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Poll: Trump's Approval Stands at 45% & Disapproval Rises; Giuliani: "Truth Isn't Truth"; Fallout from Trump's Yanking John Brennan's Security Clearance; White House Counsel Don McGahn Has 30 Hours of Q&A with Mueller; Awaiting Jury Verdict in 3rd Day of Manafort Trial; Iranian Foreign Minister: U.S. Has "Addiction to Sanctions"; Syrians Brace for War's Final Showdown. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: There's another number that always jumps out at me, as a political nerd. Right track, wrong track. Is the country moving in the right track or wrong track? Right track, wrong track. Right now, you asked this question and 35 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. That's a number political analysts look at closely, especially in advance of the midterm elections.

PATRICK MURRAY, DIRECTOR, MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY POLLING INSTITUTE: Right. And I think it's going to have an impact on the midterm elections and who's in power. But we've seen this number to be negative for 10 years now. This goes back through the Obama administration. And that is really why we keep seeing this constant changeover in who controls Congress and the presidency and so forth. The public is not happy with the direction of the country. When they're not happy, they take it out on whoever is in charge. This year, the Republicans in Congress have to be worried about that.

BLITZER: But you would think, you know, that with the economy in pretty good shape, the stock market in pretty good shape, unemployment numbers, job creation. If it's the economy stupid, as James Carvell once said, you'd think more people would believe the country is moving in the right direction.

MURRAY: One of the things we look at is not just the economic numbers but how people feel it's affecting them. This is one of those economies where people don't feel all that benefitted by that. In fact, we're going to have numbers coming out later in the week of a question that we asked about, is this economic recovery really giving you something at your kitchen table. A lot of people say no.

BLITZER: So basically, these numbers, right track/wrong track, approval number, disapproval number suggest the Republicans could be in trouble in November?

MURRAY: Absolutely, yes.

BLITZER: What about confidence in the staff that the president has surrounded himself with? MURRAY: You know, after what happened last week, the Manafort trial,

Omarosa's book came out, so we asked this question, does Donald Trump hire the best people? That's what he promised he would do in the campaign. And 58 percent say no, 30 percent say yes. There's a big partisan divide. We've always seen this partisan divide. Nearly all Democrats say no, he does not. What's interesting is only two-thirds of Republicans say he does, and 29 percent say either he doesn't or give a mixed response. They just -- you know, even though they're going to stand by the president, a good number of Republicans say they don't think he's surrounding himself with the best people.

BLITZER: Patrick Murray, thanks for coming in.

MURRAY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: A brand new Monmouth University poll.

There's more news we're following, including Rudy Giuliani goes full Orwell. Quoting the former mayor right now, "Truth is not truth." He's now explaining that comment. We'll explain what he's saying.

Plus, as Melania Trump spoke out against cyberbullying today, her husband was actually intensifying feuds on Twitter, calling the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, quoting, and this is the president of the United States describing the special counsel as "a thug." His entire team, "a bunch of thugs." We'll have details.


[13:37:22] BLITZER: President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, once again causing confusion and controversy, this time with a rather bizarre declaration, saying, quote, "Truth isn't truth."

Listen to what he told NBC's Chuck Todd about the possibility of having President Trump testify in Mueller's Russia probe.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm not going to be rushed into having him testify so he gets trapped into perjury. When you tell me that he should testify because he is going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, that's silly. It's somebody's version of the truth, not the truth. He didn't have a conversation --


CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: Truth is truth. I don't mean to --


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


BLITZER: Truth isn't truth. But it's not the first time we've heard a message like this from the president and his team. Listen to this.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: You're saying it's a falsehood, and they're giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: In a situation like this, you have, over time, facts develop.

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, "NEW DAY": If tact counting is anything, we've never had anybody with the level of audacity he has.


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

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


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss this and more. Republican Congressman Francis Rooney, of Florida, is joining us.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let me get your reaction to that alternative facts, truth isn't truth. What's your reaction?

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY, (R), FLORIDA: Well, as a former ambassador to the Holy See, I'm a big believer in the objective truth. If you don't have objective truth, you have relativism. I'm sure that the mayor meant something about the advantage a prosecutor has over a testifying person in a deposition, but what he said is a little hard to understand.

BLITZER: It was hard to understand.

Let me get your reaction to the president revoking the former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance. As you now know, 175 former U.S. officials are adding their names to a growing list of intelligence officials spanning multiple administrations going back to the Reagan administration, denouncing the president's decision. Where to you stand on this?

ROONEY: Well, I think criticism of our intelligence agencies was not necessarily the best thing. These people risked their lives to do a very difficult job around the world. I've had the honor and pleasure to be associated with a lot of them. On the other hand, however, Mr. Brennan's personalization and politicization of intel is a little disturbing too. It's kind of like the business at the FBI of Strzok and McCabe. We need to have respect for our institutions, and we need to respect the people that do the hard work of protecting our country. [13:40:14] BLITZER: So you think the president was right in

stripping Brennan of his security clearance?

ROONEY: I don't know what the legalities are, but he does make one point that I thought was kind of interesting. Why did all these people need a security clearance after they finished doing their jobs?

BLITZER: Well, sometimes they're brought back to consult with current intelligence officials. The current CIA director, the current director of National Intelligence may have a perplexing problem they're dealing with and want the recommendation, they want the advice of somebody who may have actually dealt with that individual, that problem years earlier. That's why they maintain security clearances.

ROONEY: Oh, I'm sure of that. And that happens all the time. Also, people go back into the government. But during those times, there's probably a way to have a limited clearance to do certain things without having a broad one.

BLITZER: If you're going to have security clearances, you're going to have security clearances. If you're going to be called back for advice, if the director of National Intelligence wants to call back the former director of National Intelligence for advice and share sensitive information, that individual has to still maintain a security clearance.

ROONEY: Well, that's true. I mean, I've had one for many, many years. Occasionally it's used. A lot of times it's not. You do make a good point. But I think the big thing here is this politicization of these different government agencies and the hardness of the rhetoric on all sides can't be doing good for our institutions and for the feeling of the country at large.

BLITZER: What did you think of the president's description this morning of Robert Mueller and his team as a bunch of thugs?

ROONEY: Well, that's kind of what I mean about the harsh language on all sides. I don't know how that really serves the president's interests when it just makes people maybe feel sorry for Prosecutor Mueller when they don't need to. Or maybe it's going to influence people that will be called to pass judgment on what the prosecutor comes up with.

BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty shocking to hear that kind of description of Robert Mueller. They've been working on this now for more than a year. A bunch of thugs, that's pretty, you know, disgusting when you think about what these individuals are doing. Thugs, that's a pretty strong word.

ROONEY: Especially a man with the reputation of Prosecutor Mueller. He's got a stellar reputation in the military and FBI, et cetera.

BLITZER: He served in the FBI, the FBI director for a dozen years or so.

We're also learning now -- and I quickly want to get your reaction, Congressman -- that the current White House Counsel Don McGahn sat down were some 30 hours of Q&A with the special counsel's team. McGahn's attorney said that the president was authorizing this kind of Q&A and didn't really have anything to worry about. What does it say to you that 30 hours of testimony occurred?

ROONEY: Well, I'm sure that he had the president's blessing to go do it. Otherwise, I would wonder if he would still be White House counsel. But 30 hours is a long time. I would think you better be really on your game if you're going to spend 30 hours with prosecutors of the caliber of Mueller.

BLITZER: Do you think the president should sit down for an interview?

ROONEY: I don't know. That's really up to the president. He has to weigh the pros and cons. You know, that's what the Fifth Amendment and all that is all about. He'll have to decide what works in his favor to either be called, if that's possible for a president. I've seen arguments on both sides of that. Or if it puts him in a better light to volunteer.

BLITZER: Congressman Rooney, thanks so much for joining us.

ROONEY: Thank you for having me on.

BLITZER: All right. More news we're following. Take a look at these live pictures from the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, where jurors in the Paul Manafort trial are deliberating now for the third day. What the time frame may say about those deliberations. We'll go there for a live report.

[13:45:09] And CNN goes to Syria's final rebel stronghold where people say they have no escape from a potentially imminent government onslaught. We have an exclusive report.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Right now, we are waiting on verdict in Paul Manafort's trial. The jury is into its third day of deliberations on 18 charges against the former Trump campaign chairman, including tax evasion and bank fraud. It's also the first big courtroom test for the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Our Jessica Schneider is outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Jessica, there were more private conferences with the judge today. What's the latest?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There were, Wolf. Two mysterious bench conferences. They happened behind the closed doors of the courtroom. No one in the public was admitted. It was a meeting between the defense team, the prosecution, and the judge, all this sealed, meaning the transcripts of what happened inside those two bench conferences will not be unsealed and released until after the verdict. So we out here in the press and the public have no idea what happened in those. But they were relatively short.

In the meantime, the jury now going on hour five of their third day of deliberations. We have not heard a peep out of this jury today. Last week, we only saw two notes. The first one last week asking four different questions, including what reasonable doubt meant. The next day on Friday, the only note for them was that they wanted to call it a weekend early, getting out at 5:00 p.m. So not a peep from the jury today. They had 14 hours of deliberations last week. We're into hour five now.

The interesting thing is this jury has not been sequestered. They were allowed to go home over the weekend. They go home at night. Wolf, they have been instructed not to read or research anything or talk about this case. Meanwhile, we wait and see out here outside the federal courthouse -- Wolf?

[13:50:21] BLITZER: All right, let us know what you hear.

Jessica, thank you very much.

Driving through hell. You are going to see a father and son's heart- stopping escape from a raging wildfire at a national park.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God help us. F hope.



[13:55:14] BLITZER: "An addiction to sanctions," that's what the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, says the U.S. has in a new exclusive interview with CNN's senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. Listen to what else he had to say.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here we go in the opposite direction. You talk about trying to revisit the nuclear deal but it is clear that Donald Trump has no interest.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We don't want to revisit the nuclear deal. We want the United States to implement the nuclear deal.

Today the closest U.S. allies are resisting those sanction. The U.S. is basically arm twisting, its attempt to put pressure. I don't want to use the term bullying.

PATON WALSH: Don't want to use the term bullying. That's --


ZARIF: But that's what he has done.

PATON WALSH: Do they succumb to it, do you think, the allies, are they?

ZARIF: I think everybody looks at it this way.


BLITZER: Turning to another CNN exclusive, this one from the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria, Idlib. The regime and its allies are closing in on nearly three million Syrians who are languishing there.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, speaks to parents who lost their children in brutal air attacks telling their stories of courage under incredible fire.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There used to be an ice cream shop on the corner. Kids playing in the streets. A sunset the violence would not strike here, at least not like this.


DAMON: It's five days after multiple air strikes hit this once-quiet neighborhood in Idlib Province killing dozens of people, shattering whatever illusion of safety that may have existed.

For seven years now, Syria's unraveling has been documented.

"What's the point in all of your filming," this man wants to know. "For there's no humanity in this? In the world's response to Syria's heartless destruction."


DAMON: Only one of Ebrahim's five children survived. It's just memories now.

The family next door displaced from elsewhere, were all killed. Seven of them. Also killed was a media activist, Ahmed. Ahmed was just 20 years old, a nurse, and first responder by training, a role he played in his native Aleppo before the family was forcibly displaced to Idlib as the regime took over.

"When he saw first responders weren't there, he threw his camera aside to help a little girl," Ahmed's father tells us. But another strike came in, killing them both.

His parents seem stoic together, proud, but in pain. But later as his mother shows us his clothes, she breaks down.


DAMON: In the room next door his father shows us his photos. Tears he can't cry in front of his wife.


DAMON: They did everything together. A father/son team documenting their nation's pain, now directly a part of it.

The sluggish summer pace of life as we drive through Idlib Province seems the belie the violence.

It is the last remaining rebel stronghold. Turkey and Russia and Iran have been negotiating to ostensibly come to some sort of an agreement to prevent a total massacre here by the Syrian regime and the Russian backers.

Turkey has military observation posts in the province and has called an assault on Idlib a red line. Its border has been closed. And instead, a senior Turkish official says his government is pouring millions of dollars into swelling refugee camps.


DAMON (on camera): The man was just saying that he remembers when there were just a few tents here and the rest of it was just the olive groves. Now you take a look, and it just has such an aura of permanence to it all.

(voice-over): The rolling hills a stone's throw from the Turkish border has been transformed into a sea of homes of lost souls, from Aleppo, Hama (ph) and elsewhere.

Idlib's population has doubled in recent years as more Syrians arrived. It's also where, as other parts of the country fall back into government control, the regime relocated residents and rebel fighters.

For those here, normal and home have been irreversibly redefined.

"We can't go become, ever," he says. He doesn't trust the Assad regime.