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Report: Giuliani Says He Will Unload on Mueller If Probe Is Not Over in Two To Three Weeks; Charles Blow Said If Audio of Trump Saying The "N" Word Is Found It Would Increase Support from His Base; Manafort's Defense Team Makes A Final Pitch to Jury; Manafort's Defense Team Cites His Work for The Trump Campaign And Other Campaigns As His Primary Defense; White House Cannot Guarantee Trump Has Not Used The "N" Word. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 15, 2018 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me. The White House briefing is set to begin any moment there, as the defense is about to give its final pitch to the jury in the fraud trial of the president's former campaign chairman. And as a verdict on Paul Manafort draws near, questions of race and this president are drawing even more controversy.

All of this and Trump's attorney is making a pointed threat toward the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Rudy Giuliani telling Bloomberg News, if Mueller doesn't finish the Russia investigation in, quote, unquote, in the next two or three weeks, we will all just unload on him like a ton of bricks. As we wait to see Sarah Sanders from behind the podium, let me begin this hour with CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod, used to serve as senior adviser to President Obama. A pleasure as always to have you on, sir.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey there, Brooke. What does it look like if they unload on him? What have they been doing for all these months it seems to me that would be a hard thing to distinguish. You know?

BALDWIN: Day-to-day. I mean, just even thinking about this time yesterday, right? And it's like she poured gas on this fire when you had to have one of the reporters ask her the question, has the president, to your knowledge, ever said the "n" word, and, you know, she said the president had addressed it but also couldn't definitively say, no. I've been in every room with him. And I am wondering first and foremost, what do you think Sarah Sanders is going to walk into today?

AXELROD: Yes, well, I'm sure she's been lectured about this. It will be interesting if she changes her nuances on this. It really seems like she was trying to protect herself in that briefing yesterday. Because there have been many times in the past where she has asserted things that turned out not to be true. And it was if she wanted to cover herself and kind of take out a little insurance policy in case --

BALDWIN: In case he has -- AXELROD: Something surfaces she didn't know about. Excuse me?

BALDWIN: No, in case he had such --

AXELROD: Exactly. Absolutely. Yes, exactly. So that was an interesting moment. I think we'll look back at that moment and remember that moment. And I've always said, the toughest job in Washington is to be Donald Trump's spokesperson, because you never know when the branch is going to get sawed off behind you.

BALDWIN: You said change her nuance. How would she change it today?

AXELROD: Yes. Well, I don't know. I mean, she had to just make a harder assertion that such a tape didn't exist and such a statement has never been made. She clearly isn't confident about that. So, I think that would be a tough thing for her to do. But I'm sure the president wasn't thrilled about the coverage of her briefing yesterday.

BALDWIN: I want to play a moment for you. This is Charles Blow, "New York Times" opinion columnist, CNN political commentator. He was on our morning show here at CNN, and had this great conversation, thoughtful conversation, about what a lot of people are discussing, right, race in this country, the president, and he was talking about, you know, if there is -- if there is a tape of Trump saying the "n" word that this is Charles Blow's thinking, it would increase support among Trump supporters, and he added this. Let me play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES BLOW, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, "NEW YORK TIMES" OPINION COLUMNIST: If you're still supporting him after Charlottesville, if you're still supporting him after what he said about Haiti and an African country and still supporting him after what he said about Mexicans, if you're still supporting him after he said Islam hates us, then this is what you want from him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think his support -- again, it's a 42 percent -- all 42 percent are supporting him because of this rather than in spite of it?

BLOW: Does it matter? That's the question. If you can turn a blind eye, because you don't have skin in that game --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Literally.

BLOW: Literally. Right? Your skin doesn't look like that. Then that means you're part of it. You're complicit in it. It doesn't mean you have to wake up every morning actively hating someone. Animus is not required for someone to be a racist or white supremacist. It is not. And that is a baking fallacy about it. People think you have to hate in order to arrange people in a hierarchy. No, you don't. You can just simply believe that is true. You can simply believe that racism and white supremacy produce better outcomes for everyone. That black and brown people will be better off too if white people are just in charge. If you just follow this man, what he wants to do, you'll be better off for this. People think like that. That 42 percent has turned a blind eye to what he's doing.

[14:05:00] Or are they actively cheering it if you look at some of those rallies what he's doing. They're part of it. There is no separation from me between the person who has the racist philosophy and the person who supports the person with the racist philosophy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: David? Do you agree?

AXELROD: Well, look. There's no doubt that there's been ample evidence. This is not a new story. I mean, I'm of the mind if the tape surfaced, it would surprise no one. And Charles is quite right, that the president's supporters have stuck with him through many, many chapters of evidence that he aids and abets racism in this country. And he exploits it for his own political purposes. I think the real issue is, does this contain his support, and I think there's some evidence of that, as well. You know, the president basically has been spinning his wheels in the high 30s to low 40s throughout his administration in terms of approval rating. We've seen a departure from the typical Republican vote in communities around the country, particularly suburban communities, particularly among women. So, I think that there are limits to the dog whistle politics. And every time one of these things surfaces, I think that hardens. So, I'm not disagreeing that I don't think that tape will either shock people or change the view of his supporters. But I think it does make it even more difficult with each chapter added for him to grow his support.

BALDWIN: Former president Barack Obama. You know him better than most. What do you think he is thinking right now?

AXELROD: Well, I think -- I don't need to interpret what he is thinking. And I wouldn't presume to speak for him. But, you know, he's someone who, A, believes in the institutions of our democracy, so the sullying and sundering of those institutions would be of great concern to him. And he's someone who ran for office on the premise that we share values and we share interests in each other as Americans. And tried not to exploit but rather to build bridges between Americans. And that's clearly not the policy of this president. And, of course, what is the policy of this president is trying to undo every policy that Barack Obama tried to implement as president. So, whether it's the Affordable Care Act or action to deal with climate change or any number of other things, the guiding principle of the Trump administration has been to try and reverse that. And that's very popular with the president's political base. But I don't think I need to -- I don't need to address whether it's popular or not with the previous president.

BALDWIN: Sure. Sure. Also thinking ahead to when we see Sarah Sanders. She too yesterday was sort of blaming the media for fixating on this whole Omarosa story. But I would push back and others would push back, saying it's her boss. It's the president of the United States who, you know, in a time frame of 10 or 12 hours tweeted about her nine or 10 times. And so, I am wondering, you know, this is about impulse control, right? Or lack thereof? Go ahead, David. AXELROD: Well, first of all, I think it's deeper than just the fact

that he tweeted eight times. He created Omarosa as a public figure. As has been commented on and written about. She is in many ways in his image. She's playing the game the way he plays it. She is -- and so, you know, the thing that I think irritates him in part is that, you know, she was in his cast and she's turned on him. But she plays the same media game. And so he is responsible, not just because of the last eight tweets, but the fact is, you know, he was the one who raised her up and promoted her. And it does speak to -- and I think many things, the Manafort trial going on. The Michael Cohen stuff. There's so many different chapters here. The president belittling his own attorney general, who two years ago was his closest political ally. You know, Donald Trump has surrounded himself -- he's created a world in his own image, and now it's coming back to haunt him.

[14:10:00] BALDWIN: Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, was talking recently, and essentially admitting every time now that he's been coming on TV, the whole strategy -- we talked so much about it being PR. He says his strategy is to confuse everyone. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: He didn't know. I know he didn't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if he did?

GIULIANI: I know it, even beyond being his lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he knew, is it a problem?

GIULIANI: No. And --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

GIULIANI: No. He didn't know. I'm not going to get into the hypothetical. He did not know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Here he was.

GIULIANI: He didn't know. I know he didn't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if he did?

GIULIANI: I know it, even beyond being his lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he knew, is it a problem?

GIULIANI: No. And --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

GIULIANI: No. He didn't know. I'm not going to get into the hypothetical. He did not know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Because you get into the hypothetical about Mueller and the Comey --

GIULIANI: That confuses the hell out of people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If fact-counting is anything, we never had anybody with a level of mendacity he has.

GIULIANI: It's in the eye of the beholder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, facts are not in the eye of the beholder.

GIULIANI: So, saying, you know, he wants -- confusion is the point. That they'll unload on, you know, the special counsel if this whole thing isn't over in a couple of weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: What has happened with Rudy Giuliani?

AXELROD: Well, look. I think this is his assignment, you know, collusion confusion is his assignment.

BALDWIN: Trademark that, David Axelrod.

AXELROD: He's been at that from the very beginning. But, I mean, the thing that is breath taking is how often he contradicts himself. He was the one who suggested earlier that there was a conversation. Now he says there wasn't a conversation. But I think the most telling thing he said was that, you know, facts are somehow fungible. That there are no -- there is no ultimate truth. There are no incontrovertible facts. That is the core philosophy of Donald Trump and his communications -- you know, approach, which is to try and dismiss inconvenient facts by introducing what Kellyanne Conway once called alternative facts. And that's -- Rudy Giuliani's become the master of that. He's not really there to represent the president in courts of law. He's there to represent the president on television. He speaks to the base. And he tries to throw smoke out there to somehow shroud the reality of what's going on. The one person who I don't think is clouded by all of this is probably bob Mueller, whom I guess is not much interest in Rudy Giuliani's commentary, and is going about his business. And he'll either have a case to make or he won't. And I think he'll deliver it in due course, based on the work that he's doing and not based on some schedule that the president and his television lawyers throw out.

BALDWIN: David Axelrod, fungible facts and collusion confusion. Bumper stickers, perhaps. Thank you so much. And just a quick note, as always, on David. Thank you on the action files, guests include editors from the "Washington Post." Saturday, 7:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN. As we wait for Sarah Sanders to take that podium at the White House, closing arguments are under way in the Paul Manafort trial. New details emerging from that courthouse. What the defense is telling the jury right now, and why they just mentioned the Trump campaign. A live report, coming up next.

[14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Moments ago, Paul Manafort's defense team began their final pitch to the jury after 10 days of testimony, 27 witnesses. Their argument is essentially this: the government has not proven its case. Much of the trial of Trump's former campaign chairman has centered around this whole document trail alongside the testimony of key witness, Rick Gates. The prosecution spent the morning laying out the case that Manafort's emails, memos and financial records were quote unquote, littered with lies. The jury is preparing to deliberate. The 18 bank fraud, tax and foreign banking charges in this first case brought to trial by the special counsel Robert Mueller's team.

So, with me Gloria Borger, David Chalian and criminal defense attorney Rachel Kugel. So, Gloria starting with you, because I know you have been in the weeds on this whole thing, we know now enclosing that the defense brought up the Trump campaign. We note that the judge had not wanted the "T" word being brought up, being Trump. But they have citing Manafort's work on the Trump campaign. Can you just tell me more about that and what they are trying to show.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what they are trying to do is talk about Manafort as a longtime trusted political operative, not only in the Trump campaign but throughout decades. That people relied on him in political campaigns. It was effectively since they didn't put up a case or character witnesses. It was their own way of saying, look, this guy is a good man whom very important people trusted to do very important jobs. So that is why they kind of brought it up. And then they basically said that what the prosecution was doing was trying to concoct a scheme that they say did not exist by connecting the dots. In a way that they should not have been connected.

[14:20:00] So that is their response to the prosecution.

BALDWIN: Rachel, for you, the defense attorney here, Richard Westling's remarks so far, this is the notes we have, just kind of tearing needs around from the federal courthouse. So far, I have underlined the idea that Paul Manafort became the special counsel's victim in a selected process of pulling his financial records to concoct a narrative of an elaborate fraud scheme. So that is a picture they are trying to --

RACHEL KUGEL, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think what it points to and it goes to Rick Gates too, or at least their theory on Rick Gates. It's that old saying, it's not just about getting that canary to sing but the concern is getting that canary to compose. And so, what they are essentially saying --

BALDWIN: Not just saying but compose.

KUGEL: Look, Rick Gates is not just singing about Paul Manafort, he is actually making up the crime that effectively didn't exist or didn't happen. Or if they happen was solely committed by Rick Gates.

BALDWIN: And again, 30,000-foot view, David Chalian. This is Robert Mueller's first huge test, so why did this matter so much for him going forward?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is his first test. His name is not been mentioned in court at all throughout this process. It matters so much because everyone is sort of from the Trump Russia investigation case in sort of suspended animation waiting to see if Mueller notches a victory here or has a defeat, and how that changes the psychological dynamics of what's up play with Mueller's negotiations with Trump legal team. How he may decide on timing of wrapping up certain portions of the investigation and issuing a report or not. So, everyone is sort of waiting to see if indeed because of however the Manafort trial comes out, does the earth shift beneath the Russia investigation that he is leading?

BORGER: Does it make if he were to be convicted, this make him then more likely -- we know he's facing another trial -- doesn't make him more likely to cooperate with Mueller if that is what Mueller wants. And if that is what Mueller needs on anything to do with the Russia investigation. As we have said that has stayed out of this proceeding. But that doesn't mean they could not use Manafort at some point in the future. So that's also another possibility.

BALDWIN: The other piece of this, Rachel, I am curious, everybody said, what, when the defense rested yesterday. Closing arguments today but they just rested and I'm curious if you're sitting as a juror, how do you interpret that?

KUGEL: I mean, I think you would be surprised that when you're in that role as juror, you take it very seriously. You take the instructions that the judge gives you very seriously. Those instructions include the fact that you are not allowed to presume anything, good, bad or otherwise from a defendant's decision not to testify for example. As far as them not putting on a case. In some sense, too much is made of this because it's pretty common obviously from a defense standpoint to say for your defense to be my guy is innocent, unless and until the state can meet their very, very high burden and in this case they haven't done that. But also, there is a case to be put on. It might not be a direct case but it's a case through cross-examination. That's what was put on here. There was a case put on.

BALDWIN: Gates, poking holes, and this is the guy. Got it. Rachel, thank you. David and Gloria don't go too far we're waiting for the briefing to happen at the White House. Live pictures. Quick break and we're back in a moment.

[14:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: As we wait for that White House briefing to begin this afternoon, I have with me White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, and Abby Phillip. Kaitlan, let me start with you talking about the briefing that was yesterday and the rare mea culpa talking about African-American unemployment numbers. Remind us about what happened.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We don't often see Sarah Sanders correct herself in the way she did yesterday. As a justification for how the president's tweet about Omarosa, the former White House aide who has written the tell-all book with stunning allegations about the president, she said that wasn't a racial tweet and she justified that by saying the president has really good numbers for African-American employment. In fact, she said the president's numbers were so good that he surpassed what Barack Obama did in his eight years in office saying he had only created about 200,000 or so jobs for African-Americans. Now, those numbers were wildly off. It's closer to 3 million jobs according to the Labor Department and that is something that the president's Economic Council Advisory Board later took the blame for, saying they had given Sarah Sanders the wrong numbers and she apologized on Twitter.

Something she doesn't often do but she did do that last night. But it's the context of this, that the White House was using that to say the president's insult about a former staffer, one of the highest paid staffers in this White House and certainly one of the highest ranking African-American officials in this White House, that it wasn't a racial tweet. Now, that wasn't the only defense they used yesterday but it comes as we've seen them really struggle to defend themselves in wake of the allegations in this book. Some of the allegations that are certainly unsubstantiated but that is what they've been trying to do to defend themselves but certainly it doesn't seem to have been working in their favor so far.

BALDWIN: And Abby, I was talking to David Axelrod, talking about the briefing yesterday and he was saying, that's one of those briefings that we'll remember for a long time and part of the reason being, you have you know, a reporter actually asking the press secretary has she ever heard the president say the n word and it spiraled from there. Are you surprised they are holding a briefing again today?

[14:30:00] ABBEY PHILLIPS, CNN White House correspondent: It is a little bit surprising. First of all, Brooke, there have not been very many briefings at all this summer. The White House rarely held briefings as few as once a week or fewer than that. After what happened yesterday to see Sarah Sanders be willing to come out today, we don't know if she'll come out alone or bring someone else with her. It is interesting.