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Trump Admits in Tweet that Trump Tower Meeting Was about Getting Dirt on Clinton; Manafort's Accountant to Return to Stand Today in Trial; Washington Post: Alleged Russian Spy Had Contact with Trump Campaign Aide. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired August 6, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.
[07:00:05] BERMAN: President Trump now admitting the focus of that 2016 Trump Tower meeting was to get information on Hillary Clinton.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's concerned that this Russia probe is getting closer to his family.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real question here is would a meeting of that nature constitute a violation of the law?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact that someone was trying to get information about Hillary Clinton during a heated campaign is nothing new.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Money was being moved, and Manafort knew about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The prosecution needs to show that he is one and the same as Manafort.
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He lied before. Why isn't he lying now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Maduro says a shield of love protected him from this assassination attempt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maduro blaming an international right-wing plot for trying to oust him.
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I can say unequivocally there was no U.S. government involvement.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Great to have you back at the start of this busy week.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's nice to be here, even though I had to get up a little earlier today than I did last week. CAMEROTA: You do seem rested. It's annoying, actually.
BERMAN: I know. Sorry about that.
CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, President Trump now admits for the first time that his son's 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer was designed to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
It is a federal crime to accept anything of value from a foreign person for the purpose of influencing an election.
Sources tell CNN the president is growing concerned about Don Jr.'s legal exposure for his involvement in that meeting.
BERMAN: The president's lawyer is now changing his story. Attorney Jay Sekulow says he made a mistake last year when he said that President Trump was not involved in crafting a misleading statement on the Trump Tower meeting. Sekulow blames the false statements on what he calls bad information. The question is bad information from whom?
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip, live in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, following the president -- Abby.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John.
The president over the weekend lashing out at Robert Mueller, both at a campaign rally and also on Twitter, tweeting about that infamous Trump Tower meeting involving his son, Don Jr., and saying in the clearest terms yet that this meeting was just about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton and not at all about anything else, including Russian adoptions. He says, "This was a meeting to get information on an opponent. Totally legal and done all the time in politics, and it went nowhere."
The president claiming that there is nothing illegal about it, but we do know that it is not legal to accept help from a foreign government and an American campaign. And he also claims at the end of this tweet that he knew nothing about this meeting.
But we also know that Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney, according to sources, at CNN have said that he's willing to testify to Mueller that the president knew in advance about this Trump Tower meeting and approved it.
All of this happening as a source close to the White House tells us that the president is growing increasingly concerned about how the Mueller probe could be affecting his family, particularly Donald Trump Jr., who is at the center of this Trump Tower meeting.
Now, a source close to Don Jr. is saying that he's not at all concerned about what he's testified so far about this meeting. He believes that he has told the truth so far.
But all of this could be coming to a head very soon. The president is here in Bedminster, New Jersey, at his golf course, where he's having a working vacation.
But he's expected to potentially meet with his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about the ongoing negotiations about talking to Robert Mueller in an interview. They are still deliberating that as we speak, and we're expecting the Trump team to potentially get a response back to Mueller's team about the negotiations on this interview as early as this week. So we'll be looking for all of those developments this week, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Abby. Thank you very much for all of that.
Meanwhile, the president and his son, Don Jr., have told several contradictory stories about that infamous Trump Tower meeting. So if you need a reminder about all of their various positions, here is a cheat sheet.
July 8, 2017, OK, so a little more than a year ago, "The New York Times" first reported on that meeting. Don Jr. then responded with a statement claiming it was about Russian adoptions.
One day later, "The Times" reported that the president's son was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton at that meeting. Two days later, Don Jr. released his e-mails exchanges with that publicist, Rob Goldstone, discussing dirt on Hillary Clinton and saying, "If that's what you say, I love it." The president denied knowing about that meeting beforehand.
July 12, multiple reports indicate that while on Air Force One, President Trump was involved in preparing Don Jr.'s statement about that meeting, claiming it was only about Russian adoptions. The president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, denied Mr. Trump had any involvement.
Then, August 1, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, admits the president weighed in on the statement. But Don Jr. tells the Senate Judiciary Committee in September his father had nothing to do with crafting the statement. That false statement has gotten the attention of Congress.
Well, in January of this year, the president's lawyer tells Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a letter that Mr. Trump dictated that statement himself.
OK, fast forward to late last month, CNN reports that Michael Cohen, the president's long-time attorney and fixer, is willing to tell the special counsel that the president did know about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting in advance.
That brings us to yesterday and the president's tweet, where the president admitted for the first time that the meeting was designed to get information on an opponent. But again, he claimed he did not know about it.
OK. That gives us a lot to chew on. So let's bring in former White House communications director and CNN political commentator Jennifer Psaki.
JENNIFER PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning.
CAMEROTA: And CNN legal analyst -- good morning -- Carrie Cordero. Good morning to both of you.
OK. Carrie, I'm sorry I'm such a stickler for the law this morning. But I just feel the need to read to people what the law is, so everyone can hear with their own ears and know for themselves what we're talking about.
Here it is. Thank you, John Berman, very much for handing me this. This is the federal election statute. "Federal law makes it a crime for any person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution of anything of value" -- meaning dirt on an opponent -- "from a foreign person for a U.S. political campaign or for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office."
You're the lawyer. Why isn't this case closed? Why isn't that all you need to know?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the law is pretty clear on that. The way that it has usually been used in the past is about money. So a campaign contribution that is received from a foreign entity, that would be something that would fall into the category of a clear violation of this campaign finance law.
The questions in this case would be, No. 1, is derogatory information, or political opposition research, does that fall into the category of a thing of value? And two, did they receive, did the Trump campaign actually receive information?
Those are the questions that I would imagine the special counsel's office is exploring, and the answers to their assessment of those questions is going to determine whether or not they would actually bring a case based on the facts in this particular situation.
BERMAN: And it's up for interpretation right now. We do not know, I think, how a court would decide this, but to suggest it's totally legal, which is what the president said, not quite true at this point, based on our understanding of it. We don't know.
And also what Jay Sekulow said: "I don't know if any laws were violated or what law would be violated." That's not true, either, because there is this law -- again, at least open to interpretation.
And Jen Psaki, beyond the law, there is the politics of this and also just the morality of it. President Trump now says something flat out. He says that Donald -- that meeting that Donald had in Trump Tower, this was a meeting to get information on an opponent. Flat-out says it. He writes it right out there.
Last year he said something that was similar. Yet it was in the context of the White House trying to spin it was about adoptions. Now he comes out and says it. This is admitting in a way that his statement that he dictated was misleading.
PSAKI: That's right. And we always litigate whether or not tweets are presidential statements, but these are words that President Trump is uttering via Twitter to confirm what this meeting was about.
Now, I have done three presidential campaigns, countless local races. Never would it be the case that you would meet with a foreign government to get information on your opponent. That does not happen. It is not normal. And, obviously, this is something that, you know, takes this in a different direction and really opens up a trove of questions about what was received.
CAMEROTA: Just to stick on that point for a moment, Jen Psaki, as you know, the Republicans, I mean, Devin Nunes and others, say, "No, it was Hillary Clinton that was colluding with the Russians because of that dossier." Can you just explain your take on why that is not the case?
PSAKI: Sure. Well, Alisyn, I think, as we all know, the dossier is not the basis at all for the investigation. People are the investigation have confirmed that people. And Congress have confirmed that.
CAMEROTA: Well, hold on. It wasn't the sole -- it wasn't the sole factor.
PSAKI: Sure, not the soul factor, but it was --
CAMEROTA: But it was part and parcel of other things that they were also hearing.
PSAKI: Absolutely. But there are details in the dossier that have now also been confirmed.
I understand why it's difficult for any Republican in Congress to explain what's happening and to try to defend the president from their own party, but it's probably why they should stop doing it.
BERMAN: And again, that's the law. We're looking into the law here. And that will be interpreted by the courts.
And there's also the politics in Jay Sekulow, who yesterday a year ago came out and said the president did not dictate the response to the Trump Tower meeting. Yesterday, he told George Stephanopoulos he had bad info. Listen to what he says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[07:10:11] JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I had bad information at that point. I made a mistake in my statement. I talked about that before. That happens when you have cases like this.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Carrie, how does a lawyer get bad information like that? CORDERO: Well, normally, a lawyer -- the way a lawyer would get bad
information is if their client is not truthful with them, or if they're -- I guess another way would be if they're not effectively communicating with their client.
But if your client is someone -- you know, the president is his client, and the president, we know from his public statements, lies repeatedly. So I'm not sure if there would be a difference between the way he acts privately.
What's interesting about this particular issue is actually what has -- what the president has now confirmed, that the purpose of the meeting was is consistent with what the Senate Judiciary Committee released in the spring, which was the transcript of Donald Trump Jr.'s statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which he said the purpose of the meeting was to obtain derogatory information on the political candidates.
So Don Jr. did tell the Senate Judiciary Committee, and they released that information. What's different, I think, this week is the president confirming that.
And really, his other lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has been laying the groundwork for this over the last week, where he's been saying, "Well, I don't know if collusion is a crime." So they really have been expanding, I think, their public messaging of what they're trying to get people to think is acceptable.
CAMEROTA: And so, Jen, if Don Jr.'s testimony to Congress was misleading and false, what do you think Congress is going to do?
PSAKI: Well, we haven't exactly seen a lot of courage from Republicans in Congress on Russia or any of these issues throughout the investigation. You mentioned Devin Nunes earlier.
So what are they going to do? I don't think we have -- anyone should have high hopes that they're going to further the investigation, that they're going to take additional steps, because we haven't seen evidence of that courage to date.
CAMEROTA: Didn't Chuck Grassley say that they would look into that?
BERMAN: What Chuck Grassley said is that if the FBI or authorities want to investigate whether there was perjury, it's left up to them. He kicked the ball. He kicked the can over to investigators there.
Which gets to the point that Carrie was making. I think it's so important here. We now know what happened. We now know what this meeting was about. And really, we've known about it for a long time. It's up to politicians. It will be up to the members of Congress to decide whether that bothers them.
Does it bother you, members of Congress, that Donald Trump Jr., the Trump campaign -- Jared Kushner was in there, Paul Manafort -- went to a meeting to get dirt from the Russian government? Does it bother you? Are you willing to take action? CAMEROTA: I mean, or does it bother you when you're lied to?
BERMAN: There's that, too. Does it bother you when you're lied to?
PSAKI: It should.
BERMAN: The facts are laid out now, and it will be up to Congress.
Robert Mueller is going to write a report. We don't know when; could be very soon. He's going to write a report. I don't know exactly what's going to be in that report, but even if it's just what we know, it will be up to Congress to decide what to do with it; and they will have to stand. They will have to make a choice here. It will be interesting to see what they do, Carrie, because this isn't about indicting a president. Ultimately, there's a political decision to be made.
CORDERO: That's right. So assuming that the special counsel's office adopts the longstanding Justice Department legal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, the question becomes what are the particular criminal charges that the special counsel's office may continue to bring?
They've already indicted a lot of people. They've already had a lot of guilty pleas. They've already exposed the Russian intelligence operation that was intended to affect the election.
So if there is a remainder, which would be information that they've obtained about the president or other individuals in the campaign that don't rise to the level of warranting a criminal indictment or they think they can't do that, because it affects the president specifically, the special counsel could write a report. It would go to the acting attorney general for this investigation, Rod Rosenstein, and he would determine whether to release that report publicly or deliver it to Congress.
And then this is a political question. And it already -- we are already seeing the avenues that -- which Congress needs to consider. And those include, is it acceptable, is it politically acceptable for a political campaign to even entertain the idea of affecting the election or receiving information from an adversary foreign government. Not a friendly foreign government, an adversary foreign government.
[07:15:14] CAMEROTA: Jen, let's talk about what else is going on, and that's the Paul Manafort trial. What are you interested in seeing and what are you watching?
PSAKI: Well, I think that the Manafort trial is certainly about the court of law and whether he is somebody who is sent to jail for quite a long time, perhaps his life. But it's also about the court of public opinion.
And as Carrie was just referring to, you know, people start to question when you have the president calling this a witch hunt, if somebody like Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, is convicted and sent to jail for a long time, it has a couple of impacts.
One is the public may start to questions whether this is actually a man -- a witch hunt. Even people who are wavering about their support for Trump. And the second is that there are people who are in the wings who may be involved in this in some capacity, who may think, "Uh-oh. I'd better come forward to Mueller." And there's a message being sent on a couple of levels there.
So I'll be watching that. It will be interesting to see over the next couple of days.
BERMAN: So Paul Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, could testify as early as today. Talk about a witness with issues here. Rick Gates has admitted to lying several times to investigators during the course of this investigation. As part of what he might testify to, he might testify that he helped falsify records and the like there. It makes for a complicated witness, Carrie.
CORDERO: It does, but there has to be -- you know, for a complex case to be brought, there often are witnesses who are not perfect people or who have also been implicated. This is how criminal cases are made.
I tend to think that this case is primarily a documents case. I think the prosecutors have overwhelming evidence when it comes to the details of the actual wire transactions, when it comes to the falsified tax returns. Those are documents that will be presented to the jury.
What a witness like Rick Gates or what the accountant, from testimony on Friday, does is they provide extra additional context. And Rick Gates was there. He worked with Paul Manafort for many years. He knows how things were done. He'll be able to testify to what Manafort was involved with and what he doesn't, and so the question will be will the jury accept his testimony, assuming he does testify, even though he also accepted immunity.
BERMAN: Carrie Cordero, Jen Psaki, thanks so much for being with us this morning.
PSAKI: Thanks you.
BERMAN: Obviously, a lot to talk about as this trial continues.
So how close did this alleged Russian agent get to the Trump campaign? We're going to talk to her lawyer about a new report out. Stay with us.
[17:21:46] BERMAN: New details on alleged Russian agent Maria Butina and her connections to the Trump campaign.
"The Washington Post" reports that Butina interacted with former Trump campaign aide J.D. Gordon in the run-up to the 2016 election. Gordon even invited her to attend a Styx concert and his birthday party.
Joining me now is Maria Butina's lawyer, Robert Driscoll.
Bob, thanks so much for being with us. I do appreciate it.
What was the nature of Maria Butina's contacts with J.D. Gordon? Let me just remind people, J.D. Gordon, earlier in the campaign, had been the chair of then-candidate Donald Trump's foreign policy committee and at that point, in the Fall of 2016, was expected to be part of the transition team.
ROBERT DRISCOLL, ATTORNEY FOR MARIA BUTINA: Yes, her contacts -- and I can confirm her contacts were very innocuous social contacts. They met at a party at the Swiss embassy. It was nothing arranged. They caught up with each other's contact information and then went out a couple of evenings and then once for -- for a cocktail and to a Styx concert. And they, you know, had brief social interaction and then moved on. So I think it was a brief -- brief social encounter, the networking type that happens in D.C. all the time.
BERMAN: Based on the e-mails that were reported on in "The Washington Post," she was aware. She was told who J.D. Gordon was and what his role was to be in the Trump transition. Why might that have been attractive to her?
DRISCOLL: I'm not sure it necessarily was. I mean, I think if the -- obviously, she's denied the government's allegations that she's a foreign agent. I think if she were, someone like J.D. Gordon would have been very attractive to her.
But because that wasn't what she was about, she had an evening out and left it at that. I think that someone who is actually involved in intelligence gathering or something similar would have probably had a lot more contact with J.D. Gordon. But the fact that this was an innocuous, like thousands of others you might have, I think probably established that she wasn't up to anything unusual.
BERMAN: What was -- what made it innocuous? What was it about then, if it wasn't about trying to get in with an official who would be close to the Trump campaign?
DRISCOLL: I think it's -- it's what people in Washington do, particularly young people. Remember, she's a 20-something-year-old grad student in international relations. You know, you're at an embassy part and meet somebody. They've got a role. They're a former government official. "Hey, do you want to go talk about, you know, mutual interests?" You go out. You talk about other people. You see who else you each know. And then you move on. I mean, it's just a classic networking type of situation.
I think that it reads too much into it to look as though she somehow targeted this man or something else, because if the government were -- of if you were actually a spy, as some have alleged, which she is not, and not even, frankly, charged with, I mean, I would think that -- that this would be a prime target. Someone like J.D. Gordon.
But again, it's just an innocuous contact they would have with a lot of different people. BERMAN: Let me read you a statement from J.D. Gordon, because I
thought it was important to get that on the record.
J.D. Gordon says, "From everything I'd read since her arrest last month, it seems that Maria Butina's saga is basically a sensationalized click bait story meant to smear a steady stream of Republicans and NRA members she reportedly encountered over the past few years. I wonder which prominent Republican political figures she hasn't come across."
[07:25:04] Let me ask you this. Is J.D. Gordon the only person connected to the Trump campaign that Maria had contact with? We know she went to an event for President Trump. We've seen a picture of her with Donald Trump Jr.
BERMAN: Did she meet with any members of the campaign?
DRISCOLL: You know, she's testified to the Senate Intel Committee about all that, but I don't think there will be any news in that regard coming out when that testimony becomes public.
BERMAN: Did she have contact with other people associated with the Trump campaign?
DRISCOLL: Well the -- I'm not trying to be evasive. It always comes down to the word "associated." Because everybody is, you know, in some ways, most senior Republicans would be associated with the campaign in some ways at some point in the campaign.
BERMAN: Let's break it down. Anyone on the payroll of the campaign?
BERMAN: Anyone who was listed at any point in the campaign document as an advisor to the campaign?
DRISCOLL: I think Gordon would probably be it. But again, that's the type of thing in Washington it's hard to know. If someone was a special advisor to the campaign for HUD, you know, it may not be public. They may not know.
BERMAN: Fair point. But you've just told me, no one else paid by the campaign. No one listed on a document as an official advisor. So we'll wait to see what the testimony was behind closed doors to the various Senate committees there to see exactly what she told them. So I do appreciate you coming forward on that.
You do understand you keep on saying she wasn't an agent. These were innocuous meetings.
BERMAN: Going to a Styx concert with somebody is just casual. I've never gone to a Styx concert with anyone so I don't know if it would be casual or not.
But in the various documents released, the charging documents released, or initial legal documents released, we've seen exchanges from Maria Butina where she tells unknown Russian official, "We made our bet on following our game."
Then the night of the campaign -- I'm going to sleep. It's 3 a.m. here. I'm ready for further orders."
BERMAN: "I'm ready for further orders." "I'm following our game."
You put those statements together with a meeting with a -- someone who was supposed to be a Trump transition official, do you see why it raises questions?
DRISCOLL: I mean, I suppose I could if I were more educated about it. But I'm a little more disappointed that the government would bring a case based on something like this, because there's both translation issues in terms of those tweets originally being in Russian, and there's a context issue going on.
I mean, in order to be an agent for a foreign government, you have to be, you know, controlled or directed by them. And there's no evidence she's been paid by any Russian source. There's no evidence that she was involved in any intelligence activity. There's no dead drops. There's no meetings in Grover Park in the middle of the night.
BERMAN: "I'm awaiting -- I'm awaiting further orders" there. Orders from Russian officials?
DRISCOLL: Well, she's -- friendly with Aleksandr Torshin, who's gone public as a Russian who she had been friendly with. And if you have that in context, they have about, you know, I think thousands of messages back and forth by direct message and Twitter on unencrypted account, both in their own names.
And again, that's just a completely out of context quote. It would be like "I'm waiting for, you know, further discussion or further" -- they talked about the election, talked about U.S. foreign relations, all of those things.
BERMAN: Did Maria Butina report back to Russian officials or people connected to the Russian government about the nature of her contacts in the United States over time?
David Keene, who is associated with the NRA, he's quoted in "The Washington Post" story we've been talking about and others, saying, "You know, it wouldn't surprise me if she went back and reported to the Russian government what she was learning in the United States."
DRISCOLL: Well, I think that -- that only in a not specifically but only in a general sense, I think most Russian citizens would be traveling to the United States and go back to Russia, it is not to be unusual to be stopped at the -- at the airport and asked "Who did you see in the U.S.? What -- you know, what can we pick up from you?"
So I don't think that that makes one an agent, unless every Russian national who travels to the U.S. is also an agent.
BERMAN: How's your client doing?
DRISCOLL: She's doing better. Things are -- she's obviously incarcerated. She's in D.C. jail, but you know, within that context, with that baseline, she's doing well and she's got some faith in the U.S. justice system.
I think that is a bit of irony. She always thought that she might be in jail for advocating gun rights in Russia, and ends up she's in jail in the U.S. for advocating better U.S.-Russian relations. But hopefully, we can get that resolved and, you know, get her situation improved.
But overall, she's doing well, and she's optimistic she'll be vindicated.
BERMAN: Bob Driscoll, thanks for coming on this morning. We do appreciate the discussion. We ask you to come back as soon as we get more information. Appreciate it.
DRISCOLL: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: All right, John. We've been talking all morning about the Trump administration's shifting positions on that Trump Tower meeting with Russian. We get some Democratic reaction, next.