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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Calls for End to Russia Probe; Paul Manafort Trial Continues. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired August 1, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Twitter pressure.
President Trump calling on his attorney general to -- quote -- "stop the investigation" into himself and his team, and may have given the special counsel all new evidence in the process.
A LEAD exclusive. Something that might have been unthinkable when the memories of 9/11 were still fresh. The TSA considering ending security screening at 150 airports in this country to save money. Is this what President Trump meant by make America safe again?
Plus, from the dark corners of the web to a Trump rally. Who are the fringe conspiracy theorists who call themselves QAnon?
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with the politics lead.
Today, President Trump escalating his attacks on the Russia investigation, going even further in his calls to shut down the law enforcement investigation into his own team, farther than we have ever seen before from this president or indeed from any president since Richard Nixon.
Trump tweeting today that -- quote -- "Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch-hunt right now before it continues to stain our country any further."
This is now official White House language for describing a law enforcement investigation signed off on by the president's own Justice Department and defended by the president's own FBI director as not a witch-hunt.
Here's the spokeswoman for the most powerful person on the planet this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's ridiculous that all of the corruption and dishonesty that's gone on with the launching of the witch-hunt. The entire investigation is based off of a dirty, discredited dossier. (END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: All right, that last statement from Sanders is a lie, of course.
The investigation was launched two before the dossier was drafted and it has continued gathering evidence since, including during the Trump presidency.
Special counsel Mueller is, of course, also investigating the degree to which President Trump and his team have tried to stop the investigation, with potential obstruction of justice charges at play.
With that in mind, no doubt, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani quickly stepped in to insist that the presidential tweet calling for his attorney general to stop a law enforcement investigation was not in fact obstruction, because the president said Sessions should stop the investigation, not that he should -- not that he must stop the investigation.
Giuliani claiming that the president was merely expressing his opinion, he should do it.
This afternoon, Sanders echoed that. And I do mean echo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: It's not an order. It's the president's opinion. The president is stating his opinion. There's no reason he shouldn't be able to voice that opinion. The president is stating his opinion.
I think I have clarified this about 10 times now. It's the president's opinion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Opinion or official order, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, gasped when a Bloomberg News reporter read her the president's tweet. "Geez," Senator Collins said. "This is unbelievable. Those comments are totally inappropriate. The president should not be talking about the investigation at all" -- unquote.
With all due respect, Senator, is it really still unbelievable? Every week, it seems, President Trump erodes a standard that had been there before.
Let's go to CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He's at the White House.
And, Jeff, you asked Sarah Sanders this afternoon a key question. How are we to know, especially who are staffers to know what's an opinion of the president and what's a direct order?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And, Jake, to that question, Sarah Sanders answered in six words. She said the president makes it pretty clear. But the only thing clear here today is all of this happening on the
second day of the Paul Manafort proceedings just across the river in Alexandria, which the president proved today he's following very closely.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. It's my great honor to be here today.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump dramatically escalating his attack on the Russia probe today, explicitly calling an Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shut it down.
After railing against special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation for more than a year.
TRUMP: Total witch-hunt.
ZELENY: The president taking an extraordinary step further by asking to end an inquiry that involves him.
"This is a terrible situation, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch-hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further," the president saying on Twitter.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defending the president's statement, saying he was offering his own view of the investigation.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: It's not an order. It's the president's opinion. And it's ridiculous that all of the corruption and dishonesty that's gone on with the launching of the witch-hunt.
ZELENY: But the president's call to end the investigation took his criticism to a new level. The special counsel is already looking into Trump's tweets as part of a potential obstruction of justice probe.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president is not obstructing. He's fighting back. The president is stating his opinion.
ZELENY: Yet it's an open question where a presidential opinion ends and a presidential directive begins.
(on camera): When he tells you something as a member of his staff, how do if it's a directive from the president or if it's simply his opinion?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president makes it pretty clear when I'm having those conversations with him.
ZELENY (voice-over): The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani echoed the defense.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: He's established a clear sort of practice now that he expresses his opinions on Twitter. He used the word should. He didn't use the word must. And there was no presidential directive that followed it.
ZELENY: The president has been furious at Sessions since the spring of 2017, when he recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation.
TRUMP: The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself.
ZELENY: Since Sessions stepped aside, the Russia probe is overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He was not mentioned by the president today.
(on camera): Does the president know that Jeff Sessions can't stop the investigation? Has he directed Rod Rosenstein to?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president's very well aware of how the process works. Once again, he is stating his opinion.
ZELENY: Now, as for the attorney general, he did not respond to this at all, which has been his practice over the last year-and-a-half as he's been insulted by this White House repeatedly.
Now, as for Rudy Giuliani, he said it's time for Mueller to put up or shut up. Jake, one of the delays in all of this is the president not yet making a decision if he will sit down with a special counsel or not.
That, of course, is one of the things that has extended all of this well over a year -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House.
Let's talk to my experts about this.
Minutes ago, as Jeff just suggested, Rudy Giuliani spoke about the president's tweet this morning. And he also said this. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: We believe that the investigation should be brought to a close. We think they're at the end of it. They should render their report. Put up. I mean, I guess -- if were playing poker -- we're not -- we would say, put up or shut up. What do you got?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Put up or shut up. What do you got?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't even know what Robert Mueller's voice sounds like. But this is a familiar of refrain from Rudy Giuliani, who keeps saying this.
He also said that they believe the investigation is coming to an end soon, which we have no evidence and the White House has offered no evidence of why they believe that claim. But we're also seeing Rudy try to downplay the president's tweet from this morning.
He repeated that it's not a directive. He said that that's not going to happen. The president isn't going to direct Jeff Sessions to end the investigation, something he can't do.
But it's not entirely clear the president realizes that Jeff Sessions can't end the investigation because he recused himself. The president has made quite clear he believes he can end the investigation, which raises the question, if that's the case, then why is he calling on Jeff Sessions to do so on Twitter?
But also the White House saying that these are opinions, that was the first line of defense we saw from Rudy Giuliani this morning, and then we saw Sarah Sanders echo it, which is interesting because so far they have tried to distance themselves from Rudy Giuliani, really separating the two of them.
But now that it's convenient that his defense works for them, they're using it today from the White House podium, even though they said the president's tweets are official statements.
TAPPER: I'm guessing, Symone, that you don't buy the idea that this is just the president sharing his opinion on Twitter and not a directive to the attorney general, end this investigation?
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I asked Jim before we went on. I said, did the president just get opinions today or did Barack have some opinions we didn't know about?
This is crazy. You know what? The president and everyone associated with this White House is gaslighting America. And I just want no parts of it. In my opinion, Jake, this is why Democrats need to take back the House, and so we can take some actual actions, real actions behind getting America back on track.
This is crazy. And clearly Republicans aren't going to do anything about it, so I hope Democrats will come November.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think, as Symone said, I worked for President Obama for eight years. If President Obama or any president says you should do this, that's a directive. That is directing people to do things. I don't think anybody who's ever worked for president would say otherwise.
TAPPER: Not just a president. You worked for Mitch McConnell, right? And if Senator McConnell, Leader McConnell said, if you want to...
TAPPER: I won't do it now. I do a pretty good McConnell.
TAPPER: But you should put money into this race in Nevada, you would take that as a, oh, OK, I'm going to go do that.
JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think we're analyzing this based on traditional metrics of politicians, right, and traditional metrics of litigation and traditional metrics of...
HOLMES: ... criminal prosecutions.
HOLMES: The president has proven since his first day in office, and even far before that, he didn't play by those rules, right? He believes that much of this litigated in the court of public opinion.
And he has decided that he's going to engage there. And I don't think that there's a single lawyer, Rudy Giuliani or anybody else, who would advise him to do that. But he says, you know what? He thinks it's his best stuff. And so he goes out and leads with this. And his supporters obviously react to it.
And I think, to the point of Giuliani saying that they want things to wrap up, I think most people, Republican, Democrat, and otherwise, do want it to wrap up. They may call it different opinions on what that looks like. But this has been going on a long time.
And I think if they can wrap this up with closure at some point in the near future, it would be a benefit to everybody.
TAPPER: And yet, Kaitlan, it's not going to wrap up before the president and Mueller at least work out this -- whether this interview thing, whether or not they're going to have an interview.
And also, as far as I understand it, Mueller has not yet interviewed Donald Trump Jr. And Donald Trump Jr. is also somebody whose testimony needs to be at least heard by the special counsel.
COLLINS: Especially given the questions lately about whether or not he told his father before about that meeting at Trump Tower.
We know that that is a central focus of Mueller's inquiry and a big reason why he wants to speak to the president, so he can ask him that question himself and see what the president has to say.
So we have seen those deliberations going back between their team, the president's legal team, and the special counsel prosecutors as well.
Rudy Giuliani did make some news there. He did say that they got a response from Mueller in regards to what they sent him, that counterproposal for the president's interview. He really didn't give any details of what looks like. TAPPER: Yes.
Let me interrupt for one second, because I want to bring in CNN.'s Shimon Prokupecz, who is going to talk more about that.
Shimon, Giuliani just said, as Kaitlan was referring to, that Trump's legal team did receive a letter from Mueller yesterday having to do with this back and forth about terms of a possible Trump-Mueller sit- down.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: Negotiating. We haven't stopped negotiated with him.
The most recent letter, they sent us a proposal. We responded to their proposal. They took about 10 days and yesterday we got a letter back from them. And now we're in the process of responding to their proposal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: But, Shimon, how much of this is Kabuki?
I mean, do you think that really there's any way that the legal team of the president is going to let them -- let Mueller interview him?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it would be hard to believe, especially after today's tweet, because how do you respond to what he said that Jeff Sessions should do?
But what's interesting is that we're learning more about this letter. And what this letter -- essentially, what one person described it on the Trump team is saying it's baby steps. However, it's significant in that it's clear based on this letter, based on this information we now have, that Mueller still wants Trump to do a sit-down.
That is not going away. They are willing to do some written questions, according to the source we spoke to. But significant in all of this is that Mueller still wants Trump to do a sit-down.
And, Jake, it could perhaps explain some of the president's response to everything today and in all his tweets, but certainly significant in many ways, in that there is still a negotiation, and that Mueller wants this interview.
TAPPER: All right, Shimon, thanks so much.
I want to play another interesting bit of sound from the -- from the briefing. Take a listen. It's Major Garrett from CBS asking a question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: If it's corrupt, why doesn't the president just end it or use the powers he has to end it?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, the president has allowed this.
QUESTION: If he believes that, why doesn't he follow through on that?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, the president has allowed this process to play out, but he thinks it's time for it to come to an end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: It is a kind of an odd thing. If he wants it to end, he could order Rod Rosenstein to end it.
The likely response would be that he would pull an Elliot Richardson and he would resign before he would do that.
Look, I think, as Kaitlan said, it's a little odd. I mean, he doesn't clearly either know the process, or maybe he knows the process, and this is a political step. Ultimately, he has the power to do it.
Look, I they their talking point continues to be for months and months this is about to end, it should end. That's never been the case. There also is no evidence any legal expert will tell you that just because it hasn't ended it means they don't have anything.
So that is the other conclusion that's ludicrous. This will play out. It's unlikely, it seems, that he will -- Mueller will come out and conclude right near the election. We're getting pretty close. So you can guess that might be into next year. So it doesn't seem like it's going to end any time soon.
HOLMES: Which let me pick up on that just for a second, because I think it's important when you say whether is something there or not.
I think pretty clearly Mueller and his team with respect to the president or the president's son are looking at perhaps obstruction or perhaps some kind of perjury type thing, lying to the FBI. They're certainly not looking for collusion, because if you look at the Manafort trial that is happening right now, you have got the one guy who has all the Russian connections. Look at all the charges.
PSAKI: I don't think, Josh, with all respect, you don't have any idea what exactly they're looking at.
HOLMES: I know he's on trial.
PSAKI: We know that they're looking at everything from collusion to obstruction.
To say they're not... (CROSSTALK)
HOLMES: The charges that they brought against Paul Manafort...
PSAKI: Who is one of several people they have indicted.
HOLMES: OK, but that has nothing to do with collusion, right? And he's the guy with the Russian connections.
TAPPER: So does Papadopoulos. So does Carter Page.
SANDERS: Yes, Carter Page, Michael Flynn.
I think that look, Michael Cohen, who is currently under a total separate investigation, but could eventually pop back up in the Mueller investigation.
I think it's important for us to remember that we only know but a fraction, but a bit of what Robert Mueller knows, Robert Mueller knows. And in keeping with that point, we're just speculating on just the teeny tidbits of the ice or the tip of the iceberg that we actually have. And so we don't know.
So we should not pontificate, if you will, like the president does, about when the investigation should end and what they have, because we have no idea.
COLLINS: But to follow up on that point, there have been critics and some people who have said their concern that Mueller's probe could expand and it could be too wide of a purview.
And we saw yesterday he seems to be trying to combat that and push back on that, because he referred those cases to the Southern District of New York. So he does seem to be trying to keep the scope to a limited amount and not let it expand, where he has several cases like Paul Manafort on his hands.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.
Speaking of Paul Manafort, a surprising twist in the Manafort trial today -- why we may never hear from the so-called star witness, thanks to a possible prosecution fake-out.
And then, the TSA is considering allowing thousands of passengers to board airplanes -- airplanes without going through security screenings -- the reason why in a CNN exclusive you will see first right here on THE LEAD.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: And then the TSA is considering allowing thousands of passengers to board airplanes without going through security screenings.
[16:15:04] The reason why in a CNN exclusive you'll see first right here on THE LEAD.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Sticking with politics. President Trump kicking off day two of the Paul Manafort trial with fiery tweets saying his former campaign chairman, quote, worked for me for a very short time. Why didn't government tell me that he was under investigation? These old charges have nothing to do with collusion. A hoax.
He added, quote, looking back on history. Who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and public enemy number one, or Paul Manafort, political operative and Reagan/Dole darling now serving solitary confinement -- although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russia collusion?
Prosecutors have described Manafort as a greedy businessman who hid millions of dollars in income. But today, we learned the Justice Department star witness Rick Gates who spent a decade working side-by- side with Manafort, he may, in fact, not testify after all.
CNN's Jessica Schneider picks up the story.
[16:20:02] JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paul Manafort may be the one on trial, but his former long time associate Rick Gates is captivating the courtroom. Despite being described by the defense as the government's star witness, lead prosecutor Uzo Asonye cast doubt on Gates' upcoming court appearance telling the judges, he may testify in this case, he may not.
The comment came during the questioning of an FBI agent who found a memo titled Gates' agenda from 2013 during a raid of Manafort's Virginia condo last July. Judge T.S. Ellis and his push to keep the trial moving said to the prosecutor, if you are going to call Mr. Gates, this is a waste of time.
Rick Gates may be the special counsel's most notable witness on its list of 35. But it's the defense who has promised the jury he will be a central player in the trial. During opening statement, Manafort attorney Thomas Zehnle deflected blame to Rick Gates, saying he embezzled millions from Manafort and turned on him after he came under pressure from Mueller's team. Zehnle telling the jury it was Gates who had his hand in the cookie jar.
Gates has pleaded to two charges in D.C. and is now cooperating with the special counsel. Already, the prosecution has called several witnesses, including Democratic consultants who worked with Manafort during his lobbying work in Ukraine and FBI agent Matthew Mikuska, who searched Manafort's condo in a predawn raid last summer. Agent Mikuska testified that the FBI knocked three times before entering Manafort's home, disputing some news reports it was a no knock raid. Mikuska said agents announced that the FBI was there to execute a search warrant when agents walked in, Manafort was standing nearby, Mikuska testified.
The agent also told the jury, Manafort's name was on several documents showing millions of dollars in loan agreements and wire transfer invoices. One document was a loan agreement with a California bank who is listed as one of the victims of Manafort's alleged fraud. But Judge Ellis has blocked the prosecution from showing certain photos illustrating Manafort's extravagant spending, rebuking the prosecutor saying, Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle.
But the jury did hear today from an employee at a high end Manhattan clothes store, saying Manafort was one of the store's top five buyers and that Manafort was the only client who paid with wire transfers.
SCHNEIDER: And it's been a flurry of witnesses this afternoon. The jury has also heard from a Mercedes Benz employee, a real estate agent and a contractor all talking about Manafort's penchant for luxury items. And, Jake, all of them have talked about the fact that Manafort often paid via a wire transfer from those offshore accounts -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider at the courthouse for us -- thank you so much.
Let's talk to our experts.
Glenn, prosecutors today said Gates might not testify. What does that say to you? And do you think they can get a conviction without him?
GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Jake, it says to me if they don't call Gates, that means they believe they have more than enough evidence, well beyond a reasonable to convict Mr. Manafort absent Gates' testimony.
And actually, so I prosecuted thoroughly 30 years, recently retired, and I'll tell you, if I were going to put a cooperating witness on the stand, you can bet I would stand up in openings and I would tell the jury what a cooperating witness is all about -- how they enter into plea agreement that may reduce their charges, which may seem they have an incentive to lie. But they actually have an incentive to tell the truth, because if they fail to testify truthfully, then guess what? We rip up the plea agreement, we revive all those charges and now, their maximum exposure to prison time goes up.
So, as prosecutors, we need to lay all of that out for the jury if we intend to put a cooperating witness on the stand. And I'll tell you, Jake, I talk to people who are inside the courtroom during the opening statements and the prosecutors didn't go there. They referred to Gates, but they never explained much about his plea agreement, what a cooperating witness is. I think that's a signal they may not call him in this trial.
TAPPER: Very interesting. What does this case look like to you?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I'll tell you, let me play armchair lawyer, I love doing this on TV.
It looks very open and shut to me. There are a couple of characteristics here. Number one, let's just step back. The feds don't lose that many cases.
Secondly in this case, you're not just talking about the feds. You are talking about Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, dealing with some of the best prosecutors I ever witnessed at the Department of Justice and the FBI.
The last thing I'd say is this is not he said/she said. This is about the digital age where you're re looking at financial records, that's digital and you're looking at things like e-mails and phone records. I don't know why Manafort didn't play, maybe as we were discussing in the green room before, it's because Mueller didn't offer him a plea. But if he walks away without being convicted, I will eat a hat on your show the day after he walks. He's not going to walk.
TAPPER: OK, Glenn, I'm just thinking about --
MUDD: A small hat.
TAPPER: I'm just thinking about you eating a hat. We'll make it a "Make America Great" hat. That will be the poetic justice of it.
Glenn, prosecutors are painting Manafort as greedy. He got ill-gotten gains, et cetera.
[16:25:01] And you know from trying these cases, one of the things you do when you're trying somebody like this is you show the lavish lifestyle. But the judge today, Judge Ellis, blocked prosecutors from showing the jury the luxury photos, saying, quote, I understand this effort to show that he lived lavishly, but at some point, it's not relevant.
What do you make of that?
KIRSCHNER: So, you are absolutely right. We do like to show the jurors how Paul Manafort spent all of these ill-gotten gains. I mean, do you really need seven homes with water pool ponds, personal putting greens and I think what we all really enjoy, the ostrich jacket?
But I think Judge Ellis is doing a couple things here. He is gauging the sort of evidence as it comes in. He sees it mounting, and his job is not only to give Paul Manafort a fair trial but to protect the record on appeal in the event Paul Manafort is convicted. And the way a judge does that is he begins to rein in the prosecutors when he senses that OK, the lavish lifestyle evidence is becoming a little bit of overkill, so let's ratchet it back, prosecution, and let's get to something that's a little bit more relevant.
MUDD: Yes, I mean, this is dead on. Look, let's face what's going on here. The prosecutors are walking and saying, let me give this 21 a shot. I want to persuade the jury that this is a rich guy who lives a different life than you did and he wasted a lot of money.
The judge says -- I mean, I don't begrudge what the prosecutors did, but the judge says appropriately, I mean, I live in this neighborhood this trial is going on. There's a lot of rich people over there. The judge says being rich is not a crime. The judge said being rich is a not crime. I want to see the evidence whether he inappropriately hid money, whether he transferred money in appropriately.
I think he shut it down, he had to remember the judge -- I think he shut it down appropriately. What's the point about proving somebody is rich? There's a lot of rich people in the country.
TAPPER: Another interesting thing that Judge Ellis did was tell them not to use the word "oligarchs" when describing where the money came from, saying, that you can say that about the Koch brothers, you can say that about George Soros. It just implies criminality and that's not relevant and it's not proven. Very interesting.
Thanks so much. We're going to keep coming back to you guys for this trial. It's very interesting.
A judge -- we're going to take look at the judge now who's taking center stage in the Manafort trial, Judge Ellis. A fascinating person.
Stay with us.