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Donald Trump Admits Trump Tower Meeting Was to Get Info on Clinton; Manafort's Accountant Back on Stand for Day 5. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired August 6, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell.
[05:58:54] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We now know from the president the purpose of the meeting was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I had bad information at that point. I made a mistake in my statement. That happens when you have cases like this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looks un-credible, as does the president.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: She helped falsify numbers so that Manafort could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: When you have a person on the stand who has an immunity deal, obviously, you attack them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real question is, what are we going to hear from Rick Gates?
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Monday, August 6, 6 a.m. here in New York.
Nice to be back beside you.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Great to have you back. I hope you had a wonderful week off.
BERMAN: I slept past 3 a.m.
BERMAN: Always a good thing. And what did I miss? Oh, this.
President Trump admits flat-out that his son met with a Russian lawyer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Dirt that Trump Jr. was told, flat- out, was part of the Russian government effort to help his father.
Now, the law says it's a crime to accept anything of value from a foreign person for the purpose of influencing an election. Yet, the president says this was totally legal.
Now sources tell CNN the president is concerned about Don Jr.'s legal exposure for his involvement in this meeting.
CAMEROTA: President Trump's attorney, Jay Sekulow, says he made a mistake last year when he said President Trump was not involved in crafting that misleading statement on the Trump Tower meeting. Sekulow blamed the false statements on, quote, "bad information."
We have it all covered for you. Let's go first to CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey
What's the latest there, Abby?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn.
President Trump growing increasingly agitated about the Mueller probe and lashing out over the weekend, both at campaign rallies and on Twitter. This weekend, he tweeted in the clearest terms that we've seen him use yet that the meeting at Trump Tower was about getting dirt on his political opponent. He said, "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 anything about it."
But it is not legal to accept political help from foreign entities in a campaign. And we've also reported this weekend that a source close to the White House is saying that President Trump is growing increasingly worried that Mueller is encroaching on his family, particularly Don Trump Jr., his son who was at the center of that infamous Trump Tower meeting in 2016.
Now, a source close to Don Jr. says he's not worried about this meeting at all and that he says he did nothing wrong. But we also know that this could come down to the president and his son's word against his personal attorneys, Michael Cohen, who has said that he is willing to testify to Bob Mueller that the president knew in advance about this Trump Tower meeting.
Now meanwhile, all of this is happening while the president is here in Bedminster, New Jersey. He's at his golf course for a working vacation for about 11 days. We are looking to see if the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, will make his way here to New Jersey. They're still deliberating about this issue of the interview with Robert Mueller and whether or not they do that.
As they deliberate with that, we're expecting, perhaps, to see a response from the Mueller team to the Trump attorneys this week at some point -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip for us in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. Abby, thanks so much. We just want to take a minute here to walk down the long and winding path that is the series of convoluted and contradictory explanations about the Trump Tower meeting.
Preface it with this. Way back in March of 2017, Donald Trump Jr. told "The New York Times," quote, "Did I meet with people that were Russian? I'm sure. I'm sure I did, but none that were set up, none that I can think of at the moment, and certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form."
Turns out that is not true. Way, way not true.
On July 8, 2017, "The New York Times" broke the story about his June 9, 2016, meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer. Trump Jr. issued something of a smoke screen statement to "The New York Times" at that moment, saying, quote, "We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children, but it was not a campaign issue at the time; and there was no follow up."
The next day, "The New York Times" published another story alleging Trump Jr. took the meeting because he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Two days later, to get ahead of yet another story from "The Times," Trump Jr. released the e-mails with music publicist Rob Goldstone who set up the meeting. Trump Jr. was explicitly told the meeting was to, quote, "provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary as part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." To which, Mr. Trump said, "If it's what you say, I love it."
So much for no meeting set up with Russians and not representing the campaign in any way, shape, or form.
The same day, Trump Jr. appeared on FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you tell your father anything about this?
TRUMP JR.: No, it was such a nothing there was nothing to tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: For the next few weeks the president and his team continued to repeatedly deny the president knew anything about the meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting.
SEKULOW: He was not aware of the meeting, did not attend the meeting, and was only informed about the e-mails very recently by his counsel. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So of particular interest is the initial statement that Donald Trump Jr. gave to "The New York Times," claiming the meeting was about Russian adoptions. "The Washington Post" first reported the statement was actually dictated by the president on Air Force One, but the president's lawyer and press secretary, of course, denied that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He didn't -- he certainly didn't dictate, but, you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in and offered suggestion like any father would do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: But now we know that wasn't true. He did dictate. On June 2 this year, "The New York Times" published a letter from President Trump's lawyer to Special Counsel Robert Mueller that was sent on January 29. In it the president's attorney wrote, "The president dictated a short but accurate response to 'The New York Times' article on behalf of his son."
So, the meeting was set up -- the meeting that was allegedly set up to talk about adoptions, that wasn't true. The president not dictating it, that's not true. So how about the president's claim that he did not know about the meeting beforehand?
[06:05:14] Now his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, claims the president was told and signed off on the meeting beforehand, and sources tell CNN Cohen is prepared to tell that to the special counsel.
Finally, that brings us to this weekend with the president flat-out saying the meeting was to get dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton: "This was a meeting to get information on an opponent. Totally legal and done all of the time in politics. And it went nowhere. I did not know about it."
That is what the president just said. That is way different that the explanation he dictated and then his people told lies about, suggesting that the meeting was about adoptions. And that is where we are this morning.
So let's bring in CNN senior political analyst John Avlon, CNN political analyst Alex Burns and CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero.
I think, to me, there are two big important things here. First of all the law, which says --
CAMEROTA: That's a big one.
BERMAN: -- it's illegal to take anything of value from someone foreign.
CAMEROTA: Yes, that -- I feel that's an open and shut case. BERMAN: What is that -- Let's put that up. Let's put that up so
people can see the actual law here. This is U.S. Code 30121, Contributions and Donations by Foreign Nationals. Federal law, makes it a crime for "any person to solicit, accept or receive a contribution of anything of value from a foreign person or U.S. political campaign for the purposes of influencing any election for federal office."
CAMEROTA: And what more, really, is there to talk about after that one?
BERMAN: Carrie, you're the lawyer here.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the law on its face, if we just read the words of it, it looks like it does apply to anything of value. The question, as a legal matter, is what is something of value?
And that's where we get into the details of has there been a case quite like this. Legal scholars really disagree as to whether there's something that applies directly, a prior case that applies directly. The answer to that is probably no.
Would the president be able to interpret this particular meeting of obtaining derogatory information about a domestic political opponent from a foreign power, foreign government, and would that violate the campaign finance laws?
An argument can be made that it does, but in this case, I think it's really important to separate the legal questions from the political questions about the consequences of the president and his inner circle repeatedly telling different stories about what the meeting was about and whether there's any political consequences to that.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But just to sort of ground this in history, I mean, this is something the Founding Fathers explicitly warned about. You know, Washington warning against foreign governments influencing and interfering in our elections.
In 1968, Nixon's campaign, now we know a third party was negotiating with the North Vietnamese on their behalf. Something that Nixon was afraid might lead to his impeachment. Of course, it was something else 44 years to the day that did that. Watergate.
So this is -- you know, there is a legal something of value, campaign finance question. But this is not subtle, folks. This is foreign governments, foreign folks interfering and trying to influence our elections.
CAMEROTA: Yes. I just -- I don't want to parse this anymore. The law says you can't do this. OK? It's very clear. The law explicitly says you cannot do this.
Now, is their argument that, "Well, we didn't collect anything of value. Had they actually delivered on the dirt, then it would have then been illegal, but we never really got anything of value"? Is that the loophole that they're looking at?
ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know what their argument would actually be in the event that Don Jr. faced these charges, right? And we don't know that that's going to happen.
What we do know right now is that this also comes as the president is under scrutiny for obstruction of justice. We know that that is a part of a long pattern, as John just laid out, of false and misleading and clearly deliberately misleading statements about what happened in that Trump Tower meeting. That's a very serious thing, both legally and politically.
CAMEROTA: Well, hold on a second. As we pointed out, you can lie to the media as much as you want. That's not illegal.
BURN: Well, we don't -- we actually don't know that it's going to be considered totally within bounds to -- for there to be a pattern of -- of essentially a very public cover up, right? That if there is an allegation of obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct, right, that actually is the kind of thing that could be inbounds.
But look, my expertise is in politics, not in the law, and sort of the point that I want to underscore here is that, you know, it's important not to get so focused on the Mueller side of this that we lose sight of the -- the sort of scandal that is staring at us in plain sight. Right? That the president just acknowledged very publicly that his son, his official spokespeople and he himself have been misleading the American people about what happened in that Trump Tower meeting. That's a staggering admission.
BERMAN: And that just happened. The president just did that. He just admitted that the statement he dictated on Air Force One, that his lawyers admit now that he dictated, is wildly misleading. That statement, put side by side with this statement he just put out on Twitter for us all to see, the directly contradict each other.
[06:10:19] You do not often have a president of the United States who admits, as he just did, that he willingly misled or, yes, lied to the American people.
BURNS: And this is where setting the bar at unlawful or illegal behavior really does miss the point, right? That when the president comes out and says -- and tells a -- does a 180 on something that is clearly a very, very important matter that he is trying to conceal from the public, that on its own is a giant, giant deal.
AVLON: And carelessly on a random Sunday morning tweet does it. An admission of lying and something, at least, that starts to fit the dictionary, if not legal definition, of collusion. Right? You know, a secret or illegal cooperation, coordination or conspiracy.
So this is a big deal, and sometimes there's a frog in a pot of boiling water strategy of, you know, telling the truth slowly. This is a lot bigger than that. There is nothing about this that is in the neighborhood of normal when it comes to the presidency. CAMEROTA: Carrie, I'm still stuck on the law. Can you just help me
understand, since is so explicit in the law, that you're not allowed to take any contribution of any value from a foreign -- I'll just read it. "Federal law makes it a crime for any person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or anything of value from a politic person for a U.S. political campaign for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office."
The law is very explicit. You can't do this. Is it that they're going to argue that they didn't get anything of value? They had intended to, but that's not what was delivered by the Russians?
CORDERO: Well, that's one other argument.
Let me try to put it in context. The special counsel's theory of the overall case is conspiracy to defraud the United States by trying to influence the election. That's what the Russian intelligence operation was about.
If somebody domestically, if someone in the Trump campaign was going to actually be charged with something, they could be charged with conspiracy. But they also -- there would likely be some underlying claims. Usually, someone isn't just charged with conspiracy. There's some underlying claim.
If it's campaign finance, traditionally, the campaign finance laws have been used regarding money. I mean, that's really what they were about, getting money in a campaign. And that's how they have been used.
There could be a theory of the case that the thing of value that was given, it also could be a loan, something like that. The theory could be that they receive this information. But they didn't receive anything, we are told so far. Whether or not that turns out to be true.
And so there's different ways this could go. No. 1, the special counsel's office, if they thought that they could reasonably succeed in a criminal case, which is the standard for prosecution, they could make an argument that the Trump team thought that they were getting derogatory information, and that's a thing of value.
CAMEROTA: Which they did.
CORDERO: What I'm suggesting is that, under this specific statutory argument, that's a theory. That's not necessarily something that is well-established by law. I'm not saying that it's OK, but -- and there is a separate -- as John referred to, there's a separate constitutional theory of emoluments, where a president is not supposed to receive --
CORDERO: -- or benefit from a foreign government.
AVLON: But -- but -- CORDERO: These are the different legal theories. But the political point is so important. Because whether or not it turns out there is a plausible legal prosecution for a member of the Trump campaign to obtain information or try to obtain information from a foreign government that is simply information, the bigger political point is what does Congress and the American people think about the fact that the president has now confirmed that the campaign thought that they were receiving the assistance of a foreign government? And that is a political question, not a legal one.
AVLON: That is not subtle. We know that -- from an e-mail that Goldstone sent that they understood that Trump was supporting -- that the Russians were supporting Trump's campaign.
Two, the thing that campaigns spend money on today are lists. They are information. They are opposition research, which is what was specifically being offered, including early information that the DNC was hacked and their incriminating e-mails out. And subsequently, there's also correspondence with WikiLeaks that demonstrates control of that information. And so that's a whole other tributary of this that's going to be real problematic down the line.
But that is what campaigns spend money on to a great extent, opposition research and actual information.
CAMEROTA: So it's valuable.
AVLON: It is valuable.
CAMEROTA: I understand what you're saying.
Thank you all for all of that context and expertise.
OK. Meanwhile, there is actually a trial happening that, we need to update you on, and that's Paul Manafort. It will resume with the prosecution's star witness possibly taking the stand today. We'll give you an update.
[06:18:54] BERMAN: This afternoon, Paul Manafort's trial on bank fraud and tax charges gets back underway. The defense set to cross- examine a key prosecution witness. This is the former Trump campaign chair's longtime bookkeeper. Now, Manafort's former aide, Rick Gates, could also take the stand as a star witness. That will be a big deal.
CNN's Joe Johns live outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, with the latest -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
OK, this accountant that you talked about there who is back on the stand today, her name is Cindy Laporta. At the end of last week she essentially laid out the emotional and dramatic high points so far when she testified that she put an enormous bogus loan on the books to help show Paul Manafort's income, taxable income reducing, if you will. She did that, she said, among other things, because he was a client of the firm, and they wanted to keep the big client of the firm.
[06:20:00] Now, that could have gotten her into enormous legal trouble, except for one thing. She has immunity from prosecution in order to testify in this case.
So Cindy Laporta back on the stand, and she could be subjected to a very harsh cross-examination because of the immunity deal. She is in a position where the government and -- I should say the prosecutors and the defense are fighting other whether there was some kind of a deal behind the scenes, essentially, to keep her out of jail.
What went into that, what was going on behind the scenes, especially when you're dealing with the special counsel in the Russia investigation.
Another witness who is very likely, I should say, to get some type of a tough cross-examination would be Rick Gates. That's the long-time deputy of Paul Manafort. He could be on the stand as early as today. He's already struck a deal of his own. In fact, he pleaded guilty to related charges and now is cooperating with the government.
John and Alisyn, back to you.
CAMEROTA: Joe, that is fascinating. Thank you for explaining how many people it takes to make a crime, an alleged crime like this happen.
OK, let's discuss with John Avlon, Alex Burns and Carrie Cordero. What should everybody be watching for in the Manafort trial. What are you -- what are you waiting to see?
CORDERO: I think the interesting piece will be whether or not the defense is able -- going forward, whether the defense is able to knock down the credibility of the existing government witnesses.
The interesting thing about this case is that these witnesses, nobody is really clean in this case. So even the people who are testifying in favor of the government's case and support the government's case, they have immunity. They have done things themselves that are potentially illegal. They cooperated in some way for this scheme to -- that was involved with evading taxes and other fraudulent activities. The witness on Friday is just a good example of that.
So the question will be can the defense be successful in trying to make it appear like Manafort, in some way was the victim of other people's bad behavior and that he, perhaps, didn't know everything that was going on?
BERMAN: So Alex Burns, if Rick Gates does take the stand, the public is about to get a sense of not just campaign chair Paul Manafort, but his deputy Rick Gates, two people who played a central role, albeit for a specific time, but a central role in the president's campaign. It's a tough look, and you can see the president getting uncomfortable with it by the way he's talking about it. BURNS: It is a tough look. He is very obviously uncomfortable, and he's handling it in a way that just makes veterans of embattles White House administrations just shake their heads. That the president has He argued all along that this is not really a case about him, right? This is about Paul Manafort's finances. These are not crimes directly related to the Trump campaign, and so it's sort of an incidental association.
And if he left it at that, that might be politically inoculating for him, right? "That Paul made some mistakes before he worked for me."
Instead, the president has gone out and sort of insistently carried the attack on Manafort's behalf that federal prosecutors are being unfair to him. Comparing Manafort in this sort of convoluted way to Al Capone. I think the suggestion being that -- that bringing somebody up on tax charges is unfair if you're really --
BURNS: I don't know. I don't know what -- I don't know what the argument there is, right?
But the basic underlying point is this is not a place where the president has to involve himself more deeply. This isn't his son under scrutiny for meeting with the Russians and potentially colluding during the presidential campaign. This is about his former campaign chairman having engaged in some alleged financial crimes. And yet, the president keeps on leaping to his defense.
AVLON: Yes. And look, I mean, the -- the president -- chairman of the president's campaign, there are problems beyond the apparent, like, tsunami of sleaze that's surrounded his consulting businesses. This is a guy -- if you live in the suburbs of Washington or the Hamptons and have bank accounts in Cyprus, where Russian money laundering is done, that is called a tell.
Part of the problem is this just a lot of Russian money that seems to be flowing through these false accounts. And playing the victim card seems to be very much in vogue. But it doesn't really ring true here.
CAMEROTA: Carrie, I know that the question of pardons always comes up. So regardless of what happens with Paul Manafort, can the president pardon him? And that also brings us to Don Jr., who there's sources tell us that the president has become increasingly concerned about his own son and whether or not he is in any legal jeopardy.
So what do you want us to know about the pardon issue?
CORDERO: You know, Alisyn, this is a really serious issue that members of Congress really need to be thinking about ahead of time.
The president has demonstrated over the last year that he is willing and able to exercise his constitutional pardon authority, which is an area that he has latched onto where the president has very strong and unreviewable executive powers. [06:25:15] CORDERO: The question -- and this is a political question,
really, for members of Congress -- is how far are they willing to watch him use that power before it's considered an abuse? And so his comments recently about Manafort are along the lines of the same types on comments that he made for other individuals that he's pardoned.
If he were to pardon Manafort, if a member of his family were somehow implicated, whether it's for a dramatic charge like conspiracy or whether it's something less dramatic like false statements, how many people is going to be able to pardon before, as a political matter, the public and members of Congress say it's enough?
BERMAN: Carrie, while we have you here, counselor, I want to go back to Jay Sekulow, who over the weekend now, out loud, says that he misspoke one year ago when he said very publicly that President Trump did not dictate that response to the Trump Tower letter.
Do lawyers get bad information the way that Jay Sekulow is suggesting they do? It seems to me that, if your client is the president, the president is accused of -- in the public, of dictating a letter, you may ask him if he did so and have that information a year ago.
CORDERO: Well, you can't help it if your client lies to you. I mean, this -- the president, he lies publicly. I don't know why there's any reason to think that he doesn't lie privately, as well.
So if the lawyer is misled by the client, there's not any reason to think that the lawyer in this case made statements that he understood to be untrue, but it puts the lawyer in a difficult position if the client lies to them. And then the lawyer has to go out and they -- that's part of the difficulty in accepting a relationship with a client like this, because as a lawyer, you put your own reputation on the line.
BERMAN: So is Jay Sekulow basically saying out loud, for all of us to see, that "The president lied to me here"?
CORDERO: Well, he's certainly suggesting that he was misled.
CAMEROTA: By someone.
BERMAN: By someone. Yes.
CAMEROTA: That he got bad information.
All right. Carrie, Alex, John, thank you very much.
BERMAN: The death toll is rising in Indonesia from the earthquake there. We have new details coming just in. Stay with us.