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22 Children Killed while Evacuating Bombed-Out Homes; GOP Grapples as Legal Storm Hits Trump; Tech Giants Tackle Election Interference; WSJ: "National Enquirer" Boss Granted Immunity in Cohen Case. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 24, 2018 - 10:30   ET



NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- to a surviving family member. And he described just real heartbreak there. Not only were there airstrikes in the village that they - that this family were fleeing, but the airstrikes continued even as the first people to arrive on the scene were attempting to evacuate those who had been able to survive this attack.

Again, similarly to what it was like when we were reporting on the bus attack. We can't show you the footage because it's just too graphic. But there is an absolutely heartbreaking scene where an old man is pulling together the remains of his son and his daughter-in-law and their children. And the bomb strike was so hard and so extreme that he is managing to wrap these remnants in a sheet, these remnants of a family of six or seven people, all managed to fit into the sheet. And it is absolutely horrifying. And the airstrikes continue, Poppy. And of course, all of this is happening while the investigation into that bus attack has yet to deliver its findings.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So, Nima, I mean we know because of your reporting frankly that the bomb that was used in that previous bus attack that killed all those innocent kids was U.S. made. So, now big picture here, what is the U.S. role in all of this? Because you know the U.S. is backing the Saudi coalition. And what is being done to reduce the civilian casualties?

ELBAGIR: That's the question that increasingly U.S. lawmakers are asking. You had the Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy attempting to table an amendment to the act that governs U.S. arm sales to Saudi Arabia. That was blocked.

But you can really feel the pressure ratcheting up here. It's kind of the conversations moved from are the Saudis in violation of international law to, well, is the U.S. in violation of the international arms treaty. Because of course, all the partners to that treaty have to be able to say that we believe that these arms are not going to be used in ways in violation of humanitarian law and we are convinced of that increasingly, given what's happening in Yemen. It is growing increasingly difficult for the U.S. and the Trump administration to be able to say that with conviction, Poppy.

HARLOW: Because of this, what was it? $100 million arms contract between the U.S. and U.K.

ELBAGIR: Yes, $110 billion.


ELBAGIR: It's pretty extraordinary.

HARLOW: Nima, thank you for the reporting and staying on this. We'll be right back.


[10:37:12] HARLOW: Well it may be the end of August, but it has certainly not been a slow news week for President Trump, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort - well Michael Cohen's guilty plea, Paul Manafort's felony conviction and the president's fight with his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It's just some headaches of headlines for Republicans.

So, we're really interested in what do big name Republican donors think about all of this? Let's talk to one of them. Dan Eberhart is with me. He is the CEO of Canary. And Dan, for our viewers, I first met you reporting North Dakota years ago. You formed this company and really cashed in on the big oil boom in North Dakota. You have been more and more vocal there -- we are in North Dakota - more and more vocal since then as a donor and a member of the Republican Party, a big supporter of the president. What is your assessment of how this week was for President Trump?

DAN EBERHART, CEO, CANARY LLC: I think it's been a pretty bad week for him. But I think he has a history of bouncing back and seems to relish sometimes being down and coming out swinging.

HARLOW: You - well, you know, we have seen it's been pretty hard to move his poll numbers, right? From Helsinki, the "Access Hollywood" tape, whatever you call it. He has bounced back. You said to "NPR" this week, big picture for the Republican Party, that the Republican Party needs a united front ahead of the midterms when it comes to support for the president. But it's not united right now. Did this week make it harder to get that united front?

EBERHART: First of all, I don't think the Democrats are united either but I do think that this week has made it more difficult that the risk for the Republicans is that all this negative coverage about Manafort and about Cohen and the feud with Jeff Sessions leads to Republicans not being able to get their message out about you know how good the economy is doing, how good the jobs numbers are and the other things that the Republicans are working on like the judicial confirmation of -

HARLOW: Kavanaugh

EBERHART: -- Judge Kavanaugh.

HARLOW: You actually think, Dan that the president may pardon Paul Manafort. As a donor to him, as a donor to the party, as a Republican who wants to see Republicans maintain control of Congress, what would you say to the president on that?

EBERHART: I would say it's possible he could pardon him. I think first of all, I think that he shouldn't do it. And I think that he shouldn't pardon anyone as it relates to the Russia investigation and the Russia collusion investigation at all. In addition, I think that if he is going to pardon someone, he should wait until after the conclusion of Mueller's investigation.

HARLOW: You know it is interesting, because you have been critical of what this week has meant for the president. Largely because of what Michael Cohen testified to under oath -- said under oath in a federal courthouse this week and you called that an earthquake for the president. Did something change?

[10:40:03] EBERHART: I think it's an earthquake in that it has shaken up the Republican establishment and the powers that be in Washington. I think that people are you know afraid, like I said a minute ago, about not being able to get their message out on the economy, about jobs, about judicial confirmations. It's really just a giant distraction for Republicans. And it feeds into the hand of Democrats.

HARLOW: Also --

EBERHART: -- wanting to distract from the economy.

HARLOW: You know, you also have, I mean as a major Republican donor -- I think we have some of your donations to the folks that you have given money to. They are all Republicans, right?

This week, California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife, someone I looked it up, that I don't think you have donated to, correct me if I'm wrong, they were indicted for spending $250,000 of campaign donations on a very lavish lifestyle, vacations to Italy and Hawaii, also a plane ticket for a pet bunny, tequila shots. I mean they say they are not guilty.

You can't -- I don't even know -- the headlines are very negative for them. They say they're not guilty. This comes after Republican Congressman Chris Coons was indicted for securities fraud, right? They were among the first supporters of the president. So, I wonder if you think that the Republican Party should be worried that at least the public perception is increasingly that you know that the swamp has gone nowhere.

EBERHART: Well, first of all, the allegations against Duncan Hunter, if those are true -- I think that those are extremely unsettling. It seems more appropriate for it to -- for those kinds of things to be in a movie, not happen in real life. But that said, I think you know the way that the Democrats have you know Bob Menendez - not every Democrat is like Bob Menendez. I think that not every Republican is like Duncan Hunter. I think --

HARLOW: Bob Menendez wasn't convicted.


OK. Bob Menendez wasn't convicted. It was a hung jury there. But, OK, continue.

EBERHART: Well - and Duncan Hunter might not be convicted but --

HARLOW: Correct.

EBERHART: I think the Republican response, Paul Ryan's response to strip Duncan Hunter's committee assignment shows that the Republicans take that stuff very seriously. It's just not acceptable in the Republican Party.

HARLOW: OK. Dan, I appreciate you being with us. Hey, by the way, are you going to run for office?

EBERHART: You asked me that last time. I'm focused on what we are doing on Canary and on trying to grow Canary. And that's what I'm focused on right now. Thank you.

HARLOW: Very political answer. Dan thanks for taking time out of your vacation to join me.

EBERHART: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Hackers, fake websites, bots, this week alone several tech giants have sounded the alarm and squashed attempts to spread misinformation online, attempts by Russia and Iran. Today, they are meeting to do something more about it. We will talk about it next.


[10:47:18] HARLOW: So, today, the world's biggest tech giants are meeting in an urgent effort to stave off increasing election meddling, just 73 days ahead of the midterms. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, all expected to be able to talk today and this comes in the same week that Microsoft says it took control of six websites that Russian military intelligence had set up to lure in unsuspecting users from key Republican think tanks. Also this week, Facebook took down 652 accounts, Twitter 284 accounts. Google says it shut down 58 sites with links to Iran and potential election meddling.

Let's go to Brian Barrett. He's a news editor for "WIRED." What has struck me so much about this week, after Microsoft said, look, here is what you know Russia is doing and we stopped it, is the private sector is sort of finally saying, we have to be at the forefront of this?

BRIAN BARRETT, NEWS EDITOR, WIRED: That's right. And I think it's remarkable. I think the meeting today is a great example of that. It's great that they are doing that and coming to that realization. But it's also astonishing that they weren't meeting regularly a year ago. And even one of the agenda items on today's meeting, apparently, is we will see if we want to keep doing this. I mean they sort of have to at this point. They are on the frontlines for better or worst.

HARLOW: But you know there are some who would say, isn't the onus you know for this on the government? I suppose you know it just doesn't matter, because what the government has been able to do up until now have not been effective. It continues. BARRETT: Right. And I think there is -- you can point fingers back and forth. I think the government should do more. I think it's very problematic. The White House eliminated the cyber security coordinator role in May. That would be the person in charge of organizing the government --

HARLOW: Why? Why did they do that?

BARRETT: It's hard to say. They said John Bolton came in and said you know what, we're fine with the structure that we have. So, we lost some really smart people who were sort of the organizational infrastructure here.

But you know that happens. It's not you know useful to sort of complain about that. I mean, I guess it is in hopes you get reinstated. But ultimately, yes, for now, the tech companies are the ones who need to sort of step up. They shouldn't have to do it on their own, but they have to do something.

HARLOW: And this threat is bigger than Russia. To be clear, it includes Russia, right? The president has said, you know maybe it's a 400 pound guy in the basement, whatever. It includes Russia. But also as we heard from John Bolton, this week, it's others. Let's listen to him.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I can say definitively that it's a sufficient national security concern about Chinese meddling, Iranian meddling and North Korean meddling that we are taking steps to try and prevent it. It's all four of those countries really.


HARLOW: What do you say to that? Because I think for Americans listening, you know Iran was not at the top of their mind in terms of election meddling until maybe this week.

[10:50:03] BARRETT: Well, I think Iran's an interesting case. I think because Iran, what was shown this week is that Iran was sort of targeting a wide number and areas. So there were active in the U.S. but also the Middle East. I think Iran is an interesting case also because we had for several years sort of a cyber haunt with Iran. They were still a little bit active but not so much with the U.S. withdrawing from the nuclear deal now, their concerns maybe they're going to start to be more active. Maybe there is something we have to worry about now.

HARLOW: That's really interesting.

BARRETT: In terms of the election specifically though, I think Russia is the main concern. China and North Korea are much more strategic I think in how they go about their cyber activities. Russia just kind of wants to sow discord.

HARLOW: Brian, thank you, really important insight. I appreciate you being with me.

BARRETT: Thanks so much.

HARLOW: So, ahead for us, a special report, secret safe, documents and friends flipping. The wild week of the legal headlines for the president is not letting up yet. Stay with CNN for the latest developments.


[10:55:26] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

HARLOW: All right. We have major breaking news to bring you right now. "The Wall Street Journal" has just reported that longtime Trump organization CFO, the chief financial officer of the Trump organization, Allen Weisselberg, that man on your screen, has just been granted immunity by federal prosecutors in the Michael Cohen case of hush money and covering up payments to a porn star and a former Playboy playmate.

Kara Scannell is all over the story and joins me now. We were just talking about Allen Weisselberg and how integral he has been in the Trump organization. He was hired by President Trump's father. So what does this tell you?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Poppy, this is a big development. We've got the CFO of the Trump organization. Like he said, he has been with this company for a long time. He is in charge of the money. He knows -- he is sending money out. He is the bookkeeper as they have even described him.

So, he knows an awful lot about how the Trump organization works and the money flows. And we know that he was of interest to the prosecutors investigating Michael Cohen because he authorized some of these payouts, the reimbursements that were made to Cohen. So, he was very likely very important in their investigation and in the charges that they brought against Michael Cohen and that he pled guilty to. It's not clear how far beyond Michael Cohen of interest Weisselberg is going to be the prosecutors. But he's certainly - I mean, it's a big deal that he got immunity and he is the second person - we also know that David Pecker did, too.

HARLOW: Our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin joins me on the phone. Jeffrey, prosecutors do not hand out immunity easily. They have to think you have something very worthwhile to their case to do that. And I think it's notable. Remember, Allen Weisselberg was named on that recorded call that Michael Cohen's lawyer ended up you know handing over to CNN that we all heard where they're taking about the president and Michael Cohen are talking about paying off Karen McDougal and AMI, $150,000 to keep this story quiet. They mentioned Allen Weisselberg.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST (via telephone): He knows where the money is. You know one of the oldest rules of law enforcement is follow the money. And CFOs are often very, very important witnesses. Not because they have done anything wrong, but they know where the money comes in and where it goes out. And the fact that he has now been granted immunity is enormously significant. Because it means investigators now have a basically complete window into the financial operations of the Trump organization. Now if there is nothing improper that went on there, Donald Trump has nothing to worry about. But if there is something improper, the feds are very likely going to know about it.

HARLOW: This, Jeffrey, escalates the pressure, potentially on the president. I should note, "The Wall Street Journal" reached out for comment from Weisselberg. Did not hear back. We are doing the same at this time. But we do know from this "Journal" reporting, Jeffrey that he did -- he was called to testify before a federal grand jury. Just set this in the context to the week for us. This is a week where Michael Cohen plead guilty - on the president. David Pecker got immunity for flipping on the president and now, this. How significant, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Well what makes it so important is that the investigators are trying to tell the whole story of what went on here. Michael Cohen has admitted that he has participated in illegal campaign finance activity, as he said, at the direction of the president. But what did he do exactly? And who did he do it with? Were other people involved? Certainly, Allen Weisselberg, who as you point out is mentioned on that tape, is someone who might know something about this.

David Pecker received some of this money in his role as chief executive of American Media. That's the other side of the transaction. Are there other transactions? The feds are doing what feds do, which is find someone who did wrongdoing, flip him and then use him to determine if there's other wrongdoing to be found. It's certainly very unnerving to be on the receiving end of that kind of scrutiny.

HARLOW: Look, in the Trump organization, a private organization, which means unlike public companies, the books aren't out there for the public to see. But when federal prosecutors get someone to talk about them and grant them immunity, they can see all of it.

Jeff Toobin, thank you. Of course, we are staying all over this breaking news. Again, Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump organization, granted immunity to talk and testify in front of a federal grand jury. We continue our coverage with "At This Hour" right now.