Democrats that, really, he was working when he was working overseas, it was a nonpartisan issue, Wolf.

[17:05:14] BLITZER: CNN's Evan Perez outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, thank you.

With the Mueller investigation's first trial now under way, President Trump and his lawyers seem to be cooking up a new defense slogan of their own. The president will hold, by the way, a campaign rally shortly down in Tampa, Florida.

Let's go there. Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is already on the scene for us. So Jim, what's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Trump is in Florida tonight to do some campaigning ahead of the midterm elections. But the president and his team are still busy trying to get their story straight on the Russia investigation.

Mr. Trump is now echoing his lawyers who have gone from saying there was no collusion during the 2016 election to insisting that collusion is not a crime after all.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Breezing past the cameras on his way to Florida, President Trump appears to have a new strategy for the Russia investigation. Ignore questions from reporters while spinning up a new defense where he's shielded from outside scrutiny, tweeting "Collusion is not a crime." It's a notable leap from the president who has repeatedly claimed there was no collusion with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no collusion. You know why? Because I don't speak to Russians.

There's been no collusion. There's been no crime.

I can only say this: there was absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. Every committee.

There's no collusion. There was no collusion with Russia other than by the Democrats.

ACOSTA: The president is now amplifying what his outside lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said Monday.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I don't even know if that's a crime, colluding about Russians.

ACOSTA: And another Trump attorney, Jay Sekulow, said today.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Well, that's not just technically correct. I mean, that's actually the law. But there's no violation of law, statute, rule or regulation that we have seen after reviewing this case for a year, and I think Bob Mueller will come to the same conclusion.

ACOSTA: Democrats aren't buying it.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I can't keep up with Rudy Giuliani's theories and defense. And they change almost by the hour. You know, collusion at one point never happened. The next point, if it happened, it's not serious.

ACOSTA: Weighed down by the Russia probe, the president is turning to issues popular with his base, threatening to shut down the government to make Congress pay for a border wall, insisting that's a very small price to pay and tweeting, "I don't care what the political ramifications are."

Even fellow Republicans are leery of a shutdown with the midterm elections fast approaching.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I kind of see it as posturing, to be honest with you. It's an irresponsible thing for him to do, I think.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump's border policy is coming under increasing scrutiny with an administration official admitting to Congress that the practice of separating children from undocumented migrants amounts to child abuse.

JONATHAN WHITE, HHS COMMANDER: There's no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child.

ACOSTA: One of the president's fellow hardliners on immigration, chief of staff John Kelly, appears to be sticking around. Sources confirm the president has asked Kelly to remain at his post until 2020, though CNN has learned the chief of staff wanted the story leaked to tamp down on reports that he could be on his way out.

Mr. Trump arrives in Florida with the upcoming elections on his mind, throwing his support behind GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He reads stories.

DESANTIS: Then Mr. Trump said, "You're fired."

ACOSTA: DeSantis appears in a new ad teaching his children how to build their own wall in a show of big-league flattery.

DESANTIS: Big league, so good.


ACOSTA: Now the White House closed out the month of July without holding a briefing for reporters today. That means the White House has held only three briefings for the press this month and eight total since the end of May. There is no other way to describe what the White House is doing these days, Wolf. Top officials, including the president, are hiding from the press.

And Wolf, just to give you a sense as to what's happening right now, you can hear there is a chorus of boos and other chants in this Trump crowd here in Tampa, Florida. They're saying things like "CNN sucks," "Go home" and "fake news." Wolf, obviously, all of those things are false. We're staying right here. We're going to do our job and report on this rally to all of our viewers here tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you should. All right. Jim Acosta, thank you. We'll stay in very close touch with you. Thank you.

Facebook, meanwhile, has announced it's shutting down dozens of pages that may have been tied to Russians spreading disinformation ahead of the November midterm elections.

Our senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, has been digging into all of this for us.

What are you learning, Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Facebook did shut down these 32 accounts. They run the gamut from an American Indian support page to an account about mindfulness.

But the biggest pages had to do with the divisive political issues which we saw so much of around that 2016 presidential campaign. Page after page about race resistance is one of them, including one with President Trump and a flag, all aimed at further polarizing the American electorate.

[17:10:07] One page I want to show you called Resister organized several events. One was held last November in New York. Plenty of people showed up, not realizing the whole thing was started by a fake Facebook group likely run by Russians.

Resisters also set up another event in D.C., a counter-protest to a white nationalist rally scheduled less than two weeks from today, Wolf. Five other real groups got involved with this. Some of the people we contacted having a hard time believing the people that they have been messaging on Facebook aren't who they say they are.

In all, nearly 290,000 users followed these 32 fake accounts. As for who's behind it, Wolf, Facebook can't say for sure that it's the Russian, but it has all the hallmarks, they say, of the activities the Russians were doing around the presidential election in 2016.

This time the pages didn't lead back to Russian I.P. addresses. They used third-party services to buy-ins to boost their posts and encourage people to follow the pages. But again, it looks an awful lot like Russian activity, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Drew, what are U.S. officials saying about the Russians' involvement in this case? GRIFFIN: Well, you know, the secretary of homeland security happened

to be speaking at a cybersecurity conference today in New York. She said there's no doubt Russia is gearing up to meddle in the U.S. midterm elections, and she compared the threat to a looming storm.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Today I believe the next major attack is more likely to reach us online than on an airplane. We are in a crisis mode. The Cat 5 hurricane has been forecast, and now we must prepare.


GRIFFIN: DHS today said they had advanced notice of this activity with Facebook. They are working with Facebook on this as Facebook continues to monitor all this Russian activity and take it down as soon as they can figure it out, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect there's even more out there that they're eventually going to learn about. Drew Griffin, thank you very much for that report.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He's key member of both the Appropriations and Budget Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you believe Facebook is doing enough right now to fight back against Russian interference in the U.S. elections?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think Facebook is. They're trying to get in front of this. I don't think the U.S. government is doing enough.

Look, we just had the director of national intelligence say that all the red lights were flashing. We just heard the statement from the secretary of homeland security. We know that the Russians have tried to interfere already in three elections, including Senator McCaskill's election, which is why, Wolf, after I finish talking to you, I'm going to join Senator Rubio on the floor. And we're going to call on the Senate to urgently take up our legislation called the Deter Act, which would tell Putin if he gets caught interfering in the 2018 elections or elections going forward, he will face immediate harsh penalties.

We have to take every action to protect our democracy. The Trump administration is not doing enough. The Senate has to act.

BLITZER: Well, is President Trump personally involved? Is he doing what he needs to do as the president of the United States to deal with this?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, as we know, he hasn't really come around to fully admitting in his heart that the Russians even interfered in the 2016 election. And so they've taken no real action to protect us, the 2018 election.

If they're serious about it, if the Trump administration wants to support the effort, they should support our bipartisan legislation. We've got 98 days or so to go into the election. And we have to pass this. We have to let Putin know that the costs of interference are much higher than any benefit he seeks to gain.

BLITZER: Well, how much support do you and Senator Rubio have?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we have growing support. We have about 12 co- sponsors already, six Republican, six Democrats. It's growing every day. We had a briefing in the Banking Committee, which oversees sanctions, earlier today. Both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Banking Committees will be having hearings.

But hearings aren't enough. I mean, the real test about whether the Republican leadership wants to join with Democrats to protect our democracy will be whether they get beyond the hearings and actually move on the Deter Act.

BLITZER: Let's turn to our top story: President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in court today as the first trial of the special counsel's investigation gets underway. How important is this case to Robert Mueller's overall Russia probe?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's very important. Of course, Manafort was the campaign manager for the Trump campaign for a period of time. He had very deep ties to Russia, these financial ties which are the subject of the hearing.

And we also know that Donald Trump and the Trump administration folks, lots of people in the administration, have had very deep ties financially to Russia.

[17:15:07] But I think the main purpose here is to show that they've collected evidence, they the Mueller investigation, and we've had a lot of indictments. This is the first trial. So this is a very important step.

And I think it just underscores the importance of protecting this investigation. Let the facts lead where they may. As you've been reporting, we've already seen the administration sort of changing its story. First it was a parade of tweets saying, "No collusion," and now it's "No collusion, but that didn't mean that there's been any crime."

The reality is that, if there was a conspiracy to collaborate with the Russians to interfere in the elections, that would be a crime. And let's just let Mueller do his work and get to the bottom of it.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Senator Chris Van Hollen, thanks so much for joining us.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, breaking news. The first big court test for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort gets underway.

And is Moscow once again targeting U.S. voters? Facebook shuts down dozens of pages that it says may have been tied to Russians spreading disinformation ahead of the midterm elections.


[17:20:51] BLITZER: Our breaking news, a jury is sworn in, opening statements are read, and the first witness has already taken the stand in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who faces 18 counts of violating tax and banking laws. It's the first big court test for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the first trial -- and this first trial isn't even tied directly to Russia's election attacks.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us right now.

So where do things stand overall in the Mueller investigation?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, despite all the presidential tweets, all of his and his allies' attacks on the special counsel, and all attempts by journalists and others to try to divine what Robert Mueller is up to, he's continued working quietly for more than a year and has produced a number of charges against, so far, four of Trump's campaign associates, 25 Russians for interfering in the election.

But Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, very much a focus of his investigation.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Openly denounced by the White House --

TRUMP: I call it the rigged witch hunt.

SCIUTTO: -- yet pressing forward without interruption, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has produced a steady stream of indictments and arrests over the last 14 months. It enters a new phase today with the start of the first of two trials for Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman.

In Virginia he faces charges of bank and tax fraud. In Washington, he's accused of failing to register as a lobbyist for a foreign government and obstruction of justice.

And Mueller may not be done with Manafort. This memo indicates that the special counsel is still investigating whether Manafort was, quote, "colluding with Russian government officials," end quote, to interfere in the 2016 election.

KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT'S ATTORNEY: There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government. SCIUTTO: Manafort's former business partner and former deputy

chairman of the Trump campaign, Rick Gates, has already pleaded guilty and will testify against Manafort.

Among the others the special counsel has indicted, Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aid. Both pleaded guilty to lying to prosecutors, and both are cooperating with the investigation. Constantine Kilimnik, an associate of Manafort's, who is described in court documents as a suspected Russian intelligence operative. Also indicted, 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, charged with interfering in the 2016 election.

And most recently, another group of 12 Russian nationals, charged with hacking the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

Could more charges be coming? His team has interviewed at least two dozen members of the Trump administration and other Trump associates.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Bob Mueller is not making deals left and right. Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn all traded some pieces of information for their respective plea deals. That's presumably incredibly important information.

SCIUTTO: One crucial remaining question: what has Mueller found out about that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Russians who promised to share dirt on Hillary Clinton? Trump Jr. has said that he never told his father about the meeting.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: There was nothing to tell.

It was literally just a waste of 20 minutes, which was a shame.

SCIUTTO: But sources tell CNN that Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is now claiming that Trump knew of the meeting in advance and that Cohen is prepared to tell Mueller. Cohen himself may not be on Mueller's to-do list, though, having referred his case to federal investigators in New York.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: So it effectively brings the issue of collusion or conspiracy right to the president's feet.

SCIUTTO: Mueller's latest indictment of the Russian hackers hinted that he may still be looking at the role of other U.S. persons.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The conspirators corresponded with several Americans during the course of the conspiracy through the Internet.

SCIUTTO: Some speculate that may include Roger Stone, who claimed several times during the campaign to be communicating with WikiLeaks, which U.S. intelligence believes acted as a middle man for stolen Democratic Party e-mails and documents.

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: It's innocent. There's no evidence of collusion or conspiracy or coordination.

[17:25:04] SCIUTTO: The Department of Justice also recently released the FISA warrant obtained by the FBI to surveil another former Trump campaign advisor, Carter Page. At the time, the FBI told the court it believed Page was the subject of recruitment by the Russian government.

CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: I've never been an agent of the foreign power in any -- by any stretch of the imagination.

SCIUTTO: Questions also remain about Blackwater founder Erik Prince's mysterious meetings in the Seychelles with a Russian banker and George Nader, an unofficial representative of the United Arab Emirates.

ERIK PRINCE, FOUNDER OF BLACKWATER: No one was aware from the Trump team that I was even there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one was aware of it?

PRINCE: It had nothing to do with the U.S. government. It had nothing to do with the Trump team or the transition team or anything else.

SCIUTTO: CNN has reported that the purpose of that meeting was to arrange a possible back channel communication between the U.S. and Russia. But the UAE connection could expand Mueller's investigation to concerns of additional foreign influence in the 2016 election. Nader has been cooperating with investigators.

Perhaps the biggest question is what, if anything, Mueller has in store for President Trump, including whether he obstructed justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're -- that really that obstruction piece will be the final element of this. And that what we're going to more likely see is, you know, sort of these dots in the center being connected.

SCIUTTO: Looming large is whether the special counsel will demand a sit-down interview with President Trump himself.

TRUMP: I've always wanted to do an interview because, look, there has been no collusion.

SCIUTTO: For now, Mr. Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, says any interview is still under negotiation.

GIULIANI: I think he shouldn't. I know how convinced he is that he didn't do anything wrong and wants to explain it and I've seen other people get into trouble thinking that, innocent people.


SCIUTTO: Now, to be clear, none of the charges that Manafort faces so far involve cooperation, conspiracy or collusion with the Russians. He did, however, work for years for the pro-Russian leader of the Ukraine, including defending his actions inside Ukraine to a western audience; for instance, defending, Wolf, his jailing of his political opponent. So he was working for and getting paid tens of millions of dollars for a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine who was guilty of many bad acts.

We should also say that this does not preclude Manafort [SIC] from filing additional charges on Manafort directly related to possible conspiracy.

BLITZER: Getting millions of dollars from Viktor Yanukovych, who was a pro-Russian, very close to the Kremlin, very close to Putin, Ukrainian leaders.


BLITZER: So that's significant.

SCIUTTO: Also accused of shooting civilian protesters in the Maidonda (ph) administration. So there was some bad -- a lot of malign activity by the person he was working for in Ukraine.

BLITZER: That's an important issue, indeed. Good report. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.

Coming up, there's more breaking new. The first trial in the Mueller investigation has begun as prosecutors layout their case against the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, accused of avoiding taxes on millions and millions of dollars in secret income.

And President Trump hits the campaign trail echoing his lawyer's new argument that, quote, "collusion is not a crime."

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following multiple breaking stories right now. The first witness already is testifying in the trial of the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who's facing charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

[17:33:02] Our legal and political experts are here to discuss what we're learning from these opening statements. And Joey Jackson, you're our legal analyst. What stands on out to you so far from the opening statements?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, quite frankly, Wolf, what stands out to me is why there's a trial in the first place. Let me be clear about what I mean.

There are 18 counts here. What does that mean? It means that if you're convicted of any one of those counts, it's problematic. We know that he faces 305 years. Why are you going to trial?

Compound that against the backdrop of the feds having a 95 percent conviction rate, and I don't see the play. To the specifics of the trial, in terms of what they're saying, what

stands out is the issue of greed, the issue of dishonor, the issue of lying. Jurors do not like when people -- right? -- have several homes and they've lied to get those homes, because they've lied to the bank, lied to the bookkeeper, allegedly, lied to other people in their life, lied to the government about tax and other issues; that they get $21,000 watches and $15,000 jackets that they didn't earn.

And so the government is dropping that all upon him, and that becomes problematic. And so if you look at the greed, you look at the dishonor and you collectively look at the extent of the alleged fraud, and you look at the 18 counts, you scratch your head and you say, "Why was there not cooperation here?"

BLITZER: How important is this first trial for the overall Mueller probe?

JACKSON: I think it is highly significant. Obviously, to be clear, this trial is not about the campaign. It's not about Trump. It's not about collusion.

However, when you as a prosecutor go out the gate, and you have an 18- count case where you have witnesses who are just going to bring it to him, it establishes, if you're successful, not only that you mean business, that your investigations are thorough, that you have people there who are credible, but it also sends a signal to others that "You know what? You might want to cooperate. You know what? You might want to take a plea deal. You know what? You may not want to go to trial."

And so I think, notwithstanding the fact that this case is not related to campaign activity, it's highly significant to Mueller, to the probe and to just the general competence of the prosecution team in Mueller's case, in the first instance.

BLITZER: All right. John Kirby, at the same time, Russia apparently is still doing what they were doing in the 2016 presidential campaign, according to Facebook. They've had to delete a lot of pages, hundreds of thousands of followers. And the suspicion is the Russians are trying to foment dissent once again here in the United States, a lot of division.

Do they appear to be deploying the same strategies as they did in 2016?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Just from the press reporting, it certainly appears to be that way, Wolf, exactly.

And good on Facebook for not only doing something about it but being public about doing something about it. And helping to alert Facebook users and the rest of the public about the threat out there.

But it does appear like they're just taking a page right out of their old playbook and running it again. What we need to be mindful of -- and I'm sure the intel community is -- is other ways and venues and vehicles that they might use to try to sow dissent and chaos in the 2018 election.

BLITZER: What are you hearing about how the president, Dana Bash, is thinking dealing with all of this as he's trying to go about being president?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I'm told that part of the sort of manic state of his tweets, especially recently -- and we'll see what he does at this rally tonight -- has been, as it has been for months and months and months, if not longer, about the Mueller probe and the fact that he still, even to this day, when he sees and hears that, he thinks, "OK, it's my critics saying that I'm not a legitimate president."

But I'm also told it's more than that and that is that he's becoming increasingly concerned and aware of the prospects of the Republicans [SIC] taking over the House in November, and he's saying to aides that the kind of rally he's going to do tonight in Tampa he wants to do much, much more of. He wants them to step it up in a big way.

And what I'm told is that this is very much Donald Trump's M.O. That when he sees problems, he sees things not getting done from his perspective, he says forgets it, I'm going to do it myself. I'm going to take it upon myself. No one can do it the way I can.

He did that in business, and he certainly did it in politics. The question, though, Wolf, is whether it's going to play when he's not on the ballot. It's -- certainly, in places like Tampa where he's going to support a Republican in a primary down there, other places where he won by big margins in North Dakota and West Virginia.

But a lot of the battlegrounds in the House will be won or lost in swing areas where some of the Republican candidates may not be so thrilled with him coming to help them.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. You know, Jamie Gangel, you broke the story, Bob Woodward, who's obviously an historic investigative reporter, has got a book coming out September 11 on Donald Trump as president of the United States, a book entitled "Fear." What are you hearing?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: We're told that, Wolf, Donald Trump is about to get the Bob Woodward treatment, that he interviewed dozens of firsthand sources, that he has hundreds of hours of taped interviews. And that they also -- the book will take you right into the White House. You will see Donald Trump in the Oval Office, in the situation room, on Air Force One, even in the White House residence.

And beyond that, we're told that the sources gave Woodward documents. That he has memos, notes, diaries, files, even some notes handwritten by Donald Trump.

We're going to see exactly where this goes, but I'm told that some of what's in the book is -- includes explosive debates around decision- making. And you can expect to hear about China, North Korea, the Middle East. There is new information about the Russia investigation. And also, you go behind the scenes about what I'm told President Trump was thinking during those protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

BLITZER: It's a great reporter. We'll see what he comes up with in his book. Looking forward to it.

Guys, stick around. There is more news we're following. After months of denying his campaign ever colluded with Russia, why is President Trump all of a sudden now tweeting, quote, "Collusion is not a crime"?

Also coming up, a close look at why the president is attacking some of his fellow Republicans, calling the Koch brothers -- and I'm quoting him now -- "a total joke."


[17:44:02] BLITZER: President Trump today directly attacked the Koch brothers. They're the billionaire businessmen who regularly donate lots and lots of money to Republican candidates and conservative organizations.

On Twitter this morning, the president called them -- and I'm quoting him now -- "a total joke in real Republican circles."

CNN's Rebecca Berg is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Rebecca, tell us more about what the president had to say.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you can see, the president pulling no punches when it comes to the Koch brothers.

In addition to the quote that you cited, he said that he has never sought their support, because he doesn't need their money or bad ideas. He also said, "Their network is highly overrated. I have beaten them at every turn."

So the president asserting his dominance in his Republican Party with those tweets. But why would the president tweet this now?

Well, the context is the Koch brothers and they're -- actually, just Charles Koch now is the leader of the Koch Network. It does political work, policy work and other work, as well. They had their meeting in Colorado Springs over the weekend. And one of the top Koch officials, Brian Hooks, was very critical of the president, said that the White House and the divisiveness that it is creating is going to do long- term damage.

And they also said at the summit that they were frustrated with Republicans who have followed the President's lead on issues like trade and immigration and that they were going to hold those Republicans accountable by potentially not supporting them in crucial elections.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Isn't there is a political risk for the President to attack the Koch network like this so brutally on Twitter?

BERG: Right. Well, in one sense, no, because the Kochs have never really liked Donald Trump. Donald Trump has never really liked the Kochs. They didn't support him in the presidential election. And so in one sense, there aren't any bridges left to be burnt here.

But the Kochs are also very influential, very powerful. They spend a lot of money in Republican politics. Their network is comprised of hundreds of donors who are influential businessmen, just like Charles Koch is himself. So there is an element of this that could be a risk for the President if he wants to upset this very powerful network.

At the same time, though, Wolf, this really does highlight the split that we've seen in the Republican Party. And Donald Trump now is the leader of the party. It has gone in his direction. We've seen Republicans take his side on some of these key policy issues.

And that is why the Koch network this weekend expressed such frustration with Republicans, that they would side with the President on issues like trade, why they want to hold him accountable. But, frankly, the President is emboldened to lash out at them because he is the leader of this Republican Party right now.

BLITZER: Yes, and he's really -- I mean, doesn't he realize, though, that the Koch network gives millions and millions of dollars to conservative think tanks, libertarian organizations out there? Very often, that is part of the base that reports the Republican leadership.

BERG: That's right. And they are also spending millions of dollars right now. They have committed to spend millions of dollars pushing back against the administration's proposed tariffs, trying to undermine one of the President's central policy issues.

That would not help him politically, to have them working against him. He doesn't seem to care though, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. He says, you know, their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn. So this war is now underway.

BERG: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Rebecca, for that report.

Coming up, despite his agreement with President Trump, is Kim Jung-un secretly building new long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles?


[17:52:15] BLITZER: A new report warns North Korea may be building one or two new intercontinental ballistic missiles. "The Washington Post" quotes U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence, which includes satellite images, saying this is a significant moment.

CNN's Will Ripley is following developments for us from Hong Kong. What are you learning over there, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if these reports in "The Post" are correct, then the missiles that are being built right now in North Korea -- this is the same factory that has produced ICBMs that are capable of striking the East Coast of the United States.

This, as CNN is learning there has not been any official contact in weeks since Secretary Pompeo visited Pyongyang and had a disastrous visit between the U.S. and North Korea about denuclearization.


RIPLEY (voice-over): More than eight months after North Korea's last missile launch, what could be a major blow to President Trump's diplomatic efforts with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"The Washington Post" reports North Korea may be developing new intercontinental ballistic missiles at this plant on the outskirts of Pyongyang.

Seemingly a far cry from Trump and Kim's Singapore pledge to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

JOBY WARRICK, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): What we see is, in real time, evidence that North Korean officials don't really take this very seriously. They have no intentions of giving up anything.

And that comes as no surprise when you think of nuclear weapons as being essential, at least in the eyes of the regime, to the survival of Kim Jong-un and his family.

RIPLEY (voice-over): A U.S. official tells CNN Kim has not made a full commitment to denuclearization. And U.S. intelligence agencies believe work continues at nearly all North Korean nuclear weapons facilities, including plants like this one, believed to produce nuclear fuel.

GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES FORCES KOREA: Their production capability is still intact. Their testing capability, we just saw, effective, a few months ago in the destruction of a Punggye- ri testing site. But production is a different question.

RIPLEY (voice-over): In other words, U.S. intelligence says, no significant signs of denuclearization. Contradicting this tweet from President Trump one day after Singapore, declaring there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: North Korea continues to produce fissile material, nuclear bomb material. Is that correct?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, they continue to produce fissile material.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Defense officials say the kind of liquid-fueled missiles North Korea may be developing right now don't pose a major threat. They have to be rolled out and fueled up before launch, giving the U.S. plenty of advance warning.

The big challenge, one official says, learning as much as possible about North Korea's nuclear arsenal before they declare their inventory, so the U.S. can make sure Kim Jong-un is telling the truth.


[17:55:06] RIPLEY: And that last part is crucial because, according to "The Washington Post," U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korean officials are, in fact, preparing to deceive the United States about the number of warheads and the number of missiles they have.

And they haven't even indicated that they're willing to declare a full inventory yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Will Ripley with the very, very latest. Disturbing information, indeed. Thank you.

Coming up, the breaking news in the first big court case for the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort goes on trial, accused by prosecutors of hiding millions of dollars in secret income.