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Report: "New York Times" Says McGahn Spoke to Mueller For Over 30 Hours; "Times" Says McGahn Feared He Was Being Set Up to Take the Blame; Trump's Lawyers Do Not Know What McGahn Told Mueller; Trump's Rat Tweet Shows He Thinks That John Dean Is the Watergate Villain; Melania Trump Gives Anti-Bullying Speech as Trump Throws Insults. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right, Wolf, thank you so much. Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN. The president is intensifying his attacks against Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Today he called Mueller's team of prosecutors, quote, thugs. Also claiming the man leading the Russia investigation in disgraced and discredited. The president's tweet coming after the "New York Times" revealed over the weekend that White House Counsel Don McGahn is cooperating, extensively, with team Mueller.

CNN has learned that President Trump's personal lawyers were not give a full account of what exactly was discussed there, but President Trump says McGahn is not a rat and insists he allowed McGahn to be interviewed. Remember here, you and I, American taxpayers, pay McGahn's salary and not the president. We start with White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond, live at the White House. Tell me more about the communication between Trump's legal team, his personal lawyers, and the White House counsel, Don McGahn.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It kicked off this weekend with the remarkable revelation that you mentioned that the White House and the president's personal legal team were not fully debriefed by Don McGahn or his attorney about the 30 hours of interviews that we can now confirm that Don McGahn sat for with special counsel's team. A source familiar with McGahn's interview says that McGahn did not provide any incriminating information to Mueller about the president. Nonetheless, Don McGahn has been the White House counsel since the president stepped into office. He was around on the campaign before then and particularly during his time at the White House he has been present for a series of crucial moments including the firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president's attempts to fire the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.

For now, Brooke, the White House is declining to comment any further on this. They put out a statement over the weekend insisting that the president and Don McGahn have a very strong relationship. Nonetheless, the president is using this of course as an opportunity to once again move toward criticizing the special counsel once again. Some of the tweets that you just mentioned over there. He is using in particular these 30 hours of interviews with Don McGahn as a jumping point to say that Mueller is looking for trouble. Brooke. BALDWIN: Jeremy, thank you. Just the backdrop to all of this, the

president's frustration here, keep all this in mind as well. Right now, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is close to learning his fate. Jurors are still deliberating whether Manafort indeed committed bank and tax fraud as prosecutors are alleging. Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and several other aides have already pleaded guilty in the special counsel's investigation. And finally, prosecutors could be preparing criminal charges against the president's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen. We are hearing Michael Cohen to be charged by tend of the month. Just for perspective on what's going on.

Two more great voices joining me to analyze all of the above. Paul Rosenzweig, in addition to being senior counsel to Ken Starr, also the former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security. Looking back to you, sir.

And welcome back to Jack Quinn, our CNN legal analyst, who was White House counsel during the Clinton administration. Gentlemen, I have questions for you. Paul starting with you here. On the motivation of Don McGahn to cooperate with the Mueller team. According to the "Times," in this breathtaking piece over the weekend it seemed to be the fear of Trump setting McGahn up to take the blame for any possible wrongdoing. So, if you are Don McGahn isn't it a no brainer to cooperate?

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, SENIOR COUNSEL TO KEN STARR, ALSO THE FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR POLICY AT THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I think it is a no brainer and it is a no brainer for a more fundamental reason, which is that in the end he doesn't have that much of a choice. As you said in the opening, he works for the people the United States. And there's a very limited scope to the confidentiality of his agreement of his discussions with the president, especially when they involve conduct that might be legitimately the subject of criminal investigation. So far from -- beyond being afraid of taking the fall, full, he simply has that obligation as a servant of the American people who works for us in effect.

BALDWIN: Uh-huh. To the point of that, very important delineation, and Jack, you know all about this as White House counsel. The White House counsel is not the president's private lawyer. The White House counsel protects the office of the president. First to you. Just explain why executive privilege and attorney/client privilege are important distinctions here?

[14:05:00] JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is really not a matter of attorney/client privilege for the reason that Paul largely outlined. Don McGahn is not working for the president as his personal attorney. As paul mentioned, Don McGahn works for the people of the United States. Like all government lawyers do. And in that regard, he has an obligation to cooperate with criminal inquiries, grand jury proceedings, and the like. All that said, this -- I think the president was really not well served in the way this unfolded. What I mean by that is that there was certainly at least an arguable basis for the White House to assert executive privilege if for no other reason than that they might have been able to negotiate some terms of the interview with Mr. McGahn.

BALDWIN: But they waived it. They waived it.

QUINN: That's the point.


QUINN: They ended up waiving it. And that waive will now cause consequences in terms of others who may be interviewed in coming days. Indeed, I think that one of the really serious implications of this whole thing is that others are standing by. They see that Don McGahn went in and talked to the special counsel. They know that he may have been a better witness than the president. What I mean by that is that the president would have been presumably guarded and not as forthcoming. Don McGahn for the reasons you outlined had ever interest in the world in essentially telling all. So presumably, he did. Others -- now, again, we are assuming here that there may have been something untoward, something concerning. If others have guilty knowledge, they are sitting there, having watched the president's counsel go in and testify before the special counsel. Nobody wants to be the last one standing. Nobody wants to watch one's colleagues go in, spill the beans, and be the one who is last in line to cooperate. I think there is a good chance you will see a lot of people making phone calls to the special counsel's office asking when their interview can take place.

BALDWIN: Sure. And we don't know -- none of us know what beans McGahn could be spilling. But, Paul --

QUINN: Correct.

BALDWIN: -- to follow up on Jack's point on privilege here, on executive privileging since they waived it. Here's my question to you. Jim Acosta reports that Trump's team still thinks they can assert the executive privilege despite the fact they have waived it already. Can you retrospectively say hang on a second we take back our waiving of the executive privilege and therefore everything you have said and cooperated with the team should be discounted?

ROSENZWEIG: That's highly unlikely to be successful.


ROSENZWEIG: There is a rare circumstance in which there is an inadvertent waiver that you can call back. If I for example, sends you a privileged e-mail by accident because I typed the wrong name into the "to" line. Sometimes you can unring that bell. But in all other circumstances it is almost uniformly the law that a waiver in one circumstance will redound all the way down the line in all the institutions to which it can be put. You can't put the egg back in the yoke, you can't unpeel the banana, it just doesn't happen.

BALDWIN: Was that carelessness on behalf of the Trump legal team, gentlemen?

ROSENZWEIG: The waiver doesn't even have to be formal. As a practical matter they have waived the privilege. As Paul said, it's going to be very, very hard to you know, reel that back in.

BALDWIN: OK. Go ahead quickly.

QUINN: I was going to say, I'm not so sure that they were wrong. There is sense in which, portraying themselves as cooperative, especially in a circumstance where the ability to claim the privilege is a little problematic in the first instance, might have been -- might have been a good decision. But now that they are scrambling it certainly seems the me it wasn't as well thought out as it should have been.


ROSENZWEIG: Not least of all because they didn't ensure they could debrief Mr. McGahn.


ROSENZWEIG: It's the breath taking while they were totally focused on what might unfold in term of the president submitting for an interview.

BALDWIN: They took their eye off the ball.

ROSENZWEIG: Completely took their eye off the ball and it hit them in the nose.

BALDWIN: Let's go back to 1998. The president then was Bill Clinton. And a Republican senator by the name of Mitch McConnell stood to defend the then special counsel's investigation from partisan attacks. Roll it.

[14:10:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R), NOW MAJORITY LEADER: Our nation is indeed at a crossroads, will we pursue the search for truth or will we dodge, weave, and evade the truth. I am referring to the investigation of serious allegations of illegal conduct by the president of the United States. That the president has engaged in a persistent pattern and practice of obstruction of justice. Mr. President I'm deeply troubled today because Judge Starr's pursuit of the truth is being undermined every step of the way, every single day in the press by those whose sole mission is to attack and impugn the court appointed independent prosecutor and the congressionally created process.


BALDWIN: Paul, is it as simple as this was then, and this is now?

ROSENZWEIG: I think that's it. There is nothing worse unanimous a situation al ethicist. It has flipped for Mitch McConnell. Jack and I were on opposite sides of the Clinton disputes beck than n the day. But to turn around now and say what is sauce for the goose is no longer sauce for the gander -- it's pretty transparent, actually.

BALDWIN: Jack? QUINN: Right. That's absolutely right.

BALDWIN: OK. Although, Judge Kavanaugh hasn't had any trouble changing his mind. That's for a whole other conversation. Thank you both.

The president says his White House counsel is not a rat like John Dean, which shows that the president looks at the former Nixon lawyer as the villain in Watergate. Let's get into that get our history straight. And as the president launches insult after insult, calling people thugs and disgraces his wife today, guess what she did. She gave a speech on anti-bullying. We will play it for you in full and the pope finally responding to the disturbing report out of Pennsylvania involving hundreds of predator priests. Did his words hit the right tone? What he left out coming up. You are watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: This is CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. It certainly seems that President Trump values loyalty above almost all else. So, when he tweets that his White House counsel isn't, quote a John Dean type, then all caps a RAT, for meeting with and talking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, you have to wonder, what does the president mean by calling Dean a rat? So, flashback, 1973, where John Dean, then president Richard Nixon's White House counsel flipped and helped bring down Nixon's presidency. Is this the rat Trump is tweeting about?


JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: The one who was in the White House and became somewhat familiar with its inner workings, the Watergate matter was an inevitable outgrowth of a climate of excessive concern over the political impact of demonstrators, excessive concern over leaks, and insatiable appetite for political intelligence, all coupled with a do-it-yourself White House staff regardless of the law.


BALDWIN: Now, just this past Sunday, here's John Dean calling in and talking to Anna Cabrera, being called a rat by president of the United States.


ANNA CABRERA, CNN HOST: He must be a John Dean type rat.

DEAN: All caps on that rat, too.

CABRERA: Yes. No kidding. What's your response? What do you think about that?

DEAN: I did respond in tweet that I don't think that Trump understands what's going on. We know he's somebody who does not really reveal his full factual problems with his attorneys. They have to sort of find it out the hard way. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: I have with me, CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali. Anna asked the perfect follow-up question, which is Trump isn't siding with the truth. If he sees John Dean as the rat, dot, dot, dot, are you seeing Nixon as the hero?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I learned when I was director of the Nixon Library that there is a core of people in the United States who are Nixon Watergate defenders. For them, John Dean is a villain. So, President Trump, who was friends with Roy Cohen, is channeling that kind of hatred of John Dean. Why did they hate him? Let's talk about why they hate John Dean.

[14:20:00] In March of '73, John Dean goes to the president and in a famous conversation called the cancer on the presidency conversation. He lays this out for the president a cover-up that is ongoing. John Dean doesn't know that the president knows a lot of this cover-up. Because John Dean is actually not that close to the president. But he lays this out and he says, Mr. President, we have a problem. We are paying hush money. We are being blackmailed by these Watergate burglars. And he tells this to the president so the president can stop it and say, we're not going this.

But instead, the president says, well, how much money is it going to cost to keep it going? John Dean comes out of this conversation, and then over the next couple of days begins to think that oh, you know what, they are going to hang me out to dry. This president knows about the cover-up. He's in the middle of it. And I'm the next to go. He goes to a -- he gets a criminal defense attorney and then he goes to the prosecutors. This is in late March of '73.


NAFTALI: Then he becomes the first insider to testify that the president was involved in the cover-up. And he does this in front of the world in the summer of '73 before the Watergate -- Senate Watergate committee. That's why he's considered a villain. It turns out --

BALDWIN: He's telling the truth.

NAFTALI: Well, let me tell you this. He didn't know about the taping system. All this testimony he gives when he doesn't know whether anybody can actually prove it. But he knows it's true. Then the tapes are revealed. Then the tapes are played. He makes a few mistakes. None of them are perjurious. It turns out he is telling the truth. The president is at the center. But for Nixon defenders they never forgave him for turning his back on the president even though that meant committing a crime along with him.

BALDWIN: Not only is our current president referring to this man who told the truth, calling him a rat he also compared the Special Counsel Robert Mueller to one of the most disgraced men in American history, Senator Joseph McCarthy. NAFTALI: It's bad enough that he is using godfather language to talk

about Dean. What he said about Mueller is beyond outrageous. It's poisonous. Let's step back a bit and talk about Joseph McCarthy. The United States faced a problem in that the Soviets were penetrating the U.S. government. Their greatest penetrations that happened had happened in World War II. There was a reason to be concerned.

Joseph McCarthy see as political opportunity. He's not talking to the people in the FBI who know the real story. He is not talking to people in the CIA. He starts making up figures and saying there are 200 Soviet agents in the State Department. Completely made up. Every charge he leveled was made up. He was a demagogue. He was taking America's natural fears and fanning them. All right, who in our political universe today is taking natural fears that Americans might have about ISIS, about terrorists, and fanning them for political gain, I don't think it's Robert


BALDWIN: Not Robert Mueller.

NAFTALI: No. It's not Bob Mueller.

BALDWIN: Thank you for taking us on a history lesson, all of us. Tim. Thank you so much.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

BALDWIN: The first lady delivering a speech today against cyber bullying as her husband spends his morning calling people rats, tweeting insults. Does one message work despite the other?

And former President Jimmy Carter with a sharp rebuke of President Trump calling him, in a word, a disaster. Is there a scenario that he, perhaps along with other former presidents can actually speak out together? Let's talk about that, coming up.


BALDWIN: While President Trump trolls his political enemies on Twitter, First Lady Melania Trump was headlining a summit today on the dangers of cyber bullying. She gave a speech as part of her Be Best campaign where she pushed for educating children on responsible and safe social media habits.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: Social media is an inevitable part of our children's daily lives. It can be used in many positive ways but can also be destructive and harmful when used incorrectly. Let's face it, most children are more aware of the benefits and pitfalls of social media than some adults. But we still need to do all we can to provide them with information and tools for successful and safe online habits.


BALDWIN: Kate Bennett is our White House reporter. I applaud the first lady. I'm all about be best. Given the man that she married how does she do this with a straight face?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think it's one of the most compelling first couples we have seen in some time. It feels like a split screen marriage. She said many times and again the spokesperson said it today she is going to move forward with what she thinks is right. She understands the criticism. It's not going to deter her. There are a lot of things in that statement. What she feels is right, she might think something else is wrong but she's not saying he's wrong. She takes it up to the edge of don't be like this guy, instead let's focus and be this way.

She is saying a bunch of things and mostly sticking to her message and what is interpreted about what is happening behind the scenes or how the president feels is left for us in this vacuum sort of to write the script. I think it is interesting and an independent way to lead a first lady message that's not in tandem at all with that of the president.

BALDWIN: So, when she says things like today, when she said let's face it, kids understand social media better than adults, is that -- is that her taking a shot at her husband?

BENNETT: I mean, she will tell you no. I think in this sense she's sort of damned if she does, damned if she doesn't. We look at the Lebron James incident a couple weeks ago when she through her spokesman said Lebron is doing good things after her husband criticized him. And then people said she is going against her husband. She can't win either way but I think what she is doing here is staying on her message but leaving the door to interpret sure my husband is not the best example. She said it before. I told him not the tweet. He is an adult he knows the consequences. Sort of feels to me like she has almost written him off to as too late to change but let's focus on this next generation.