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Paul Manafort Trial Continues; Interview With Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; U.S. Officials Sound Alarm on Russian Election Interference. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2018 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me here on this Thursday.

Here's the breaking news. The nation's top intelligence officials sounding the alarm about active Russian efforts to undermine the U.S. elections with fewer than 100 days to go until the midterms and, more importantly, speaking out to assure Americans that the Trump administration is actively confronting those cyber-security threats.


DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Our focus here today is simply just tell the American people we acknowledge the threat, it is real, it is continuing, and we're doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in.

In addition to that, it goes beyond the elections. It goes to Russia's intent to undermine our democratic values, drive a wedge between our allies and do a number of other nefarious things.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The reality is, it's going to take all of us working together to hold the field, because this threat is not going away. As I have said consistently, Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.

This is a threat we need to take extremely seriously and to tackle and respond to with fierce determination and focus.


BALDWIN: But, for the president of the United States, a stark difference in messaging.

Just a day ago, the president over Twitter said that his attorney general should end the Russia investigation. And then today, "The New York Times" is reporting that the president wants to try and convince the special counsel, Robert Mueller, that his own investigation is a witch-hunt. So let's start there.

With me, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz and CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell. Josh is a former FBI supervisory special agent.

Shimon, first to you. I know you were watching that briefing very closely. Your two major takeaways?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think there was major news in what the FBI director there said. There were two big points I think he was trying to make.

And one is that almost every office, almost every field office at the FBI in this country is engaged, is working these kinds of cases, that there have a foreign influence task force that has been set up, and they're looking at various things, including -- I think the other thing he said is campaign money, money that has gone into campaigns legally from foreigners.

Could be Russia. Could be other countries. I know that we here at CNN spent great deal of time looking at that, certainly with Russian oligarchs who may have put money into campaigns through various cutouts in this country. And that I think for the first time we're hearing from the FBI director confirming that these kinds of investigations are under way.

I think it's significant in how he described these open investigations all across the country. That, to me, was certainly jaw-dropping, when you realize how big and how much of an effort now that the FBI is taking on in trying to sort of disrupt some of this.

BALDWIN: The American public has to have confidence in the voting process in this country, Josh Campbell. And you say seeing all of those intel chiefs was a great step.


We have heard a lot of specifics here today, as Shimon had outlined there, but there's also this largely symbolic effort, which is so important for the American people to see this whole-of-government approach, this united front, seeing the intelligence chiefs standing there, and telling the American people, we take this threat seriously.

Now, those of us who have been an intelligence community, those of us who cover the intelligence community in media know the work that they're doing, know they take it seriously, but the public, they have to hear it as well, because there are two main challenges that they're focusing on here.

There's the physical infrastructure security, the voting systems, ensuring confidence in those systems, but then also countering a lot of these foreign influence operations, which is a Herculean task.

And on both of those, they have to have that public confidence because even if no vote is changed, if our foreign adversaries can try to persuade the American people that their vote wasn't counted, it will sow that kind of chaos that we saw in 2016. This is a great step today.

BALDWIN: But -- here's the but -- is that, it is great to see these intel chiefs and to hear them come out and directly say from that very podium the threat is real, but juxtapose that from what you have heard from Sarah Sanders, who stands behind that podium and calls this a witch-hunt, to the president himself.


I was talking to conservative columnist Max Boot last hour. And he was basically saying to me, it's almost like you have two foreign policies and that Trump trumps his own administration. Think back to Helsinki, and what the president said or didn't say.

It just seems incongruous, what we just heard.

CAMPBELL: It is. And that's the key issue here. And that's why this so important.

We have seen such a big mixed messages from the White House, from the president himself with respect to how serious they're taking this threat. So people are going to now look at that and then try to compare that to having all of these intelligence chiefs, who have spent their lives in public service working on these important issues, standing there, having the FBI director call out Russia from the podium of the White House and say that they're a threat.

Again, it's that continued confidence that the public needs to know that even if the White House is going to play politics with the issue, they can be convinced and find confidence in the intelligence community actually taking it seriously.

BALDWIN: OK, Josh Campbell and Shimon Prokupecz, gentlemen, thank you so much.

With me now, Alberto Gonzales. He was the former attorney general under President George W. Bush. And he's currently the dean at Belmont University College of Law, and he is the author of "True Faith and Allegiance."

So, Attorney General Gonzales, a pleasure to have you on, sir. Welcome.


BALDWIN: So seeing all those intelligence geez standing up there, despite what the president may say, do you see this as a turning point in efforts to battle election interference?

GONZALES: Well, let me be clear.

And I think, to reassure your viewers, the intelligence community has been working diligently even before this press conference in addressing this challenge by Russia. This has been a very important challenge for the United States, our system of government, to our way of life.

And so they have been on the case. And I regret the fact it's taken so long for them to have his press conference. But I'm very confident that this is something they have been focused on for quite some time.

I think part of the challenge that we have here is, we have the president, who is not precise in terms of describing what he refers to when he talks about a witch-hunt. I would like to think that he's only referring to this notion of this investigation that he somehow cooperated with Russia in connection with -- with the 2016 election, and that he's not referring to the actual investigation by the Mueller team into Russian meddling.

It's the second thing which is very, very important, and which I think today our members of the intelligence community highlighted to the American people and that they're focused on, that they're working against.

BALDWIN: OK, so you see it as the president not being precise. You, sir, with all of your experience inside of an administration, I mean, what do you make of this obvious divide between the president and his intelligence chiefs? And do you agree that it is playing into precisely what Vladimir Putin wants?

GONZALES: Well, I think confusion and chaos and uncertainty and perhaps even fear is something that Putin is driving toward.

And I think that in many ways he is achieving that. The divide again may relate solely to the fact that President Trump is focused on whether or not this investigation is focused on collusion between the campaign and the Russian government.

And, for whatever reason, he refuses to acknowledge the fact that a very important -- very important component of the Mueller investigation is into election meddling by Russia. It is the second part which I think is vitally important and which was highlighted today.

BALDWIN: Stay with me, sir. I have so much more for you just about the president's attacks on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the suggestion that he should end the Mueller investigation, and the special counsel's counteroffer for a personal interview with the president.

Also ahead, some of Paul Manafort's closest associates take the stand against him, his own bookkeeper saying that he had no knowledge of 14 offshore bank accounts that he used.

And, later, the first daughter Ivanka Trump distancing herself from her father, saying family separations at the border have been a low point. So we're asking why was she silent until now?

Stay with me. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is offering the president a compromise in the Russia investigation. Mueller suggesting that he would cut the number of obstruction-related questions for the president.

But the catch here, he wants the president to answer those questions in person. The president's lawyers had offered written answers to obstruction questions. The Trump legal team wanted the sit-down interview limited to things that had happened before he took office mainly related to the collusion piece of Mueller's probe.

This is happening just one day after the president said his attorney general should end the Russia investigation.

So back with me, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

And so, Mr. Attorney General, I mean, the president's tweet from yesterday, right, so the White House says, whoa, whoa, that was an opinion, that wasn't an order to the A.G., that Trump wrote the word should and not must.

Do you think it crossed the line?

GONZALES: I'm not sure that it did, given the past statements by the present.

I mean, everyone knows that's the president's opinion and that he would like to -- he would to see this ended. And everyone knows the president has ways to end this investigation if he wanted to.

One of the things I worry about, quite honestly, by the constant whining is it makes the president look weak, the fact that he keeps saying this investigation should be over, Rod Rosenstein should end it, that Attorney General Sessions should do something.

The president is head of the executive branch, and these individuals all work within the executive branch, as does the special counsel. And to continue to complain about it, to me, it just makes the president look weak.


And I think it's very, very unfortunate. I think it's -- I think, as a general matter, it's unfortunate for the president be speaking about his attorney general in this way, to be speaking about ending an investigation.

I think he needs to allow the investigation to move forward. And as soon -- and if he does that, and Bob Mueller will end investigation, and it'll be it'll be over, and we will all know exactly what happened in connection with the 2016 presidential election.

BALDWIN: OK. So the president complaining and whining, and we know he wants this

thing to end. But you were once the A.G. I mean, put yourself in Jeff Sessions' shoes. You read the president's tweets. What do you do? Do you ignore the president?

GONZALES: This not the first time the president has made this kind of complaint against the attorney general either directly or indirectly.

I'm assuming, the first time it happened, Jeff Sessions had a private conversation with the president. They reached some kind of understanding. And now Jeff Sessions, I -- he's probably immune to it. As far as he's concerned, he's carrying out the president's agenda.

And I think most critics of the -- and supporters of President Trump believe this is probably one of the most effective Cabinet members in carrying out President Trump's agenda. And so long as he's doing that, I think Jeff Sessions is quite comfortable serving as the attorney general and taking these barbs.

BALDWIN: We have had some reporting this week that the president is worried that the Democrats could actually take back the House, depending on which way the midterms go.

And we also know that, in the end, the president's fate will be determined not by Robert Mueller, but by members of Congress. So, with that in mind, here is the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I have to say this. And I say this in my role not as a lawyer, but as a concerned citizen and Republican.

But this election is going to be about impeachment or no impeachment.


BALDWIN: But it just -- he's right. I mean, is he correct that anything Mueller finds will ultimately be up to Congress, sort of jurors in Congress?

GONZALES: Well, I think there is a very serious question as to whether or not a president could even be prosecuted.

I mean, that's certainly the position of the Department of Justice, as far as that I understand. And there are limits in terms of even what -- how far you can go in getting testimony from the president, which is why you see Robert Mueller negotiating to try to get some kind of interview with the president, even if it's -- even if it's limited..

So, at the end of the day, I think what you're likely to say here is Robert Mueller coming up with findings, and even though he can't -- may not be able to prosecute the president and believes the president engaged in wrongdoing, those findings will be provided to Congress. And then it'll be up to Congress to decide whether or not these crimes reach the level of impeachment.

BALDWIN: Giuliani also said that Trump would be walking into a perjury trap. Speaking of this potential interview with Mueller, he would be walking into a perjury trap if he agrees to do this interview in person.

And I'm curious just what would that suggest to you, hearing that? Would that suggests that his client would have something to hide or that he's doing his job and has his client's back?

GONZALES: Well, it could mean that the president has something to hide.

It could also mean the president is undisciplined and says things off the cuff.

BALDWIN: You think?

GONZALES: And oftentimes without thinking much -- thinking much about it.

And so he's worried about that, because, obviously, Bob Mueller and his team have interviewed a lot of people in connection with Russia meddling. And so President Trump may say something off the cuff.

But, again, there is a serious question as to whether or not the president could even be indicted for perjury, but not -- but he could, of course, be subject to impeachment if, in fact, Robert Mueller finds possible perjury and refers his findings to the Congress.

BALDWIN: Last question.

Despite what we're hearing from Trump's attorneys, he says essentially bring it on, he wants to do this interview with the Mueller team. What do you think that is? Is that hubris? Is that naivete? Is that a smokescreen?

GONZALES: I don't know Donald Trump.


GONZALES: It's possible for me to answer that question.

He is so different from the president that I served. I just -- it's -- I'm not in a position to answer that question. Who knows.

BALDWIN: Who knows is right.

Alberto Gonzales, former U.S. attorney general, thank you so much. Pleasure to have you on.

GONZALES: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: Paul Manafort's landscaper on the stand today, testifying about nearly half-a-million dollars in payments he got from an offshore bank account, details on those sorts of revelations from this federal courthouse today.

Also ahead, President Trump compares Manafort to Al Capone. We will talk to a writer who argues that there are quite a few similarities between the former mob boss and Trump himself.



BALDWIN: To the Paul Manafort trial, day three, the trial of the president's former campaign chief sounding a bit like "The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous here."

Manafort facing 18 counts of tax evasion and banking fraud. Today, a landscaper was testifying that he was paid nearly half-a-million dollars to maintain the grounds at one of Manafort's seven homes. Manafort's home in the Hamptons has a massive pond, a big waterfall, and some massive red and white flower bed in the shape of, you guessed it, an M.


And we have more photos showing this $15,000 ostrich leather coat Manafort owned, as well as this python jacket with a price tag of $18,500.

Robert Mueller's prosecutors fighting to show photos like these to the jury. So far, this judge here, Judge Ellis, saying, no, that essentially being wealthy is not a crime. This shouldn't be about his lavish lifestyle

And today Manafort's longtime bookkeeper took the stand, testifying no 14 times in a row that she did not know about Manafort's 14 offshore shell company bank accounts. Also today, Mueller star witness Rick Gates could testify we're hearing as early as tomorrow. Gates is Manafort's longtime business partner and a former deputy in the Trump campaign.

And on the topic of Manafort here, why is President Trump using his name in the same sentence with notorious mobster Al Capone? He's done it several times, Trump tweeting: "Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse (sic) 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."

Here's what President Trump said back on July 16.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You look at Flynn, it's a shame, but the FBI didn't think he was lying.

With Paul Manafort, who's -- who really is a nice man, you look at what's going on with him. It's like Al Capone.


BALDWIN: Daily Beast special column this Michael Daly is with me. His new op-ed called "Trump Connects Paul Manafort, Al Capone and Fear Itself."

Michael Daly, always a pleasure.

MICHAEL DALY, THE DAILY BEAST: Thank you for having me.

BALDWIN: Why the heck do you think Trump is comparing Manafort to Al Capone?

DALY: Well, that's the question I asked myself.

BALDWIN: Did you get an answer?



DALY: Even though Capone grew up about six blocks away from where Manafort has his brownstone.

BALDWIN: Which is crazy. And do you think Trump even knows that?

DALY: I think no.


DALY: I think -- so I thought that. And I said, no, that can't be.

Then I thought, well, he's saying he's -- that Manafort is being treated worse than Al Capone, right? Now, to me, if I was Manafort, I would be thinking he's telling me he can pardon me. This is a reason for him to pardon me.

And if Manafort gets convicted, before he starts singing to anybody, Trump can say, this is terrible. He's being treated worse than Al Capone. I'm going to pardon him.

BALDWIN: You're the second person in 24 hours who said that same thing about a potential pardon.

DALY: But something else came to me, though, is Woodward quotes Trump as saying...


BALDWIN: Bob Woodward.

DALY: Bob Woodward, the "Washington Post" eminence, quotes Trump as telling him that power ultimately comes from, and then Trump says, I don't want to even say the word. There's not many words that Trump doesn't want to say.

And then he said fear. Al Capone back in the day was quoted by his nephew as saying that his organization was based on fear. And I don't know if Trump knows that Capone said that, but Trump could look at a guy like Capone -- and he's dealt with a lot of kind of Capone successors -- and that's all based on fear.

BALDWIN: But talk about that, because you paint this picture of Donald Trump and New York City in the '80s and this Teamster, who was it, John Cody, the mob-connected Teamster boss, and a citywide strike, construction all came to a screeching halt over in New York City, except...

DALY: One place, Trump Tower.

BALDWIN: Trump Tower.

DALY: And it went ahead. Every construction site in the city was shut down because Cody said so.

And that's because Cody had people afraid, because if they didn't listen to Cody, they had to deal with "Fat Tony" Salerno and the rest of the Genovese crime family. So all of a sudden, Trump could see the whole city, could see fear caused the entire city to shut down, except for him.

So that's where he saw power there. And it is as -- another thing that is kind of interesting is that Trump was at one point called to the organized crime strike force in Brooklyn to answer questions about his relationship with Cody.

And the prosecutors are there. They got to figure he is going to show up at five lawyers and all this.


DALY: Trump arrives and walks alone down the hallway.

BALDWIN: No lawyers.

DALY: And I talked to one prosecutor who was just like, what?

It's one thing if you grab some guy off the street that doesn't have two nickels and he doesn't have a lawyer. Trump's got...

BALDWIN: A few nickels.

DALY: His whole life goes with lawyers. But the one time he doesn't go for a lawyer is he goes to answer questions. He goes by himself.

And he sits down with a notably tough prosecutor. And the thing that's really interesting is that he apparently did a really good job. He apparently answered the questions. He apparently didn't panic. He apparently did not perjure himself.

He apparently kind of knew how to, like, always tell the truth, but don't always be telling it.

BALDWIN: Well... DALY: And...


BALDWIN: Let's see how -- you know, you talk about how fear is factoring into Michael Cohen's world.

And who knows how fear will factor into Paul Manafort's world, and we shall see what happens next, telling the whole truth and nothing but