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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
U.S. to Sanction Russia Over Nerve Agent Attack; Republican Congressman Charged With Insider Trading; Giuliani: Trump's Legal Team Sends Counteroffer to Mueller. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired August 8, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Another Trump loyalist in trouble with the law.
THE LEAD starts right now.
The very first lawmaker to leap on the Trump train today was charged with insider trading, and prosecutors allege his crimes began when he was standing on White House grounds.
Letter to Mueller. The Trump team laying out what the president will and will not answer in front of the special counsel. But can anyone control what the president will actually end up saying?
And breaking news, poisoning payback. President Trump's State Department finally punishing Russia for unleashing a nerve agent in the U.K.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
TAPPER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with the politics lead.
Republican Chris Collins from Western New York was the first sitting member of Congress to back Donald Trump's presidential bid. He did so way back in February 2016. He was such a strong supporter of Mr. Trump, Collins at the Republican National Convention was asked to formally second Mr. Trump's nomination to be his party's nominee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: I have the honor of seconding the nomination of Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States of America.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: But, today, Congressman Chris Collins was arrested by the FBI. Moments ago, the congressman walked out of federal court in New York
City, where he'd been arraigned. Prosecutors this afternoon detailing the grand jury indictment of the New York Republican, his son, and his son's fiancee's father for 13 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud and false statements, all stemming from an alleged insider trading scheme involving an Australian biotech firm for which Collins was a board member.
And it's difficult not to notice that the president, who repeatedly declared himself the law and order candidate on the campaign trail, who's crowds continue to enthusiastically chant that his erstwhile opponent, Hillary Clinton, should be locked up, that president sure seems to have a lot of people in his orbit who seem to run afoul of the law.
Beyond his first congressional backer arrested, just in the last day, the president's former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates was testifying about crimes he says he committed with President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Plus, CNN also has learned that the president's former fixer and longtime attorney Michael Cohen is under federal investigation for tax fraud. That's just the last day.
Now, on the one hand, the public can seemingly be reassured that American institutions of law enforcement continue to do their jobs, pursuing criminality wherever they see it, without fear or favor, with no evidence of any inappropriate influence being wielded to protect those who are close to the president. That's good news.
On the other hand, those who enthusiastically thought electing President Trump might mean he would drain the swamp, they likely didn't believe so many of those critters in the swamp were the president's friends and allies.
I want to bring in CNN's Brynn Gingras, who's live outside the federal courthouse, where moments ago Collins made his first court appearance.
And, Brynn, we just learned that Collins is going to hold a press conference in a couple hours.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake, at 6:30 in Buffalo.
And we saw the congressman, his team of attorneys come out this federal courthouse here behind me, jump into an SUV, likely headed in that direction for that press conference.
But inside the courtroom, the congressman, his 25-year-old son, Cameron, and soon-to-be-father-in-law all appeared calm when they pleaded not guilty to the judge. But anything but calm is what prosecutors say all three men were when they learned about this drug and how it failed the clinical trial and the alleged swift action they took to unload their stocks and save hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the prosecutors, doing all this above the law, thinking they were above the law. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
GINGRAS (voice-over): Republican Congressman Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to support Donald Trump, appearing in court late this afternoon after federal prosecutors charged him, his son Cameron and another man, Stephen Zarsky, with 13 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud and making a false statement to the FBI.
The charges stemming from an alleged insider trading scheme, which partially played out on the South Lawn of the White House, according to court documents.
At the center of it all, an Australian pharmaceutical company called Innate Immunotherapeutics, where Collins was a board member.
GEOFFREY BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Congressman Collins was told some confidential and highly sensitive information about Innate, information that was not yet made public, namely, that Innate's main drug, the drug Innate was developing to be the backbone of its company, was a total failure.
GINGRAS: According to the 30-page complaint, that conversation happened while Collins attended the annual congressional picnic at the White House.
Federal prosecutors say Collins received an e-mail at 6:55 p.m. that the drug had failed it's trial. At 7:10 p.m., Collins responded to the e-mail and then proceeded to try to reach his son Cameron, the two placing six calls over a period of five minutes.
Later that night, Cameron drove to the home of Stephen Zarsky, the father of his fiancee, and at 9:34 p.m., Zarsky's wife placed to call to their stockbroker to sell shares of the company, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors allege that between the opening of the market on Friday, June 23, and the close of business on the following Monday, Cameron Collins sold a total of nearly 1.4 million shares of Innate. All in all, prosecutors allege that Collins and the other defendants avoided more than $750,000 in losses on the stock.
BERMAN: Congressman Collins cheated our markets and our justice system in two ways. First, he tipped his son to confidential corporate information, at the expense of regular investors.
And then he lied about it to law enforcement to cover it up.
GINGRAS: Collins, who represents Upstate New York, became a frequent Trump's surrogate on cable news during the 2016 campaign. His lawyers saying in a statement -- quote -- "We will answer the charges filed against Congressman Collins in court and will mount a vigorous defense to clear his good name. We are confident he will be completely vindicated and exonerated."
GINGRAS: Now, each of the men had to sign over a $500,000 personal recognizance bond and they each had to turn over their passports.
Jake, as you heard, the attorneys for about Cameron and the congressman vehemently deny these allegations. Of course, though, we will hear more from the congressman when he appears for that news conference in Buffalo around 6:30 -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Brynn Gingras in New York, thanks so much.
Let's talk about it with our panel.
I want to set the scene for a second, because Brynn did mention this White House. None of this has to do with President Trump directly, of course. But on June 22, 2017, that's when prosecutors say Congressman Collins got that e-mail, including insider information, and started calling his son.
It just so happens Collins was at the congressional picnic at the White House surrounded by his colleagues, tons of people. Look at this part. This was at 7:30. Everyone's taking pictures. Collins looks a little distracted.
Perhaps he's looking down at his phone. This is exactly 14 minutes after Collins, according to prosecutors, called his son to give him the tip.
I mean, it really is remarkable. Again, innocent until proven guilty. But people seem to think that there aren't going to be investigations or records of these things.
JASON KANDER (D), FORMER MISSOURI SECRETARY OF STATE: I mean, the term that people use, a culture of corruption, like him being there in that environment and making this -- that is literally the culture of corruption. That's what that is.
And at this point, like, with all the people accused of these sort of -- these sort of acts. It's like starting to feel like looting. It's starting to feel like people came in and they're just like, get everything you -- like a supermarket sweep of criminality.
And it's like they're just running through with their arm out trying to get everything into the cart. And it also makes me feel like every time President Trump talks about, well, it's a witch-hunt, and then you see stuff like this, like the commerce secretary, these are your garden variety corruption issues, in the sense that it's stuff that has happened in more isolated cases in the past.
So it's very hard to say that, therefore, it's a witch-hunt that's politically motivated, when it is pretty cut and dried. Somebody took something they were not supposed to take.
TAPPER: Very rare to indict a sitting congressman, especially within a 100 days of the election.
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as you said, they will go through the evidence and have a trial.
But the timing of the e-mail and then the phone call and then the selling of stock is quite suspicious.
TAPPER: Before the bad news comes out to make this...
HAM: Yes. And the thing is, with all the issues that you listed, no one can keep their nose clean.
And that's been for a long time in Washington. Like in this administration, in particular, there's no message from the top to keep your nose clean. In fact, sometimes, quite the opposite.
And so people do not act the way they should and are tempted to act other ways, and are not told otherwise.
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": And I think people will be surprised to discover that you can be a congressman, fairly not so un-senior congressman, on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which regulates the drug industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and you can sit on the board of a company.
You can introduce legislation, which he didn't before for this all happened, that seems to have benefited that company, buy a lot of the stock when that legislation looks like it's going to pass, and then you get a phone call as a director from the CEO, I guess it was, and you appear to dump the stock or tell your son to dump the family stock or some chunk of it before the rest of the world knows.
I mean, I don't know. Is it that much to ask that maybe congressmen shouldn't sit on boards of directors or shouldn't trade stocks?
KRISTOL: I am personally surprised.
When I went into the White House, chief of staff to the vice president, I wasn't going to do anything that was going to affect anything. I put all my money in mutual funds. It just seemed like the obvious thing to do. You can't be like owning -- what if you own a stock and something comes up?
And this is an actual member of Congress. So that's one thing I would say. Maybe they -- maybe someone should introduce legislation to make that happen. That would not be a bad thing.
Senator Schumer and Leader Pelosi on the Democratic side to try to make a fuss about and try to demand to vote on it in September, that I think is one thing that will happen.
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But some people don't think the rules apply for them. I think the photo that you showed at the top of the show, Jake, that's what the streets like to call receipts. And that photo was receipts. And I think it's pretty damning and slightly incriminating.
Now, the congressman currently sits in the 27th Congressional District. Sabato's Crystal Ball had it at a solid Republican see. With this new, this has now moved to a likely Republican seat. I think that folks -- the Democrat in the race is already raising money off of this.
And so this just goes to show that any type of contact can open up the doors for Democrats to gain all types of seats as well that probably weren't on the table before.
TAPPER: There is a culture of corruption in Washington. It did precede Donald Trump, and it is bipartisan.
We have seen this before. There was that "60 Minutes" report about the insider trading, where you're allowed to legislate things for -- and then trade accordingly.
And the Congress did apparently try to close that loophole. And yet there's something so brazen about this, including, Mary Katharine, the fact that he allegedly lied to investigators about it, even though there's a whole paper trail and phone trail.
And that's what people hate about this town is the fact that people feel entitled to do that. And it's, counterintuitively, why they ended up many of them voting for Donald Trump, who, of course, at the time, I argued, was not going to be the great cleaner of this system. But it is why people looked for something completely outside the system to attempt to get them there.
And I think we see over and over again that's not the case. Electorally, I would wonder whether this, the culture of corruption tag, can have the same impact as it might have had in like 2006 with the Mark Foley scandals, because the new cycle is so fast and so furious, and we have so many of these stories.
I think we have seen the impact go down, which is regrettable to some extent.
KRISTOL: In defense of this town, there's also a culture of integrity in this town.
What about the Justice Department? They indicted -- this is Trump's Justice Department.
TAPPER: Institutions working.
KRISTOL: Yes. I mean, that's pretty impressive, actually.
TAPPER: That U.S. attorney, Berman, was appointed by President Trump and, in fact, had an interview with President Trump.
So I want to say that we should be a little -- there is a culture of corruption, but there's also something impressive about the way the Justice Department has behaved in this and in other instances.
KANDER: To add one nuance to this, like when you say how brazen it is, I remember, when I was in the Statehouse in Jefferson city, and I would see like on a bill about pharmacy benefits somebody would stand up and say, well, I'm a pharmacist so I'm going -- and I remember like my head exploding, because I was thinking, well, perhaps then you shouldn't speak on this, because it has a financial interest for you.
And I always would go back to the idea that frequently -- and I think this happens in Washington too -- people mistake conflict of interest for expertise.
And so -- and I don't know if that's the case here, but like, Bill, when you were -- I mean, I agree with you. It's ridiculous that you can have this kind of -- sit on a board and be on that committee.
But I guarantee you, likely anyway, that he had conversations where he was like, well, actually, I know quite a lot about this, because I sit -- and people were like, oh, we should listen to this guy because he's on that board.
That's the problem, is they can't tell the difference between conflict of interest and expertise.
SANDERS: Well, absolutely.
But then the other question here is, this has been allowed to go on because the Congress, the folks in Congress are not necessarily regulating themselves.
I would venture to say, Congressman Collins isn't the only person that sits on a pharmaceutical board or a health board here or a board over there. And so who is going to check the checker? That is what the American people, I think, are asking.
TAPPER: And that's one of the things that we have seen in this town is that ultimately there's sometimes a lot of times the Democrats won't take actions that would hurt Republicans because they are also worried about their own members and who knows what's going on with Democratic congressmen.
Obviously, this is Chris Collins. He's a Republican, but you haven't really seen a stampede of people saying we need to clean this up today.
It is all driven by some self-interest and sometimes partisan interests. And they look ahead to like, well, what if I get in the crosshairs of this committee at some point, and that doesn't feel great to me. So you get sort of get some piddling investigations upon investigations upon investigations of themselves in Congress.
But it often does not really cut through.
KRISTOL: The Democrats would be crazy, in my view, challengers against Republicans, not to run some...
KRISTOL: Part of that is saying, no Nancy Pelosi, no business as usual, none of the same rules, really clean the place up.
TAPPER: You had her. Then you lost her.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.
President Trump is finally responding to Bob Mueller's request for an interview, but is the counteroffer from the Trump team an honest effort to make a deal or just a stalling tactic?
Plus, a coordinated pressure campaign targeting Ivanka Trump by celebrities, but is the first daughter willing to listen to the people she follows on Instagram?
Stay with us.
[16:19:10] TAPPER: This afternoon, President Trump's legal team made the latest counteroffer to special counsel Robert Mueller regarding his special request for an interview with President Trump, Mr. Trump's lawyer suggested setting limits on what Mueller can ask. Now, how much of all of this is actual negotiation and how much is kabuki-like theater is anyone's guess.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is in New Jersey near where the president is doing his working vacation.
And, Kaitlan, the possible conditions in this offer could be a sure sign that two sides are nowhere near a deal and, frankly, might never be.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Jake. What we seem to be seeing here today with this response from the president's legal team to the special counsel does not seem to be closing the gap between these two sides who have been negotiating for eight months. Instead, it seems to be showing us just how far apart they remain.
COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump's legal team responding to the special counsel's latest request for an interview today.
[16:20:05] RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have now given him an answer. He -- obviously, he should take a few days to consider it. But we should get this resolved.
COLLINS: The president's lawyers declining to characterize their response to Robert Mueller.
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: We're not going to discuss the contents of the letter that we will send but I will tell you this, that our response will be -- is thoughtful and includes issues that are raised under the Constitution. So, I will leave it at that.
COLLINS: While urging him once again to bring the investigation to an end.
GIULIANI: We do not want to run into the November elections. So back up from that, this should be over with by September 1st.
COLLINS: The response is latest in the back and forth between the two sides that has dragged on for eight months now. Mueller indicated last week he'd be willing to limit the number of questions of obstruction of justice while maintaining he still wanted to ask those questions in person.
Today, Giuliani making clear certain questions are off limits.
GIULIANI: I could right now give you the answer that he's going to give to the question, why did you fire James Comey? He gave it. He gave it to Lester Holt. It's on tape.
COLLINS: Openly admitting he's worried the president could perjure himself.
GIULIANI: Start to think that the only reason they want this explanation is so that they can come up with some kind of a perjury thing.
SEKULOW: It's called a perjury trap, what we have talked about often.
COLLINS: While Trump has ramped up his public attacks on the special counsel, he remains at odds with his own legal team over the prospects of an interview.
SEKULOW: The president has stated that he wants to do an interview. I will tell you, the position of the legal team is that we don't advise that.
COLLINS: Jay Sekulow admitting --
SEKULOW: Ultimately, the decision's up to the president.
COLLINS: Now, the president and the reason he wants to get in front of the special counsel is because he believes he can communicate his innocence to him and bring this investigation to an end. Now, the president's legal team declined the special counsel's interview request. It could set up for a showdown in court over a subpoena, presidential subpoena and only happened to one other president in office -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins with the president in New Jersey.
Up next, the other letter, what we know was in that special delivery, Senator Rand Paul gave to be given to Russian President Vladimir Putin in his solo trip to Russia. Stay with us.
[16:26:57] TAPPER: We're back with breaking news in our world lead.
The Trump administration announcing just minutes ago that they were going to impose new sanctions on Russia. These sanctions come in response to the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The United Kingdom blaming Russia for a military grade soviet era nerve agent that nearly killed them on U.K. soil. Moscow has denied that charge.
CNN's Jim Sciutto joins me now.
Jim, what can you tell me about these sanctions?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first thing we should notice, these sanctions are required by law, long existing U.S. law when a country -- when it's determined by a U.S. that a country has used chemical weapons, as the U.S. has determined here, that Russia used a chemical weapon to commit -- attempt to commit murder on U.K. soil.
We should note that the Trump administration imposing these sanctions about 30 days after the deadline imposed by that law but they are following the law as it's written. You have two potential rounds here. The first round of sanctions relatively light. It can affect some exports, financing.
The real test is going to be if Russia does not allow inspections of chemical weapons facilities and doesn't make assurances to not use them again then there are harsher sanctions, that could ban all imports and exports and diplomatic relations. That will really be the real test for this administration.
TAPPER: Interesting. So, their hand is forced. They're kind of been doing this because they have to. It's the law.
SCIUTTO: Yes, exactly.
TAPPER: And earlier today, interesting move, Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, delivering by hand a letter from President Trump giving it to Putin's administration in Russia. It's not really clear what's in the letter, though.
SCIUTTO: No, it's not. Initially, Rand Paul advertised this as something he was a courier here between President Trump and President Vladimir Putin, but we are told by White House sources that, in fact, President Trump was doing a favor for Rand Paul. Rand Paul was in Moscow. He wanted to meet with the Russian president and President Trump, this according to White House, wrote a letter of introduction and that this was not a secret communication between Trump and Putin.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, Republican Senator Rand Paul announcing he delivered a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin which he claimed was from President Donald Trump, tweeting, quote: The letter emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges.
The White House, however, says the letter was written at the request of the senator, not the president, to help Paul obtain a meeting with Putin that has not happened during his solo trip to Russia.
President Trump provided a letter of introduction, Hogan Gidley, deputy press secretary, said in a statement. In the letter, the president mentioned topics of interest that Senator Paul to discuss with President Putin. Senator Paul and Mr. Trump, however, share an interest in improving relations between the U.S. and Russia. While in Moscow, Paul spoke of the need for diplomacy.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Diplomacy, conversations, dialogue, communication, all of that is incredibly important, and my goal in coming to Russia is to say that we want to have open lines of communication.
SCIUTTO: However, Paul did not answer CNN's question when asked if he confronted Russian officials about Russia's ongoing interference in U.S. politics.
REPORTER: Senator, did you speak about election interference as well? Did that come up?
PAUL: We had general discussions about a lot of issues and basically we've decided that --