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Michael Cohen Set to Be Indicted?; Trump and McCarthyism; Trump Attorney Argues 'Truth Isn't Truth'; White House Counsel Speaking to Robert Mueller. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Tan Kheng Hua, thank you so much. Good luck. And, again, congratulations.


BALDWIN: We continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

We start with the president of the United States and a new tirade against the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Today, Trump called Mueller's team of prosecutors -- quote -- "thugs," also claiming the man leading the Russia investigation is disgraced and discredited.

This as a key question looms for Trump: What did White House counsel Don McGahn tell Mueller's team in nearly 30 hours of interviews?

CNN has learned that President Trump's personal lawyers were not given a full account of what was discussed. But President Trump says McGahn is not a rat and insists he allowed McGahn to be interviewed.

So we start with Kaitlan Collins, our White House correspondent.

And, Kaitlan, let's start with this connection, the communication or perhaps lack thereof between Trump's personal legal team and the White House counsel, Don McGahn. What do you know?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we're seeing how they're still scrambling to figure out what it was that Don McGahn said during those 30 hours that he sat down with those investigators from Robert Mueller's team.

And it's pretty clear that they don't know a lot. We heard from Rudy Giuliani, who is the president's lead attorney on his outside legal team handling the Russia probe, on this yesterday saying that he's relying on what John Dowd told him about what McGahn said during those sit-downs with the special counsel.

Of course, John Dowd was on the president's legal team last year, but left the team five months ago. So he hasn't been around in five months. Yet that is the person that Rudy Giuliani is relying on for his information that he is essentially getting secondhand here, Brooke. So clearly we're seeing this scramble set off to figure out what it was it that was said, since no one on the president's legal team asked Don McGahn for a full debrief of what he said. And we're seeing very clearly the president's agitation through his Twitter feed this morning over this questioning why McGahn -- or why the special counsel needed to sit down with McGahn for so long for those 30 hours.

But, Brooke, something to note there that -- two things. McGahn has been at the center of a lot of the things that Robert Mueller is looking into, including the president's attempt to fire Robert Mueller last summer, something that he instructed Don McGahn to do, but Don McGahn refused to do.

And, secondly, the president often confuses and blurs the line over what Don McGahn's role here is exactly. Of course, he's the White House counsel, which means he is representing the presidency, not the president.

But at time, sources have told me the president -- that President Trump confuses those two and often thinks sometimes it Don McGahn is acting as his own attorney.

So those are two things to consider when you note that the White House counsel did sit down with the special counsel for 30 hours, something that a lot of experts and legal experts have said is highly, highly unusual.

BALDWIN: And again, Kaitlan, the president attacking -- I think it was "The New York Times" says he's attacked Mueller on Twitter 250 times and, again, disgraced and discredited.

COLLINS: That's right. He's continuing to lash out at Robert Mueller as he's showing his frustration over this revelation about Don McGahn. We're seeing that pretty clearly on his Twitter feed.

But also, Brooke, he's implying that the special counsel could affect the midterm elections this fall. You see that in his Twitter feed today, saying that it can affect those elections, calling him disgraced, calling him discredited, even though that doesn't agree with a CNN poll has shown, which is actually that public faith in Robert Mueller's investigation has increased since the last time they were surveyed.

You can see there from June it was 41 percent approval of how Robert Mueller is handling in the investigation. And now it is 47 percent. Of course, the president calling him disgraced. Just on Friday, we heard from the president himself as he was leaving the White House to go to New Jersey. He was saying that he feels that Robert Mueller is conflicted, saying that he's close friends with the former FBI director who President Trump fired, James Comey, even though he didn't cite any other evidence for why he thinks he's conflicted.

But clearly, Brooke, we're trying to see the president here sway public opinion to agree with him that the special counsel needs to wrap things up here.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you at the White House.

Let's analyze.

Caroline Polisi is with me, a federal and white-collar criminal defense attorney. And CNN legal analyst Paul Callan is with us, a former prosecutor.

All right, you two, good to see both of you.

Paul, just first to you. In reading this "New York Times," this bombshell reporting over the weekend on McGahn cooperating with the Mueller team, the motivation, they say, according their reporting, seemed to be the fear of Trump setting McGahn up to take the blame for any possible wrongdoing.

Again, White House counsel serving the people, not the president. So did he have any other choice but to cooperate?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's an interesting question because -- and there is another thing about McGahn that people are not talking about so much.

He's not just White House counsel. He was counsel to the Trump campaign before Trump was elected. So he's somebody who has had a close relationship with Donald Trump throughout the entire time period where the Russia investigation is looking at particular facts.


So, there were a lot of good reasons that he could have been subpoenaed by Mueller just on the pre-presidency aspect.

BALDWIN: great point.

CALLAN: OK? So we don't know how many of those 30 hours were about that.

But also, of course, he knows everything that's been going on at the White House after the election. So he probably is one of the most important witnesses that Mueller's spoken to.

BALDWIN: But would that also be motivation thinking, all right, down the road, fear of how Trump may characterize all of this, I want to make sure I'm on the right team or setting my record straight? Do you know what I'm saying?

CALLAN: Oh, I do know what you're saying.

And I think that does make a certain amount of sense. He has to have worried. But it shows you what an amateur hour the White House operation is, because you would want to sit down with him and find out what did he tell Mueller and are there certain things that maybe we want to use executive privilege to prevent inquiry from taking place?

There be a solid debriefing for a lawyer testifying for 30 minutes about a client? BALDWIN: Right, because, Caroline, the Trump legal team has a right to know. They have the right to know what McGahn is saying to the Mueller team, correct?

CAROLINE POLISI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: They do have the right to ask.

BALDWIN: To ask.

POLISI: There is a looming question here whether or not Mueller requested that McGahn not disclose the contents of these long interviews.

I don't think it's odd that he gave them the interview. I think the extent to which he sat the 30 hours...


BALDWIN: To Paul's point, it's Trump legal team, not even bad lawyering, right?

POLISI: Exactly.

And the waiving of the executive privilege, everybody's throwing around the privilege term here. It's not necessarily attorney-client privilege, although there may be some issues there. But, again, Kaitlan said a great. He's the president -- he's the lawyer to the presidency, not the president. So he's a government attorney.

He and Mueller are on the same side. His oath is to the office to maintain integrity of the office.

BALDWIN: So it wouldn't be attorney-client privilege that would be applicable, but it would be executive privilege, which, by the way, again, back over to you, the Trump legal team waived executive privilege.


BALDWIN: And now, according to Jim Acosta, our chief White House correspondent, they're essentially trying to yank it back, retroactive waiving of executive privilege. But can you even do that?

CALLAN: Well, I think once you have waived the privilege...

BALDWIN: It's waived.


CALLAN: ... I think the court would be hostile to your reassertion of it, although if I were one of his lawyers, I would say we waived it as to things that we thought were under investigation at the time. This is something new that's come up, but you could make an argument.


CALLAN: And the other thing I wanted to add about White House counsel, White House counsel, yes, he's counsel to the office of the presidency, not the president personally.

But in this case, there's an overlap that I see. When Trump, for instance, fires Comey, is he firing Comey in his position as president of the United States because Comey is not doing a proper job for the country or is he firing Comey because Comey is getting close to him personally?

BALDWIN: It's a great point.

CALLAN: So you have an overlap between those roles. And I wonder if there is some kind of an attorney-client privilege that White House counsel might have with respect to something where there's overlap.

I'm not sure. I don't know that it's ever been tested in the courts.

BALDWIN: Let me move on to something else, Caroline. I want to ask you about another tweet from the president.

He's going after former CIA Director John Brennan. And he said he may sue the Trump administration over its decision, his decision to revoke the security clearance.

What would he, I guess, even sue him over? What would that even look like?

POLISI: It's not entirely clear. I think, ultimately, it will be some sort of play on a deprivation of his Fifth Amendment right to due process, that he was stripped of this clearance without the normal processes and procedures one would usually go through.

I don't know if it has merit. I think there may be some sort of defamation claim, but I like -- President Trump is saying this would obviously be a civil action and they would engage in depositions. And the discovery process -- and he's kind of goading him on, saying I want to get everything that you have gotten. Bring it on.

BALDWIN: But does he really, or is it just an empty threat?

Go ahead, quickly.

CALLAN: I was going to say I think he's going to assert a First Amendment claim. And this is how the claim would work. This is a subterfuge to ban political speech. Brennan was saying anti-Trump things. He's being silenced by the withdrawal of his security clearance to silence him politically.

And if you could establish that there was no legitimate security reason to take it away, but it was to try to shut him up, you might have an argument that his First Amendment rights are being suppressed by an act of the government.

BALDWIN: Got it.

POLISI: He's apparently also looking into injunctions too in a forward-looking nature to say, President Trump is saying he wants to do this to others, saying they have put an injunction on that. BALDWIN: Caroline and Paul, thank you so much.

I want to get to this. President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is laying out this wild argument as he weighs whether the president should sit down and answer questions before Robert Mueller. Here he was.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD 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 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, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": Truth is truth. I don't mean to go like...


GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth.


BALDWIN: Truth isn't truth?

Giuliani now trying to clarify that statement in a tweet. This is what he says.

"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."

OK, CNN's Chris Cillizza is with us to help decipher what the heck he was talking about.


CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: First important point on that quote, Giuliani's makeup call quote, Brooke, he said/she said is very different than perjury, knowingly lying under law.

He said/she said or he said/he said happens lots of times in legal proceedings. So it's a little bit of a red herring to say that's what e was talking about.

Regardless, there's a history of this with Giuliani and the Trump administration more broadly.

I want to play a couple clips. Let's start with Giuliani. This is from Chris Cuomo's show earlier this month, just this month. Let's play that.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: If fact-counting is anything, we have never had anybody with a level of mendacity that he has. Not even close. But we will leave it there.

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

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


GIULIANI: Yes, it is.


CILLIZZA: Hah-hah-hah. What is he talking about?

So just for the record, this is the second time he's done this in a month. So the idea that it's a mistake, little dicey, but where does he get this mentality from? I will give you one good guess. Donald -- the guy behind me, Donald Trump.

OK, let's go back to last month. I want to play a clip of something Donald Trump had to say that at the time wowed me and wows me no less in retrospect. Let's play that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And just remember what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.



And then we go, where did this all begin? I think you could argue it began well into the 2016 campaign. But remember that in the very early days, literally the first couple weeks of the Trump White House, senior counselor Kellyanne Conway was on television, was question about the inauguration crowd attendance, which we know Sean Spicer and Donald Trump were not telling the truth about.

Here's her response. Let's play that.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: You're saying it's a falsehood. And they're giving -- Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.


CILLIZZA: Alternative facts. Truth isn't truth. Don't believe what you're seeing. Look, once, Brooke, maybe, twice, three times, four times, five times -- given that this president has said 4,000-plus things that are either outright lies or misleading in his first 550 days in office, there's a pattern here.

So Giuliani can try to clean up the mess he made all he wants on Twitter. Look back at what he said, what the president said, what Kellyanne Conway said. And it all, I think, speaks to this attempt to undermine the idea of truth, the idea of facts.

And I think wherever you come down on the partisan spectrum, that's a very dangerous thing -- back to you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: George Orwell.

Chris Cillizza, thank you.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, President Trump tries to compare Robert Miller to one of the most disgraceful men and American history, Senator Joseph McCarthy.

A historian who wrote a book on McCarthy joins me to explain why that is way off base.

And one of those vocal accusers of Harvey Weinstein facing her own allegations of sexual assault. Details on "The New York Times" story that puts Asia Argento' role in the MeToo movement at risk.

And President Trump speaking any moment to members of ICE, Customs and Border Protection, the White House calling it a Salute to Heroes. We will keep an eye on that for you and bring you any updates. You're watching CNN.



BALDWIN: We've been seeing the term McCarthy, McCarthyism from President Trump a lot lately, especially when referring to special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation, his Russia investigation.

Let me just show you one recent tweet from the president: "Study the late Joseph McCarthy because we are now in a period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby. Rigged witch- hunt."

He's right on one point. We should study McCarthy. He was a disgraced Wisconsin senator who back in the 1950s turned the lives of many Americans upside down by calling them communists. McCarthyism now basically means making any accusation you want without regard for evidence.

So with me now, Arthur Herman. He is a historian and the author of "Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator."

So, welcome, sir, to the show.

And you say it in your title, most hated senator. Comparing McCarthy to Mueller, a competent law enforcement official, you tell me what President Trump gets so wrong with this comparison.

ARTHUR HERMAN, AUTHOR, "JOSEPH MCCARTHY: REEXAMINING THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF AMERICA'S MOST HATED SENATOR": Well, I don't know if they got as much wrong as you might think, actually, because I think what we have to do is to weigh the difference between an historical judgment, which, of course, now McCarthy has been dead for almost 60 years, vs. what is it unfolding right now in Washington, D.C., on the political and on the legal front.

And what happens on the headline basis, as you know, at CNN, as opposed to the way in which history and historians think about events afterwards, are two very often very different things.


BALDWIN: Explain.


HERMAN: We've weighed in on McCarthy. Where we weigh in with Robert Mueller is still to be seen.

What I would say -- and I understand I think where Trump's tweets was coming from -- is the question what kinds of investigation Joe McCarthy presided over vs. the type of investigation that Robert Mueller is.

And I think we have to be careful here another point, another historical point, to separate out Joe McCarthy from McCarthyism. The term has come to refer to, as you were saying quite correctly, to making any kind of wild accusation without evidence.

That is a very different thing from what Joe McCarthy did in his role as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which was the real seat of his investigation into communist conspiracy to subvert the U.S. government and the role of communists in a variety of organizations, but particularly their role with regard to government employees.

The Robert Mueller investigation is much broader. Its authority is much less clearly defined. Joe McCarthy was, in the end, we have to remember, answerable to Congress, answerable to the American public, to the voters in Wisconsin, as well as the electorate.

And in the end, they decided to strip him of his committee chairmanships, censor him from the Senate. And his political career was over. And he died in disgrace.

Robert Mueller, we have to say, is really in a position, an unusual position in American constitutional history of being unaccountable to anyone. It's part of the problem that comes with any special counsel that's been appointed, whether we're talking about someone like Robert Mueller, or whether we're talking about Robert Fitzgerald, or whether we're talking about Kenneth Starr.


HERMAN: And we remember the questions that were raised about where -- what kind of mandate Kenneth Starr in an investigation.

Those are the questions, I think, that still remain to be answered with regard to Robert Mueller. In McCarthy's case, he was accountable. He was held accountable for what he did wrong. And history has judged him on the basis of that.

BALDWIN: In McCarthy's case, from that same era, there was a man by the name of Roy Cohn, Arthur, right?

HERMAN: That's right.

BALDWIN: And so Roy Cohn, McCarthy's sidekick attack dog, eventually left D.C., become this lawyer in New York. And who does he end up befriending and representing but Donald J. Trump?

And so Trump talks about him in "The Art of the Deal." He talks about how he learned the art of the attack from Cohn and respected his loyalty, seems to almost idolize him.

So let me ask you, based upon your clear knowledge of history, what does that tell you about how this president sees the world in general and this investigation when he says he wants his Roy Cohn?

HERMAN: Well, I think what we have to understand is, is that Donald Trump comes from a very different political culture than the rest of Washington.

He's a New Yorker. In New York, the tough guys win. The tough guys put it out there. Donald Trump respected Roy Cohn for his toughness, for his frankness. A lot of people did. Roy Cohn's life after his work for Joe McCarthy was one that a lot of people looked to him for legal advice, looked for him as an advocate role.

I'm not terribly surprised that someone like Donald Trump befriended, as you know, lots of people in New York, had to know a lot of people in New York politics and the business world, that he would look to someone like Roy Cohn as a kind of model for that kind of tough, macho role.

It's one that Donald Trump without a doubt plays here in Washington. It's one that's shocking and disruptive in a Washington culture which is based upon avoiding conflict, seeking compromise at all costs. Donald Trump seeks out conflict. In that sense, I think he has definitely become a very different kind of president than we have had in the White House in a very long time.

And I think history will judge Donald Trump not on the basis of his tweets, but on the basis of his deeds. And that is a history that remains to be written.

BALDWIN: One of the reasons why so many people wanted him in the office in the first place, but...

HERMAN: I think so. It was precisely that disruptive effect. And it's paid off.


BALDWIN: Arthur Herman, thank you very much. Paid off so far.

HERMAN: Pleasure to be here.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: Is time running out for President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen? CNN has learned the feds are close to bringing criminal charges against him. We will explain what kind of legal trouble he could be in.



BALDWIN: Live pictures right now, the president at the White House speaking with members of ICE and Customs and Border Protection.

The event being hailed as a Salute to Heroes. And we are listening in. We will bring any news as it comes about.

Meantime, President Trump's longtime attorney and his so-called fixer, Michael Cohen, could be the next person in the president's inner circle to face criminal charges.

CNN has learned federal prosecutors in New York are preparing criminal charges against Michael Cohen and that announcement could come -- could come within days.

Cohen is being investigated for possible bank and tax fraud, as well as campaign finance violations that stems from an alleged six-figure payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.