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Interview With Congressman Adam Smith; Michael Cohen Set to Be Indicted?; Trump Attorney Argues 'Truth Isn't Truth'; White House Counsel Speaking to Robert Mueller. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 20, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And be bested by Melania. The first lady makes a new appeal against cyber-bullying, despite critics' complaints that she's married to the cyber-bullier in chief. Was she ignoring the president's behavior or was she sending him a message?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We are following breaking news on a new interview with President Trump laying out some conditions for potentially easing sanctions on Russia, this as sources now tell CNN Mr. Trump is feeling unnerved by new revelations about the Russian investigation.
He was apparently unaware of the full extent of the White House counsel's discussions with Robert Mueller's team that lasted more than 30 hours.
I will get reaction from the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith. And I will talk with retired General and former CIA Director Michael Hayden about the president's attacks on the U.S. intelligence community.
And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, tell us about this new interview with the president.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
Reuters news service just conducted an interview with President Trump today and some very important headlines coming out of that interview, Wolf. You mentioned one of them, that the president would consider lifting sanctions or easing sanctions on Russia if the administration could get Moscow's cooperation on Ukraine and Syria.
Obviously, that is one area, Ukraine, where they may not get much cooperation, as Vladimir Putin is not likely to pull Russian-backed forces out of Crimea and out of Eastern Ukraine. That could be a sticking point in terms of lifting sanctions on Russia. But, Wolf, one other very interesting headline coming out of that
Reuters interview in just the last several minutes, and that is the president was asked by Reuters whether or not he would sit down and speak with Robert Mueller, the special counsel, in the Russian investigation. The president apparently telling Reuters that he believes speaking to Mueller could be a perjury trap.
So, that is the latest indication that the president -- we heard this from the president's legal team -- that they're cool to this idea. They don't sound too keen on this idea of having the president of the United States sitting down with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, because they fear the president could potentially perjure himself.
Now, all of this is playing out, Wolf, as the president and his legal team are downplaying this revelation that the White House counsel, Don McGahn, spoke to the Mueller team some 30 hours to tell what he knows about the Russian investigation. Critics are blasting that decision to allow McGahn to speak with the special counsel's office.
But one source familiar with McGahn's testimony tells CNN the president's team could try to block Mueller from using the White House counsel's testimony.
QUESTION: Mr. McGahn, was it a mistake to have you speak without limits to special counsel Mueller?
ACOSTA (voice-over): It is the latest sign the Russian investigation is inching closer to the Oval Office. One of the president's closest advisers, White House counsel Don McGahn, sitting down with special counsel Robert Mueller's team.
But President Trump tweeted, that's no big deal, insisted he allowed it, stating: "Disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller spent over 30 hours with the White House counsel, only with my approval, for purposes of transparency."
Much of Washington is second-guessing the decision to allow McGahn to testify, part of the old Trump team strategy to cooperate led by former outside attorney John Dowd and ex-White House attorney Ty Cobb. The president's lawyers don't exactly know what was said during McGahn's 30 hours of testimony, as they were never fully briefed.
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Don McGahn has no choice then but to go in and answer everything, everything question they can ask him, and this is not in the president's interest. It wasn't in the president's interest.
ACOSTA: But a source familiar with McGahn's testimony argues the White House could assert executive privilege over what McGahn told Mueller's team, setting up a potential battle over any information provided to prosecutors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that, no, in terms of jeopardy to the president, I don't see the downside to having McGahn go in and talk with them, and Dowd specifically said that McGahn was a strong witness.
ACOSTA: Questions are also being raised about the president's current legal team after what his outside attorney Rudy Giuliani said over the weekend about Donald Trump Jr.'s infamous meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian attorney.
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They didn't know she was a representative of the Russian government, and, indeed, she is not a representative of the Russian government. If this is their case for collusion, good luck, Mueller.
ACOSTA: But that's not true. According to e-mails released by Trump Jr., an associate described the Russian attorney "as the crown prosecutor of Russia, offering official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information, but it's part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump."
Giuliani then took issue with the notion of objective truths.
GIULIANI: 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.
ACOSTA: Giuliani's stunning words that the truth isn't truth have easily become an unintended motto of the Trump era.
GIULIANI: Truth isn't truth.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.
ACOSTA: And, Wolf, as for Giuliani's comments that the truth isn't truth, the president's outside lawyer later tweeted he only meant to describe the Russia investigation as something of a he said/she said.
That being said, it's still how the president's own lawyer is defending Mr. Trump, who revels in describing the journalists who cover this White House as fake news. And, Wolf, one other headline, eye-grabbing, eye-popping headline, coming out of this interview that the president did with Reuters news service, he told Reuters that he has stayed out of the Mueller investigation, but that he could run it if he wanted to.
Wolf, it is hard to imagine how the president of the United States could run an investigation that he himself is a part of at this point -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's very interesting, indeed. We're going to get a lot more on this Reuters interview. Stand by for that. Jim Acosta, thank you.
Also tonight, federal prosecutors may be just days away from announcing criminal charges against the president's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. We're learning more about those possible charges and how Cohen may try to protect himself by turning on the president.
Let's go to our national correspondent, Brynn Gingras. She is covering the case for us in New York City.
Brynn, Cohen could be charged, what, before the end of this month?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and there's just two weeks left in this month.
Wolf, sources are telling CNN the Southern District of New York keenly aware that midterms are approaching and because prosecutors don't want their decision to influence politics, we could see an indictment soon or perhaps word of a deal made with the president's former fixer.
QUESTION: Mr. Cohen, how are you today?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: Doing great. Yourself?
GINGRAS (voice-over): Federal prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against Michael Cohen, President Trump's former fixer, and those charges could come in the next 10 days.
This morning, Cohen spotted in the lobby of his lawyer's office only hours after "The New York Times" broke the story investigators are looking at $20 million in loans stemming from Cohen's taxi business.
SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: When you're talking about anything over a million, it's significant and you're definitely at jail time.
GINGRAS: Cohen's been under a microscope by federal prosecutors ever since the FBI raided his home, hotel room and office in April. It's not just possibly lying about loans for his taxi business. Investigators are also looking at Cohen's involvement in the Stormy Daniels payout. Just weeks before the 2016 election, Cohen arranged a $130,000 hush
money payment to the porn star who allegedly had an affair with the president.
WU: The one most dangerous for the president is actually the campaign finance issue, because that can lead to the president's knowledge or direction of Cohen to do this.
GINGRAS: Cohen has signaled he'd be willing to talk to investigators to protect himself and his family, telling ABC News his family and not his former boss is his priority -- quote -- "My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first."
The shift in tone from the man who once said he would take a bullet for the president heightening tensions between Trump and Cohen. The president's lawyers continue to fire back.
GIULIANI: The guy is unethical. He's a scumbag. He's a horrible person.
GINGRAS: But, as of now, what Cohen can actually offer investigators is unclear.
GINGRAS: An interesting twist here, Wolf.
We have learned John Dean, the former White House counsel who helped take down Nixon during Watergate, has been speaking to one of Cohen's attorneys, Lanny Davis.
Dean said this about Lanny: "He and I have known each other for many years dating back to the Clinton impeachment, and he has sought my advice on how events unfolded during Watergate."
So what kind of advice that could be useful to Cohen's case is now playing a factor in all of this Wolf,
BLITZER: All right, Brynn, thank you, Brynn Gingras reporting for us.
Joining us now, Congressman Adam Smith. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: Thank you, Wolf. I appreciate the chance, as always.
BLITZER: I'm going to get your reaction to these late developments involving Michael Cohen.
But, first, President Trump tells Reuters he doesn't have to stay out of the Russia investigation. He said he could run the Mueller probe if he actually wanted to.
What's your reaction to these most recent words from the president?
SMITH: Well, I think it just further evidence that the president does not understand -- well, I think he understands what's going on here. He is trying to obfuscate the investigation. He is trying to stop it from going forward in any way that he can.
I mean, he has been saying from the very start that the investigation should never have happened and he wants to get rid of it. So, if he wants to run it, he wants to bury it. And that's the problem.
Russia interfered in our election. There is considerable evidence that people at the highest levels of the Trump campaign were working with those very same Russian operatives while they were interfering with this election. It needs to be investigated, we need to get to the bottom of it, and the president needs to stop trying to obstruct the investigation.
BLITZER: This comes as you know, Congressman, after the president called Robert Mueller and his team a disgrace and discredited.
Are you confident that the president will let Robert Mueller complete his investigation?
SMITH: Yes, we have been -- we have been sort of hanging on the edge of our seats on that one for a long, long time. I don't know that I'm confident.
I think if the president sees a threat, I think there's a distinct possibility that he might try to fire Mueller. And I think we need to keep the public pressure up on him to make sure that he doesn't.
I think comments like Senator Graham made -- I think it's a couple months back now -- basically saying to do that would be an impeachable offense, to let him know that obstructing with this investigation to that level would be met with bipartisan condemnation, it's crucially important to stop the president from ending the investigation.
BLITZER: How important is the testimony of the White House counsel, Don McGahn, to the Mueller investigation team? He spent 30 hours answering their questions.
SMITH: Well, obviously, we don't know, because we don't know what he said. And 30 hours is a long time, but we're not sure exactly what was said.
I think the Michael Cohen information, what Michael Cohen said to Robert Mueller is -- I think we have a little bit better idea what that might be, as we found out about these shell companies that Michael Cohen set up, that he was paying off various people, that he was clearly involved in things that were illegal and clearly connected with the president while he was doing it.
As for the White House counsel, we will have to see what comes out of Robert Mueller's report.
BLITZER: What do you make of the president's comparing the Russia investigation to McCarthyism?
SMITH: It's delusional to say that.
I mean, look, the president feels that he should never be questioned. And we have seen that over and over again. I guess the one that leaps to mind is when he said that it was, I believe, treasonous for us members of Congress not to stand up and applaud him when he was speaking.
And he expects not to be questioned. He expects to be worshipped. Well, that's not the system of government that we have here. It is a representative democracy. Everybody is supposed to be held accountable.
He doesn't want that, obviously. But that's not the way we do things here. And that's why it's particularly important on the question of him testifying. If you are subpoenaed by a court, by a legitimate investigation, nobody is above the law. The president should not be above the law. He should absolutely have to testify under oath.
BLITZER: But he could plead the Fifth, right?
SMITH: Oh, yes. that is his constitutional right.
And if he does that, he would be complying with the law. But right now, this whole discussion that Rudy Giuliani is having about, well, maybe the president doesn't have to, the president is not above the law. He should have to testify. Yes, the Fifth Amendment is his constitutional right, as it is everybody else's. If he wants to take that, he can.
He cannot, in my view, refuse a subpoena.
BLITZER: While the president is trying to undermine clearly the credibility of the Russia investigation, he has just told Reuters in this interview today that he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia if Moscow cooperates on Ukraine and Syria.
SMITH: I don't trust the president when it comes to dealing with Russia. So, it's hard to take that at face value.
But, look, as a policy-maker, I mean, before Donald Trump got elected president and all this happened, getting to a place where we can get along better with Russia, I think, is crucially important.
One of the issues that I'm working on is to try to stop nuclear proliferation and reduce the odds of us stumbling -- stumbling into a nuclear war. Well, Russia and the U.S. are the two largest nuclear powers by a large margin.
Us being in a better place, dialoguing better, so that we can avoid that would be critical. In Afghanistan and Syria and a whole bunch of places, there are places where it would be a better world if we got along with Russia. But that's not what Vladimir Putin is doing.
And if the president basically sells us out to meet Putin's agenda, instead of coming to a more balanced accommodation that protects democracy, that protects Eastern Europe, that advances our interests, not just Russia's then that worries me.
But we should have dialogue and try to get to a better place with Russia.
BLITZER: But tell us, Congressman, why you don't trust the president when it comes to Russia?
SMITH: Well, because of the Russian interference, because of the president's long ties to Russia and Putin, and also the fact that the president criticizes absolutely everybody, as near as I can tell.
The one person on the planet he cannot bring himself to criticize is Vladimir Putin. I mean, the performance in Helsinki was embarrassing to the United States of America.
No president has shown that level of weakness in my memory. Standing up against a dictator who is undermining the rule of law by undermining elections, by his invasion in the Ukraine to take back Crimea, issue after issue, and to simply stand there and not challenge Putin at all on any of this, to basically praise Putin, that type of weakness shows me that this president doesn't know how to deal with Russia.
BLITZER: But tell us very briefly, because we're out of time, why. Why do you think the president avoids saying anything negative about Putin?
SMITH: That would be speculation on my part.
All I know is that he does, and it has dire consequences for the national security interests of our country.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Smith, thanks so much for joining us.
SMITH: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead: Melania Trump warns that social media can be destructive, distancing herself from her husband and his mean tweets.
And the president is daring the former CIA Director John Brennan to sue him for revoking his security clearance. I will speak live with another former CIA chief, retired General Michael Hayden. He is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:20:55]
BLITZER: We have breaking news in the trial of the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
I want to quickly go right to the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, for an update from our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Shimon, give us the latest.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.
So no verdict today. The jury just moments ago was sent home. They had been deliberating the entire day, since about 9:30 this morning. And then they had indicated they wanted to go until about 6:15. And so the judge called them back in. And they were sent home.
They will be back tomorrow to presumably continue deliberations. Keep in mind this was the third day of deliberations. This is the longest that they have gone in terms of a full day. They wrapped up at 6:15. Usually, they wrap up around 5:30, so they went an extra 45 minutes today.
And now will be back here tomorrow. Wolf, really there's no indications as to which way does jury is leaning. We have not seen any notes from them today. They have not had any questions, at least publicly, that was announced in court. So it's all still really unknown.
And tomorrow we will be back here continuing to watch as the jury continues to deliberate here.
BLITZER: All right, Shimon, thank you, Shimon Prokupecz outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.
Also breaking tonight, President Trump says he stayed out of the special counsel's investigation, but he could -- and I'm quoting the president of the United States right now -- he says he could -- quote -- "run it" if he wanted to.
We're following that story and Mr. Trump's ongoing battle with former CIA Director John Brennan. Brennan says he's willing to take Mr. Trump to court for revoking his security clearance. And, tonight, Mr. Trump says bring it on.
Joining us now, retired General Michael Hayden. He's a former CIA director who was appointed to lead the agency by President George W. Bush.
General Hayden, thanks so much for joining us.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thank you.
BLITZER: So the president tells Reuters he is staying out of the Russia investigation, but he could run it if he wanted to. What's your reaction to that?
HAYDEN: I have no idea what that means.
And certainly it would compromise the independence of what Bob Mueller is doing and just undercut any legitimacy with regard to a conclusion that the investigation would reach.
And, look, the president only gets out from under this cloud if people have confidence in the conclusion.
BLITZER: And the people have to have confidence in the conclusion if it's going to be a significant conclusion, clearly.
The president also just told Reuters in this interview over at the White House he hasn't given a lot of thought, in his words, to the idea of revoking Robert Mueller, the special counsel's security clearance.
But in "The New Yorker" magazine, Adam Entous reporting that some of the president's advisers actually encouraged him -- get this -- to deny intelligence briefings to former President Barack Obama. But former National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster talked him out of that.
How unprecedented would it be to deny a former president of the United States security intelligence or intelligence briefings?
HAYDEN: It would be absolutely unprecedented.
And to preserve the dignity of the office and of the men who have served in it, you do update former presidents. Number one, as a practical matter, you kind of want to keep them on your side. You want them to feel part of governance, so that when they may be asked a question -- and the best former presidents stay quiet, but if they may be asked a question, they can be broadly supportive.
But, again, that's so violating of a norm of the peaceful transfer of power in the United States. It's an almost unspeakable proposal.
BLITZER: Because when you think about what former presidents do, they travel around the world.
BLITZER: They meet with world leaders.
If they go into a meeting with a world leader, they should at least have an intelligence briefing about what the -- what's going on.
And that's the practical negative impact of doing that. But at the constitutional level, about the dignity and functioning of our government, it would be very, very destructive.
[18:25:00] I mean, it is so un-American. It's hard to imagine that happening in any but the most autocratic governments in the world.
BLITZER: So now the president and his team, they're saying bring it on to John Brennan, the former CIA director, who has been threatening to sue the president, sue the administration for revoking his security clearances.
Do you think, first of all, this is the right approach on the part of John Brennan to potentially seek legal action against the president for revoking his security clearance?
HAYDEN: Yes, I have to reserve that question for John, but I would be lying to you if I didn't tell you that the Jim Clapper, Mike Haydens and John Brennans of the world occasionally share some thoughts.
And for all of us, but particularly for John, because he's the only one now directly affected, it's not so much the direct personal effect, as it is to the broader principle involved.
If I can just kind of scope this for you, Wolf, John is being denied something to which he would otherwise have -- be entitled and is being denied it because of his political speech. That should be scary.
And that's a very high principle. So if anything draws John to litigation, I think it's the defense of that principle.
BLITZER: What the president is arguing that by the words he has uttered, whether on television or on the Internet and social media, or whatever -- we're talking about John Brennan suggesting the president's been treasonous, for example -- that would raise questions about his -- potentially his mental state and, as a result, he shouldn't have security clearances.
HAYDEN: I have actually reviewed the regulation that governs this.
There are 13 criteria that you could use to challenge someone's security clearance. I went through each one of them carefully. None of them even remotely could apply.
BLITZER: So that's why you have come out clearly against that.
I want to get your reaction to what we heard from retired Admiral McRaven, the former head of the U.S. military's Central Command. He was one of the organizers of the bin Laden raid, as you know.
You and other intelligence officials have signed a letter clearly condemning what the president has done revoking Brennan's security clearance. You're, by the way, on that hit list, potential hit list, as well.
Why are so many of you now breaking norms, speaking out so publicly, vociferously on this issue?
HAYDEN: And it is breaking a norm -- or at least it's breaking with past practice. And you have got 15 in the original tranche, 60 CIA officers following, and then 175 other folks from across the national security community.
And we recognize this is unprecedented behavior and carries with it its own darker side. But I think the consensus among us which prompted us to act was that we saw so much norm-busting over here that somehow had to be dealt.
Let me put it to you this way, because some of us actually were concerned and decided not to join because they thought it would hurt the folks still in government. Most of us decided to sign on to protect the folks still in government.
Let me describe it to you this way, Wolf. Espionage actually contains some morally ambiguous actions from some time to time, even if it's just recruiting a source in a foreign government. But that action takes its moral purpose from the higher ethical purposes to which it is attached.
[18:30:00] And I think most of us thought those higher ethical purposes were under assault, were deteriorating. And that compelled us to speak up in saying, this not who we are.
BLITZER: This is what the president posted on Twitter earlier today -- quote -- "Everybody wants to keep their security clearance. It's worth great prestige and big dollars, even board seats. And that is why certain people are coming forward to protect Brennan. It certainly isn't because of the good job he did. He is a political hack."
What's your reaction to that?
HAYDEN: All of us have a security clearance because someone in the United States government decided it was good for the United States government for us to continue to have that clearance.
That's the only criteria.
BLITZER: Remind us before I let you go, how many years did you serve in the U.S. government? I know you were head of the National Security Agency at one point as well.
HAYDEN: Yes. And this time next year, if I still have a clearance, I will have had a clearance for a full half-century.
BLITZER: Fifty years. You worked your way up through the military and you worked your...
HAYDEN: For nine years in the Air Force, and yes.
BLITZER: And you worked your way through the intelligence community, becoming director of the CIA at one point during the Bush administration, I want to point out. And then you left the CIA when President Obama took office.
BLITZER: I just want to remind our viewers about that.
Let me thank you on behalf of all of us for your service.
HAYDEN: Thank you. You're very kind.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
There's more news. There's more breaking news we're following. Even as he hurls insults at Robert Mueller, President Trump admits in a Reuters interview that he's worried that any statements he makes under oath could lead to perjury charges against him.
And federal prosecutors put together charges against Michael Cohen and could announce them within days. Will that persuade the president's former lawyer and fixer to cooperate?
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump's speaking out about the Russia investigation in a new interview, he tells Reuters that even though he stayed out of the Robert Mueller probe, he says he's allowed to get involved and could, quote, "run it", his words, "run it", if he wanted to.
[18:35:00] Let's bring in our analysts. You know Mark Preston, Jeff Mason, the White House correspondent just tweeted this quoting the president. Quote, "I've decided to stay out, now I don't have to stay out as you know, I can go in and I could do whatever, I could run it if I want." How do you interpret that very strange comment?
MARK PRESTON, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well you know, I hate to sound like I'm repeating a 20 alarm fire right here, but that is extremely, extremely scary to hear the President of the United States to say that, it's very authoritarian like, isn't it?
It's something you would hear from a country such as Turkey, the leader of Turkey going out and saying, "look these laws don't fit what I want them to fit, so I'm going to change them." And that's exactly what he's saying. And most importantly, if he were to step forward -- Congress would have to act. They could no longer talk about investigating, they would have to take action.
BLITZER: He says he could run it if he wants to, David. So we're like, what's your reaction?
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I see that as two things. One a veiled threat that if things get any closer to him and his close circle, that he might take steps to either fire Mueller, or fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in one sense, he does run it because he's the head of the government.
But, it suggests that he finds himself -- or thinks himself to be above the law and not subject to an investigation of this kind, which it is as Mark says, something you would see in an authoritarian government.
BLITZER: And then in the same Reuter's interview it says he is now suggesting what Rudy Giuliani has suggested. Listen, this is the president -- here's a quote from the president worried about the Mueller interview if he were to sit down could be a perjury trap. "Even if I am telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That's no good."
SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENT ATTORNEY: Well so I think he's acknowledging what the rest of us sort of long suspected which is that it's sort of it's a no-win situation for Donald Trump. If he tells the truth, then he's admitting that he has lied in public, lied to the American people -- if he lies then he commits perjury.
So whenever they want to use this term perjury trap, they aren't using it in the true technical sense of the term, they're using it to say the president is trapped here but it's a trap of his own making. You know, that basically this is either politically damaging for him, or he opens himself up to serious legal liabilities.
BLITZER: Joey Jackson is with us, let me get your reaction to the president. He's sounding very much like Rudy Giuliani now saying it's a perjury trap, shouldn't do it. The president until now often said, "you know, I want to do it but my lawyers they have concerns. I really want to do it, I got nothing to hide. Go ahead."
JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Look, I was one to always believe that the president didn't want to go anywhere near the special council. We all know that the president plays loose and fast with facts. The president does not tell the truth. The president is prone, in fact, to lie multiple times a day, you know, and twice on Sunday, so to speak.
And so I think as a political imperative obviously to say it's a witch hunt, it's no good to degrade it, to degrade the people who are running it, and to taskigate (ph) it, because obviously you want the political upper hand. At the end of the day however, this case moves forward without him saying anything, and what he's saying now gives him the political cover by convincing all of the people who love him -- there are many, all of the followers he has -- there are many, to say it's simply a witch hunt. Why bother talking to them anyway? And the political issue of the president not speaking because the truth is the truth, that falls by the wayside.
BLITZER: Well let me play the clip from yesterday. This is the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani saying, "truth isn't truth". Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI: 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... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Truth is truth, I don't mean to go like...
GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think, Joey?
JACKSON: I think it's ridiculous. I don't know where we're living, it's the Twilight Zone, one of my favorite shows watched the marathon every New Years Day -- that's what we're living in. We talk about an era of (ph) alternative facts, we talk about truth not being truth. There's truth, right? You go in to a courtroom, you swear to tell the truth, you do. Now there are different versions of events and there are people -- there's jurors out there, the public, right?
And ultimately, or Congress if there impeachment (ph) proceeding they'll determine what the truth is but there's one measure of truth. There are people who will want you and urge you to believe their narrative which may not be true. But it's clear to me that what Giuliani's doing is he's laying the foundation for the president saying and sticking with his version of events and pushing those versions as factual when they may indeed be a lie.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting our Kaitlan Collins over at the White House, Mark says the president has been rattled by this, especially the 30 hours of Q&A that the presidents -- the White House console, not the president's personal or the White House console (ph) (inaudible) gave to the special councils.
PRESTON: Not surprising. And just look at the tone and tenor of the Tweets that he's sending out. You know, it's interesting we talk about and Joey just laid this out in a very clear, concise fashion of what's happening here. They're actually trying the case, or defending the case right now, Trump's lawyers, in the media. But what is deafening is the fact that we haven't heard anything from Mueller and that in itself is causing Donald Trump to drive himself crazy because he doesn't know what they have.
That is the most astounding thing right now, we haven't heard much out of the prosecutors, very little, silence is deafening. They seem to have the upper hand right now while Trump supporters, Trump's lawyers are trying to defend a case that they don't even know what the case is.
BLITZER: They're eroding the credibility, the worthiness of the Mueller probe with his base - the president's base. What the president and his team are doing seems to be working.
PRESTON: It seems to be working, but I would hope in the grand scheme of things, when we get down the road several years from now and we look back on this, that erosion doesn't stay, that it can be backfilled in with reality and facts.
BLITZER: But do (ph) you think there's hope?
SWERDLICK: I don't know, you know, you play that clip of Mayor Giuliani there. He's a former prosecutor and he acts like he's never been to a trial, right. One side tells one thing, the prosecutor tells the other thing and the jury or the grand jury decides, you know, what is true and what is not.
To Mark's point, you've got a situation here where you have people who support the president still wanting to believe his version because they believe in him and that - and - and we're coming to a show down over this point (ph).
BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani, a former Justice Department lawyer, U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York before he became mayor of New York. Is he helping or hurting, Susan, the president of the United States?
HENNESSEY: Well he certainly doesn't seem to be operating as the president's attorney, he is operating something like the president's P.R. machine and he does appear to be disconnected from - from sort of the actual legal team.
You know, that said, every time Rudy Giuliani opens his mouth, it appears to generate lots and lots of negative headlines, lots of damaging questions for the president. This most recent comment about the Don Jr. meeting, you know, which is of course contradicted by e- mails that have already become public.
So I don't think he's helping the president's case in any legal sense, but I'm not even sure he's helping the case as sort of a publicity sense, which - which appears to be the roll that he's playing.
SWERDLICK: He's not helping him in a legal sense, but I do think he's chumming the waters so that it's hard for the average person, it's hard for journalists who follow this all day every day to - to, you know, get the ins and outs of what's going on and who's story is what at any particular time.
And that's the problem (inaudible) -
BLITZER: All right, there's more we need to discuss just ahead. After slamming Robert Mueller, President Trump tells Reuters he could run the Russia probe himself if he wanted to.
What does that mean? And (ph) the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen visits his own lawyer on this day as federal prosecutors draw charges. Will he cooperate? Stay with us.
[18:45:00] BLITZER: We're back with our analysts, we're following the breaking news on President Trump's new comments about the Russia investigation, this as Mr. Trump is waiting for a big shoe to drop with charges expected against his former lawyer and fixture (ph) Michael Cohen, potentially within the next few days. Joey Jackson, how concerned should the president be if Michael Cohen is formally charged with criminal violations?
JACKSON: I think very concerned. You know, look, when you are actually charged with something, that's the time when you speak your piece (ph). And of course, we understand that the prosecution is out of the southern district and there could be parallels, right? There are parallels if you look at it, between Manafort and Cohen.
On the one hand there are violations that we think will be bank fraud, perhaps some tax issues, dealing with taxi (ph) stuff. But here's the difference -- the difference is that Cohen has said, I would speak in the even in the event that I had to -- it's about my family and it's about my country. That's the bottom line, not about you Mr. President.
So to the extent that he cannot, that is Trump distance himself from Cohen, right? He's not a guy who brought me water, he's not a guy who was on my campaign for three seconds, or three months or two days -- or whatever Trump says. He's a guy that knows the real deal.
And so he can spill and tell the real deal, and let us not forget the reality of the matter is that there is this thing regarding Stormy Daniels and campaign finance and where'd the money come from to pay, and was it in reference of the campaign or was it personal? So all those things imperil the president, so the answer to your question is very concerned.
BLITZER: Yes, well you know Lenny Davis is his lawyer -- Mark Preston, Lenny Davis from the Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton campaigns over the years, and apparently Lenny Davis has been in a lot of conversations with John Dean with the Nixon White House console. We all know what happened with John Dean. Why do you think Lenny Davis is consulting with John Dean?
PRESTON: Well he's been very straightforward with it. He wants to know his experiences, he wants to know how -- when John Dean decided to go and cooperate with prosecutors back in 1973, how did that go? How did it work?
And there have been multiple conversations, he says he's not asking necessarily for legal advice, but I do think -- and I'm not a lawyer, but I do think by the mere fact of reaching out to somebody who has a very similar parallel to Michael Cohen in a very high profile case, says something that you kind of are asking for legal advice.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure he is. The other issuer, Susan (inaudible) wanted to discuss. John Brennan, the former CIA Director he had a security clearance stripped by the president as we all know. He's now suggesting maybe they'll go ahead and file a lawsuit, or go to court against this decision. The White House now saying, bring it on. The president says we'll go after you. What do you think?
[18:50:00] HENNESSEY: Well so ordinarily courts are not willing to examine security clearance of judication decisions at all. They say that's for the executive branch. However they are willing to look in these really narrow circumstances whenever they have concerns about the process. Has there been due process, a fair process? In this case, you know,
Donald Trump circumvented all the process. He didn't do any of it, he invoked this inherent Article II authority, no other president has done that.
So this actually might be one of those examples where because of the disregard for process, because of the possible first amendment questions, courts might actually be willing to overturn this decision.
BLITZER: The president tweeted I hope John Brennan, the worst CIA director in our country's history brings a law suit, it will then be very easy to get all of his records, texts, e-mails and documents to show not only the poor job he did, but how he was involved in the Mueller rigged witch hunt. He won't sue.
SWERDLICK: Yes, I mean, a lot of that is just the president blustering, and from his private sector days, he has this familiarity with the law suit process as a way to get people to back off of him.
But look, if it does ever come to a lawsuit, Wolf, whether or not it's a winning case, I do think as - as Susan says, there are some first amendment implications.
BLITZER: We're going to have more on the breaking news (inaudible) coming up. As the president warns he doesn't have to stay out of the Mueller probe. Pretty astonishing words, and the first lady makes a new appeal in her battle against cyber bullying.
Was she sending a message to her husband?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Let's face it, most children are more aware of the benefits and pitfalls of social media than some adults.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Tonight the disconnect between the President and the First Lady on very vivid display. Melania Trump speaking out in her campaign against cyber bullying, even as her husband was brutally berating his perceived political enemies online. Lets bring in our White House reporter Kate Bennett, she's joining. The First Lady seems to be very aware that she potentially has a credibility problem on this issue.
KATE BENNETT, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well she certainly understands that she's going to be criticized for talking about cyber bullying in the face of her husband being a -- doing a little cyber bullying himself, perhaps and some name calling. However that's not going to stop her from moving forward with her message of the best (ph).
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) UNKNOWN FEMALE: Today First Lady Melania Trump speaking at an anti- cyber bullying summit.
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: 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.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: Hoping children will be best, and warning that social media can be misused for bullying.
M. TRUMP: It can be used in many positive ways, but can also be destructive and harmful when used incorrectly.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: While the first lady was in Maryland for a panel about kids and kindness online, her husband, President Donald Trump was online himself calling John Brennan, "the worst CIA Director in history." Days earlier even stronger language, calling a former aide, "a crazed, crying, lowlife" and "a dog". The stark contrast between his Tweets and her pleas -- an issue since she unveiled her "Be Best" initiative back in May.
M. TRUMP: Now, it is my pleasure to call my husband to the stage.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: It appeared her husband was onboard.
DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Today we pledge to "Be Best", best for our families, best for our communities and best for our nation. And now I am proud to sign the "Be Best" Proclamation and I think you all know who is going to get the pen.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: She may have gotten the pen, but she also got the message this was a platform she would be pushing forward independently because she would be acting alongside a president who doesn't always use social media for good. In fact, the president warned her that if she focused on cyber bullying, critics might call her hypocritical, given how her own husband behaves online, this according to "The New York Times".
M. TRUMP: I'm well aware that people are skeptical of me, discussing this topic.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: The First Lady has also said that she has tried to control her husband's bad habit but with mixed results.
UNKNOWN MALE: Do you tell Mr. Trump to not Tweet so much?
M. TRUMP: Yes, but that's his decision. He's an adult, he knows the consequences. I give him many advices, but you know, sometimes he listens sometimes he doesn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BENNETT: Sometimes he listens, sometimes he doesn't. Now she's going to be taking her message of "Be Best" global just announced today she's going to go to Africa for her first major solo international trip.
This will happen in October, so we'll see her again talk about "Be Best" abroad, away from her husband. Of course remember earlier this year when the president referred to that part of Africa and some countries there with a very derogatory remarks. So again, interesting that she's chosen Africa as her first big, significant...
BLITZER: Very quickly, do we know which countries she's going to?
BENNETT: We don't know yet, I think we've got some ways to go here we're sort of -- she's keeping that quiet for now.
BLITZER: So you'll be going along and covering that trip as well. Good reporting, Kate Bennett. Thanks very much. I'm Wolf Blizter in "The Situation Room". Thanks very much for watching.