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Gates Takes the Stand, Turns on Ex-Boss Manafort; California Firefighters Battle Largest Wildfire in State's History; Trump Urged to Stop Tweeting about Trump Tower Meeting. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 7, 2018 - 06:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Rick Gates saying he committed crimes at Paul Manafort's direction.

[05:59:07] CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He really is testifying for his life.

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is always very damaging to the defendant when a cooperator takes the stand and says, "I committed crimes. So did that man. And here's how we did it together."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has been a challenging and deadly fire season.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Mendocino wild fire is now the largest in California history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of us that are saying our prayers that this just escapes us.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And we will be giving everybody an update on the wild fires in California.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, August 7, 6 here in New York.

So Rick Gates is a star witness in the government's case against former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort. And he is revealing lots of secrets. Gates, who was Manafort's long-time deputy, telling the jury that he knowingly committed financial crimes alongside Manafort and at Manafort's direction. Gates says they had 15 foreign accounts that they did not report to the federal government and that they knew that was illegal.

Gates also testified that he embezzled several hundred thousand dollars from his former boss.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Just pause for a moment. Let it sink in that this is the one-time deputy chair of the president's campaign, testifying against the one-time chair of his campaign, saying they committed crimes together.

So, what does the president think as he's watching this? And we are told he is watching it very closely.

Gates will be back on the witness stand in just a few hours. He will face what promises to be a withering cross-examination from the defense, who is trying to paint Gates as the real criminal here, not Manafort.

We have this all covered for you. Let's go first to CNN's Joe Johns at U.S. district courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia -- Joe.


Star witness back on the witness stand today. He got about 45 minutes in front of the jury yesterday before breaking for the evening. He is laying out what the prosecution says are years -- years -- of financial crimes that occurred before these two top political operatives assumed the helm in the presidential campaign.


JOHNS (voice-over): Blockbuster testimony in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as a one-time apprentice turns on his mentor.

Manafort's longtime business partner and former Trump campaign senior aide Rick Gates, not holding back any punches, testifying he opened 15 foreign bank accounts with Manafort to hide money from the federal government, knowingly committed crimes at Mr. Manafort's direction, and cheated Manafort out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by filing false expense reports.

Gates also testifying some of Manafort's accounts were tied to Constantin Kilimnik, a man prosecutors say has direct ties to the Russian intelligence.

MARIOTTI: It is always very damaging to the defendant when a flipper, a cooperator like Mr. Gates, takes the stand and says, "I committed crimes. So did that man, and here's how we did it together."

JOHNS: Gates flipped in February, pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, and has been cooperating with the special counsel ever since.

Manafort staring down his former deputy as he read his plea deal aloud in the courtroom. Gates refusing to make eye contact.

CORDERO: He is incentivized to tell the truth in this trial, and that's because he really is testifying for his life. His cooperation agreement and his truthful cooperation will affect how he is sentenced.

JOHNS: But Gates did praise Manafort, calling him "One of the most politically brilliant strategists I've ever worked with."

President Trump watching the trial closely as the Mueller probe appears to be moving closer to his inner circle. The White House trying to distance the president from Gates and Manafort.

Gates was Manafort's deputy for the three months he served as Trump's campaign chairman. He stayed on with the campaign even after Manafort was ousted, amid questions on his work in Ukraine.

Trump campaign officials praising Manafort and Gates at the time for their work developing a general election strategy.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: I have to credit Manafort and Gates for putting so much of that together before we arrived.


JOHNS: So the question here, when they get to it, is how Gates will hold up as a witness once the defense gets ahold of him on cross- examination. The defense has already said they intend to do everything they can to discredit him, citing him as the guy behind the scenes pulling the strings in the Manafort case.


JOHNS: Alisyn, John, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for all of that background.

Let's discuss it now with CNN senior political analyst John Avlon; CNN legal analyst and former lawyer for Rick Gates, Shan Wu; and A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at RealClearPolitics. Great to have all of you.

Shan, I want to start with you, because you were Rick Gates's attorney. Just let's remind people of who Rick Gates was and his connection to the Trump campaign. He was the long-time business associate, as we've said of Paul Manafort. He served as the deputy Trump campaign chairman; Trump's inaugural committee deputy chairman, so quite involved in that celebration, though he never served in the White House.

So Shan, what do you make of the revelations of the crimes that he and Paul Manafort committed, that he has now admitted to on the stand?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first, let me just say anything I talk about is, of course, not based on attorney/client privileged information. It's all public.

I thought it was a bombshell when he admitted that he'd stolen money from Manafort. I mean, I think that's a -- just an amazing reveal. And it's actually -- that aspect of his testimony is really helpful to the defense. They had promised the jury that they were going to accuse him of stealing from Manafort, in addition to blaming him for the alleged crimes; and this delivers on that promise.

[06:05:02] So I think that gives them some very good potential fodder for the cross-examination, which does indeed need to be quite effective to score some points. BERMAN: So why does the prosecution need him, Shan? If that

revelation, which by the way, prosecutors elicited from Rick Gates. So they knew it was coming. They wanted to get it out there in their own terms early. Why put him on the stand?

WU: They need him to cover the element of willfulness. It's not enough just to show pictures of ostrich leather jackets, lots of lavish lifestyle aspects and documents. They need somebody to say that Manafort willfully did this. He knew about it, and he directed someone or deliberately engaged in fraud. And that so far looks like exactly what Rick is supplying for them.

CAMEROTA: And Shan, one last question. Now that the jury knows that he, too, is sullied, that he, too, was a thief, that he, too, knew about these crimes, how do they react to a witness like that?

WU: Yes, that's an excellent question. What the prosecution has got to be worried about is that the jury will simply take him as another sullied person. He's just as guilty or dirty as Manafort is. And so they need to really point out that he is telling the truth here. He's come forth, and he's being forthright.

On the other hand, the defense is, of course, hoping to point out that he is not really incentivized to tell the truth. He's just incentivized to say anything the prosecution wants him to say.

BERMAN: Yes. Our Laura Coates yesterday said this is the admitted liar versus the accused liar. Which A.B., is an interesting picture to paint here, when you're considering that the admitted liar is the one-time deputy chief of the president's campaign. The accused liar is the one-time chair of his campaign, and we think the president is watching this trial very closely. That paints an interesting picture.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Oh, yes. Look, the president's personal lawyer had a raid of his hotel room, his office and his home, all by surprise; a warrant that was approved of by a judge that has to meet a very high threshold for the potential for evidence destruction.

His national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is also cooperating with the special counsel. It's a real all-star lineup of people that President Trump and candidate Trump trusted at high levels in his inner circle and campaign.

But that aside, this trial is really not about President Trump, and his supporters continue to underscore that.

I do think what's interesting about this -- this use of Gates -- and I have no idea what will happen in the cross-examination and how much that will sort of muddy his credibility in terms of the force of the prosecution's argument, and I'm not a lawyer -- but I think that what -- from following what he said yesterday, Rick Gates fleshed out things that the accountants and bookkeepers had described, things the prosecution have described about Manafort. And it's clear that Rick Gates did not pull all the strings, and Manafort pulled plenty of them. I don't know how two wrongs end up making a right for Paul Manafort at the end of this trial.

CAMEROTA: John, what should everyone be watching for with this?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think an appropriate degree of skepticism that the protege rarely becomes the puppet master. And as A.B. just pointed out, that the accountant's and bookkeeper's statements seem to be corroborating the government's case with Rick Gates.

But I think for me the most interesting thing isn't the Kremlinology of who's up, who's down within this relationship, although drama is high. It's looking at the Russian money that flowed to these key folks in the campaign.

BERMAN: Different type of Kremlinology.

AVLON: Different flavor of Kremlinology but still relevant.

Among the things we learned yesterday is a Ukrainian-based employee of Manafort, a guy names Constantin Kilimnik, who had been indicted -- who had been indicted by Robert Mueller and accused of being a Russian asset, a Russian agent, had control over a key account that they used money from from Cyprus. Those facts are really relevant to the overall question of Russian influence on Manafort and Gates, if not the Trump campaign directly.

So those are the things that I would really pay attention to. This isn't just about a bunch of grifters running around the international consulting scene. This is about Russian money and being deeply in debt to Russian figures, some of whom had control over accounts and were connected, allegedly, with Russian intelligence.

BERMAN: And yet, every time the prosecution tries to introduce certain types of evidence about the nature of these Russians or Ukrainian oligarchs who did give that money or provide that money, the judge seems to snap it back, Shan. And there's this really adversarial relationship developing between the judge here, T.S. Ellis, and the prosecution. Does the prosecution need to be careful here?

WU: They need to be careful not to get the judge too pissed off. I've been before judge Ellis.

CAMEROTA: That's a legal term.

WU: That's a very subtle legal term. And I've been before him, and he likes to be in control of the courtroom.

But from a legal standpoint, what the judge is doing is protecting his record. As he had mentioned early in the trial, he doesn't want to engender any resentment on the part of the jury with too much focus on lavish luxuries.

[06:10:08] Same thing here with the Russian connection. It is relevant, but he wants to control it so it doesn't end up tainting trial and create an issue on appeal if there is a conviction. I think what's particularly important to think about with the Russian

connection is the little bit that we see here, obviously, is the tip of the iceberg, because all that's been already been disclosed and is well known to Mueller's team, because Gates has been cooperating all this time.

CAMEROTA: But A.B., that's what's so confusing to people who are watching because, you know, we've been cautioned that this trial is not about Russian conspiracy. This has nothing to do with, you know, any Trump campaign ties to Russia. But then there's everything that John spelled out and Shan just spelled out. That -- how do you divorce the money that they were -- their ill-gotten gains from some of that stuff?

STODDARD: I think what John points out about signatory authority by someone connected to Russian intelligence or directly a part of Russian intelligence on a Manafort Cyprus bank account is incredibly damning and does establish that -- that connection he describes, which is that they were deeply indebted -- Manafort, definitely, and then Gates -- to these people connected to Putin's government.

But I do think that, again, you can make the case, and the president's team must, that this is about two men who had some -- you know, a very good scheme going on and bumped into the spotlight, where it was all discovered and that this is not about the Trump team working with the Russians to fix an election in Trump's favor.

So that has to be -- they're going to point that out, and they're right to, that what Mueller is going to come up with in terms of a potential collusion equals conspiracy or obstruction of justice is a separate matter.

BERMAN: All right, friends. Stand by for a moment if you will, because we are following some breaking news this morning. Firefighters in California racing to contain what is now the largest wild fire in that state's history. The flames have scorched nearly 284,000 acres and destroyed more than 100 homes and structures.

Our Dan Simon live in Lakeport, California, with the breaking details. Dan, what you seeing?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this pretty much tells you everything you need to know about this year's wildfire season. This is a monster wild fire, 284,000 acres. As you said, this is called the Mendocino Complex Fire.

And when you talk about a fire of this size, it's about the size of Los Angeles. So, it is massive.

Now you have about 30 percent containment. You have thousands of people who have been evacuated. Thousands of structures that are threatened.

But when you talk about this particular wildfire, it is burning in forestland, so it's not threatening populated communities at the moment. But when you talk about the hot, windy and dry conditions, there's a concern that more communities could be threatened -- John.

CAMEROTA: I'll take it, Dan. Thank you very much. It is shocking just how big this has become. I mean, to hear that it is the biggest wildfire now in California history.

But one more thing, Dan. President Trump is tweeting about the wildfires in California. He's slamming environmental laws. Can you tell us what that's about?

SIMON: Well, I have to tell you, experts, they don't know what this is about. They don't know where the president is coming from on all this. There is absolutely no concern when it comes to battling these wildfires and having enough water to do so.

There have been some lingering concerns over the years that pits farmers versus commercial fishermen about water diversion. Perhaps that's what the president was talking about here, but nobody really knows -- John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: Dan Simon for us in California. Dan, thanks so much.

I've heard from some people in the front lines. They're helping coordinate the firefighting, and they're just confused by what the president's saying. And they, frankly, dismiss it very quickly, because they have bigger concerns on their hands.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

All right. So here is something that you've probably already metabolized. CNN has learned that President Trump has been asked to stop tweeting about that Trump Tower meeting. So we'll dig into who is asking him to do that and why he is still tweeting about that.

BERMAN: Does coffee speed up your metabolism?

CAMEROTA: It does, yes. We need more coffee.


[06:17:52] CAMEROTA: OK. CNN has learned that President Trump is being urged to stop tweeting about that 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his top campaign advisors and Russians.

The warning comes after a "New York Times" report revealed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is viewing the president's tweets for his ongoing obstruction probe.

CNN's Abby Phillip is live from Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, with more.

Hi, Abby.


Well, as President Trump's frustration with Robert Mueller's probe has been bursting out into public view, it's been on Twitter that he's been really expressing it the most. But we are now learning that the president's legal advisors are actually advising him to hold back on the tweeting, surprisingly for some people.

But his advisors are saying, "Look, this is only fueling your adversaries. It's only fueling the subject of obstruction of justice. And if you stop tweeting about it, it will stop being the subject of headlines." And that -- this is even though some of these advisers don't believe that there is anything to hide.

Now, this warning to Trump is coming at a time when the president is growing increasingly concerned about how Mueller is encroaching not just on this broader Russia case but specifically on his family. Zeroing in on some key moments, including Don Jr. and his involvement in this Trump Tower meeting.

Now, this week could be a really critical meeting, a critical week for the president and his advisers as they deliberate about the issue of the potential interview with Robert Mueller. Now, Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, has said they are looking looking to give a response back to Mueller about the potential interview as early as this week, perhaps in the next day or so.

He wouldn't characterize what they might say back to Mueller, but he did tell "The Washington Post" this. He said, "We have real reluctance about allowing any questions about obstruction" -- Alisyn and John.

BERMAN: Only too happy to negotiate out in the public with these interviews and leaks. Abby Phillip for us with the president in New Jersey. Thanks so much.

Back with us now, John Avlon, A.B. Stoddard and Shan Wu.

Shan, I do not think you have to be Clarence Darrow to provide the legal advice to President Trump that perhaps he should stop tweeting, stop writing, stop saying things about this Trump Tower meeting in 2016.

[06:20:05] WU: Yes, the president is like a moth drawn to flame, or a kid picking at a scab. I mean, choose your metaphor. He just can't stop. And certainly, his legal team really just wants him to stop.

He's just creating more potential danger for his son, Don Jr., who's the only one who has actually testified under oath, so he faces the most immediate legal culpability. And he's also, frankly, forcing the Mueller team to heighten their interest. And he's just creating more and more hazards for himself, if and when he eventually does sit down with them.

CAMEROTA: A.B., Don Jr. does also keep going on television. He was on Laura Ingraham's show last night, and he repeated, basically, I think that their story is, and the president's tweets also reflect this: "Yes, we were promised, but they didn't deliver. So case closed. Nothing to see here." So here is what -- how Don Jr. explained it last night.


DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP (via phone): That's not the premise that got them in the room. And then they started -- it was essentially, you know, a bait and switch to talk about that. And everyone has basically said that in testimony already. I mean, so this is -- this is nothing new.


CAMEROTA: All right. So, I mean, he's saying that when they got in the room, they talked about adoptions, so no crime.

STODDARD: This follows a pattern Don Jr. also met with representatives from -- Saudi representatives and a representative from the UAE at different points in the campaign. I believe "The New York Times" reported that in late May.

So he -- there was a willingness to collude, if not -- if it wasn't successful collusion. I don't think he should be giving interviews about that.

I do think that President Trump -- and I might be giving him a little credit here, too much credit -- but he's not a lawyer, but he likes to play one on Twitter sometimes. And he basically, I think, repeated the claim about what he admitted last year, basically, that, "Yes, this is a political oppo research meeting. We all take them. There's nothing wrong with it. It's not -- it's totally legal." But then he added that he didn't know anything about it.

I think the concern he has for his son is that Michael Cohen told us weeks ago he is willing to tell Special Counsel Mueller that, actually, Donald Trump, the candidate, knew about the meeting in advance. And if that's true, then that means that Don Jr. did lie to Congress, and he's more legally exposed by that information.

And so I think the president is trying to get out there just tweeting about this, out of the blue, on the weekend, to insist that he didn't know and therefore, Don Jr. didn't lie to Congress.

BERMAN: We know an extraordinary amount now about what happened, and that is problematic for the president, just based on what he has written on Twitter and Don Jr. has said in interviews and what their lawyers have now said.

Don Jr., in this interview with Laura Ingraham, John, admits that he wanted the bait. It was a bait and switch. "I went after the bait, which was the promise of dirt from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton. Love that."

And then the lawyers contradicting what Don Jr. said in sworn testimony that he certainly didn't know or had no knowledge or wasn't aware that his father dictated the response to it. That's all out there. That's all been revealed very publicly.

AVLON: Yes. The whole series of contradictions and lies and obfuscations, and the timeline of this is what's deeply problematic. Don Jr. basically saying, you know, "They promised me Hillary dirt, and all I got was information about adoption."

But the president, knowing that Mueller is looking at his tweets for evidence of obstruction, really is in a separate category as worst client ever. He keeps digging a hole. People around him start saying, "Hey, stop digging the hole. You're making things worse for yourself and your son." And he just sort of breaks out in song and says, "I got to be me."

And it's worked for him up to this point, because he's president, but this is real problematic stuff on a basic legal level for the president.

CAMEROTA: No one can weave in a song better than John Avlon --


CAMEROTA: -- to the news cycle, Shan. I want you to know that first of all. But as a lawyer, can Robert Mueller hang his legal case on the president's tweets?

WU: That would be a very novel theory of prosecution. And I don't think -- I mean, Mueller is kind of a risk-averse conservative prosecutor. I don't think he'd be looking to break new ground.

I think the tweets could lay a foundation for questions given to the president when he is under oath or when he has to tell the truth in terms of being interviewed with an FBI agent. So in that sense the tweets do factor in heavily, because they create all these obstacles. And they just raise so many questions, I mean, maybe because of the Twitter format, but they raise so many questions. You need the specifics: when exactly, what did you know, what did you say? And I think that's where the obstruction danger lies for him.

BERMAN: Maybe we should be doing this on Facebook groups or something so you could get more of a dialogue instead of Twitter.

CAMEROTA: Or musically.

BERMAN: Let me ask, because --

AVLON: I'm clearly in favor of that.

BERMAN: -- Shan keeps saying when the president testifies. And A.B., I think what we're seeing lay out before us is just delaying tactics from the president's legal team here.

Rudy Giuliani keeps on interviewing publicly, saying, "I'm going to give a response soon, but it's not going to shut the door on negotiations. It's just our next offering."

[06:25:08] Seems to me that what they're trying to do is push this off past the midterms, make it impossible for the Mueller team to get the president or to have the official legal fight before November.

STODDARD: Right, to avoid the subpoena by not saying no. John, I know it's written in some stone tablet somewhere that we have

to keep listening to Rudy Giuliani's blather, but the story last night in "The Washington Post" is amazing. He's basically saying the same thing he told Dana Bash: the letter was coming Monday or Tuesday. Now he told "The Post" the letter is coming Tuesday or Wednesday. Something is always going to happen.

But he essentially says the same thing, "Oh, you know, I mean, he can't talk to -- we have reluctance about obstruction." Well, we've been hearing that for months. We've been hearing that the letter was coming for months, that the offer was coming.

And the letter, by the way, is not a final offer. It's just to keep the negotiations open. And then he says, "Mueller really has all he needs. He doesn't really need anything from the president." And then he says, "They just want to get him on a perjury thing, and that's not going to happen."

It's all stuff he said before. He just calls up a new reporter and says more stuff on their deadline. And we're supposed to believe that it's moving the ball. It's a complete stall tactic, and it's the same thing he's been saying all along.

BERMAN: yes, it's not a means to an end. This is the end that Rudy Giuliani is after here. He is just trying to push this and delay.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, I -- I think that it looks like that, but look, Mueller's team is going along with this delaying tactic, because they keep sending letters back --

BERMAN: You don't know what they're doing.

CAMEROTA: Well, according to Rudy Giuliani, they keep getting letters back. The negotiations keep continuing.

AVLON: Mueller's team seems to be playing its own game, right? He doesn't -- Trump and Rudy are the ones who are playing to the court of public opinion.

But I think, to A.B.'s point, if this is about getting it in the zone where you're near the election enough where they can call foul, that's a delaying tactic that seems to be successful.

The thing that's hanging out there is the threat of subpoena. Now they're saying, "Look, we'll take that to the Supreme Court if we need to." You don't want to test that legal theory. But that is a real power, and Rudy Giuliani was on record during Ken Starr and Clinton, saying, "Of course the president's got to testify."

BERMAN: I'll tell you one other thing here. If you take it to the Supreme Court and delay long enough, it's more and more the president's Supreme Court with Justice Brett Kavanaugh sitting there.


BERMAN: Think about that. CAMEROTA: I will. Oh, I will think about that, John Berman.

AVLON: Oh, I will.

CAMEROTA: Put that in my pipe and smoke it. Panel, thank you very much for all of those insights.

So coming up on NEW DAY, we're going to check in with Trump voters. How are they feeling today about their vote for him and about supporting him and about his policies? It got a little feisty.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's a monster. I think he's a bigot. I think that he's doing a lot of things to ruin people's lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got parents who are breaking the law bringing their kids here. If you don't want to be separated from your family, don't come to the country illegally.


CAMEROTA: OK. That wasn't even the feisty part. So you'll see more of how these -- again, these are Trump voters and how they're feeling, in a couple of hours. Stick around.