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White House Don't Know What Don McGahn Discussed with Robert Mueller; Feds Prepare Criminal Charges Against Michael Cohen; Manafort Jury Begins Day 3 of Deliberations; Interview with Representative Eric Swalwell; Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired August 20, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- Mueller's Russia probe team for 30 hours. Now we've also learned the president's lawyers were never fully debriefed on what exactly McGahn told Mueller's investigators.
Let's go to the White House, let's begin there this hour with Jeremy Diamond.
Good morning to you. What's the read from the White House this morning after we heard a lot from the president about this over the weekend?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Poppy, well, as you mentioned, a pretty remarkable revelation -- excuse me -- just this weekend that the White House counsel, Don McGahn, sat for over 30 hours of interviews with the special counsel's team. And the White House and the president's personal legal team never got a full debriefing. That has apparently rattled the White House this weekend.
We've seen the president tweet a number of times about it and insisting that he was fully OK with Don McGahn sitting with the special counsel's team but we are hearing this morning from a source familiar with the matter who says that McGahn offered no incriminating information to the special counsel's team in relation to the president. There is a big question mark around that, however, particularly given that even Don McGahn, regardless of what he says, cannot know how the special counsel is going to put all the puzzle pieces together once he gets his own testimony.
But certainly, this information reverberating around the White House. And we've seen the president using this as the latest opportunity to lash out at the special counsel.
HARLOW: This at the same time as his lawyer, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, again is making the case -- trying to make the case for the president on the networks over the weekend, but when it comes to telling the truth, he had an interesting interpretation of what the truth is. Lay it out for us.
DIAMOND: That's right. Those comments from Rudy Giuliani from yesterday on another network still making an impact here at the White House and around Washington. A lot of eyebrows raised. Let's listen to what he said yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury. And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he's going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, well, that's so silly because it's somebody's version of the truth, not the truth. He didn't have a conversation about --
CHUCK TODD, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": Truth is truth. I don't mean to go like --
GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: It has become a bad meme as Chuck Todd suggested after that interaction. Rudy Giuliani this morning trying to clean up those comments, making clear that he wasn't simply talking about the truth as a broader theme. But he was talking specifically about this notion of a he said-she said kind of situation.
Let me read you Rudy Giuliani's tweet where he said, "My statement was not meant as a pontification on moral theology, but one referring to the situation where two people make precisely contradictory statements, the classic he said-she said puzzle. Sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth, other times it doesn't."
And so that may be the case as far as what Rudy Giuliani was saying there. But it does go to this roader idea that he and the president have been trying to poke the credibility of the Mueller investigation and kind of realign the facts here and what Mr. Mueller will ultimately put out -- Poppy.
HARLOW: All right. Jeremy, appreciate the reporting in all fronts this morning.
Let's dig deeper into this with former Trump White House lawyer Jim Schultz is with me. Good morning, Jim. And Jack Quinn joins us --
JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: Good morning.
HARLOW: -- former White House counsel for the Clinton administration. Two good voices, great voices to have on all of this, this morning with your perspective and your experience in the respective White Houses.
Jim, to you, if you were sitting in your old job, with the Trump legal team, would you be concerned about the fact that McGahn gave 30 plus hours of testimony to Mueller's team over three days?
SCHULTZ: So what you have to understand is that that was part of the initial strategy by Ty Cobb and John Dowd.
HARLOW: Right. SCHULTZ: Turning over 1.4 million documents, White House documents,
having numerous White House employees go before the Mueller team and be interviewed. And that was their strategy there, was to cooperate as much as possible, get as much information out there as possible.
HARLOW: And I get it, Jim.
SCHULTZ: Nothing is done wrong.
HARLOW: I know that was the strategy.
SCHULTZ: And we would wrap it up.
HARLOW: Do you think -- I get that that was the strategy. And Dowd is sticking by the strategy, saying this was great for us. Right? If they get all these answers from other folks, they don't have to talk to the president.
But do you, Counselor, think it's a good strategy? Or would you be a little bit shaking in your boots this morning if you're sitting on the White House legal team?
SCHULTZ: I don't think I'm shaking in my boots in any way shape or form if I'm sitting in the White House legal team. But you have seen a shift in perspective. Right? With Emmet Flood on the scene now, he is -- he has been through this drill before. And he is now tightening down the reigns a little bit on what goes out the door and who gets interviewed and also most likely negotiating scope of those interviews.
So I think there's a -- philosophically I think this has evolved and I think Emmett Flood is doing the right things now to protect the White House, which is his job.
HARLOW: So one of the things we know, Jack, from "The New York Times" reporting is that some of the episodes that McGahn detailed for Mueller's team included the president's attempt and desire to fire Bob Mueller last summer.
[10:05:04] And you do note, and it's an important note, you said that there's no attorney-client privilege for a government lawyer, even counselor to the president. If you were the White House lawyer right now on that team, would you be concerned?
JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I'd be really concerned. I think a major error has been made here by the legal team. You know, these guys are like outfielders who have turned their back on the field of play. And they're speaking to the people in the stands. And that's what the Trump people are doing and appealing to the base. That's what Mr. Giuliani's presentation has been all about.
Look, what -- the opportunity that they booted away -- and this is somewhat in contradiction of Jim's point about what Emmett Flood is doing. They have been focused entirely on whether the president is going to sit down for an interview with the special counsel. Back and forth, back and forth, we're not going to do that, being very tough. In the meantime, they turn their back on the White House counsel. And he has given them 30 hours of interviews.
It is the next best thing. Not only have they gotten that, but they didn't assert executive privilege. And with that, have some leverage in order to set the terms of the interview and ensure themselves that they could be debriefed on what happened there.
HARLOW: But, I mean, Jack, you wrote an opinion piece in --
QUINN: So --
HARLOW: In February, in "The Washington Post" that you understand where they're coming from. Right? That you tried to do essentially the same thing in the Clinton White House to try to push off, push off, push off an interview.
HARLOW: But now you say that that is a misguided strategy politically but also legally. Why is it legally misguided?
QUINN: It was legally misguided in this instance because had they asserted executive privilege -- and that's the privilege that they still could have asserted. I'm not saying at the end of the day they would have prevailed had it gone to court. It may not have. But the assertion of it would have enabled them to help negotiate the terms of the interview with Mr. McGahn and certainly to ensure that they would have the opportunity for a debriefing.
The likelihood is that all of the things they wanted -- you know, that long litany of questions that were floating around town months ago.
QUINN: That they had planned to ask the president, they've asked Don McGahn what the president had to say about all of those things. So they've got -- they've got firsthand eyewitness evidence of what the president was thinking. It's not as good as --
HARLOW: Yes, except that -- right. It's not the same as asking what was your intent to the source.
QUINN: It's not --
HARLOW: But quickly, guys, I want to get you both --
QUINN: But it is definitely the next best thing.
SCHULTZ: I agree with that, Poppy --
SCHULTZ: Yes, I agree with that, Poppy, in that, yes, they could have used executive privilege as a negotiating tool on the front end. And that was probably the would have been a better strategy, you know, on hindsight being 20-20.
SCHULTZ: But what I also think is important to note that there is still an argument that executive privilege can still be asserted. You're talking the White House, which is part of the executive branch, DOJ, part of the executive branch. That doesn't get to a grand jury and that doesn't get to Congress unless executive privilege is waived.
SCHULTZ: I don't think it's been waived at this point.
HARLOW: Well, the argument is -- and this is deep down in the "Times" piece, right, that perhaps they could argue retroactively executive privilege here so that it would not be included in the Mueller report to go to Congress.
One more thing before I get you, guys, on Michael Cohen, something you agree on, Rudy Giuliani, you both think he needs to get his story straight.
Jim, to you. I mean, if not a legal asset to the president right now by saying truth is not truth, is he a political asset to the president in this White House right now? You worked in this White House. You worked on the legal team. I don't know. Is he helping by muddying the waters politically?
SCHULTZ: I have represented a lot of politicians. I have represented a governor in my home state of Pennsylvania as general counsel. When you're speaking on behalf of your client, you have to be precise. If you're going to take that step to do it on television or in the public domain, there's no exception to precision.
And he is not being precise. You know, he's giving off-the-cuff answers. He needs to be better prepared and be very precise with his answers and get his facts straight so that he is conveying that message appropriately.
HARLOW: OK. Both gentlemen, stay with me. I want to bring in my colleague Brynn Gingras who's going to report out some important news for us, and that is on the president's former attorney, former fixer, Michael Cohen, facing potentially some really tough charges here, maybe by the end of this month.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's what we're hearing. So let's break it down.
GINGRAS: Because we've known for a while, since April, since that raid of his home, hotel and office, that they were looking into his business practices. They've been under a microscope. So what we're hearing now is that possibly the amount that he could be seeing in an indictment should it come. According to "The New York Times," they are reporting that possibly he lied to lenders about his assets in order to get up to $20 million in loans for his taxi medallion businesses.
[10:10:08] And then also, tax fraud is an issue. We also know campaign -- campaign finance violations also could be an issue if there's an indictment.
HARLOW: Because of the payout to Stormy Daniels, for example?
HARLOW: That could be seen as sort of in-kind contribution to help the campaign?
GINGRAS: Exactly. That's what we've been hearing ever since the search warrant happened. However, we don't know if that's part of an indictment should one come.
GINGRAS: Again "New York Times" also reporting that it's possible if we do see an indictment, it could come as early as the end of this month. We have two weeks left in this month.
Now what we hear -- my colleagues, rather, have heard from sources is that, you know, the SDNY is very cognizant of when they actually file charges against people. They were like that with Representative Chris Collins. That was something that came up in the news conference. And they're like that with this. They don't want to do it too soon to the midterm elections. So it's possible we see it before the end of this month.
GINGRAS: Or we see it after the midterms.
HARLOW: If this does come down.
HARLOW: All right, Brynn, thank you for the reporting.
All right. Jim and Jack, back with me. How -- what do you make of this in terms of how valuable Cohen could be to the Mueller probe should he be indicted, should he agree to cooperate?
SCHULTZ: So my thinking on this is that --
HARLOW: To Jack, really, really quick, Jim.
SCHULTZ: OK. Go ahead.
QUINN: Yes. Well, my point here is, look, I'm not going to pretend to know what Michael Cohen knows that's relevant to the Mueller investigation. We don't know that. Presumably, he has some inside line of vision into some of the issues that the special counsel is looking at. But precisely what he might have, it's guess work at this point.
HARLOW: And Jim, you know that this was a man who has been wholly loyal to the president up until recently. But he also, you know, went on with George Stephanopoulos and said look, my loyalty now is to my family and my loyalty is to the country. Should the White House be concerned if he's indicted?
SCHULTZ: Look, Michael Cohen has been out there almost begging to help himself through this issue that he's gotten himself into. But again I think Jack is right. We don't know what he knows. And whether it's useful at all. And quite frankly, a lot of that is going to be, at least for the prosecutors and for him, making a judgment, even if he has something that may be worthwhile. You know, depending upon what he is looking at from a sentence perspective.
SCHULTZ: Even if he is convicted or pleads guilty, all of that is going to factor into his decision making as to he goes forward and then the prosecutors -- maybe he doesn't have anything to say that's worthwhile. So it's all speculative at this point.
HARLOW: And Jim, just to be very clear on this, though, if he were to cooperate, the reporting that -- as I understand it is that he would have to cooperate not just on a select, you know, area of focus. He would then be cooperating with feds across the board. So whether it came to cooperation in the Russia probe, et cetera, right?
SCHULTZ: Yes. Once they have you and you are a cooperator, you're -- they have you. And he's going to have to make that judge. You know, that's a tough call to make.
QUINN: He'd be available to Mueller or any other prosecutor. I mean, as Jim says, they've got you. And you have to give evidence wherever you have evidence.
HARLOW: Right. And the plea sort of doesn't all come down or the deal that you might get until you provide what the government thinks you're going to provide for them in the end.
Gentlemen, nice to have you, such important voices this morning. Thank you both.
QUINN: You bet.
HARLOW: All right. Day three today of jury deliberations in the trial of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. We're going to take you live outside the courthouse in just a few minutes.
Also John Brennan says he is considering going to court with President Trump over his security clearance being revoked. This as over 100 former officials in the intelligence community speak out with another letter against the president's move.
And a CNN exclusive. We now know that it was a U.S. bomb that was used by the Saudi-led coalition in that strike in Yemen that killed 40 children. New reaction on this tragedy ahead.
[10:18:19] HARLOW: Happening right now, the jury in Paul Manafort's bank and tax fraud trial is deliberating. This is day three of deliberations. The judge in the case citing personal threats, saying he himself has received threats and that's why he does not want the names of the jury released to the media.
Let's go to the courthouse. Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins me now.
So there's that and then there's what's happening right now behind closed doors. I mean, I don't think we've heard a peep, right, in terms of questions from the jury since we talked about those ones that came late Thursday.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. We heard the one note on Friday where the jurors said OK, we've had enough here.
SCHNEIDER: One juror has a commitment. We need to go home by 5:00 p.m. But you're right, I mean, we are in hour 15 of deliberations. And for the most part we haven't heard much from the jury. It was that first day where they asked four questions, including clarification on what reasonable doubt meant. But by all accounts, this jury is really working hard and painstakingly. They have a lot to get through. But while the jury is deliberating right now -- they started at 9:35 this morning -- there's also a bench conference that is happening right now in the courtroom between the defense team and the prosecution.
The defendant Paul Manafort, he is in the courtroom. This is all happening with the doors closed, out of public view. This is under seal. We won't know what has happened here until after the verdict. So it's really anyone's guess as to what's being discussed by the two attorneys, two sets of attorneys right now with the judge.
But again, that's all happening while the jury here is still deliberating. They're in day three of this. And they really have a lot to get through. I mean, we're talking 18 complicated counts, bank and tax fraud. We're also talking 388 documents, 27 witnesses that they have listened to.
[10:20:03] We heard from the defense team -- we've been hearing from the defense team a lot as they walk in and out of the courtroom. They've been kind of staking out in the hotel that's just across from the court. So the cameras catch them every time they walk in and out and every time the defense team has said that they are feeling good about this. They say that the longer this jury deliberates, the better they think it is for their client Paul Manafort.
You know, the defense attorney Kevin Downing, he was asked today, do you think there'll be a verdict, he said, I don't know. And then a reporter asked, how is your client feeling? The client of course being Paul Manafort. And he said, he is feeling very good about this. So the defense team putting on that happy face, pleased at least on the outside with how things are going here, Poppy. But, you know, we'll see.
This jury, we haven't heard a lot from them, just that first day with those questions. We'll see if more questions pop up today or perhaps a verdict. We will wait and see -- Poppy.
HARLOW: I mean, you're a lawyer, Jess, very quickly. Do defense attorneys ever say my client is really worried, not feeling good about this?
SCHNEIDER: No. It's all about that public persona.
HARLOW: All right.
SCHNEIDER: The public -- how they portray it. So yes, I'm sure that's what part of the defense strategy here, look good, look confident.
HARLOW: Understood. Jessica Schneider, please keep us posted. Thanks so much.
The president just launched a fresh attack just minutes ago on former CIA director John Brennan. What he said, coming up. This is as the former intelligence chief considers a lawsuit against the president.
[10:26:07] HARLOW: President Trump has a message for ex-CIA chief John Brennan, bring it on. The president moments ago wrote this, quote, "I hope John Brennan, the worst CIA director in our country's history, brings a lawsuit."
All right. This comes as Brennan says look, if I have to take this to court, I will. And it also comes as more than 175 former intel officials join the outcry over the president's decision to revoke Brennan's security clearance.
Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell who sits on the Intel Committee.
Nice to have you. Thanks for being here.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you. Good morning, Poppy.
HARLOW: Good morning. What do you think? Should Brennan take the president to court over this?
SWALWELL: Well, that's up to John Brennan. You know, I actually think that Congress should exercise more control over how these security clearances can be taken away. You know, the clearance is not for John Brennan's sake. It's actually for the safety of the United States. And while it may be punitive and petty that the president did this, he is making us less safe because the national security team now has fewer people they can draw on to make decisions and look backward to get insight as to decisions that were made in the past that may affect clear and present dangers today.
HARLOW: Some would argue, you know, that you could get, if needed, Brennan's expertise on something specific, you could get a very temporary security clearance for him to weigh in on something like that. We'll see what happens.
I want your reaction to what James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence, said yesterday to Jake Tapper. Because he's been wholly opposed to what the president has done. But he also questioned Brennan a bit. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think that John Brennan's hyperbole is an issue here, is one of the reasons we're having this crisis?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I think it is. I think, you know, John is sort of like a freight train. The common denominator among all of us that had been speaking up, though, is genuine concern about the jeopardy or threats to our institutions and values. But John and his rhetoric have become, I think, an issue in and of itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Does he have a point that perhaps Brennan has gone too far saying claims of no collusion by the president, for example, are hogwash?
SWALWELL: Well, I think John Brennan, like myself and others, we look at a burning democracy, a five alarm fire, and you can either grab a fire hose or you can pour more gasoline on it. And I see Donald Trump and enablers in Congress pouring more gasoline on it. And these are real issues that if we don't speak up now, we could lose everything we treasure.
HARLOW: Yes. So --
SWALWELL: And you know, I -- go ahead, Poppy.
HARLOW: You don't think there's an issue with Brennan's language? That he's using? It's not going too far in your opinion?
SWALWELL: I don't believe so at all. And I think, you know, this is a time in our country's history where, where you stand is how you'll be judged. And whether we have a democracy or not is going to depend on where a lot of people stand.
HARLOW: Let's talk about where you've been standing a lot, Congressman, and that is in Iowa. Ten times over the last year and a half is what has been reported. And I like Iowa. My dad is from Iowa. I like the corn fields.
SWALWELL: I was born there. Yes.
HARLOW: Yes. You were born there. There you go. People running for president also like Iowa a lot and spend a lot of time there.
SWALWELL: I heard about that.
HARLOW: Have you? Are you going to run for president?
SWALWELL: Well, I'm going to do all I can first to win my way back to Congress. I'm helping a lot of colleagues, particularly there's three seats in Iowa where we have two of our candidates are under the age of 40. And then after the midterms, Poppy, I am going to consider it. But right now, you know, I'm helping candidates who are stepping up to protect our health care, protect paychecks and protect the democracy. And I'm just inspired by so many new candidates who are bursts of new energy, ideas and leadership.
HARLOW: So there was the news in there, I am considering it. So not a denial. You're thinking about running for president. Why do you think that you would be, A, your party's best shot at the Oval Office, and, B, the single best person to lead this country?
SWALWELL: Well, Poppy, this president has just taken a wrecking ball to so many freedoms that help give me, the first generation person in my family to go to college, an opportunity. My -- I was raised to believe that if you work hard it means something. And I think that having experience and energy to give Americans a healthcare guarantee, invest in modern schools, to make sure that we green our grid and our infrastructure --