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Trump Urged to Stop Tweeting; Gates Testifies in Manafort Trial; California's Largest Wildfire in History; Iran Reaction to Sanctions; Bolton Acknowledges Denuclearization Not Started. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 7, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Abby, thank you for the reporting.

Let's talk to my panel about it. Ron Brownstein is with me, our senior political analyst, and Renato Mariotti, our legal analyst.

So, Ron, let's listen to something that the man who ran the White House communications team for 10 days, 10 important days, Anthony Scaramucci, had to say about all of this, this morning.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: And when you're out there protesting, you don't have to be a Shakespearean scholar. But when you're out there protesting and the words doth does protest too much, it sends a signal to people that, well, why are you protesting? If you're right on the facts, the facts will unfold in a way that are favorable to you and you'll be better served not talking about it.

HARLOW: Doth the president protest too much?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the Scaramucci era. Look, I think, you know, I think the -- to me the core -- it's been fascinating watching this debate within the president's camp because the idea that a sitting president would refuse to talk to a special counsel investigating a foreign government's attempt to influence the 2016 election just seems to be politically incredible by historical standards. I mean the, you know, the issue has not been litigated, as Renato can tell us.

But, in the past, Bill Clinton sat down with Ken Starr, I think in part because they recognized that the signal it sends to the American public, if you refuse to answer questions about your behavior, is pretty dramatic. And as Republicans, as you talked about in your previous segment, brace for what's happening in Ohio today, win or lose, a close race, this is the kind of thing, I think, that reinforces the -- potentially reinforces the doubts among the white collar voters that Trump has been driving away from the Republican Party.

So, you know, while there's a legal debate about whether it makes sense, the politics of this seem to me very, very ominous and very dangerous for the president to refuse.

HARLOW: But don't forget that his -- but don't forget that his win was politically incredible. His win, you know, went against all the polling, right? So this is -- I mean this is -- this may be -- continue to be different territory.

When you look, Renato, at -- legally at all of this, the president's story has changed dramatically about why this Trump Tower meeting was even taken. What is your read on why his legal team is so worried about these most recent tweets and this one specifically over the weekend?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is a matter, Kate, that there -- that is under investigation by the special counsel. And I will tell you, you know, now that I'm on the other side and I represent clients that are under investigation, I would not want them saying anything about matters that are -- that are being looked at by prosecutors. It is something that you have to be very careful about because every one of those tweets can be used against him. You know, Robert Mueller can print those out and put them in his exhibit binder. And that's dangerous territory because, let's face it, when you are -- when you have a situation where you are seeking aid and accepting aid from foreigners in connection with an election, that is -- that -- if you -- if you agree to that, that is a federal crime.

And so those e-mails between Donald Trump Junior and the promoter saying, hey, you know, this is part of the Russian government's effort to help your campaign, that's dangerous territory. So whenever you have a client that is connected to people that are involved in criminal activity, or something that looks like it could be, you have to be very careful about what you have that person say.

HARLOW: Ron, an interesting thing we're seeing is that these sort of Russia tweets, no collusion, et cetera, et cetera, talking about the intent of the meeting, are popping up between tweets where he's supporting, you know, the candidates that he's chosen in Michigan, in Kansas, sort of all melding together, and I'm wondering what you think from Republican candidates who are trying to win some tough races right now, whether it's, you know, Balderson in Ohio, it's all sort of, you know, interspersed. And I wonder what you think their read is or if they just want to be like far away from it?

BROWNSTEIN: Right. I actually think there's a thematic consistency in the tweeting that is part of the broader kind of strategy, a political strategy, of the president in the midterm. And, you know, the tweets are designed -- really aimed at the Republican base to try to destabilize -- under -- undermine the credibility of the Mueller investigation. They're not really designed to reach swing voters or persuade people who aren't in the president's camp. And it kind of reinforces an electoral strategy that's been totally aimed at the base as well, which is, you know, emphasizing cultural and often racial disputes around issues like immigration or attacking LeBron James. And so it's all of one piece.

And there are Republicans for whom that works who are running in places that kind of lean red. But if you are running, for example, in the Franklin County part of the 12th district of Ohio, you look at all of this and you see the potential for moving away from the party, voters who have historically been more comfortable with Republicans than Democrats. And any Republican running in a suburban district that doesn't have the rural side of Ohio 12 I think has to look at this with a certain amount of alarm.

[09:35:07] HARLOW: All right, gentlemen, thank you both. We'll have more -- more time next time around.

I do need to jump to California, though, and these raging wildfires. Appreciate you being with me.

They are burning out of control right now. An area nearly the size of Los Angeles. The biggest wildfire in California's history this morning keeps growing. A live report ahead.


HARLOW: This morning, all eyes are on that federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Right now Rick Gates is back on the stand. He is resuming his testimony against his former boss, who, of course, is former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. And we're just learning some new details about Gates' testimony.

So let me go back outside the courthouse. Joe Johns is back with me.

I mean what else have we learned that is significant here this morning, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, the real significance of this, Poppy, is this is the kind of information, the kind of fodder defense attorneys can use in a cross examination. And it has a lot to do with the plea agreement that was signed by Gates as he pled guilty to a variety of charges, including false statements and agreed to cooperate with the government. So among the things that we learned in the testimony yesterday is that he has met 20 times with the government to talk about this case. That's a lot of meetings as they try to dissect what type of testimony he would give here in court today.

[09:40:39] Also, he did admit to other crimes that we didn't know about until yesterday. That would include lying on a mortgage application, lying on a credit card application. And as well there's been a lot of talk about Rick Gates essentially stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Paul Manafort by inflating his expense accounts.

The defense actually has asserted, without providing any proof, that that number may not be hundreds of thousands of dollars, that it could be in the millions. But that really has yet to be discussed on direct testimony. It could be discussed on cross-examination, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right, which we will offensively (ph) see later today.

Before you go, Joe Johns, though, just clarify for us what appears to be an important part of the deal that the government gave to Gates for his testimony. While not granting him immunity, it appears the government prosecutors have agreed not to bring new charges against him. Is that right?

JOHNS: Right. I think that is an important thing to point out. They have agreed not to bring new charges against Gates. He is waiting to be sentenced. And that sentence apparently will come after this trial. So the question, of course, will be whether he gives truthful testimony, useful testimony and then they can calculate in what they're going to do with this sentence. It's not clear at all that he's going to get a more lenient sentence, although that has been suggested publicly.

HARLOW: Joe Johns, thanks for the update, from outside the courthouse.

Now to California where a wildfire is burning in northern California that is now the largest in the state's history. Just sit with that for a minute, the largest in the history of all California wildfires burning this morning in northern California. You have thousands of firefighters on the front lines trying to stop it from spreading even more.

There are 16 major fires burning across the state. By far the largest is the Mendocino complex fire. The blaze is made up of two wildfires burning close to each other covering nearly 284,000 acres. That is as big as the city of Los Angeles. Last night the fire was only 30 percent contained.

Let's go there. Dan Simon joins us this morning.

Thirty percent containment on the biggest wildfire in California's history. What are you seeing?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this fire pretty much sums up the wildfire season. It is just massive. As you said, it is about the size of the city of Los Angeles, bigger than all five boroughs in New York. And, as you said, it is 30 percent contained.

Poppy, let me show you what we're seeing behind me. You can see, this is one of the structures that is destroyed. But, for the most part, one thing I want to point out is that this fire is really burning in a remote area. You can see sort of the landscape behind me. This is very rugged, steep terrain.

This is where the fire is burning. It's not really burning in populated areas. So while this is the biggest wildfire in state history, it is not the most destructive. But when you talk about the weather, the hot temperatures, triple digit temperatures today and windy conditions, there's a concern that it could push into some of those more populated areas, Poppy.

HARLOW: Dan Simon, please, please keep us posted. The images are striking to say the least.

So the U.S. has re-imposed those sanctions on Iran. This happened at midnight. So just a few hours ago. The Trump administration claims they are already working. Hear what the president of Iran is saying in response.


[09:48:42] HARLOW: President Trump this morning touting his administration's re-imposition of sanctions on Iran. The president said they were the most biting sanctions ever imposed. I should note, there are stricter ones coming in November, as the president notes. He also said, I'm asking for world peace, nothing less.

Now Iran's president is vowing to make America regret these sanctions, but also saying he is willing to sit down and talk to President Trump. And National Security Adviser John Bolton told our Jake Tapper just yesterday he is skeptical about Iran's true intentions here. Listen.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: So, if the Iranians are really willing to come and talk about all of their maligned behavior in the region and around the world, I think they'd find the president willing to do it. But, once again, this is a question less of what their propaganda is and what their real intentions are.


HARLOW: Let's talk about those intentions. Let me bring in Thomas Erdbrink. He's the Tehran bureau chief for "The New York Times."

Thank you, thank you for being here.

I think the quote that stood out to me the most this morning was from "The Times" on this, and they quote a man in Tehran, an average citizen who sells fruit and vegetables, you know, at a stand, and he said the economic anxiety in Iran right now is so high that, quote, people think twice about even buying an ice cream.

You've been reporting there for a decade. How are Iranians reacting?

[09:50:03] THOMAS ERDBRINK, TEHRAN BUREAU CHIEF, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, they feel that their country is being devastated economically, first and foremost by the wrong decisions of their own leaders. There have been high -- there have been many corruption cases. They have made wrong decision when it comes down to investments, foreign policies, ideology, if you will. But, of course, also because of these sanctions that are now being imposed again by the United States, Iranians have already gone through a period of sanctions that led actually to the nuclear talks, that ended in the nuclear deal in 2015. And now, again, they can see the devaluation of their currency. The Iranian rial has lost over 80 percent of its value. And that shows you --

HARLOW: Right.

ERDBRINK: If you take your bank account and deduct 80 percent of it, that shows you what it did for the purchasing power of Iranians. Basic food staples like milk, rice, have gone up, houses, cars, have all gone up. So people really feel as if they're caught between these two mammoths, if you will. On one hand, the Iranian system that is very adverse to compromise. On the other hand, President Trump, that says, I care about the Iranians, but at the same time is waging economic warfare.

HARLOW: John Bolton has said over and over and insisted again yesterday that the U.S. is not looking for regime change here but, in his words, an unprecedented amount of pressure on Iran to change behavior. As someone who has been in Iran, again, for a decade reporting, I mean how likely is it that no matter how tough these sanctions get that Iran will reverse course on behavior?

ERDBRINK: Well, it is definitely very probable that the Iranians will think twice of, for instance, upping their military involvement in Syria. They will reconsider, perhaps, their support for the Houthis in Yemen.

HARLOW: In Yemen.

ERDBRINK: Iran is really open to talk. That is something that President Rouhani's also between the lines said yesterday. Yes, I can sit down with Trump. OK, he had some preconditions that had to do with history and other things. But what it's boiled down to, Poppy, is that the Iranians, they feel under pressure. The state definitely wants to survive. The clerics want to stay in power. And they have shown in the past that they are willing to compromise when they face high pressures.

Now, they do face high pressures now. People are satisfied in this country. There are big protests basically ongoing for the past six months, you know, in different -- in different intensity. So they feel the pressure back home and at the same time they see a president that you can cut a deal with.

HARLOW: Right. But -- but here's --

ERDBRINK: Kim Jong-un had a nice photo with him. They want the same.

HARLOW: But here's the thing, Tom. I mean you do have the U.S. has pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, which means these sanctions have been re-imposed. But you've still got major signatories to the agreement. You've got the E.U. You've got Russia. You've got China, Britain, France, that still want to do business with Iran, that still want to see oil exported from Iran. So how much can these U.S. sanctions really strangle Iran's economy when you, you know, don't have China playing ball?

ERDBRINK: Well, that's a very good question, Poppy. Of course China didn't really play ball also last time, but Europe did. And Europe was actually the U.S.' sanction for these, if you will. They have embassies here on the ground. They could check the Iranian economy. They were looking for the weak points. And at this point, Europe is completely opposing Mr. Trump's policies on Iran. They will not play this sanction cup or sanction investigator role that they were playing at the time. So we will see the effect of American sanctions over the coming year. And, of course, if the effect is less, the Iranians might say, well, guess what, we -- there's no need for us to talk to Trump --

HARLOW: Right.

ERDBRINK: Because we can deal with the Europeans and the Chinese anyway.


Thomas, appreciate your expertise so much, joining us from Tehran. Thank you.

So, right now Rick Gates, Paul Manafort's deputy, is the prosecution's star witness and he is back on the stand as we speak, elaborating to the jury about the crimes that he says he committed right along with Manafort. We're following it all.


[09:58:33] HARLOW: National Security Adviser John Bolton, this morning on North Korea, saying the regime has not yet taken steps towards denuclearization. It's significant.

Michelle Kosinski joins me at the State Department.

So he went on Fox News this morning. He said this. And he essentially said it last night with Jake as well. It's significant to hear from him.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean it's about time we heard somebody say that, right? He seems to be one of the first people in this administration to admit that all is not well following that big summit with Kim Jong-un that the president had not very long ago. And that North Korea hasn't taken the steps necessary. I mean just yesterday Bolton was saying that the U.S. is still waiting for North Korea to begin the process that it committed to. Listen.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: They were waiting for the North Koreans to begin the process of denuclearization, which they committed to in Singapore, and which they've not yet done.


KOSINSKI: OK, so we have the administration now talking about North Korea not doing enough when it was only days ago the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was testifying on The Hill before a bunch of senators and he seemed to be saying, yes, yes, there's progress, there's progress, there's progress, but he would not talk about it.

So now we have Bolton is saying, no, North Korea really needs to do something. And he's also using the words again "maximum pressure" to maintain that on North Korea, and that's a phrase that the president himself said he would not use anymore because he thought things were going well. Poppy.

[09:59:58] HARLOW: Michelle, thank you for the reporting and the update. It's important.

Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.