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Rep. Collins Speaks After Insider Trading Charges; President's Legal Team Doesn't Want Questions It Considers a Perjury Trap; Manafort's Defense Hammers Away At Rick Gates' Credibility. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired August 8, 2018 - 20:00   ET


REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: I've spent the last 10 years in public service as the Erie County executive and as a member of Congress. I've also spent many years volunteering to give back to my community. Whether it was a member of the Federal Reserve Bank, small business advisory council, member of the board of trustees of Kenmore Mercy Hospital, or as a long-time mentor to small businesses at the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at SUNY UB, the public knows my dedication to western New York.

[20:00:18] Because my focus is to defeat the charges in court. After today, I will not address any issues related to Innate Immunotherapeutics outside of the courtroom. As I fight to clear my name, rest assured, I will continue to work hard for the people and constituents of the 27th congressional district of New York, and I will remain on the ballot running for reelection this November.

Thank you very much, and have a great night.


You've been watching Congressman Chris Collins of Upstate New York, an early supporter of President Trump, speaking out tonight hours after he was charged along, with his son and another man with 13 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud, and false statements in connection with an alleged insider trading scheme, some of which may have unfolded on the South Lawn at the White House.

CNN's Brynn Gingras joins us now with more on the charges and the alleged corruption.

Brynn, we just heard the congressman basically wrapping himself up as an investor in this company, the company -- there was a trial of a drug that did not work out. He really is trying to put the focus on that drug trial and not on the allegations against him of basically informing his son that the drug -- giving his son insider information that his son and others then used to sell stock.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I mean, Anderson, you heard him say multiple times how he defended that drug, how he was an adamant supporter, not only currently, but was even before he was a congressman. And he said that multiple times, really speaking about the merit to this drug. But, of course, these are very strong allegations that are against him

concerning this drug. He even pointed out in that news conference that he believes his political opponents have been using this drug to place attacks against him as well.

Of course, the U.S. attorney's office paints a very different picture in their indictment that came down today, that concerns not only him but his 25-year-old son and his 25-year-old son Cameron's future father-in-law. In that indictment, again, that centers around this drug, the really striking point of it is this timeline that the U.S. attorney's office laid out. And that timeline really starts at a 2017 congressional White House picnic where the attorney's office says the congressman received an e-mail from the drug's CEO saying that clinical trials failed. And, of course, that means bad news for that drug.

And then the U.S. attorney's office points to the number of phone calls that the congressman makes to his son, trying to get in touch with him to send the message that this drug had failed, and then that timeline continues where his son tries to sell off many of the stocks, not only of his, that he had a part in, but also the family members of his fiancee, her father, her mother, uncles, aunts, friends, even a financial adviser.

So that's really the crux of what we've heard in this indictment. Certainly, we would expect to hear more if this goes to trial. But he is facing some serious charges here that he really didn't address in that news conference, really only saying that they're meritless and that he intends to fight them, and he intends to seek reelection in November -- Anderson.

COOPER: You talk about that timeline, Brynn, this is not just the government thinking about these phone calls. They actually have the records of the phone calls made from the congressman to his son, the phone calls from the son made to -- I believe it was the future father-in-law and the other calls made from there.

How much time would he be facing if convicted of all the charges?

GINGRAS: Yes. I mean, he is facing 150 years, and that's just addressing the congressman. We're not talking, again, about the 25- year-old son and his future father-in-law.

And those phone calls, Anderson, there were seven in total that went back and forth between the congressman and his son while the Congressman was at that White House congressional picnic. And they're very quick. They finally connected on that seventh phone call. This is shortly after only minutes that the U.S. attorney's office says that he received that e-mail saying that the drug trial had failed.

And then according to the attorney's office, his son, Cameron, 25 years old, again, went to his fiancee's family's house to tell them in person that the drug trial had failed, that they needed to do something about it, allegedly, and then another phone call was made, and that according to the U.S. attorney's office was from his future mother-in-law who called her stockbroker to sell those stocks. And then over the next four day, before the public announcement that this drug trial had failed, U.S. attorney's office says that Cameron Collins sold off more than 1.4 million shares of this stock, saving, really, himself hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[20:05:09] Now, of course, the congressman could not sell his shares because of several reasons. He was under investigation himself and also his shares were with an Australian stock, so there were technicalities there. However, you know, he lost a lot of money in this, but it seems like he was trying to save his family money instead.

COOPER: And again, allegedly using inside information that was not publicly known at that time, giving an advantage to the son and to the son's family.

Brynn, I appreciate it.

Now, the latest on -- well, we're going to have more on this. We'll talk to Preet Bharara, former head of the Southern District here in New York. His office has brought these charges.

I also want to look at the negotiations, talk -- or the negotiations between the president's legal team and the Russian special counsel Robert Mueller's team about whether the president will voluntarily sit down to be interviewed. There is a new offer on the table. New reporting on why presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani thinks there actually could be a benefit to Republicans should this drag out even longer.

For that, we're joined by CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

So, what did Rudy Giuliani tell you about dragging out past Labor Day about this dragging out?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, he said today several times publicly in interviews that this should be completed by September 1st, which is something he's been saying for a long time now. But also --

COOPER: And you said this, meaning, what, the entire Mueller investigation?

BASH: That's an important clarification. The negotiations over whether the president will talk basically summing up the president's role in this, if there is one at all.

But I spoke with him today, and he also made the case to me that Republicans could actually benefit from this bragging out into the heart of the midterm election season. I want to read you what he said.

He said: When I first got involved, I would have told you not testifying would be the right legal strategy, but then hurt politically. Now, I'm thinking the continuance of the investigation would actually help because people are getting tired of it and the president needs something to energize his voters because the Democrats look like they're energized. Nothing would energize Republicans more than "let's save the president".

A pretty remarkable statement from somebody who, of course, is on the president's legal team, has a very distinct political background, though. And I just want the say that this is in keeping with a lot of political operatives on the Republican side have said, that they're looking for something to energize a not very energized Republican base.

On the other hand, Gloria Borger who reported this story with me notes that not all lawyers on his team feel that way there is a split, and many, many of them, most of them say no, no, no, we got to do this fast, and that would be a bad thing, politics be damned.

COOPER: It's kind of interesting that Rudy Giuliani would be musing with you about the politics of the advantage of dragging this out through --

BASH: Well, in fairness, I asked him about it.

COOPER: Right. Well, yes.

BASH: I asked him about it because that's something I had been hearing from political operatives.

COOPER: But he answered is interesting.

BASH: Yes. Not the first time.

COOPER: Yes, so what can you tell us about the latest round of negotiations between the teams?

BASH: Well, the rebuttal or counteroffer, however you want to put it that the president's team said today was yet another attempt to narrow the scope of question, not just the number, but the themes and the kinds of things that the president would answer. We've reported before, and it's still the case that they simply don't want the president to be questioned about things relating to obstruction of justice. Some general questions perhaps, but for the most part, they want it off the table.

But what is so interesting is that Giuliani and other members of the legal team, they concede that they're not in control here at all. I mean, we're in the dark about what's going on, really going on behind the scenes in the Mueller investigation. They are too, even with this round of negotiations.

And what I mean by that is they have no choice but to go back and forth on these proposals and counterproposals, and they have been for a couple of months, because their client, the president insists over the advice of people around him, both politically and personally that this is a terrible idea. He says, no, no, no, I want to testify. So, they have no choice.

But on the other side of the negotiating table, they don't really know how far Robert Mueller is willing to go, whether he just wants to say forget it, write a report, or whether he is actually preparing a subpoena if he doesn't get what he wants in these negotiations. And they can see that the ball is very much in Mueller's court.

COOPER: Well, Jay Sekulow was on one of the Sunday shows, and laying out the timeline for what if -- if there was a subpoena.

BASH: Right.

COOPER: And how long it would drag out in the court.

BASH: Months and months and months. Which is why the most people in the president's legal team and Gloria Borger has heard this from her sources especially are banking on the fact that Mueller won't want to subpoena. But it's an educated guess.

I mean, it's a gamble. It's a gamble in the truest sense of the word, where they just don't really know.

[20:10:03] COOPER: The other question, and we don't know the answer to this, and it sounds like they don't either is how much does Mueller actually need the president to sit down and answer questions?

BASH: And the answer to that is basically how much does Mueller know and where is he really going with this? And we just don't know the answer.

COOPER: Do you -- do you have a sense of when -- I know you don't -- of when Mueller's team may respond?

BASH: But that's actually an interesting question because the last time the Trump team sent a counteroffer to Mueller, he sat on it for weeks, Anderson. And they were getting worried. They were perplexed inside the Trump team about why it took so long.

And then my understanding is that when Mueller finally responded, they shortened the number of questions, but not necessarily the themes. The themes were basically the same. And that's why they sent a counterproposal. So they don't know.

But if Mueller really does want to wrap up this section of his investigation dealing with the president, before the midterms really kick in, and that's where the September 1st date comes in, because it's right before Labor Day, then presumably, it would have to end soon. But it's also possible that he could just keep his cards close to his invest, not do anything until after the election, and then resume. I mean, there are so many options and again we're in the dark.

COOPER: All right. Dana Bash, thanks very much.

I want to dig deeper now on this and the Chris Collins charges. Just before the broadcast, I spoke with CNN legal analyst, Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.


COOPER: I wonder what you make of the president's team continually talking about a perjury trap, that's something they just don't want their client exposed to any questions that would be a perjury trap. I mean, if you tell the truth, I don't understand what -- how a perjury trap is a perjury trap.

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: If you tell the truth and you have nothing to hide and you've told the truth before. So you're not in danger of contradicting yourself, then there is no perjury, and there is no trap. And this president has said over and over and over again, he has done nothing wrong.

I mean, what I think is really going on here is not that there is a perjury trap that someone is trying to set that is somehow inappropriate game, but that the lawyers for Donald Trump, knowing his penchant for lying generally and specifically, and on a daily basis, are concerned that he will exaggerate, fudge the facts, say things that are not correct because that's who he is. And that's dangerous for him.

COOPER: Alan Dershowitz was on the show recently and said -- well, he talked about this perjury trap. And he said, well, look, there could be two different sets of facts or two different opinions, and Comey has testified one thing and the president says something else, and that Mueller's team decides to believe Comey's side and that becomes a perjury trap, because they're believing Comey's version of facts as opposed to the president's.

BHARARA: Yes. I mean, I think what people are talking when they're talking about sharp practice by a prosecutor, which I don't think these folks would engage in is you're engaging in a game of gotcha, right? And you're not sort of asking basic questions and trying to get to the truth, but you're trying to find some sliver of inconsistency between something that someone said and someone else said, sort of like what you're describing. And then bring the whole weight of the government down on you for making a false statement in that context.

I don't think the Mueller team operates that way. I think for them to take some action based on a false statement in connection with an interview, it would have to be really important, it would have to be really material, and it would have to be very clear.

COOPER: Giuliani says this needs to be wrapped up by September 1st. Does --

BHARARA: He initially said it's going to be wrapped up in a week.

COOPER: Right. I mean, they talked about after thanksgiving a long time ago. Does that timeline make any sense to you? I mean, do you see Mueller -- with that timeline, there's no way Mueller would be able to try to go for -- to subpoena the president.

BHARARA: Yes, I don't think it's going to end. At least overall, it's not going to end. Well still have one Manafort trial going on as we speak. We have another Manafort trial that is already scheduled to go after Labor Day in the District of Columbia.

And I have a sense, you know, not based on any inside knowledge, but the sense that there are other shoes to drop, and other people are going to be charged. And so long as the Mueller team is continuing to look at things and continuing to investigate things that are appropriate within their ambit, there is no reason to have an artificial deadline with respect to obstruction against the president by Labor Day.

I mean, look, they may well be done or close to being done, which is why they're negotiating a potential conversation with the president, and then all power to them, and maybe they'll end it. But I don't think there is an artificial -- I don't think they're going to do something on the eve of the election. So if they don't do something by the end of August as it relates to the president, then I think it's reasonable to think you're not going to see anything until November, December of next year.

COOPER: How vital do you think it is for Mueller to actually have the president sit down?

BHARARA: Yes, I don't know that it's that vital. One of the things that prosecutors like to do, contrary to popular belief, is to get it right and to get the truth, and to give the person you're investigating, the potential subject, the opportunity to explain away things that the prosecutors might think are nefarious.

[20:15:04] You know, why did you fire James Comey? Why did you make this statement on a particular date? Why did your lawyers say you hadn't dictated the statement when you had in fact dictated the statement? Because sometimes you learn things that are help to feel the defense or the target or the subject when you engage in that kind of inquiry.

On the other hand, it is also helpful sometimes to get people's story because they'll say things that might incriminate them. And overall, it's generally helpful to check every box and to dot, you know, every I -- and so you want to do the interview.

But at the end of the day, if they have -- you know, Chris Collins just got indicted. He was spoken to by the FBI, and that ended up becoming one of the charges in the indictment.

COOPER: Let's talk about the Collins case. I just don't understand why would he not -- I mean, it just seems such an obvious way to get caught. I mean, why --

BHARARA: The prisons are full of people who are dumb, who are educated and powerful but also engaged in dumb behavior with respect to not being able to cover up their crimes. We prosecuted a lot of insider trading cases when I was in office.

COOPER: But when you're a prosecutor, I mean, do most the people just think nobody is really watching this kind of stuff?

BHARARA: I think some people think that. Some people we prosecuted had what are called burner phones. They're not traceable back to themselves. And they engaged in their unlawful communication of giving insider communication on the phones that couldn't be traced. COOPER: But also the charges are lying to investigators about it. I

mean, it's one thing to do that --

BHARARA: That is also dumb.

COOPER: Right.

BHARARA: When you know that the investigators are going to be able to figure it out. Maybe he figured the lies about whether or not he told his son about the drug trial, and he is thinking to himself, well, my son is not going give me up. And maybe his son did. Maybe his son didn't.

But there are other people who can be told things contemporaneously by the son and there are other ways to infer what the conversation was about. So, it wasn't smart, and the prosecutors are going have a field day because of it.

COOPER: Preet Bharara, thanks very much.

BHARARA: Thanks.

COOPER: Well, it was quite a day in Washington. Beyond the Mueller news and the Chris Collins bombshell, coming up next, as Preet Bharara just mentioned, another dramatic day for the government's star witness against Paul Manafort. We'll tell you what Rick Gates said on the stand, plus what Paul Manafort's business partner has to say. Roger Stone joins us as well.

And later, as California faces 17 fires, we'll talk with the man in charge of the fight.


[20:21:34] COOPER: As news of the securities fraud charges against Congressman Chris Collins rocked the Capitol, there was seismic activity once again from just down the Potomac. The trial of the president's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort heating up once more as the prosecution asked a few last questions of Mr. Manafort's former right-hand man.

Now, in the moment, we'll talk to Manafort's original right-hand man Roger Stone.

First, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us now from the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Shimon, what more did Gates talk about on the stand today? What more was he asked about?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, it was a short day here for Rick Gates. You know, the defense continued to ask questions, really try and strike every bit that they can at his credibility, bringing up these affairs, at one point suggesting in front of the jury that Rick Gates had admitted to having at least four affairs. The judge did not allow Rick Gates to answer that question. But we've

learned that Rick Gates told the special counsel when he initially started cooperating with investigators that he had cheated on his wife perhaps several times. He did as he testified had an affair.

But the point of all this, Anderson, is that the defense attorneys here want to strike at his credibility, and they want to use these affairs to show, obviously, to poke holes at his credibility. They say that he led this secret life, at one point stealing money from Paul Manafort to try and fuel the secret life, these affairs and the cheating on his wife.

COOPER: How did the FBI lay out the financial details of Manafort's money trail?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So, that was later this afternoon today when the FBI economics, their accountant and analysts took the stand, kind of dry painstaking detail using charts at one point to show how Paul Manafort moved money, how he had overseas accounts, how the FBI was able to track some of these accounts through wire transactions. At one point, they even subpoenaed information from a bank in the U.K.

They also showed how they were able to track some of the purchases that we've all been talking about. It was the ostrich jacket and also the snakeskin jacket that Paul Manafort purchased. The f FBI here today showing really in painstaking detail, dry -- going over every inch of Paul Manafort's finances, obviously an important part of this case for the prosecution, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

Perspective now from someone who it is fair to mention may also be on Robert Mueller's radar.

Right now, though, Roger Stone joins us primarily as a member of the political consulting firm Black, Manafort and Stone. The Manafort being Paul, the Stone being Roger.

It's great to have you on again.

So, Roger, as Paul Manafort's trial unfolds, I'm just wondering how do you think it's looking for him at this point? Do you think he is in real trouble here?

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP POLITICAL ADVISER: Well, first of all, with all due respect, I'm not sure I was ever his right-hand man. We were certainly partners, and he is a boyhood friend.

What's amazing to me is that he got to trial at all given the enormous pressure put on him by the special counsel to plead guilty. And I'm still perplexed as to why he has not raised the question of whether he was under illegal FISA surveillance in this trial and in the upcoming trial.

Sharyl Attkisson, "The New York Times," many others have reported that he was, but the government does not agree to that in discovery, and Manafort's team have not raised it.

[20:25:03] Beyond that, I'm not following every -- every word of the trial, but the drama is obvious, and I think the -- perhaps the mistake that people are looking at is that they are reviewing Rick Gates and Paul Manafort monolithically, and I think that that's an error in trying figure out what has happened here.

COOPER: How do you mean monolithically? Because, obviously, Rick Gates was a close associate of his and seemed to be deeply involved in, you know, setting up these overseas bank accounts and seems to have wide knowledge.

STONE: Well, there is no question -- there is no question that -- look, I don't know Mr. Gates very well, but I know great deal about him. There is no question that he was handling the logistics of the business he was doing with Paul Manafort. But because of Manafort's economic model, I think that Gates was squeezed financially, and I think he had clients of his own and business activities of his own.

I assume that he has told the government about this, but I don't know what he has disclosed to them. When he said that he had embezzled $400,000, I had heard that numbers were much larger than that. So, I think he has to be viewed not as a joined to Manafort at the hip, but with his own agenda and his own issues.

COOPER: He certainly has, yes, I mean, his own agenda, but one can't deny his inner knowledge of Manafort's affairs, correct?

STONE: I believe that to be true. But the other -- at the same time, what does Manafort know about Gates' affairs? Remember, this investigation is supposed to be about Russian collusion, yet none of the charges against Manafort or Gates for that matter thus far regard that particular issue.

COOPER: The investigation, though, is not just about Russian collusion or allegations of Russian collusion. It's also about any involvement in Russia attempting to meddle or attack the United States during the 2016 election, and anything that came out of that. I mean, they have a pretty broad mandate.

STONE: Of that, there is no question. And while Mr. Mueller has certainly provided evidence of Russian meddling, it has largely been ham-handed, ineffective and not had much effect on the results in my opinion. He has yet to prove actual Russian collusion between the Trump campaign or Trump associates or Trump family members with the Russian state.

We've talked about that before. I know of no evidence of it. I don't think Mr. Mueller has proven that case yet.

COOPER: The last time we spoke, I asked you about whether or not you had been contacted by the Mueller investigation. At this point, have you been asked to appear before the special counsel's team?

STONE: I have not, but it has been publicly reported that they have interviewed and subpoenaed a number of my associates. I know that there exists nowhere evidence of Russian collusion or WikiLeaks collaboration or any nonsense pertaining to John Podesta's e-mail. But I'm also mindful of any prosecutor's ability to squeeze underlings to get proposed testimony against a bigger fish.

I have not been contacted by the special counsel's office. I made it abundantly clear that there is no circumstances under which I would testify against the president. I would not rule out cooperating if they think I can be helpful in some area, but beyond that, I have not spoken to them.

COOPER: Just -- can I ask you, just on a personal level, what does it feel like to have this -- I don't know if it's fair to say a cloud, but certainly the concern about an indictment, you know, when you see associates of yours, people you have been involved in business with and done business with being called in. You now have this woman who had done some work for you going to be testifying in front of -- in front of a grand jury, Kristin Davis. She is expected to appear on Friday.

Just on a personal level, does it -- does it worry you? I mean, do you lose sleep over this?

STONE: No, actually I don't. Kristin Davis is a brilliant woman, a friend of mine, someone who has made mistakes and has paid her debt to society.

She is now a single parent. I'm the godfather to her son, Carter Stone Davis, and I love that boy. She's certainly not engaged in any illegal activities today. She is trying to launch a cosmetology business.

She knows of no Russian collusion or WikiLeaks collaboration or any other illegal activity on my part in connection with presidential election or otherwise. And she's going to talk to the prosecutors voluntarily. She is not looking for a media circus in her life. She is going to tell the truth. Of that I am certain.

COOPER: It seems, though, what they are interested in, again, I -- I mean I don't know this, but the only thing that just from the outside it would seem that they would be interested in is any knowledge she would have of your schedule, your e-mail communications, any e-mails you exchange with other people since she had a role in -- would she know about that? What exactly work was she doing for you?

STONE: Well, in that time period that's most under focus, 2015, 2016, she was not working for me. She came back to work for me in January of '17, although I think I paid her in December of 2016. But I believe that my e-mails have been thoroughly reviewed by the special counsel under a FISA warrant or some other warrant, and there is no evidence of Russian collusion or WikiLeaks collaboration. So I don't believe she possesses any knowledge about this area.

COOPER: Earlier today WikiLeaks said that the Senate Intelligence Committee has asked Julian Assange to appear for a closed interview on 2016 election meddling at a mutually agreeable time and location. Obviously, not clear if or when that would take place. I'm wondering what you think about that possibility.

STONE: Well, I think it would be a positive development. Look, this is a tremendously expensive process to be under the scrutiny of a all powerful federal prosecutor. I'm being sued by the Democratic National Committee, and in that lawsuit, whether or not the Russians hacked the DNC is a central question. The indictment announced by Mr. Mueller claims that they did, but that's an indictment, not a conviction in a court of law. Mr. Assange would have information regarding this, that he might be able to illuminate the American people regarding. So I think his testimony would be a positive thing.

COOPER: Roger Stone, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

Just ahead, we're going to have more on today's developments in the Manafort trial. I'll talk details and implications with members of our legal team John Dean, Carrie Cordero. And later word of a new Trump administration sanctions against Russia and the aftermath those poisonings of a former Russian agent, and his in England back in March.


[20:35:51] COOPER: So Rick Gates today finished his testimony against his former partner Paul Manafort. And like everything else in the trial so far it's been going almost too quickly to keep up with.

Here to help us try is CNN legal analyst John Dean and Carrie Cordero.

So, John, you were in the midst of another famous investigation, obviously. Do you think Roger Stone should be more concerned than he's letting on?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I've never totally understood Roger Stone. I don't understand why he was wearing a hat in your interview. I don't understand the books that he writes that are nothing but way- out conspiracy theories. I'm not sure Anderson how reliable or important even Roger is. I think we'll have to wait for Manafort's move on that.

COOPER: Carrie, I mean in terms of the Manafort trial today, according to an FBI witness, Manafort collected more than $65 million in foreign accounts -- offshore accounts from 2010 to 201014. The forensic financial evidence certainly doesn't look good for him at this point, I mean does it?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. This case has always been really about the documents and the evidence that the investigators collected that demonstrate all the wire transfers, the deposits, the shielding of money, the offshore accounts. The Gates testimony was help to feel the government in terms of laying out some of those accounts. But really, the forensic accounting and the testimony of the other accountants and other financial professionals was probably very significant for the jury.

COOPER: The paper trail is strong enough, you're saying? CORDERO: I think the documents are very strong. I think the witnesses provide the context. But the documents itself, the investigators, they have all of these different wire transfers and even evidence of the e-mails that went back and forth of Manafort and others, what they were trying do with all these different transfers and hiding money in offshore accounts. So, I think the documentary of evidence is probably pretty devastating.

COOPER: John, I mean the defense today is obviously trying to sow doubt. They're suggesting that the signature on various documents that -- that have been presented is not Manafort's signature. I assume if that's the case that would be damaging to the prosecution. The question, of course, how real is that?

DEAN: Well, they did not call a handwriting expert and merely asked a witness who said she was not a handwriting expert. So, I don't think they made the case. We all know that different people -- or most all of us have different signatures at different times in different moods. So, I don't think this is going to be a real issue, Anderson, unless they decide to put on an expert to attack the documents.

COOPER: And Carrie, I mean there are clearly -- Shimon was talking about this, trying to put Rick Gates his personal life on display, he admitted to cheating on his wife, defense attorneys suggest a secret life. Does that really matter? Because, I mean certainly no one is painting Gates as a saint going into this. I mean he was stealing from Paul Manafort by his own admission.

CORDERO: Yes, the prosecutors. They tried to get out a lot of the bad information that Rick Gates had about himself and the crimes that he committed himself in their examination of him. So they got a lot of the bad out, clearly Rick Gates is a flawed person, and he made the best case that he could as far as explaining why he was cooperating, which is really to try to reduce his own time in jail. So, I think they did that.

I did want to clarify, Anderson, one thing that Roger Stone said about the Manafort trial, which is that he said that Manafort should have challenged FISA surveillance.

COOPER: Right.

CORDERO: And that refers to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The government didn't use FISA information in this case. If they would have used it, that would have had to give notice to Manafort and then he would have had an opportunity to challenge it. So, I think Stone's going down that path is unfounded.

COOPER: John, I'm curious what you make of the President tweeting last week that Paul Manafort is having a rougher time than Al Capone. The President has mentioned (ph) obviously is using his pardon pen for people whom he deems to be treated unfairly. Do you think it's likely that Manafort is counting on that?

DEAN: Well, it's possible. You know, I can't imagine the President pardoning any of the players involved in these scandals. Particularly at this stage. Maybe at the end, he might in one fell swoop take care of all these problems. Actually, there is a precedent for that. That's the way George H.W. Bush handled Iran Contra. He kind of cleaned it up with pardons or other people have done it with appeals and gotten cases reversed. So it's not unheard of. I just don't think it's going to happen here. I don't think as bold as Trump is likely to be, the pardon power is one I don't think he's going destroy and politicize.

[20:40:08] COOPER: John Dean, Carrie Cordero, thanks very much.

The Trump administration is imposing sanctions on Russia in the wake of the poisoning earlier this year of a former Russian agent and his daughter in England. The former agent, Sergei Skripal and his daughter were hospitalized after the nerve agent attack. You may remember back in March.

Now, the daughter was discharge in April, her father in May. Russia's President Vladimir Putin says his country was not behind the poisonings. The sanctions will target American exports to Russia that could have military uses, exports that have previously undergone reviews before approval will now presumptively be denied, according to a senior State Department official.

Late today, a Russian representative to the UN, dismissed the announcement calling it absurd, adding, quote, "let us welcome the United Sanctions of America.

A lot more news straight ahead, including the very latest on the 17 wildfires still burning across California. More than 2,000 structures damaged or destroyed tens of thousands evacuated from their homes. I'll speak with a California fire chief, next.


COOPER: Wildfires are still raging across much of California. At the latest count there are 17 burning throughout the state. More than 14,000 firefighters. It's an incredible number. 14,000 people on the lines working to put out the blazes. This is the holy fire in both Orange -- excuse me, the holy fire in both Orange and Riverside counties in southern California.

[20:45:15] What you're looking at is what experts call a firenado, when a fire's intensity causes the air to heat up and rise rapidly combined with high winds, there is a vortex that pulls fire in different directions. Some communities have already been issued evacuation warnings. Officials say the warnings could become orders.

Meantime, authorities say they arrested a man on suspicion of starting this particular blaze. Here is the man overall in charge of the firefighting effort, Chief Ken Pimlott, director of Cal. Fire.

Chief, thanks so much for being with us and taking the time to talk to us. Can you give us a sense of what your firefighters are up against at this moment?

KEN PIMLOTT, CHIEF, CALIFORNIA FIRE: Absolutely. Well, Anderson, you pointed out 14,000 firefighters on the fire lines in California. That's almost half of the 30,000 firefighters that are deployed across the western United States right now dealing with fires in many, many states. So we are having a yeoman's effort, all hands on deck here. But again, warm temperatures. We've got triple-digit temperatures in southern California. We have a red flag warning coming back over the state all the way through Saturday night, and that will bring low humidities, warm temperatures and strong winds.

COOPER: So, is the weather the -- I mean what are some of the challenges your facing? there is obviously the weather, as you just said.

PIMLOTT: The weather, the fuel conditions, the vegetation is critically dry anywhere in the state. So it's not a matter of whether you're at the coast or in the elevations up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. All the vegetation is critically dry. Every spark is starting a new fire. The fires we have, spot fires occur often from these fires. And so it's just dealing with erratic conditions, like you just referred to the fire whirls, the tornadoes, like the large significant tornado that occurred on the Carr fire.

So these are conditions that firefighters are experiencing in the last several years, unlike what we experienced in previous decades.

COOPER: And I remember just from reporting fires in the past that an ember can travel a huge distance and set down and start another fire.

PIMLOTT: Absolutely. Embers from these fires can be carried aloft into the air, and they can be transported well over a mile ahead of the main fire and start new fire.

COOPER: That's incredible. I want to clear just a bit of confusion from earlier this week when the President tweeted about the fires affecting your state, saying that massive amounts of readily available water is not being what he said properly utilized and diverted into the Pacific Ocean.

First of all, just to be clear, do you have enough water? And do you know what he is referring to here?

PIMLOTT: We have full access to all of the water that we need. Many of these fires are burning in areas where there are lakes. Our helicopters are actively dipping water from those. Our fire engines are accessing water, you know, from fire hydrants and drafts from lakes and rivers. Water is not the issue. It's literally the conditions these fires are burning in, the intensities, and getting resources where they need to be

And again, evacuations and ensuring communities are prepared and are evacuating when they're noticed. All of these things combined creating obviously the kinds of challenges that we're facing. We have plenty of water, firefighters that operationally, that's working very well for them.

COOPER: I also want to read a part from an op-ed in "USA Today" that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke wrote in which he said, radical environmentalists would have you believe forest management means clear-cutting forests in national parks. Their rhetoric can now be further from the truth.

Are forest posting challenges to you and your -- and the firefighters right now? I mean, is there some sort of change that's needed in state or federal policy?

PIMLOTT: So forests across the west, including California are, you know, decadent. We've got 100 years where we've been suppressing fires because we're protecting lives and property, 40 million people in California. Can't afford to have fire, you know, burning the landscape. But with that has come a buildup of -- a natural buildup of fuels. And so active thinning.

Governor Brown has led efforts through a tree mortality task force dealing with 126 million dead trees, and now a forest management task force that is leading significant efforts to increase the pace and scale in treating up to 500,000 acres a year. And that's forest thining. That's prescribed fire. That's putting in fuel breaks around communities.

We have an example on the Cranston fire in Riverside County a few weeks ago where a fuel break and treatment project actually helped save the community of Idyllwild because the fire actually was able to be steered away from the town because active forest management and fuel break work was done. And those are the kinds of things that we are increasing the pace and scale of across the state.

COOPER: Lastly, for those who have been affected by this to those whose homes may still be in danger, I'm wondering what your message is at this point tonight.

PIMLOTT: So we are well past the point in the year where we should be outdoing defensible space and clearing our properties. Any use of lawn mowers and weed eaters will create another spark and start a fire.

[20:50:01] Now, it is all about preparing to leave when the fire does occur. Have you evacuation plan in place, know what you're going to take. Pay very close attention to social media and all the other media outlets. Be prepared to go and go when you're asked to go through an evacuation order. We need people to get out safely so that firefighters and law enforcement can come in and safely protect properties and lives.

COOPER: So someone cutting the grass that can cause a spark?

PIMLOTT: Absolutely. If a weed eater, a lawnmower strikes a rock, it can create a spark. Literally, every spark right now will start a new fire.

COOPER: It's incredible Chief, just extraordinary what you and all the other firefighters are doing. Thank you so much and stay safe. Thank you.

PIMLOTT: Thank you, Anderson. COOPER: Just ahead, we'll take you to the beaches of southwest Florida where this year's red tide bloom is causing widespread devastation along the coastline.


[20:54:58] COOPER: If you've been watching our show "Full Circle" on Facebook you've probably heard of our reporting on the red tide, the toxic algae bloom that can devastate coastlines and kill thousands and thousands of fish. This year it's especially bad in southwestern Florida. We want to have a status report now from the heart of the stricken area.

CNN's Bill Weir is there. Warning, some of the images might be tough to watch.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Normally, avoids (ph) places like this are filled with relaxed anticipation but these days a trip off to Florida's gulf coast brings only boatfuls of dread.

Toxic algae is blooming like mad here, and you can see and smell the result everywhere. Onshore and off. A dolphin sighting that would normally inspire wonder --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's two right there.

WEIR (voice-over): -- now only makes you worry.

(on-camera): Oh there he is. He's right here. Look at this. Wow. You can really feel it in your nostrils and your sinuses and the back of your throat. It's like a mild pepper spray when this algae gets up in the air. And so if we can feel that discomfort, you've got to wonder what it's like to be a dolphin in a red tide like this. Oh, there he is. Their blow hole is just inches beneath the surface.

(voice-over): 90 miles up the coast they just found two dolphins that could not survive this epic red tide. And a visit to the marine biologist at Florida Gulf Coast University is like a sad visit to the morgue. These are just two of the more than 400 sea turtles found in this area alone.

BOB WASNO, FLORIDA GULF COAST UNIVERSITY: This one is able to breathe. And this one here is a juvenile.

WEIR (on-camera): Makes your heart hurt, doesn't it?

WASNO: You go through stages. Hurts. Then you're angry.

WEIR (on-camera): This is the villain right here. This is the red tide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. And this one down here on the bottom.

WEIR (voice-over): Yes. The algae that cause red tides occurs naturally in saltwater, but human activity on land can make the situation much, much worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While they love nitrogen and phosphorus --

WEIR (on-camera): Which are fertilizers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's burning sugar or is that -- or process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a processed sugar.

WEIR (voice-over): Generations of sugarcane farming has altered the chemistry of Lake Okeechobee and the health of the everglades. In wet season Florida dumps a massive amount of water into the most delicate ecosystems. While in dry season that water is diverted to farms and cities. Great for the economy. Horrible for the environment.

WILLIAM MITSCH, FRESHWATER EXPERT, GULF COAST UNIVERSITY: You have a natural phenomenon called red tide, as Mike said. But you have the nitrogen then coming in and giving it a booster shot.

WEIR (voice-over): And now these scientists from Florida Gulf Coast University are testing water up to 20 miles offshore. Looking for the definitive proof that America's sugar habit is also making red tides worse.

(on-camera): You're looking for the smoking gun.

MITCSCH: I'm looking for the smoking gun.

MIKE PARSONS: I think we also have to realize that, you know, collectively we got to this point. It took 70 years, 80 years to get to where we are now. And it's going to take a while to work our way out of it.

WEIR (voice-over): Back in a beach that should be full of tourists, I find only cleanup crews. Many of them unpaid volunteers.

(on-camera): You live in Tennessee?


WEIR (on-camera): Did you come out here just to do this?

CANADA: Absolutely, I --

WEIR (on-camera): You're kidding. Really?

CANADA: I did. I did, yes.

WEIR (on-camera): Have you seen red tides this bad before?


WEIR (on-camera): And who's to blame, do you think? FORD: I think we all are to blame, to be honest. You know? I think we all play a role in this one way or the other. I think it goes all the way up the chain and all the way down.

WEIR (on-camera): Yes.

FORD: I just think we need to come together, figure it out, and you know, let scientists do what they can do and, you know, just try to get to the bottom of it.


COOPER: Bill joins us now. Bill, we see that manatee crawling on a dead manatee. I mean, has the sugar industry had any reaction to what scientists are saying about the possible connection to red tide?

WEIR: Yes, absolutely. They've been beat up on for years over this issue as it gets worse, obviously, when you see emotional pictures like that. They have a whole website devoted to pushing back saying we share in the frustration over the Lake Okeechobee discharges, we want to collaborate in finding solutions, but that these radicals are blaming a single company, U.S. sugar, for systematic regional problems wrought by over 100 years of change is utterly ridiculous, they say. That's U.S. sugar. But of course they have huge political influence in the state.

A state run by a very pro-growth Republican legislature. So what really needs to happen, the scientists say, is to create more wetlands. But Anderson, as you know, it's tough to run on a platform of less housing, less mini malls, more swamp. But looks like the bill is finally coming due after 100 years of growth down here.

COOPER: Yes. Bill Weir, I'm glad you're there. Thank you.

A quick reminder don't miss our daily interactive newscast on facebook. You can choose from the stories we cover, it's called "Full Circle". Weeknights 6:25 Eastern at 6:25 p.m. Eastern.

[21:00:02] The news continues right now. I want to hand it over to Chris. "Cuomo Prime Time" starts right now. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to "Prime Time."