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Trump Angry over McGahn Interview; Brennan Considers Fighting; Giuliani's False Claims; Trump Dares Brennan to Sue; Trump's Approval at 43 Percent. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired August 20, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: A little break. He starts right now. Have a great day.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Idlib, Syria, 9:30 p.m. in Tehran. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
Fury and paranoia as the president erupts over reports that the White House counsel has cooperated extensively with the Mueller team. Question is, what has Don McGahn revealed?
Plus, as President Trump threatens to revoke more security clearances, he's now daring the former CIA Director John Brennan to sue. This as dozens and dozens of former intelligence officials unite against the president's moves.
And George Orwell's "1984" was, of course, fiction. But now the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, with a new assault on facts by saying, and I'm quoting him now, truth isn't truth.
But up first, fury and fear over at the White House. The fear stems from uncertainty over what the White House Counsel Don McGahn told Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators. "The New York Times" reports that McGahn spent 30 hours in interviews with the Mueller team.
The fury is evident in the president's increasingly angry attacks on Mueller and his investigators. In a tweet today, the president referred to the, quote, disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of angry Democrat thugs. He went on to say, and I'm quoting the president, Mueller's angry Dems are looking to impact the election. They are a national disgrace.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He's joining us right now.
Jim, how concerned is the president and his legal team about what Don McGahn may have said to Mueller?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think you can tell by what Rudy Giuliani said on "Meet The Press" yesterday, that whopper that he said, that the truth isn't truth, that they're trying mightily, doing some verbal and mental gymnastics here, to try to explain their way out of this.
But I did talk to a source who is familiar with the president's legal team's thinking on all of this and was a part of the process when they gave Don McGahn, the White House counsel, the permission to speak to Mueller's team.
And this person was telling me, Wolf, and we're just reporting this now, that the thinking inside the president's legal team at that time is they were not waiving -- they were not exactly waiving Don McGahn in terms of executive privilege. They were not waving executive privilege over what Don McGahn would say to the special counsel's office. They wanted to allow him to cooperate. But according to this source, Wolf, the president's legal team at the time was thinking that they were still going to maintain executive privilege over the information that Don McGahn provided to the special counsel's office. The thinking being that at some point in time if Mueller's team wanted to use that information, there could be some kind of battle over how that information is used, that obviously they wanted to cooperate with the Mueller investigation, they wanted to provide Don McGahn in terms of his talking to the Mueller team, but according to this source familiar with the president's legal team's thinking, they still believe that there is executive privilege over what Don McGahn said at that time.
And so, Wolf, there could be a question down the road when Robert Mueller's team presents their information in their report to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general over at the Justice Department, in terms of what Don McGahn said during that 30 hours of questioning. The source that I spoke with earlier today, Wolf, was saying that they still maintain executive privilege over what Don McGahn said. And so this narrative, according to this source, that the sky is falling and that the house is on fire because of what Don McGahn told Mueller's team is not exactly accurate because they still believe there's executive privilege that's been asserted over that information.
BLITZER: Amidst all of this, Jim, there's a lot more fallout emerging right now over the president's decision to revoke the former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance. One hundred and seventy- five former U.S. officials spanning several agencies, administrations going back to the Reagan administration, have added their names to a list of intelligence officials denouncing the president's decision. And Brennan is considering now, what, going to court to fight all this.
What's the latest you're hearing from the president?
ACOSTA: Well, Wolf, we can point out the president, in addition to going after Robert Mueller, of course, has been escalating his attacks on the former CIA Director John Brennan. He put out a tweet earlier this morning saying that he hopes John Brennan will sue in this case. And it's interesting. Here's the tweet. It says, I hope John Brennan, the worst CIA director in our country's history, brings a lawsuit. It will then be very easy to get all of his records, texts, e-mails and documents to show not only the poor job that he did but how he was involved with the Mueller rigged witch hunt. He won't sue. Interesting to note about that tweet, Wolf, that is exactly what has
been said by critics of the president when he threatens to sue people, when he's threatened to sue news organizations and all sorts of things in the past. People have said, his critics have said, well, if the president does that, that would, of course, subject him to the discovery process of the legal system where all of his texts and e- mails and so on and so forth could be made part of the process. So it's interesting that the president would use that exact same rationale to say that he hopes John Brennan brings a lawsuit against the president, against the administration.
[13:05:31] But, Wolf, this only underlines this battle -- this pitched battle that exists between the president and John Brennan and some of these intelligence officials who are coming out very publicly, Wolf. It's -- you can't really emphasize this enough, how extraordinary it is to see so many intelligence professionals from the intelligence community going back decades now, coming out and supporting John Brennan and saying that this use of revoking security privileges by the White House, by the president is just flat wrong. You have the intelligence community pushing back against the executive branch, which it's a part of, in ways that we just haven't seen before in many, many years, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, good point. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, at the White House.
Let's discuss this and more. Joining us, the trial attorney, Seth Berenzweig, former assistant U.S. attorney Kim Wehle, and CNN political analyst April Ryan.
April, let's get, first of all, to Don McGahn, the White House counsel. He's the lawyer, not for the president, he's the lawyer for the White House.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The White House.
BLITZER: He's a government lawyer. And he went and spent 30 hours talking to Mueller and his team.
RYAN: And the president doesn't like it. And the bottom line is, Don McGahn understands the severity of this. He understands that if you are asked to come, and even if the president says there's executive privilege, this is a very serious investigation. And I've been told by those lawyers for some parties involved in this that, you know, this deals with -- a lot of this is focusing in on that June 9th meeting. And it deals with the elections issues.
This is very serious. This is not about the court of public opinion. This is about the rule of law. And that's what Don McGahn understands. Even though the president doesn't like it. And he gave those 30-plus hours, from what we're hearing, for a reason. For a reason.
BLITZER: And the reason presumably being, among other things, that he was concerned about his own legal stance in all of this. He wanted to show that he had nothing to hide and he was willing to cooperate. KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, that's actually quite
stunning, the conflict that he felt. And there's really a question there as to whether that should have been something that would give rise to his own resignation or disclosure of what was happening.
Now, what's important to keep in mind here is that government lawyers aren't like private lawyers. Private lawyers have a duty to represent their client zealously. There's an attorney/client privilege. For government lawyers, there's a broader objective of serving the public interest.
RYAN: That's right.
WEHLE: And the court has been -- various courts have been really clear, even when it comes to privilege claims, if there -- there is no government interest in withholding information that is relevant to a criminal investigation. So -- so McGahn was -- is in a -- in a difficult situation that's made even more complicated by this particular president, who tends to, as was mentioned, take the rule of law and just shred it, throw it up in the air and see where things land. And we're a bit flummoxed all across the board as to how to sort all these legal issues out because the president doesn't respect the law.
BLITZER: And Seth is going to sort it all out for us right now. How do you see it?
SETH BERENZWEIG, TRIAL ATTORNEY: Piece of cake.
Well, listen, I think that this is a legal team that has a strict duty to throw strikes. But they have just many unforced errors here. Just looking for --
BLITZER: Are you talking about the White House legal team or the private Trump legal team?
BERENZWEIG: The private Trump legal team led, among others, by Rudy Giuliani. I think Mr. Giuliani is putting his client in significant legal peril. If you take a look at what's going on right now, there are a lot of unforced errors. Just let's focus on the situation with Don McGahn. There could be arguments either way as to whether or not the president wanted to waive privilege or whether he could or should. But, at the end of the day, that's not necessarily a bad strategy.
What is utterly shocking is that when you waive privilege and then you find out that Don McGahn has been speaking with the special counsel's office for 30 hours and you're learning about it when you're reading it in "The New York Times," that's absolutely shocking. And now we're hearing that they think that they can still claim executive privilege when I can tell you that they absolutely cannot. The case law on this is clear. Once waived, it's waived permanently.
You know that Don McGahn did not speak for 30 hours in a block. It had to be broken out in days. Every single day the president's lawyers needed to be sitting down with either McGahn or at least his attorney trying to figure out, what in the world is going on. There's a lot of misdirection going on, and the president is in significant legal peril.
RYAN: And, Wolf, part of this problem is, is that Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney now, is doing a lot of these things without the White House knowing what's happening. And Don McGahn is trying to save himself.
Rudy Giuliani is -- is running -- he's the wildcard. You don't know what to expect. And the White House -- and I've said this before, Sarah Huckabee Sanders got upset, they're -- they're caught -- they're -- they're just not knowing what's going on with what Rudy Giuliani is doing.
[13:10:14] BERENZWEIG: He's saying -- Rudy Giuliani's saying that he's worried that the president's going to make inconsistent statements. That's exactly what Rudy Giuliani is doing.
RYAN: Giuliani is doing. Yes.
BERENZWEIG: He's changing his story about Trump Tower. He's changing the story about whether there was collusion. And even if there is, it's not encapsulated in the federal code, which is technically incorrect. So a lot of misdirection, a lot of unforced errors here.
BLITZER: And Giuliani goes on television and he doesn't even know a lot of the facts involving that Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 when the Russians were pitching an idea to help the president get dirt on Hillary Clinton, and they made it clear in the e-mail exchange, the text messages they were sending with Donald Trump Junior, this was coming from the Russian government.
WEHLE: Yes. I mean Rudy Giuliani is shooting from the hip, like his client. I don't think he's actually functioning as an attorney, as was mentioned in the traditional sense. McGahn is at least trying to adhere to his ethical obligations. And I think this misinformation, this notice that -- this notion that facts aren't facts, that we can shift our story and it all depends on whoever is speaking is -- undermines our entire civil and criminal justice system.
RYAN: It sure does.
WEHLE: And our -- where rules of evidence, both at the federal level and state level, that are designed for decades, if not centuries, to make sure that the information that goes before the juries is accurate and supported by facts. So what Giuliani is doing is not just, I think, undermines the interest of his client, but it undermines the interest of the American people and the rule of law and the criminal and civil justice systems.
BLITZER: Let me play a clip from Giuliani yesterday talking about the Trump Tower meeting. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: All they knew is that a woman with a Russian name wanted to meet with them. They didn't know she was a representative of the Russian government. And indeed she's not a representative of the Russian government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Well, she was a representative of the Russian government, Natalia Veselnitskaya, because in the e-mail exchange that Donald Trump Junior had with Rob Goldstone, who was setting up this meeting with the Russian, the intermediary, it says clearly, this is obviously very high level and sensitive information, but is part of Russia and its government's support of Mr. Trump, helped along by Aras and Emin. Those were the individuals, the intermediaries.
But clearly this was a meeting that was designed to provide information. They didn't get it necessarily from the Russian government to the Trump team.
RYAN: Right. What the problem is that Rudy Giuliani is doing, he is out here giving what he wants to give. And he understands -- he's trying to play this in the court of public opinion. He clearly understands that whatever he puts out there, the Trump base is listening. They're trying to play this in the court of public opinion.
The president's approval rating on Russia, when it comes to his base, is so high. And he's giving wrong information. Again, this is about the rule of law.
And with that June 9th meeting, you could have President Trump -- you could have -- and this is what I'm hearing -- possibly as an unindicted co-conspirator. You could have other Trump names come out. You could also have issues of conspiracy, election issues. I mean there's so much that comes just out of the June 9th meeting. This is serious. I cannot stress how serious this -- just this meeting is.
BERENZWEIG: He doesn't know the facts of his own case.
RYAN: He doesn't.
BERENZWEIG: He doesn't know the law of his own case. He's completely silent as to the security clearance revocation issues, which I know is really kind of on a different strand. But I think that's relevant because it is illegal to attack people who are participating in the conducting of a lawful federal investigation. And in order to do that, if he's going to be interfering in that, there is -- it's not a good look as far as obstruction is concerned.
BLITZER: All right, Seth, Kim, and April, guys, thank you very much.
RYAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Up next, there are new signs prosecutors may be closing in to charge President Trump's former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen. What this means potentially for the president.
Plus, former President Jimmy Carter with a blistering rebuke of the current president, calling him, I'm quoting Jimmy Carter now, a disaster. And a jury is deciding the fate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul
Manafort. You're looking at live pictures coming in from outside the courthouse. Are there any signs they may be close to a verdict? We'll go live to the courthouse. That's coming up.
[13:18:46] BLITZER: There is more support today for former CIA Director John Brennan as President Trump goes on the attack once again. One hundred and seventy-five former U.S. officials have added their names to a letter denouncing President Trump for revoking Brennan's security clearance. They join more than a dozen former intelligence officials and 60 former CIA officials who put out similar statements last week. Brennan is promising a court fight if necessary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I have been contacted by a number of lawyers and they have already given me their thoughts about the basis for a complaint, an injunction, to try to prevent him from doing this in the future.
If my clearances and my reputation, as I'm being pulled through the mud now, if that's the price we're going to pay to prevent Donald Trump from doing this against other people, to me it's a small price to pay. So I am going to do whatever I can personally to try to prevent these abuses in the future. And if it means going to court, I will -- I will do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Trump shot back on Twitter today, daring him to file a lawsuit, calling him a, quote, political hack, and saying intelligence community critics are only concerned with losing the money and the prestige they have that a security clearance brings.
Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu. He's from California. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.
[13:20:04] Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
So is the president going through what his critics are describing as an enemy's list, trying to inflict whatever damage he can?
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question.
That's absolutely correct. And I think it's important to understand that just because a president has the power to take an action doesn't mean it's legitimate. So, for example, if someone were to bribe the president, say I'm going to give you $10,000 in exchange to get a security clearance, and the president agreed, that would not be legitimate. So, similarly, if the president's revoking John Brennan's security clearance because of free speech issues, that is also not legitimate, and I think John Brennan would have a very reasonable and probably victorious First Amendment case if he were to bring it.
BLITZER: Did Brennan go too far describing the president's behavior as -- and he threw out the word treasonous.
LIEU: I think different people can look at what the president did in Helsinki, the way he kowtowed to Vladimir Putin, and come away with that conclusion. I'm not sure that I would have gone to that length. But I think John Brennan is (INAUDIBLE) within the reasonableness orbit to have made that conclusion. And people can also look at the Trump Tower meeting and reasonably conclude that that was collusion.
BLITZER: Collusion is different than treason.
LIEU: Yes, it absolutely is. And, by the way, Donald Trump today tweeted that there's no crime as collusion. That's true. It's just called conspiracy in legal terms. But, yes, treason is a strong word. I agree with that.
BLITZER: All right, there was -- as you know, the weekend reporting that the White House Counsel Don McGahn, he has been cooperating extensively with Robert Mueller's Russia probe. The president says he encouraged that kind of cooperation, but it's unclear what McGahn said. Is this McGahn trying to protect himself legally down the road? He's the White House counsel. He's not the president's personal attorney.
LIEU: Right. There was one thing Don McGahn had to do before he could take office. He had to take an oath. And that was not an oath to Donald Trump or to any political party. It was an oath to the U.S. Constitution. So, ultimately, Don McGahn's client is the Constitution and the rule of law. That's what he was doing when he was cooperating with the special counsel's office. And I think Don McGahn absolutely did the right thing.
BLITZER: As you know, the president was doing some spin control on McGahn's 30 hours of Q&A with the Mueller team, refuting any suggestion that McGahn is, in the president's words, a John Dean style rat.
BLITZER: John Dean, of course, was the Nixon administration's -- the White House counsel during the Nixon administration, a whistleblower. Is his decision to drag John Dean into this a warning to McGahn?
LIEU: Right. I thought it was very telling that Donald Trump used the word rat in his tweet. An innocent person would not view a cooperating witness as a rat. But a criminal mind would. As a former prosecutor, I've dealt with lots of different criminals. This is how criminals think. They think anyone who cooperates with law enforcement is a rat and is somehow going to rat them out. And, again, this is another statement that is inconsistent with actions of an actually innocent person.
BLITZER: Since Don McGahn is a White House counsel, not the president's personal attorney like Rudy Giuliani is, did he have any choice in testifying, in agreeing to Q&A with the Robert Mueller team?
LIEU: I think ultimately if Robert Mueller had subpoenaed him, he would have had to do so. But according to Donald Trump himself, he gave Don McGahn the permission to go do these interviews. So now the president appears to regret it.
And, again, if you're actually innocent, you wouldn't regret Don McGahn doing this. You would have nothing to hide. But it looks very much that Donald Trump has a lot to hide from the American people.
BLITZER: Congressman Ted Lieu, as usual, thanks for joining us.
LIEU: Yes, thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, just in, there's some eye-opening new polls showing the majority of Americans have little confidence in the White House staff and don't believe the president hires, quote, all the best people.
[13:28:52] BLITZER: This just in to CNN. A new Monmouth University poll shows President Trump's approval rating right now stands at 43 percent. That number remaining fairly consistent this year in that poll despite the Russia probe, the summit controversies, the former associates facing legal issues. But this new poll shows many people do lack confidence in the people surrounding the president of the United States.
The director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, Patrick Murray, is joining us right now.
So, Patrick, give us the upshot on the president's approval number right now.
PATRICK MURRAY, DIRECTOR, MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY POLLING INSTITUTE: Yes, -- you just mentioned 43 percent to 50 percent disapprove. The disapproval number is a few points up from the last time we measured it, but that was right after his meeting with Kim Jong-un where, you know, he got a slight bump in that meeting. But that's -- it's been really consistent. There has not been anything that has moved his numbers significantly.
BLITZER: Yes, looking at your polls in June after Helsinki, his disapproval was 46 percent, now 50 percent disapproval. But his approval number was 43 percent.
MURRAY: Same thing.
BLITZER: It's at 43 percent now.
BLITZER: There's another number that always jumps out at me as a political nerd, right track, wrong track.
[13:29:59] BLITZER: Is the country moving in the right direction or is it moving in the wrong direction? Right track, wrong track. Right now you have -- you asked this question --
BLITZER: Thirty-five percent of the American public believes the country is moving in the right direction, 57 percent think the country is moving in the wrong direction.