Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Rallies in Ohio, A Distraction from Russia Probe & Manafort Trial; Takeaways from Manafort's Bank & Tax Fraud Trial; New Evidence North Korea's Missile & Nuclear Programs Not Stopped; NRA Has Serious Financial Problem; Mueller Looks at Trump's Twitter History as Trump Calls Him "Conflicted"; Award Increased for Missing College Student in Iowa; TSA Cutting Back on TSA Screenings at Small & Medium- Sized Airports. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired August 4, 2018 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:22] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Right now, President Trump is kicking off his 11-day working vacation at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, but in just a few hours, he'll head to central Ohio for one of his favorite things to do. That's rallying his base.

This visit coming just days before a crucial special election as Republicans fight to hold control of the House.

White House aides say they want to hold more of these types of rallies. They lift the president's spirits and, most importantly, keep his mind off the topic that fires him up the most, the Russia probe.

So this rally comes at a rather good time then, after Paul Manafort's fraud trial dominated the headlines this week and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe dives even deeper into the Trump web.

CNN White House reporter, Sarah Westwood, joining us now from New Jersey.

So what message might we expect tonight from Ohio?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred, we're likely to hear Trump reprise some of his signature attacks on Democrats in the media when he leaves his golf property in New Jersey later today to campaign for Troy Balderson, a fellow Republican who is locked in a tight race for that special election in Ohio. Trump has been active on Twitter this morning, tweeting twice about his support for Balderson and the candidate's positions on things like border security.

Trump also took a swipe at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who Republicans have sought to use as a foil in this race, and dozens of other House races across the country. Trump had also taken a swipe at Pelosi during his Pennsylvania rally on Thursday. And we're likely to see him do so again in Ohio, where opposition to the House minority leader has factored heavily into Balderson's campaign strategy.

Trump has already held two rallies so far this week. And White House aides say that they hope to add even more political events to President Trump's schedule in order to distract him from the Russia investigation. As Trump is said to be growing increasingly frustrated with the pace of the Russia probe and coverage of the Manafort trial. So this rally could be coming at a good time as a much-needed distraction for President Trump as Republicans struggle to stop Democrats from notching yet another victory in a district like Ohio's 12th that Trump carried easily in 2016 -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, Sarah Westwood, thank you.

So as Trump rallies his base tonight, will he vent about his former campaign chairman's fraud trial? A $15,000 ostrich coat, $18,000 python jacket, and stories of a lavish lifestyle dominating the week one of Paul Manafort's trial.

CNN's justice correspondent, Evan Perez, has a look at the big takeaways as prosecutors lay out their case on bank and tax fraud charges.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The most damaging testimony so far in Paul Manafort's tax and bank fraud trial was from one of his former accountants. Cindy Laporte told the court that she and others at her accounting firm helped Manafort falsify numbers so Manafort could save hundreds of thousands in taxes. Laporte is the first witness we heard from so far who is testifying under limited immunity deal from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Prosecutors say that Manafort used offshore bank accounts to hide millions of dollars that he was paid while doing political consulting work in Ukraine. He is charged with failing to report those foreign bank accounts and with lying on his tax returns, as well as lying on bank loan applications. Laporte said in court she and others at her accounting firm helped fake $900,000 in income from one of those offshore accounts as a loan. That change saved Manafort a half million in taxes in 2014.

Now, this is all building towards the big witness still to come. Rick Gates, Manafort's number two, and who has now flipped to provide testimony against his former boss. We expect Gates will testify he was part of the conspiracy to help Manafort hide this money. Manafort's lawyers, of course, are expected to attack Gates' testimony by pointing out he has now pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. The trial continues on Monday.

Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's discuss right now. CNN political analyst, Julian Zelizer, is with us. CNN legal analyst, Michael Zeldin, is as well, and CNN politics reporter, Tal Kopan. Good to see you all.

So former business partner of Manafort, Rick Gates, maybe called this week. He is considered a star witness. In exchange for his guilty plea. What is to be expected from him?

[13:05:01] TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Fred. I mean, in many ways, this is sort of what everyone has been waiting for the trial to build up to. He was the man who is sort of on the inside so to speak on all of these different pieces of the puzzle that have been being put together by this testimony from, you know, from accountants, from the various sort of external factors in Manafort's world.

But this is the man who was, you know, supposedly according to prosecutors, side by side with Manafort as much as this went down and may be the one to testify, you know, exactly what he was thinking and doing and intending, which is so important when you're building this criminal case. You know, he also is sort of the connection to Trump world. That we haven't seen as much.

WHITFIELD: And that's what has to be what people wonder.

KORAN: Right.

WHITFIELD: Is it going to -- this kind of dialogue or examination of Rick Gates strictly on the bank, you know, fraud charges similar to what the accountant testified or might there be some surprise questions as it relates to dealings within the campaign as campaign manager.

KOPAN: That's the big question. We haven't heard a lot of Trump at all during the trial. In fact, it has been almost exclusively about Manafort's lavish lifestyle and the various ways they say he defrauded the bank. That is the big question on everyone's lips. This obviously is connected with the special counsel's investigation with Mueller. Everyone's wondering, is there going to be a tempt to tie this back to the campaign or are they going to stick solely to what Manafort was up to sort of on his own?

WHITFIELD: Julian, we know prosecutors do plan to show evidence that Manafort's lawyer, you know, said that Rick Gates was not involved with certain bank records, potentially undercutting the defense's theory that Gates was calling the shots. So this is really an issue of credibility, is it not? Credibility for Manafort, credibility for Rick Gates. Even credibility, you know, for Donald Trump, simply because these were people in his orbit.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. That's the ongoing story with this investigation. Where different sides are challenging the credibility of each player. And Manafort is a very important part of the Trump campaign. And what we're learning from the trial is who he was before the campaign, the kind of money he was making, the kind of money he might have been hiding. And also his desperation some ways for money right at the time that he joined world of Trump. So this is very crucial to the overall investigation in many ways. Challenging the credibility of those who are attacking him, so to speak, is very important.

WHITFIELD: And, Michael, while this case, thus far, the way it's been rolled out, be very embarrassing for Manafort, you know, delving into the amount of money he made, how he spent it, his fashion sense and all that, but incriminating?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think we have two trials going on here. Part one is the fraudulent tax returns when Manafort was flush with money. Then part two is the bank fraud when the Ukrainian money dries up and he has no way to support his lavish lifestyle so he starts defrauding --


WHITFIELD: Doctoring files.

ZELDIN: We've seen good evidence from accountants and others about each of those components. We'll get from Rick Gates the conspiracy they engaged in. There are some nuggets here for Manafort's lawyers to try to pin this all on Gates. But I think overwhelmingly, so far, the evidence supports Manafort knowingly engaging in tax fraud, failing to file reports and falsifying returns, and then deceiving banks in order to obtain loans.

WHITFIELD: All that is bad, but is that the pinnacle or is this the avenue, part of the journey in which to get somewhere even bigger?

ZELDIN: Well, I think that the hope, of course, for any prosecutor that tries a case of this sort is to obtain a conviction. Whether once a conviction is obtained they can say to Manafort, do you want to talk to us, do you have other information that leads to another fish, a bigger part of the puzzle that we're trying to put together, and we'll see whether or not at that point he decides to cooperate. We don't know if he has anything to Cooperate with respect to. But everyone expected that this case would end up in a plea. It didn't. And so now we see what the next stage is, if he's convicted.

WHITFIELD: And then, you know, all of this on display, you're talking about manipulation, you know, being disingenuous, dishonest, all of that would be under the parameters of what the president campaigned on, right, the whole draining of the swamp. But we have CNN's Stephen Collins (ph), who wrote this about the Manafort trial, saying, "For those outside the courtroom, it is turning into an implicit indictment of the sleaze and greed swelling around Washington itself and the culture of influence peddlers who cut million-dollar contracts to counsel shady foreign autocrats."

Is this an indictment of Washington in itself or are we talking about the indictment of people surrounding Donald Trump in his orbit?

[13:09:51] KOPAN: Well, Fred, that's arguably one of the most interesting things about this case. As a lot of the people that ended up with the Trump campaign very early on are not the type of people who are usually on the sort of front lines of politics today. Many of them had been doing things in Washington for years that were sort of escaping notice. They sort of hitched their wagon to Trump, and then he won. And all of a sudden there was a level of scrutiny on many of these people that they were perhaps not necessarily anticipating. It is calling into question how much of this is happening in Washington more broadly. There's so much money that flows in Washington. There's so many people who sort of manage one campaign successfully and then move on to other things, lose that scrutiny, and so there's a lot of people watching this trial intently to see, you know, are there going to be consequences that go far beyond these individuals who got caught up in the Trump circle and more broadly move on to Washington.

WHITFIELD: Julian, should the president be nervous about this? Because reportedly some of his aides are expressing he has been relatively nervous about this trial.

ZELIZER: Well, sure, if you're under this kind of investigation as the president of the United States for this long and with so many players now being swept up in it, it would be irrational not to be nervous. With someone like Mueller looking into what you did and what you're doing, this is the natural state of a presidency being investigated. But don't forget, he will try to turn this to his advantage. He will go to the rally. He will say this is fake. He will say this is the victim. And by extension, so are his supporters. He will try to use this as his political advantage. In some respects for him, it's worked. The question is, does the investigation blow up that strategy at some point or does that not happen?

WHITFIELD: Michael, do you believe a verdict from this could this be a build-up to more?


ZELDIN: If there's a conviction, it takes the wind out of the sails of the president's political rallying of this is a witch hunt and there's no "there" there. If, however, he doesn't get a conviction, then I think it feeds right into the narrative the president has been articulating on the campaign trial, and that will be devastating in some respects for the prosecutors. However, there's another trial coming in D.C. Same actor, Paul Manafort


ZELDIN: -- and it will start all over again in September.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Julian Zelizer, Tal Kopan, Michael Zeldin. Appreciate you all. Thank you.

President Trump sends a new letter to Kim Jong-Un. Meanwhile, there's evidence that North Korea's nuclear and missile programs have not stopped. We'll explain next.

Later, investigators are sifting through hundreds of tips in the search for a missing college student, 20-year-old Molly Tibbett.


[13:16:50] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Let's get some new developments now with North Korea. There was a very brief meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart. They were both at a conference in Singapore. The two spoke briefly, shook hands, and then later, Pompeo passed along a letter from President Trump. President Trump actually received a letter from his own -- of his own, rather from the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un earlier in the week.

Global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is with me now.

Elise, the interaction in Singapore really not that spontaneous.



LABOTT: Well, he didn't hand it off. One of his guys did after they shook hands.


LABOTT: Pompeo did. It was so brief, you missed it.


LABOTT: You know, look, these letters are just pleasantries between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Now letters have to be exchanged every time there's a North Korean --


LABOTT Documenting any kind of interaction.


LABOTT: No, this is about reaffirming the commitments that I made that I'm not implementing. This is, you know, pleasantries that are being exchanged. The U.S. wants to see actions. The U.S. wants to see the North Koreans agree to a date for talks for denuclearization, for steps that they're taking. And the U.S. can't get the North Koreans to sit down. You heard --


WHITFIELD: Isn't that meeting in Singapore between the two leaders was initially about?

LABOTT: It was --

WHITFIELD: Or was that just a break-bread moment?

LABOTT: It was a break-bread moment. The secretary said, we should talk, and the North Korean foreign minister said, yes, we should, we have a lot of important things to discuss. So the North -- the U.S. wants to have a time line and, you know, specific steps that the North Koreans are taking, and that's just not happening. Secretary Pompeo said earlier this week that North Korea is going to be setting the pace of this denuclearization. It's certainly not happening as fast enough as President Trump wants.

WHITFIELD: This is kind of the shuttle diplomacy. Secretary of state is going to be that conduit perhaps to help keep some kind of dialogue going or try to nail down some sort of commitment to bring credence to what the president said after the meeting which is denuclearized and --


LABOTT: Saying mission accomplished and the problem is over. It's good to have this dialogue, but I think what's frustrating U.S. officials is, it's actually going in the opposite direction. You saw this U.N. report on Friday that said North Korea is trying -- still trying to procure parts and things to keep its nuclear program going. And it also is evading sanctions. And some of these countries are also, you know, helping North Korea bust sanctions as well.

Yes, the tenor and the tone is much better than it was a year ago with all this fire and fury, but in actuality, we're not seeing any steps on the ground. And it's quite frustrating for U.S. officials that thought, you know, certainly President Trump, who had hoped that this -- things were going to be in a new era, I think the mood is darkening a bit.

[13:19:58] WHITFIELD: All right, Elise Labott, thank you.

The National Rifle Association may be facing major financial trouble. We'll explain why the group says it might have to shut down some of its media operations.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. The National Rifle Association says it's having serious financial problems. According to a court filing, the NRA says it could soon be, quote, "unable to exist or pursue its advocacy mission," end quote. All because of a legal battle in New York.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is following the story for us.

Polo, what can you tell us?

[13:25:02] POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fred. Let's remember how we got here. Governor Andrew Cuomo and the NRA has constantly crashed on the issue of gun control. In May, this constant disagreement ended up in federal court with a civil suit. The NRA sued Governor Cuomo and also a state insurance regulating agency, accusing them of black listing this gun lobby group and members, keeping them from securing various banking services, and also insurance policies as well. Late last month, that lawsuit presented by the NRA was why the NRA claiming that they are beginning to feel the financial effects, again, according to the group, of being so- called black listed, including tens of millions of dollars. The lawsuit claims the NRA could potentially be unable to exist as a nonprofit as well. This week, a response from Governor Cuomo and also the state of New

York or at least that agency, saying they had investigated the illegal sale of insurance policies that were marketed as -- or at least through the NRA, and also they're moving to have this lawsuit dismissed, calling it a distraction -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: So what's the response coming from Governor Cuomo?

SANDOVAL: We saw a response from the governor on Twitter just yesterday. I'll read a short, but powerful tweet from the state's chief executive, Governor Cuomo: "If I could have put the NRA out of business, I would have done it 20 years ago. I'll see you in court."

The governor standing by his defense as the NRA and its attorneys continue to keep both him and the state regulating agency in their sights in this very lengthy and pretty dramatic litigation.

WHITFIELD: Polo Sandoval, thanks so much.

SANDOVAL: You bet.

WHITFIELD: President Trump tweeting that Jeff Sessions should stop the Russia investigation. Was that an attempt to obstruct justice? It depends on who you ask. Two legal experts, our regulars, are joining us next.


[13:31:28] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking at President Trump's Twitter history as part of his investigation. Regardless, the president hasn't slowed down his social media tirades, including this week's tweet where he says, "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. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted and has 17 angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work. Are a disgrace to USA."

All right, pretty blunt. But is this obstruction?

Joining me right now, Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor, in Cleveland.

Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: And Richard Sherman, New York criminal attorney and law professor, joining us from Las Vegas.

Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: Richard, let me begin with you. The White House and the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, quickly pouncing on this, saying it's merely the president's opinion. But when the opinion comes from the president, is it also an order?

HERMAN: Fred, this is an unhinged individual who's feeling the pressure of a very professional criminal investigation closing in around him. If you like titles and you practice federal law, there's no doubt in my mind, whether or not he can be indicted or not, he is the target in this investigation. He is, and he knows it. It's getting closer and closer. We've been told by Sean Spicer and by Sarah Huckabee and other people in the administration his tweets are pronouncements by the president.


HERMAN: They are official statements, official statements, and, Fred, they go to his state of mind. Any one tweet in particular may not in and of itself be a crime. When you look at it, when you look at hi directing and telling Sessions to stop the investigation



HERMAN : -- stop the investigation, Fred, that is -- when the president tells someone, you should stop the investigation, forget about the fact that Sessions can't do it.


HERMAN: You got to focus. Focus. But when the president tells someone they should do someone, that's a direction. That's how Comey took it. That's how Sessions is taking it.

FRIEDMAN: Not a tweet.

HERMAN: We don't need the carnival barker, Giuliani, and other people to interpret for us what the president says.

AVERY: All right, OK.

HERMAN: We can understand his words.



Why do you, Avery, disagree that that kind of overt expression of opinion is not obstruction, it is not an order? Why do you say this is far more complicated?

FRIEDMAN: I think it's much more nuanced than that. There's no order. I understand how one might interpret it. But legally speaking, it is a reflection of intent, Fredricka. That's what's so important. You follow the tweets along here and you have a sense, especially on the question, the legal question, of obstruction. And you, for example, look back to May 11th, 2017, when the president tells Lester Holt at NBC, look, I got rid of Comey because of the Russia investigation, not because of what Rosenstein says. So you put it in context. The tweet to Jeff Sessions who, as a matter of regulation and ethics, Fredricka, was obligated to recuse himself, there's nothing he can do -- the investigation is going to proceed. But the tweets are evidence of intent to obstruct. And that's why --


HERMAN: So you agree with me. Very good. Avery, you agree.


[13:35:07] WHITFIELD: You are both saying the same thing. While Jeff Sessions has recused himself and the president is directing, you know, he's speaking his opinion and, you know, he's directing his sentiment to Jeff Sessions, it really is Rosenstein who would have the power to end the investigation.

HERMAN: Right.

WHITFIELD: So, Richard, is it kind of an error on the president or was this intentional, so this doesn't appear to be obstruction. Even though he's directing it at Jeff Sessions?

HERMAN: You would think by now someone would have educated this man in

FRIEDMAN: Doesn't matter.

HERMAN: -- in the hierarchy, in how the procedure goes, and that Sessions is not capable of ending the investigation.

But you're right, it's clearly the sentiment of this man. Because let's face it, he's the target. He's the one they're looking for. So sure, if he's so innocent, why would you want the investigation over with? If he's so innocent, no collusion, no collusion. By the way, collusion equals conspiracy, Fred, 18 USC-371 is conspiracy.

FRIEDMAN: That's correct.


HERMAN: Giuliani, it's not in the federal code, collusion. It's conspiracy.


So then, Avery, if you are Bob Mueller, and you're reading this latest tweet, in concert with all the other tweets, what is this equipping you with if you are Bob Mueller in terms of whether this is direct, it's by mistake, or it's intentional that the president is trying to stand in the way of an ongoing investigation?

FRIEDMAN: I think there's no question that the tweets -- remember, there were two of them. Number one, he's asking Jeff Sessions to end it. Well, that's not going to happen. Secondly, listen to this, which is astonishing to me. He starts talking about the Manafort trial and this is about Manafort's behavior before he had any involvement with the Trump campaign, and he calls it a hoax. What he's trying to do, poison the jury across the bridge from where you are in Alexandria? Goodness gracious. The tweets I think are just impulsive reactions. I think the lawyers, the real lawyers in the White House are maddened by what is going on. But I think, frankly, he's going to do what he wants to do and every time he tweets, he hands Mueller on a silver platter more evidence of potential collusion but certainly obstruction.

WHITFIELD: All right.

HERMAN: It's more than just impulsive reactions. It's coming from the president of the United States. It's not coming from some low- life person.

FRIEDMAN: It's still impulsive.

HERMAN: It's the president who's saying these things, Fred. It's out of control. He can't keep his mouth shut. I'd like to have a dollar for every lawyer and every person who told him, don't tweet, don't tweet, you're making it worse for yourself.


HERMAN: He's out of control. He's unhinged. This man is unhinged, Fred. Something has to be done quickly here. Unhinged.

FRIEDMAN: We'll see.

WHITFIELD: We'll leave it right there.

Richard Herman, Avery Friedman, thanks so much.


Good to see you guys.


WHITFIELD: Always have me laughing, too. Make us smarter but they also have us laughing.

For two weeks, there's been in sign of 20-year-old college student, Mollie Tibbetts. We'll have the latest on the search straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.


[13:42:52] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. The reward for missing Iowa college student has reached $220,000. Hundreds of tips have poured in. Volunteers have spent days searching for Mollie Tibbetts but still no sign of the 20-year-old who went missing July 18th.

CNN's Christi Paul went to Iowa. She spoke with Mollie's family and boyfriend who are maintaining the theory that Mollie is still alive.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN & HLN NEWS ANCHOR (voice-over): "Fine, smart, feisty, a fighter, an exceptional writer." These are words used to describe Molly Tibbetts. Sadly, we can now add the word "missing."

MARY JO COHEN, NEIGHBOR: It's just small town, small town Iowa. This doesn't happen here.

PAUL: Here is Brooklyn, Iowa, a small sleepy town enveloped by rows of cornfields and stocked with people who all know each other and have become the foundation of a family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a missing person, and me and my sister actually are trying to spread the word as much as we can.

PAUL: Just trying to hold it together as they fight to bring molly home.

ROB TIBBETTS, FATHER OF MOLLY TIBBETTS: When we're together, it's absolutely fine. It's when you're alone and you talk to molly by yourself.

PAUL (on camera): Laura talked about how she can feel Mollie's presence, she feels her sitting on her shoulder. Do you have that same sense?

ROB TIBBETTS: We all do. When you're alone, you talk to Mollie. You know why we're fighting. She's out there. We feel it.

PAUL: Do you ever feel like you hear back from her?

ROB TIBBETTS: Yes. I did this morning. But I don't want to talk about it.

PAUL (voice-over): On July 18th, Mollie was dropped off at her boyfriend's house to dog sit while he was out of town. And then was later seen jogging. No one has seen her since.

But neighbors, like Mary Jo Cohen, say they used to see her all the time.

MARY JO COHEN: She'd come down the road and if I was over there working, you know, in my flowers I'd, you know -- she'd just wave and say hi and off she'd go. Because that's the house right down there.

DAVE COHEN, NEIGHBOR: Where her boyfriend lives.

MARY JO COHEN: That's where her boyfriend lives.

DAVE COHEN: Right down there. That White house. It's just like this girl --

(CROSSTALK) [13:45:01] MARY JO COHEN: It's just like this girl right now. Now I pay attention to what they have on. You know, she's got a headband. She's talking on her phone. She's got --

DAVE COHEN: Color of her shoes. Color of her shorts.

MARY JO COHEN: Yes. Because --

DAVE COHEN: Before, we never would pay any attention. You know, we'd just glance and wave.

PAUL (voice-over): They were some of the first volunteers who searched for Mollie.

DAVE COHEN: We walked cornfields, searching. We didn't turn up anything.

MARY JO COHEN: We wanted to find her so bad. Then we were afraid to find her. I mean, you know.

DAVE COHEN: Well, if we found her, we was praying she was just tied up.


DAVE COHEN: We wasn't thinking of the worst.

PAUL: Her boyfriend, Dalton, has a hard time being in his house now.

DALTON JACK, BOYFRIEND OF MOLLY TIBBETTS: I don't go to my room anymore because that was, you know, our shared space. I don't do that. I've been sleeping on the couch since she went missing.

PAUL: He's had to deal with the scrutiny of people wondering if he had something to do with.

JACK: I've been clear by so many people. And I don't care what they think so long as, you know, if they quit thinking that, you know, the guy that did it is standing right here just keep your eyes peeled for anything you see, any suspicious activity, because you're not helping or hurting at this point.

PAUL: Who is hurting? This entire community. Especially Mollie's mom and dad.

LAURA TIBBETT, MOTHER OF MOLLIE TIBBETTS: Every day, I feel Mollie's presence with me, you know, sometimes I just feel her sitting on my shoulder.

ROB TIBBETTS: Just hang in there, Pie, just hang in there. We're fighting like hell. We've got a great law enforcement team. The community's all behind you. Media's helping. The whole country's in love with you, Pie. We'll find you.

PAUL (on camera): Where does "Pie" come from?

ROB TIBBETTS: We call her Pie. I've call heard Pie since she was a baby.

PAUL: Mollie's dad says it's not too late to do the right thing. If you have any information about Molly, please call the local sheriff, at 641-623-5679.

Fred, back to you.


WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Christi. Everyone's praying for her safe return.

The FBI is taking over the investigation of the young girl who went missing from her tour group at Reagan Airport right outside of D.C. here. Airport surveillance showed the 12-year-old Chinese girl leaving the airport without force with an unidentified woman on Thursday. On Friday, the girl was located in Queens, New York, safe, and in the custody of her parents. Details about what happened have yet to be released. And police have not said whether an abduction actually occurred.

All right, the TSA might stop screening at more than 100 airports along with other significant security cuts. What it might mean for air safety next in the CNN newsroom.

And this weekend on CNN, when a comedian passes away, the impact is personal. But why? Find out what creates that connection and why it's always too soon to lose the laughter. "History of Comedy: Gone Too Soon," tomorrow at 10:00.


[13:52:35] Whitfield All right, welcome back. Cutting back on federal air marshals and eliminating security at small airports across the country. Well, CNN has learned those are just two of the ideas the TSA is looking into to save money. And security experts are sounding the alarm.

CNN's Rene Marsh has more details in this exclusive report.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATIO & GOVERNMENT REGUALTION CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): A new internal TSA document CNN exclusively obtained shows the proposal to eliminate screening at more than 150 small to medium-sized airports is just one of several cost-saving measures the agency is discussing. A senior TSA employee tells CNN the agency is looking at cuts that could save more than $300 million in 2020.

One cut? Reducing the number of air marshals, eliminating screening at small airports, staffing cuts at TSA headquarters, and changes to benefits are also being discussed.

TSA did not comment.

Juliette Kayyem, a former official with Department of Homeland Security under Obama, is concerned.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Ending security at certain airports, ending or flatlining the air marshal service are actually inconsistent, because if you're going to decrease security at certain airports, what you would want to do is increase the presence of air marshals or other security features just in case.

MARSH: CNN revealed the most controversial cut, eliminating screening at small airports, like this one in Redding, California, where Bryant Garrett is the manager.

BYRANT GARRETT, MANAGER, REDDING AIRPORT: Since I, as the airport, don't want to take on that, either the liability nor the cost, and I'm quite certain the airlines don't want to take that on. So, if TSA backs out, there's a void, and I don't know who would fill it.

UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: Ladies and gentlemen, we are the police. Remain calm.

MARSH: Air marshals are the last line of defense, armed agents aboard planes to prevent hijackings.

Critics have questioned its effectiveness but the TSA has defended the program as a deterrent.

(on camera): Agencies discuss where they can trim all the time, but the big question that Congress and likely the American public is asking and would like explained is whether these cuts are being considered because the threat and risks to aviation has changed or is this just an indication that the agency is under extreme pressure to cut costs.

Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


[13:55:00] WHITFIELD: The TSA has not responded to requests for comment.

But joining me right now is Paul Schmick, a former TSA official who worked at JFK Airport in New York.

Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: What's your opinion of these, at least, two of the headlines of potential cuts that we know of?

PAUL SCHMICK, FORMER TSA OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, Fred. One thing we know about the TSA, since its inception in 2001, is that it really had two focused goals. One was to be really effective at security, and the other was to facilitate the free movement of people through the transportation. What we see here is a vacate of one of those critical mission goals. And we're not only reducing layers of security, we're removing them. This is concerning for the traveling public, and I find a hard time how they go forward with this, with overall support.

WHITFIELD: So, let's break down a couple of them, one being, you know, eliminating or cutting back of TSA checkpoints at smaller airports. You worked at JFK. How concerned would you be, if still working at JFK or otherwise, that at a large airport, you know passengers are connecting, some coming from smaller airports, if there was no TSA screenings like we're seeing today?

SCHMICK: This appears to be a multiyear strategy, Fred, where the TSA is saying we don't have an unlimited amount of money anymore as we move further away from 9/11 so we have to find money in certain areas. If you remove screening and the cost of doing business at the smaller airports, which would represent, Fred, the category 4 airports, you would be able to then put those assets, human assets, which are TSA officers and management, as well as screening equipment, to the higher-risk airports. So I think they're making a risk -- I think they're making a poor risk judgment here that we understand that there's low risk at the smaller category 4 airports, but we have to project forward and say what would the risk be if we removed the screening. So again, it's concerning, and I really think they're going to rethink this.

WHITFIELD: And another big one that is under consideration, not having as many air marshals poised to be on airplanes. What are your thoughts on that?

SCHMICK: I know I'm going to have a controversial statement here, Fred, but the only way to get the money to continue to fund front-line screening officers and management is cutting the federal air marshal service. They've already cut it, probably 20 percent since its high at one point. It's the only area they got to go really where they can get a lot of money to front -- to really push it to the to the front- line officers on screening checkpoints.

WHITFIELD: And still unclear just how seriously the TSA is considering these cuts. But some members of Congress are seriously worried, just as you have expressed. A top democrat on the House Homeland Security committee, Bonnie Watson Coleman, actually said this. Quoting now, "The intelligence is very clear that the threat to our transportation systems remain real, so I am baffled by this administration's endless efforts to cut funding in this area."

And this, along with just earlier this week, you know, court challenges now on the release of instructions for any kind of homemade or plastic guns that would be able to, you know, evade the kind of security that we're seeing at the airport. So what do you say about the timing of all of this?

SCHMICK: I don't think the timing for this would be good at any point. We know that there's consistent threats against aviation. It continues to be front-line, headline news for terrorist organizations. And we can't just forget where we came from. And when we look at just the imagination, and that was one of the 9/11 Commissions' recommendations that we kind of failed in this imagination, how could we not imagine trouble at smaller airports. And these aren't small planes, Fred. They seat up to 60 passengers. It's not a small two- seater plane. And we have to have imagination when we look forward to say, what are the potential consequences and are we reigniting attacks by giving terrorists or those who want ill intent on the U.S., are we giving them another stage and a platform like we did pre-9/11.

WHITFIELD: How do you answer the question, why now?

SCHMICK: Money. I think it's really looking at budgeting and money and risk, so when you put all of that together, lower-risk airports, higher-risk airports, let's start moving money and resources towards higher-risk airports.

WHITFIELD: Paul Schmick, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.

SCHMICK: Thanks, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, and it all starts right now.

Hello, again. Thanks so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

The jury in Paul Manafort's bank and tax fraud trial has heard some of the most damaging testimony yet against the president's former campaign chairman. One of Manafort's former accountants, Cindy Laporte, testified that she and others helped him falsify numbers so that he could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes. Laporte was granted immunity from prosecution for her testimony. This is all building up to the biggest witness still --