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Trump Says Definitively 2016 Tower Meeting About Clinton Dirt; Rick Gates Could Take the Stand Today; Strong Possibility of Second Trump-Kim Summit; U.S. About to Re-impose Sanctions on Iran. Aired 10- 10:30a ET
Aired August 6, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Poppy Harlow In New York. Totally legal. Those words from the president this morning. He also says, done all of the time. Yet when it comes to that meeting that his son Don Junior held in June of 2016 with that Russian lawyer in Trump Tower, supposedly on dirt on Hillary Clinton, the president still insists, I did not know about it. And with that, his latest attempt to douse the potential legal firestorm only adds fuel to the flames.
This morning, it is far from clear why if the meeting was so routine, the president himself dictated that highly misleading statement about it when the news first broke. Well, this morning, the president says more clearly than ever before, that meeting in Trump Tower was held, quote, "to get information on an opponent," which may, in fact, not be legal at all, depending on the source of the information and how it was obtained.
Kaitlan Collins joins me now in Bedminster, New Jersey. That's where the president is on vacation. So he's not at the White House. There is no press conference scheduled with him right now for you to ask these questions to. But this is completely different and opposite of what he said in that dictated statement.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is, Poppy. And this is the president's most explicit acknowledgment yet that, yes, that meeting between his son and Jared Kushner and Russian officials was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, and not about Russian adoptions, as Donald Trump Jr., the president's lawyer, the president's spokesman, several people maintained for months now.
We have had months of evolving statements coming out of the White House, coming from the president's legal team, coming from the president himself. And it all got started with that statement from Donald Trump Jr. that was dictated by President Trump, according to his legal team, that said this meeting was primarily about Russian adoptions.
We now know, Poppy, that that is no longer true. That statement was misleading. And it raises the question of if there was nothing wrong with that meeting, as the president is now claiming on Twitter today, then why did he dictate that misleading statement and say that it was about Russian adoptions and make no mention about the fact that they were promised to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton? Now, Poppy, this tweet from the president acknowledging what that
meeting was truly about comes in light of some new CNN reporting that the president is becoming increasingly concerned that Donald Trump Jr. could be exposed in the Mueller probe. He's been worried about his family for months now, worried about this probe reaching into his family. He had voiced some concern for his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, originally.
But in recent weeks, sources tell myself and Jake Tapper that the president has become increasingly concerned about his own namesake in this situation. So we've got a president being worried about this, and Poppy, in his tweet he's defending that meeting that Donald Trump Jr. took with those Russian officials. But we should note at the end of it, he is distancing himself from that meeting, once again claiming, I did not know about it -- Poppy.
HARLOW: Kaitlan, thank you very much for the reporting.
Let's talk about all of it. Michael Zeldin is with me, CNN legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice, April Ryan, our political analyst, joins me, crime and Shimon Prokupecz, our crime and justice reporter.
So, Shimon, let's just be clear here about the potential issues. We'll get to the legal side of it with Michael Zeldin in just a moment. But any sense as to why the president is reversing course on this one this time around? Because it was he who dictated that original few sentence explanation back in July of last year when this story broke. We know that from, you know, the letter his lawyer sent to Mueller's team.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: No, there is no indication as to why. But I think given everything you've said, given everything that Kaitlan said, I do think that this tweet is a game- changer in terms of how the Mueller investigation looks at this meeting. You know, for months, we -- all we have heard, really, from the president's own mouth is that he had dictated this statement, these lies, that you know -- surrounding what this meeting was really about. And then you have the president now in his own words in a tweet saying that, you know, this was perfectly fine. What this meeting was about.
You know, Mueller -- this is one of the things that Mueller wants to know about. He wants to know about what the president knew about that meeting. Who knew about that meeting, what was the purpose of that meeting. And here we have the president essentially saying, yes, that's what this meeting was about.
The other thing I think, and what Mueller needs to, you know, get to is the president's state of mind.
PROKUPECZ: You know, why is it that at that time --
HARLOW: Well -- PROKUPECZ: -- when he dictated a statement, did he lie about it?
PROKUPECZ: And now he's saying, you know what, it was perfectly fine.
HARLOW: So, Shimon, to your point then, does that make the likelihood of a Mueller sit-down with the president more likely? Because as you know, the White House legal team pushing back against any sit-down interview -- we've given you all the documents. There is nothing else the president knows that you would need to know. Wouldn't this tweet and this reversal of course from the president speak to exactly that? That there are things the president knows and he's making them clear right here.
PROKUPECZ: Well, it does. But there needs to be follow-up. That's the issue. There needs to be follow-up as to why was it OK to lie about it? Why were you so concerned about it when this meeting was first discovered that you lied about it?
[10:05:06] But now you're saying, months later, oh, you know, it was perfectly fine. I think that's where the follow-up needs to be.
The other thing is, you know, I think it's true that the president's lawyers do not want him talking to Mueller. And you can see why. Just from this tweet, you can see why they don't want the president talking to Mueller. He clearly doesn't care, right? I mean, he's sending these tweets. His lawyers have told him to stop tweeting. He's not listening to anyone.
And this tweet, I do think puts him in jeopardy and should be concerning to his lawyers. Because, quite frankly, you know, this is in his own words. Him saying this was perfectly OK. This tweet was OK. This meeting was OK. And there's nothing illegal about it.
HARLOW: Michael Zeldin, here is what the president's -- one of his lawyers, Jay Sekulow, said, trying to explain the difference here. But also talk about legality and illegality. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Well, what about the Logan Act, Michael Zeldin?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm not so sure about the Logan Act would be the first act that I would choose. That really involves more interference with foreign policy. I think we saw that potentially implicated when Michael Flynn was talking to Russians before the president was inaugurated, I think. Here the two acts that most likely apply, if anything applies, is the Federal Election Law under Title 52, which makes it a crime to receive or solicit or attempt to do either a thing of value from a foreign national.
So arguably, a meeting sought to receive something of value from a foreign national as a contribution would violate that statute. And then second, Title 18, Section 371, which is the Conspiracy to Defraud, the possibility is that the prosecutors could look at this meeting and the events surrounding it and say this was a conspiracy to deprive the Federal Election Commission of an honest and fair election. And that violates that Title 18 statute.
So there are two statutes to answer Jay's, you know, rhetorical question that could apply. But I wanted to add one thing, which is, this is, in fact, Poppy, the first, you know, public statement by the president about this meeting, as Shimon indicates. But my recollection is that in the production of information from the White House to the special counsel back in July, they did send a letter indicating that their initial statement about this meeting on Air Force One was incorrect.
So I think that they tried to correct it back then. This just is a more public assertion of that which was corrected to Mueller previously.
HARLOW: And April, David Urban brought this up and he points to the July 13th, quote-unquote, "correction" from the White House on this one. What's your read?
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The bottom line is, you know, there's a lot of back and forth as to a correction, did this happen, did this not happen? What happened this way or who put input, who didn't? The bottom line, this is not a cliffhanger in a soap opera. This is real. And, you know, the press -- it all basically surrounds the president and his tweet this weekend. And I'm going back to something that I saw this weekend from Ben Rhodes of the Obama administration's National Security Council.
He said that this is not something that happens all the time in politics. He said, it's immoral, this is unpatriotic and he says part of the broader issue that it could be illegal. And I'm thinking about the fact that once this plays out and how Mueller could play this out, this president could ultimately, with all of this back and forth over this meeting, this New York meeting, all of this back and forth could basically have this president of the United States as an unindicted co-conspirator in this.
And this is real. There are legal repercussions, tentacles that come out of this tweet and come out of what we're finding out, be it from this person or that person or from the president's tweets.
HARLOW: So --
RYAN: And then it becomes a political issue. And then if the House -- if Dems do get the House, and there is impeachment, you can impeach but there needs to be people want removal. It's not just impeachment. So this president could wind up being an unindicted co-conspirator in all of this that could have repercussions in an impeachment issue or an impeachment trial that could lead to impeachment and possible removal if Dems get the House.
HARLOW: April, even as the story keeps changing, right, and the lawyers have to clean up their statements and, you know, Sekulow saying to the best of my knowledge, and the president is putting this out there clearly for the American people to see, you wonder, is he sort of the unsinkable Molly Brown in terms of his approval rating? While not high, it doesn't change. I mean, it's not going anywhere.
[10:10:02] So just the legal issue to decide for one moment, politically -- you're a White House reporter. Politically is it -- I mean, does this --
RYAN: Politically --
RYAN: Politically you have to remember. OK, I'm looking at all these polls. Politically, this president's base is solidly behind him on Russia. They believe him. But we haven't heard from Mueller yet. And see, this president and all of his team, including Rudy Giuliani, are playing this to the court of public opinion. And it's not about the court of public opinion. People need to remember, this is about the rule of law. The rule of law. And if laws were broken.
Yes, collusion may not be a crime. But there could be a crime of obstruction of justice. There could be a crime against the Logan Act. We don't specifically know as of yet. And there's also credibility issue with everyone involved. You have to find out the proof now. It's not about the credibility. It's about the proof of what can be found. So the bottom line is, it's -- you know, they're playing this to the court of public opinion, yes, they have their base. But there is still a vast majority, when you do these polls that disapprove of the president. And his --
HARLOW: The approval rating of Mueller, as you know, has also been going down in terms of how he's handling the probe.
RYAN: But once -- we have to wait for Mueller. We have to wait for the proof.
HARLOW: Right. We do.
RYAN: And once the proof comes out, it's all about proof. It's not about he said-she said. It's about what Mueller has. So we have to wait for that. And we'll see what happens if that does lead to impeachment.
HARLOW: Thank you all, April Ryan, Shimon, Michael. Nice to have you.
Still to come, Paul Manafort's trial resumes in just a few hours. This is week two. And there is a chance that his former deputy, Rick Gates, could take the stand today as the prosecution's star witness. Also, could another summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un be
in the works? And could it even be before the midterms? What North Korea is saying. A live report ahead.
And it's down to the wire for a pivotal special election in Ohio. The Republican forced to make an all-out push in a district that has sat safely in GOP hands for three decades. So CNN is finding out what voters there think about all of this. The president and the state of the Republican Party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump is doing exactly what he said he was going to do when he was elected into office.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he had had some help, we would be OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[10:16:37] HARLOW: This afternoon, the trial against former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, gets back under way for week two in a federal courthouse in Virginia. A big question today is whether jurors will hear from his former business partner for years and deputy, this man, Rick Gates. Will he take the stand today?
We know that today's session will kick off with a cross-examination of Manafort's former accountant, who testified last week that she helped him prepare fraudulent tax records.
Let's go to Joe Johns. He's outside the courthouse in Alexandria.
So we will see her cross-examination today by the defense. But then do we have an indication about whether the prosecution's star witness, rick Gates, is going to take the stand?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, that's a good question. And obviously, it's hard to predict what happens here because the trial judge, TS Ellis, is trying to move this thing along very quickly. One example of that is prosecutors just today, or over the weekend have now formally asked the judge to allow FBI forensic accountants to read e-mails written by Paul Manafort to the jury. There's been a lot of back and forth about this.
Two things at work here. Number one, the prosecution is trying to make a case that Paul Manafort was a very hands-on manager of his personal affairs, and no better way to do that than to read his e- mails. On the other hand, the judge has been trying to move this trial along very quickly, and wants the jury just to take e-mails and other documents back to the jury room when they finally start deliberating and read them for themselves.
So we'll see how the judge rules on that. Meanwhile, you talked about that accountant. Now, that, of course, is Cindy Laporta. She was on the stand last week. She's back today. And she could face a very tough cross-examination. Of course, she has already testified, very dramatically, and even remorsefully, that she signed off on a plan to put a bogus document into the files of Manafort. It was a bogus bank loan. And that bank loan essentially reduced the amount of tax he had to pay.
So she could get some tough examination on that. Also, as you know, and you talked about at the top, Rick Gates, the former deputy, the top associate of Manafort, he could testify, he could get tough cross- examination, too. And it's likely he could be on the stand for a while. Back to you.
HARLOW: Joe Johns, thank you. We'll be watching, of course, to see if Rick Gates does take the stand. We'll update you throughout the day.
In a matter of hours, sanctions from the United States on Iran will be re-imposed. This is all part of the president withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal. What does it mean for future relations between the country, negotiations? What does it mean for big European companies that are still doing business with Iran? Ahead.
HARLOW: North Korea believes there is a strong possibility -- their words -- of a second summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump. That is according to a source with close ties to the Kim regime. That source also says that this meeting could happen sometime this year. No mention of an exact date.
Will Ripley joins me now. He has reported inside of North Korea nearly 20 times. And to be clear, this is North Korea saying this. This is not the White House or the Trump administration. What's behind this?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you've heard kind of these two sides of U.S.-North Korea diplomacy. You've had President Trump playing good cop, tweeting a nice tweet to Kim Jong-un last week. The North Koreans, while criticizing the United States, have praised President Trump and said that they believe he wants progress, but that domestic politics are getting in the way. Then you have Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the weekend calling for stepped up enforcement of sanctions against North Korea because the U.S. intelligence community believes that North Korea is growing its nuclear program, not denuclearizing.
[10:25:11] So now you have this source who's familiar with the North Korean side of things, saying that they believe there's a strong possibility there will be a second summit between Trump and Kim because they both have something to gain if they can walk away with a -- at least saying that there's a win, that there is some sort of substantive progress towards denuclearization. Certainly President Trump could have something to gain, given that the midterm elections are coming up and he has touted North Korea as a foreign policy victory even though in recent weeks we've kind of seen little if any progress on denuclearization, and some really, really stepped up tense rhetoric between the two countries.
You also have South Korea overnight calling on North Korea to pick up the pace of denuclearization and calling on the United States to take sincere efforts to help North Korea build confidence. Because the North Koreans saying in order to have confidence in the U.S., they need things like sanctions relief and a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. So this source telling me that not only is a Trump- Kim summit likely to happen, but it will likely happen sometime later this year.
One possibility, Poppy, the United Nations General Assembly, which kicks off next month. That's when a lot of world leaders fly to New York and give speeches on behalf of their countries. We'll have to watch and see what happens.
HARLOW: But there is concern, Will, I mean, the optics of it, right? That this was a huge boon for Kim Jong-un just optically and being put on sort of a level playing field with the president of the United States, leader of the free world. And what, if anything, the U.S. did or will get as a result of that? We did get the remains, right, of 55. There are still many more. But is there concern about that? And what is the White House saying about this?
RIPLEY: Well, no response yet directly to these reports that the North Koreans are saying there might be a second summit. But the North Koreans are aware that if they were to come out publicly and declare the Singapore summit a failure and to say that they simply can't work with the U.S., that's also going to put the Trump administration in a bit of a corner here. So the North Koreans feel at this point they have some leverage. But yes, the U.S. does have to wonder, are they going to het -- perceived to be taken for a ride once again?
HARLOW: Will Ripley, thank you for the reporting.
And now on to Iran, because tonight at midnight, the U.S. will slap back those sanctions on Iran. This is 90 days after President Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.
We are expecting to hear from Iran's president in the next few hours. His response said to be aimed directly at President Trump.
Michelle Kosinski joins me now from the State Department. And Iran is not happy about this, because of what it will mean for its citizens economically, right, putting the squeeze on them. But this is one of sort of a two-part punch against Iran and the sanctions coming in November will be even stronger?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right, yes. These are snapback sanctions starting at midnight. The first round involves Iran's ability to bank or do transactions in the American dollar. That is a big deal. Also targets aviation and automotive sectors, also potential big hits, as well as its trade in metal. So, of course, this depends on the U.S. being able to get others on board, as well. That's been the harder part. Because November 4th, that's when oil sanctions and energy sector
sanctions, as well as sanctions on Iran's central bank snap back. And the European Union has said that they want to keep the existing Iran nuclear deal. They want to continue to protect their companies' abilities to do business with Iran. And that's where you have a stalemate.
So we just heard from the administration. Of course, their tone is optimistic. They say they're not too concerned about what the EU is trying to do to preserve the nuclear deal. They said they will aggressively enforce sanctions, and that means continuing to sanction European companies, which is the plan that will do business in Iran.
A couple of quick takeaways. First of all, the U.S. insists it is not advocating for regime change in Iran. Just for a change in the leadership's behavior. And also there are no preconditions, they emphasize that, for the U.S. talking to Iran. There's been some ambiguity, but they said that the president is willing to talk to Iran any time, again, without preconditions, Poppy.
HARLOW: Michelle Kosinski at the State Department. Thank you.
With mw now is our global affairs analyst Jason Rezaian. He spent more than 500 days in an Iranian prison before he's release in 2016. That is a day I will never forget. And you have a unique perspective on this, of course.
Let's just touch on first what Michelle just mentioned. And that is the White House remaining to being open to a meeting between, you know, President Trump and his Iranian counterpart with no preconditions. Smart move?
JASON REZAIAN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes. I think that the Trump administration, specifically President Trump, has been very adamant about this for several weeks now.
REZAIAN: That he would sit down with the Iranians at any point. But I've heard different things from the State Department and I think that, you know, people -- other people in his administration are less likely to push for talks with --