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Trump Says Definitively 2016 Tower Meeting About Clinton Dirt; Source: "Strong possibility" of Second Trump-Kim summit; U.S. About to Reimpose Sanctions on Iran; Trump Campaigns to Keep Key House District in GOP Hands. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 6, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This morning President Trump may now have removed all doubt about the true intent of the meeting that his eldest son, his son-in-law and his then campaign chairman held with a Russian lawyer in June of 2016. But the questions, the fallout and the potential implications just keep growing.

The president writes that that Trump Tower meeting which was initially described in a statement dictated by the president himself as, quote, "primarily about adoption," was in fact, and I quote the president this weekend, "a meeting to get information on an opponent."

"Totally legal," writes the president, which in this case is debatable. We'll get into that in a moment. He also adds, "I did not know anything about it."

This all raises the question of why then if he thought it was totally legal was there so much obfuscation?

The president is still on n vacation in New Jersey right now at his golf resort which means no opportunities for reporters to ask him questions to try to clarify all of that. But let's go to our Abby Phillip. She is as close to the president as the media can get right now.

Any clarity on this?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not at all. But as the president has been lashing out at Robert Mueller over the weekend, he's also been revealing some really important information here, both about his own statements and how untrue they have been for over a year now but also about this Trump Tower meeting involving his son Don Jr.

In this tweet sent over the weekend the president acknowledges as clearly as he has up until this point that the meeting was to get information on an opponent, which he claims, as you just pointed out, was legal and he also claims that he didn't know about it. But this goes all the way back to July of last year when this meeting first was revealed by the "New York Times" and in a way of explanation, Don Jr. released a statement in July saying that the meeting was about adoptions.

We now know that President Trump dictated that statement but the "New York Times" then reported the next day that it was actually about opposition research on Hillary Clinton. Don Jr. then preemptively releases some of the e-mail exchanges with the people setting up this meeting in which the organizers say very clearly that the meeting was providing information on Clinton as part of Russia and its government's support for Trump.

For months after that, there's a back and forth about whether or not the president was involved in writing the statement, explaining this meeting and whether or not the true purpose of the meeting was about dirt on Hillary Clinton. The president's lawyer in July saying that the president didn't dictate the statement, he said he wasn't involved in it. Sarah Sanders then later saying that maybe he was involved. He weighed in on the statement but didn't dictate it.

It wasn't until earlier this year in a letter from the Trump team to Mueller that we then learned, according to the Trump team, that President Trump did in fact dictate that statement. Now this is all coming to a head as sources say that Robert Mueller is closing in on this moment as a key part of this investigation. And President Trump is growing increasingly concerned about the potential legal exposure of his son Don Jr. in this meeting.

At the same time, we also know that Michael Cohen, according to sources is willing to tell Mueller that President Trump knew in advance about this meeting. So all of this really just heightens the scrutiny on this key moment here and it also makes us wonder why is it that the White House -- president's attorneys have really been trying to obfuscate about the true purpose behind all of this -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. All very important questions. Abby, let us know if you get to pose any of them to the president. Thank you.

Let's talk about this, Josh Dawsey is here, a CNN political analyst and White House reporter for the "Washington Post," Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter for Bloomberg News joins me, and Caroline Polisi, federal and white collar criminal and defense attorney.

Nice to have you all here. Let's attack the legality or illegality of this first, Caroline, shall we? And let's listen to the president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, over the weekend.


JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The question is how would it be illegal? I mean, the real question here is, would a meeting of that nature constitute a violation -- the meeting itself constitute a violation of the law? The question is what law statute or rule or regulation has been violated? Nobody has pointed to one.


HARLOW: So how about the Logan Act? Explain how that very much could apply here.

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL AND DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think there are many statutes that could apply here, specifically there is a very specific criminal statute that says it is a crime to accept something of value from a foreign national in the context of a federal campaign. And, you know, Jay Sekulow in that clip there is really trying to place sort of blinders around this meeting and look at it only in that context.

We have so much more information, Poppy, about this meeting that we know. We have Don Jr. saying if it's what you say it is, I love it. That could be interpreted as soliciting something of value. Now they're going to argue, you know, maybe it never came to fruition, they didn't actually get anything, that's been sort of the party line there but it doesn't matter in terms of the criminal code whether or not anything was achieved.

[09:05:06] The fact -- the mere fact of the solicitation of the information is in and of itself criminal.

HARLOW: And the Logan Act would say that to communicate with foreign officials in order to, quote, "influence the measure or conduct of any foreign government," that that would be a crime if you were looking at it specifically in that context.

Shannon, the president admitted clearly, I quoted him, admitted this weekend that he misled the American people because he dictated that initial, you know, July 8th statement about the Trump Tower meeting last year. The story about the meeting and the motivation for it and why it came to fruition keeps changing. The president's favorability rating does not change even as this story changes dramatically. So we know there could be legal consequences. That aside, are there political?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, and that's one of the interesting things because we've -- you know, we've seen these tweets over the past couple of days. This tweet about Jeff Sessions which a lot of legal analysts and experts have said, boy, that could really do you damage in a court of law.


PETTYPIECE: That could be obstruction. That could contradict your other statements. But in the court of public opinion and what President Trump believes and what his advisers believe is that attacking this investigation is really the best way to succeed in that court of public opinion. And there was definitely a shift after the Michael Cohen raid and we've seen in recent months about the president ratcheting up his attacks on this Mueller investigation, and I'm told that is because he very much believes and his lawyers have advised him that this as a sitting president is not going to be trial that plays out in a court of law.

It will be if anything comes of this, a trial that plays outs in the court of public opinion through impeachment. And so that's why these constant attacks, even if they do not hurt him in a legal sense are necessary, he feels at this point to undercut this investigation.

HARLOW: And when it comes to the issue of impeachment, Josh, I mean, you know the polling, recent polling. I think it was Quinnipiac that showed if Democrats do retake the House, 65 percent of them, two- thirds of them would push for Articles of Impeachment against the president.

So do you see the stepped up attacks on Mueller here as motivating more his opponents to come out in the midterms, right? And try to flip the House or motivating more of his supporters in his base to come out in force?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think they motivate both, right? I mean, the president -- the prospect of impeachment seems unlikely at this point but certainly motivate the president's supporters. You look at support among Republicans it's still very high, above 80 percent by all polls, and it's been pretty rock solid even when the president has made, you know, incendiary comments like, you know, Jeff Sessions, to shut down this investigation.

You really don't see repudiation from Republicans of his comments frequently. They're pretty much running in lockstep with him now. You know, Democrats are motivated to come out in 2018 and try to take the House back and I think you would see a ratcheting up of investigations, you would see subpoenas, you would certainly see, you know, a lot more oversight from the Hill if Democrats won, you know, the House and the majority in 2018.

You know, all of that said, I'm not sure that it would be a sure fire bet. I think, you know, the prospect of impeachment could backfire as well. I mean, I don't think we know at this point.

HARLOW: Yes. Right.

DAWSEY: And I think we would be careful not to, you know, make too much implications because it's a long way to November. The Mueller probe could be done by then, we could still see, you know, a more lingering action. We could Democrats take over. The president is out on the campaign trail saying we're going to see a red wave and not a blue wave.

HARLOW: Right. I mean --

DAWSEY: According to his numbers as well. So --

HARLOW: You even saw Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee and a vocal opponent of the president, say over the weekend, again, warning people -- warning fellow Democrats don't run on this, don't run on impeachment, for precisely the point you make.

Let's all listen to something else that Jay Sekulow, the president's lawyer, said over the weekend. Chocking all of this, all of his denials about this Trump Tower meeting and the president knowing about, et cetera, and the intent, up to bad information. Here's more.


SEKULOW: I think it's very important to point out that in a situation like this you have over time facts develop. That's what investigations do.


HARLOW: Facts develop, Caroline. I mean, facts are facts, right. I mean, you either know them or you don't, and it is very possible that even a lawyer for the president could be kept in the dark about facts. But do facts develop over time?

POLISI: Well, obviously not, Poppy. Facts don't develop, they are sort of set in stone. At the very best this was a reckless statement on the part of the Jay Sekulow when he came out initially, commenting on the Trump Tower meeting, and at the worst it was a boldfaced lie. So I think clearly what we're seeing here is that the president is a bad client. There's a reason why there are many white collar criminal defense attorneys who have turned down this representation.

It's not a good thing when your client lies to you. You cannot adequately represent your client's interest when you are getting bad information as it were from your client.

[09:10:01] HARLOW: Yes. And Josh, just one final thought. You know, as the president and his legal team decide if he's going to sit down for an interview with Mueller, that decision, who knows when it's going to come, they keep seeming to say a few weeks, you know, they have constantly been saying there's nothing else here. We've given all these documents, et cetera. You had Bob Barro, a former White House counsel to President Obama, he's now professor at NYU over the weekend saying that Trump's attorney's argument that he shouldn't have to do an interview with Mueller because he doesn't know anything, doesn't that now change that he said on Twitter this was you know, to get dirt on my opponent, essentially? Doesn't that change?

DAWSEY: Well, there are a lot of episodes where the president provides acknowledgement because he was one of the key players in a certain situation, whether it was from, you know, the firing of James Comey, episodes around Michael Flynn, his pressure on Jeff Sessions to try to force the attorney general to resign. There's certainly a case to be made that the president could provide, you know, unique information because he was one of the key players.

That said, the interview is not a sure thing at this point. The president as we reported and others have as well continues to want to do it. He seems to think that he can talk Special Counsel Robert Mueller into seeing it his way. I think his lawyers seeing his depositions over the years, seeing his tendency not to always tell the truth to say it lightly are more concerned about an interview with the special counsel.

And we've kind of been in a hold here for weeks and weeks and weeks. These discussions have been going on. They've been proposals, counter-proposals, lots of negotiations, and we're still really nowhere firm and it's August.

HARLOW: Right.

DAWSEY: And I think you'll see in the next few weeks something will have to materialize one way or the other because, you know, we're approaching election season and midterms and, you know, I think the president wants this investigation over with and I think they'll have to make that --



HARLOW: It doesn't matter when he wants it over with, right?

DAWSEY: Right.

HARLOW: I mean, it's up to Mueller's timeline here. Thank you all very much -- go ahead, Josh.

DAWSEY: No, I will just say, certainly will prolong it if he doesn't do an interview.

HARLOW: Sure. Very fair point.

DAWSEY: You know, it would -- have to wrap it up to do one.

HARLOW: Very fair point. Thank you all. Appreciate it.

Still to come, President Trump and Kim Jong-un take two? North Korea now hopeful for a second summit between the two leaders.

And high stakes battle in Ohio goes down to the wire. And the president's party is struggling to hold on to a seat that has gone Republican for the last two decades. And this --


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But you're a fan of the president? You think he's doing a good job?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course he's doing a lot better than what Obama did.


HARLOW: Where did that come from? Our Bill Weir is in Sturgis. We will bring you all of that ahead at the world's largest motorcycle rally.


HARLOW: Welcome back. This morning, a source with close ties to the Kim regime says that North Korea believes there is a strong possibility of a second summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

Now, that source also says it could happen sometime later this year. No exact mention of a date though.

Will Ripley joins me. He's reported in North Korea nearly 20 times. And let me just be clear. This is not the White House saying this. This is someone close to the Kim regime. What's your read on it and why would they want to put forth something like this?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, when you look at what's been happening over the last week, the official lines between the US And North Korea have been increasingly harsh.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Singapore over the weekend calling on nations to continue enforcing sanctions against North Korea, accusing North Korea of violating UN Security Council resolutions and growing its nuclear program, which also is an assertion that's been backed up by US intelligence.

And then, you had North Korea's foreign minister saying that the United States is the one that's not following through on its June 12th agreement in Singapore, and that if things don't happen in terms of sanctions relief and a peace treaty that they might walk away from the denuclearization talks.

But then, you listen to what North Korea says about President Trump, and they still flatter him. They say that President Trump wants progress, but it's US politics that are getting in the way. And, of course, President Trump sent a very nice tweet to Kim Jong-un just last week thanking him for his nice letter and saying - and I was wondering if this was a hint, I'll see you soon.

Now, this source is telling me that, in fact, that it's a strong possibility, at least from the North Korean perspective, that there will be a second meeting between Trump and Kim sometime later this year.

The North Koreans are pushing apparently for this to happen before the midterm elections in November. They think that Trump wants to tout North Korea as a success before the midterms and they want to give him that opportunity. They hope that direct negotiations between Kim and Trump will give the North Koreans a better deal in the end. So, we just have to watch and see what happens, Poppy.

HARLOW: That is soon if that were to be the case. All right. Will Ripley, thank you for the reporting and important context.

At midnight tonight, the US will reimpose sanctions on Iran. Months after President Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement, the White House is expected to provide more details in a call starting right now, this hour. So, we'll bring you those when we get them.

Iran's president also readying his response and aiming it directly at the president. Let's go to the State Department. Michelle Kosinski joins me for more.

Look, this is the first action after pulling out of the Iran agreement that they would slap back these sanctions. But this is just part one, right, Michelle. I mean, even tougher sanctions come in November.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, this is tough. I mean, this targets Iran's ability to bank or use the American dollar, which is a big deal.

Targets its automotive sector, aviation, metals. So, that is expected to have some impact, especially since, in the meantime, leading up to this, so many companies, European companies included, have gotten out of Iran.

So, the White House wants to emphasize that they believe their regime is working, but then this is kind of like a show that the US is serious about doing this, including that the US will sanction European companies if they continue to do business with Iran in these sectors.

So, November 4th is when these sanctions come back on to Iran against its oil sectors, all of its energy sectors, its central bank. So, that's expected to have an even bigger impact as Iran's economy is in deep, deep trouble and it's been facing increasing protests, now going on for days, Poppy.

[09:20:12] HARLOW: Michelle Kosinski, thank you very much. We're going to get into this a lot more next hour and let us know what does come up on that call that is going on right now at the White House.

So, ahead, a crucial vote in Ohio tomorrow, a neck and neck race that could tell us a lot about the upcoming midterms. What should be a safe seat for Republicans is not looking safe at all. Next.


HARLOW: In a special, special, special election tomorrow, Republicans in Ohio risk losing a seat in a district that they have controlled for three decades. That's why President Trump made a special trip there for a rally this weekend.


[09:25:06] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must elect Troy Balderson. We have to elect Troy.



HARLOW: The special election is in Ohio's 12th district. It is the last major race before the midterms and it may reveal a lot about what we will see in November.

In fact, it already is. Governor John Kasich says the race should be an easy win for Republicans. Listen.


JOHN KASICH, GOVERNOR OF OHIO: The chaos that seems to surround Donald Trump has unnerved a lot of people.

It's really kind of shocking because this should be just a slam dunk, and it's not. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Joining me now is David Urban, CNN political commentator, former Trump campaign strategist. Good to have you here. Thanks for being with me, David.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey, thanks for having me, Poppy. How are you?

HARLOW: I'm good. Thank you. Kasich is right. Look at these polling numbers. You've got Balderson at 44 percent. The Democrat, Danny O'Connor at 43 percent in a district that the president won by 11 points, a district Republicans have held on for almost as long as I've been alive, three decades. Is Kasich right that this isn't a slam dunk because of the president?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, not surprisingly, Governor Kasich is again taking a jab at the president. And given their rocky past, I don't think that's any surprise.

And, Poppy, look, in all of these races, all these special elections especially, candidates matter. Candidates matter to a great deal. If you go back and think about where the Democrats have been successful in these tight races, you look back to Ralph Northam, you look at Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and now Danny O'Brien.

And these folks are a far cry from -

HARLOW: O'Connor?

URBAN: I'm sorry, Danny O'Connor. And these folks are a far cry from candidates like Ocasio-Cortez, who is a democratic socialist. These folks are blue dog Democrats, both Danny O'Connor as well as Conor Lamb.

Both have said they would not vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker. They are trying to distance themselves from the Democratic Party and run as Republicans.

HARLOW: That may be, but your party needs to have the stronger candidate in these critical districts in these critical states, if they're going to win. I want your reaction to what else Kasich said. You heard this interview with George Stephanopoulos. But for our viewers who may not have seen it, just watch what else he said about why he is supporting the Republican candidate and then something stunning.


KASICH: He came out against this border separation policy. He came out against the tariffs and he came out for fixing social security. I don't know - on his website or whatever, I asked him the other day, why are you bringing Trump in? He said, well, I don't have anything to do with it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Did he really tell you that he was surprised that President Trump was coming and didn't want him to come?

KASICH: No, I asked him. I said Troy - did you invite Trump in here, the president? He said no, I didn't. So, I think Donald Trump decides where he wants to go and I think they think they are firing it up the base.


HARLOW: So, either the Republican candidate Balderson didn't ask the president of the United States for help in this very tight race or he did and he doesn't want to admit it. What's your read?

URBAN: Poppy, listen, I don't know what conversation he had with the president or didn't have with the president, but I can't imagine somebody running for a House seat that would not want the president of the United States to come in, especially in Ohio 12, as you pointed out, the president carried so decisively.

Look, that race was a very, very tight race because I've been following it for a while.

HARLOW: But it's a place where you do face uphill challenges from, for example, suburban women. You know that.

URBAN: Right. No, listen, exactly. I think that you need to get - make sure - as you know, need to make sure your base turns out in these low number kind of special elections race that's held in August when most people are out on vacation someplace with their families. It's going to be a pretty low turnout.

So, one of the strategies here is to make sure your base turns out and make sure it turns out forcefully. That's why the president is there.

HARLOW: It sounds like you're preparing for a potential loss and what the narrative should be on that if you guys do lose. I mean, you're saying it's August, no one is watching, but Ohio 12 matters.

URBAN: No, it does matter. It matters greatly, Poppy. Each one of these seats matters a great deal. And, look, the Republican candidate won a very tough primary, a 10-way primary, beat out one of my very close friends, a guy named Tim Kane, Air Force Academy grad economist. He won by 28 percent of the vote. 28 percent of the vote got him to this point where he is now.

So, these tough bruising primaries do have an impact on the general election as well.

HARLOW: Yes. So, David, let me get you on a few other topics since you worked on the Trump campaign, know the president well. He made very clear to everyone over the weekend something that he wouldn't say and didn't say before.

And that is that he said about the Trump Tower meeting in 2016, "this was a meeting to get information on an opponent." Information from Russians on Hillary Clinton. This is the antithesis of what he, his lawyers, his son, Don. Jr., have said over and over again, the statements that he dictated in July of last year, said that this meeting was -