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Media Under Fire; Evolving Stories on Trump Tower; Key Witness Set to Testify in Manafort Trial. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 6, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But then the heckling is interrupted by a hero falling from the sky, Sergeant Dana Bowman, an Army Golden Knight who lost both legs in a midair collision.

He lands with Old Glory and, just for a moment, it feels like we are all in this together.

Bill Weir, CNN, Sturgis, South Dakota.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go, breaking news at the top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN.

Want to take you to Alexandria, Virginia. We are talking about Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman. His criminal trial resumed just a short while ago. He is facing all kinds of charges, right, related to bank fraud, tax charges.

So this is the moment where this courtroom will now finally be hearing from Manafort's -- essentially his number two, his former right-hand man, Rick Gates. And Gates is the prosecution's key witness. He will be the next person to testify.

So, let's go first to CNN's Kara Scannell. She is just outside the courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia.

Tell me, when will this happen. Mere minutes?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have one more witness to finish testified today. That's Manafort's accountant.

But Rick Gates is the witness that's up next. Manafort's attorney said that in court. This all came about after Manafort -- one of his attorneys sort of dropped a bombshell alleging that Rick Gates had embezzled millions of dollars from Paul Manafort.

He had asked that accountant, would that have been something she would have liked to know? She said, of course, she would. He teed all of this up focusing most of his questioning on Manafort's accountant by making it appear as though Rick Gates was the main person he dealt with. He had the accountant admit that it was a chore to deal with Gates,

that he wasn't responsive. And he tried to suggest through his questioning of her that this was all because Gates was evading her, was a criminal himself.

So, now we know that, once the prosecutors finish asking questions of this witness, we're expecting to hear from Rick Gates. Of course, this is the moment we've been waiting for. He has been Manafort's deputy for almost 20 years. They go back a very long time.

He pleaded guilty earlier this year. And we are expecting Manafort's attorneys to really hammer him when they get a chance to. But that's likely to occur tomorrow, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Kara, thank you for the setup.

I have got two people standing by just to talk us through when this Rick Gates moment happens.

First, business and compliance attorney Seth Berenzweig and CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.

So, great to have both of you on.

And, Jessica, let me dive right into this with you, because I think in order for everyone following this trial to appreciate how deeply connected these two men have been over their lifetimes, right?

So, Kara just mentioned that they -- he had been his deputy for 20 years. But Rick Gates goes way back with Paul Manafort to when he interned at his lobbying firm.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. He was his research assistant.


SCHNEIDER: So he did that for a while. And then he came back in 2006, and that's when he worked hand in hand with Paul Manafort.

And really, Brooke, that's why Rick Gates will be on the stand for this particular trial, because he will know exactly how this alleged scheme of Paul Manafort's operated. He will be able to tell the jury exactly what Paul Manafort directed him to do.

Now, of course, the government is alleging here that they hid these foreign bank accounts, they hid all the millions that they made from lobbying in the Ukraine. So that's what Rick Gates will be able to tell the jury. Of course, the defense is planning to go on the attack here.

As Kara mentioned, they're going to say, no, this was Rick Gates embezzling money, stealing millions from Paul Manafort. And, oh, by the way, Rick Gates has admitted to lying to the government, so, jury, why would you believe an admitted liar? That's going to be their tactic here. But what's interesting here is maybe not so much as what Rick Gates will tell the jury, but maybe, Brooke, what he's already told prosecutors, because, of course, he's been working with them since he struck this plea -- plea deal back in February. Who knows what he's been telling them behind the scenes about how the Trump campaign operated and about what may have been some of these dealings with the Russians?

He wasn't in that Trump Tower meeting, but what does he know about it? There's a lot going on here with Rick Gates.

BALDWIN: So, all right, let's all just kind of go inside the courtroom.

Seth, to you. Put yourself -- first, let's just talk about the prosecution side, the government side. He's up, he's up in the stand. And what picture would you -- if you're the prosecutor, what picture are you trying to paint for these jurors to hear in terms of this is the guy who knew the guy who did all kinds of naughty, naughty things, and he had a front-row seat to it?

SETH BERENZWEIG, ATTORNEY: It's all about closeness. It's all about proximity, and it's all about timing.

This is a very strong case by the prosecution. I know that they have taken a few bumps along the way from Judge Ellis, but it's very well- grounded in documents and it's also very well-grounded in witnesses. There was a point that was mentioned a moment ago that was very important.


You have to get into the mind-set, you have to get into the intent. The documents are critical. And we see the signatures, we see the documents and we see the trail, but Rick Gates is going to be a key witness in terms of being able to demonstrate the intent of Paul Manafort.

The other thing I would just add, in terms of the color and the context of this, is that there has been some very colorful discussions about the role that Judge Ellis has taken and how he's been giving the prosecutors a little bit of a hard time in their case in chief.

As a lawyer who practices in the Eastern District of Virginia on a regular basis and knows Judge Ellis very well and has been in front of him, I can tell you that he treats everybody quite sternly and strictly. He's very smart, he's very sharp.

I'm sure when the defense puts their case in chief on, he will give them some of that medicine as well.

BALDWIN: We have heard stories about this judge. It's good to know that you have experience firsthand.

For the defense side, we know -- as Jessica and others have laid out, they're going to pin this whole thing on Gates, that it wasn't Manafort, it was -- it was Gates who was the mastermind.

BERENZWEIG: Well, it's going to be very difficult to pull that off, because, at the end of the day, the lead of the business enterprise is in control. We have already heard from the accountant that Manafort was a man of detail, he had his hands on the business.

When he was riding this horse,he had his hands on the reins. So I think that that is going to be contrary to the evidence. Look, Rick Gates really carries a lot of very heavy weight. And I think that his testimony and the information he shared with prosecutors is so significant that I even think that, indirectly, he had a role in the breakdown of the story on the Trump Tower meeting this weekend, because when the FBI puts on witnesses, they have to release FBI interview statements.

And it seems that there may have been some further information behind the scene regarding some key discussions that took place before the Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr., which might have even triggered a little bit of a change of heart from the president, thereby putting Don Jr. in jeopardy.

So I think the bottom line is that Mr. Gates is a very significant witness that really changes the dialogue and the narrative for many witnesses that are involved in this case.

BALDWIN: Interesting.

And just reminding everyone that Gates was the third person in the Trump orbit to cop a plea , joining Flynn and Papadopoulos to cooperate.

So, Jessica, thank you.

Seth, stay with me. I have got more questions on something separate.

So let's move along. Let's talk about the legal implications -- we were just talking about that Trump Tower meeting -- the legal implications of President Trump's tweet admitting the purpose of his son's infamous Trump Tower meeting was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Did the president -- did this open the president and his son to legal jeopardy?

Plus, a bizarre sighting on Air Force One this weekend, this woman, President Trump's former communications director, Hope Hicks. Hicks at the center of the controversy involving that Trump Tower meeting. We will talk about what she would have been doing there.

And Alex Jones blocked. The conspiracy theorist and much of the content from his Infowars Web site removed from YouTube, Facebook, Apple, but is it a violation of free speech?

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: Despite narrative after narrative, story after story, lie after lie, it turns out it was all about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton after all.

President Trump now admits the real purpose of that infamous Trump Tower meeting was to get the goods on his political rival. No surprise, the president's admission came from Twitter.

This is the tweet: "This was a meeting to get information on an opponent. Totally legal and done all the time in politics. And it went nowhere. I did not know about it."

The problem is that this is just the latest in a series of conflicting explanations about said meeting. The president's attorney over the weekend, Jay Sekulow, blames bad information for his role.

Initially, he said the president wasn't involved in that misleading statement about the meeting. And now he says this:


JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.


BALDWIN: Let's just all together remember how these shifting stories evolved since this Trump Tower meeting.

The initial line from team Trump was there was no meeting. Remember, this meeting took place back in June of '16. Not a peep on it. And then this from Don Jr. nine months after it happened.

This is what he says -- quote -- "Did I meet with people that were Russian? I'm sure. I'm sure I did. But none of that were set up and certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form."

Then, in July of last year, "The New York Times" broke the story. And the story became, OK, yes, there was this meeting, but it was on Russian adoptions or, more accurately, sanctions. Very soon after, the Trump team was been forced to fess up at the meeting was actually to get dirt on Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton.

And then the public was told, yes, there was a meeting, but no dirt on Hillary Clinton actually came from it. Don Jr. reportedly said this about the Russian lawyer with the supposed Clinton dirt -- quote -- "Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense."

Then, last week, the president and his attorney Rudy Giuliani added this whole new storyline that, OK, no, not only was there no collusion, but that collusion is not a crime.

All right, so now we're all up to speed. This is where we are today.


Let me bring in CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, along with business and compliance attorney Seth Berenzweig.

OK, so, Kaitlan to you.

You -- in addition to all of that, you had new reporting today with Jake Tapper that Trump is concerned about whether his son Don Jr. might have legal exposure in the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Tell me about that.


The president is growing increasingly concerned. And that's why we have seen him ramp up his attacks on the special counsel, which you have seen play out on his Twitter feed, calling out the special counsel, Robert Mueller, by name, something that we did not see the president do six months ago, before.

He never would go as far as to say his name. But now he's doing it multiple times in a weekend sometimes. And we are learning from sources who are telling myself and Jake Tapper that that's because the president is now growing concerned that his son Donald Trump Jr. may be exposed in the Mueller investigation.

Now, the president has been worried about his family in regards to this investigation for months now. But before, his concern was about Paul -- excuse me -- about Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, who was also present at that Trump Tower meeting.

But, in recent weeks, the president has started voicing concern about Donald Trump Jr. and how he could be entangled in all of this mess.

Now, the president is denying that on Twitter, as you just pointed out, saying he's not concerned about it because he thinks that meeting was fine. But that raises questions about, if that meeting was so by- the-book, as the president seems to be claiming on Twitter, then why did they publish that misleading statement about it that said it was Russian adoptions, when, in fact, as the president admitted yesterday, it was actually to get dirt on Hillary Clinton?

Now, Trump Jr. testified privately to lawmakers behind closed doors that he did not tell his father about this meeting. The president maintains that on Twitter. But, of course, Brooke, as you pointed out, there are questions about the White House's credibility and the president and his family's credibility about this entire meeting, because, so far, they have really changed their story on multiple occasions.

And often only the truth comes out after it's already been reported by another outlet.

BALDWIN: So, Kaitlan used the phrase by the book. So, Seth, here's my question for you on this whole by-the-books notion

with the Trump Tower meeting, because Trump says, hey, it's politics. everyone tries to get dirt on someone, everyone's doing it.

But let me just point out federal law -- quote -- "makes it a crime for any person to solicit, accept or receive a contribution or anything of value from a foreign person or a U.S. political campaign or for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office."

So even though, Seth, they say they didn't get any dirt on Hillary Clinton, was that meeting against the law, given that the intent was there?

BERENZWEIG: Well, potentially, yes.

I hear the defense, and I don't think the defense is very strong. If I try to rob a bank and I walk in to open up a safe, but the safe is empty, I can't say it's a nothing burger. It's an attempt at criminal activity.

In this instance, the reason why this yet another huge turn by the president on the Trump Tower meeting is such a big deal is that it once again changes the narrative. And the person who gets thrown under the legal bus is his son, Donald Trump Jr.

Several legal issues come into play, and they're all very high level and they're very serious. You're absolutely right. This could give rise to an instance of an alleged conspiracy for aiding and abetting, a crime for a violation of federal election law.

As you have noted, there are other felony issues that potentially float out there as well. Remember that Donald Trump Jr., he basically bet the farm on the position that this was just an innocuous meeting about Russians' adoptions. He is all in on this.

And now, just yesterday, we have a complete U-turn yet again on what the very purpose of the meeting was for. If Donald Trump Jr. made any false statements to Congress, that would be a violation of the federal False Statements Act. That is a felony. That is very serious.

No wonder there are murmurings that the president is very, very concerned. And if anybody has a question as to whether someone's son being in the eyes of Robert Mueller is something that can create a lot of pressure or not, just ask General Flynn, because he will tell you it's a really big deal.

BALDWIN: One other piece of this -- and Kaitlan outlined so far that team Trump and Trump himself is saying that he did not know about this meeting ahead of time.

One other twist recently is that Michael Cohen says that, in actuality, he does. Now, this is just -- this is Michael Cohen's perspective. And Michael Cohen also several people were in the room. And so perhaps Mueller has talked to, will talk to any of those to corroborate that. If it turns out that, Seth,that Trump did know about this meeting to

get dirt on his opponent, then what happens?

BERENZWEIG: Well, then, at that point, the president also is enveloped potentially in a criminal conspiracy for aiding and abetting violation of federal election law. This is an underlying felony.

Also keep in mind that if you are -- been -- going after for aiding and abetting by the federal prosecutor's office, the agent who was trying to assist the principal on aiding and abetting has the same underlying exposure for criminal liability as the principal himself.


So, there's very high risk that's involved in this situation. This is the latest U-turn on the story about what's going on here. And this is direct heat not only on the president directly, but indirectly, because if his son ends up getting in a lot of legal hot water, then that's going to create a major storm cloud that could be heading directly towards the White House.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, last question to you just on lying.

We know that Jay Sekulow, the president's attorney, said over the weekend -- he was explaining his initial misstatement saying, OK, he didn't have all the information on Trump Tower. No, the meeting was about adoptions, right? And then later we find out, no, it's actually about dirt. And then, oh, by the way, over the weekend, Hope Hicks is seen getting on Air Force One.

We don't know if Trump lied to her or she lied to the American people. And I'm just wondering, what are the consequences, do you think -- you cover this White House every day -- of lying in 2018?

COLLINS: Well, Brooke their credibility is really at stake here, because we have seen the White House make these statements, these definitive statements, say the president had no role in the drafting of that statement.

Then the president's legal team goes completely against that, contradicts it in a memo to the special counsel when they said, actually, Trump did play a role, he did dictate that entire statement.

So we have seen the White House have that problem with this. And that has been a reoccurring pattern throughout everything with Russia. The White House often complains about the focus of Russia and reporters and on their reporting that they have on the White House. But we have seen their narrative change ever since President Trump got into the White House.

At first, they said there was no contact at all with any Russian. Then they said there was no collusion. And now they're saying that the collusion is not a crime. So we have really seen their narrative change.

But as far as this goes, Jay Sekulow is not the only person who said that the president did not have any role in that statement. Sarah Sanders said it as well. So did Sean Spicer. Hope Hicks said there was no communication with Russians.

So it is several people around the president who were saying that that had nothing to do with it. And we're seeing that come to light, Brooke. And it just simply isn't the case anymore.

BALDWIN: The truth comes out in the end.

Kaitlan and Seth, thank you both so very much.

Coming up next, YouTube, Facebook, Apple ban together against Infowars. Content from the hate-spewing Web site and its leader, Alex Jones, have been taken down. Hear how he's responding.

And all eyes on that courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, the federal courthouse, as the key witness for the government, Rick Gates, takes the stand this afternoon and testifies against President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Updates as soon as we get them.



BALDWIN: President Trump is once again fanning his attacks on the media.

And one voice lending support, a pastor. The pastor's invocation shocking some, pleasing others, when he delivered a prayer asking the lord to protect this President Trump from something he called jungle journalism.


PASTOR GARY CLICK, FREMONT BAPTIST TEMPLE: Tonight, I pray that you would protect our president and his family with a shield of faith, lord, that shield of faith against the fiery darts of the wicked one, lord, against that jungle journalism that distorts the truth and distorts honesty and integrity every single day.


CLICK: Gets in his face with lies and mistruths and innuendoes.

Lord, protect him. Protect him.


BALDWIN: Later, on Twitter, the president would go on to accuse the media of being to blame for -- quote -- "division" in the country.

And now some Americans may take these dangerous attacks lightly, but in terms of rhetoric, I want you to listen to something? Just one day before that rally, a caller on C-SPAN demonstrated how dangerous these attacks can be, phoning in a death threats aimed at two journalists here at CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, Don, State College, Pennsylvania, supports the criticism of the media.

Don, you're on the air.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It all -- it all started when Trump got elected.

Brian Stelter and Don Lemon from CNN called Trump supporters all racists. They don't even know us. They don't even know these Americans out here, and they're calling us racists because we voted for Trump? Come on. Give me a break. They started the war.

I see them, I'm going to shoot them. Bye.


BALDWIN: OK, first of all, just on behalf of my two colleagues here at CNN, they never did that. And that call is reprehensible.

A couple of members of the president's inner circle have publicly broken with the president over this.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and the president's daughter Ivanka say they do not believe journalists are the enemy of the people.

But from media wars to Infowars. He suggested the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax and that the September 11 terror attacks were an inside job by the government. I'm talking about Alex Jones.

He is the founder of Infowars. And he is now feeling the heat himself, YouTube, Facebook, and Apple all announcing they're removing his content from their platforms.

Here's how YouTube explained its decision -- quote -- "When users violate policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts."