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Trump Organization CFO Granted Immunity to Testify; Multitude of Legal Cases Against Trump; Trump Tells Pompeo Not to Go to North Korea. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired August 24, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He will make some remarks at the Republican state dinner there. So there will be multiple opportunities for the president to weigh in on all of this, not to mention this war of words that's been going on with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That could also flare up, as you've noted. Over the last 24 hours, he's been taking some jabs at his attorney general. As we've seen, Jeff Sessions has been punching back -- Wolf?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Certainly has been. That's another huge, huge story as well.
Jim Acosta at the White House. We'll stay in close touch with you and see if the president does agree to answer some reporters' questions as he's emerging from the White House over there on the South Lawn.
Thank you very, very much.
Allen Weisselberg is certainly one of many close allies to turn against the president in one week. We're walking through them all.
Also this, as President Trump continues his blistering attacks against the attorney general, it appears Jeff Sessions may be losing the support of a major ally, at least some Republicans in the U.S. Senate, his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate, at least some of them. We have details.
[13:35:38] BLITZER: It's really been a dizzying week of news with so many developments on the multitude of legal cases surrounding the president of the United States.
Joining us now to help sort it all out for us, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.
Chris, help us put these cases into perspective.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: OK, Wolf. I'm going to talk relatively fast because there's a lot. Let's pop up the graphic that shows the legal universe.
OK. Let's just run through them. Bob Mueller, we know about that one. Special counsel investigation. Not sure when that ends, but probably the biggest domino out there.
We have reporting from last night, "New York Times" reporting that, the Manhattan D.A. may look into the ways in which the donations to Karen McDougal and Storm y Daniels were made because they may have been dicey looking. That's Karen McDougal. We know she was paid $150,000 in a catch and kill agreement by AMI, American Media, David Pecker, the company he runs.
You know this guy by now. Michael Cohen pled to eight counts earlier this week, including two on campaign finance tied to the donations to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, the porn star, who got paid $130,000 11 days before the election for her silence, that we know was set up through a shell company that Cohen set up and was paid back by Donald Trump.
Less attention given by still a pending piece of litigation, Summer Zervos has sued Donald Trump. She said she had an affair with him in the 2000s. He's denied it. She said he defamed her in the process. There's a lawsuit in which discovery is happening now.
Go to the bottom, this is a Trump International Hotel. This is in D.C., the old post office. This ties to Emoluments, which is a way of saying Donald Trump is benefitting from the fact his name is on this hotel. Foreign dignitaries stay here to cozy up to him. That case is ongoing. Judges have rejected the Trump administration's attempts to throw that case out.
That's a lot, Wolf, but that's all the ongoing legal maneuvering around Donald Trump.
Back to you.
BLITZER: It's only just beginning, I suspect. Also this week, we've seen so many of the president's closest friends either turning on him or potentially preparing to turn on him. The most recent being the Trump Organization chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.
So, Chris, what could each of these flips, whatever you want to call it, mean for the president? How deep could all this go?
BLITZER: OK. So Weisselberg is here in obviously the newest piece of information, that he was granted immunity to talk about Cohen and the payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. We don't know if the Weisselberg immunity deals more broadly with the finances of Donald Trump. Remember, this is someone who has for decades worked for Donald Trump, was hired by Donald Trump's father. No one knows more than this guy.
OK, but we have Jeff Sessions. We know Sessions recused himself, the attorney general. That's why Trump believes he's in this mess. He recuses himself from the Russia investigation. Now a special counsel is noted. We have Omarosa. She's written a book about it. She has tapes. That was last week. It may come back.
Then Cohen and David Pecker. This may be the biggest domino to drop. The head of American Media, reports that there was a safe that had a variety of catch-and-kill deals like Karen McDougal's that Pecker, who is a long-time friend of Trump, set up. In March 2016, after "National Enquirer" ran a piece alleging with zero proof that Ted Cruz, Donald Trump's opponent at the time in the primary, had multiple extramarital affairs, Pecker and Trump had been friends. Cruz made that very clear. There was no denial there, but this is -- the Pecker/Trump relationship has been a long one, and in both cases you've seen it work for Donald Trump's political gain. So keep an eye there.
Yes, all these people in some way shape or form have turned on Donald Trump.
Back to you, Wolf.
[13:39:43] BLITZER: Chris Cillizza, thanks for that explanation.
And if that were not enough, there's more breaking news. The president of the United States just tweeting, there you see it right there, that he's asked the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea at this time. He says, "Because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
It was only yesterday and the day before that Secretary Pompeo said he's heading back to Pyongyang. Now the president says not so fast. We'll update our viewers when we come back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[13:44:45] BLITZER: More breaking news coming into CNN right now. President Trump is telling his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he doesn't want him to go to North Korea right now after all.
Our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is joining us.
Kaitlan, let me read these three tweets from the president that he just posted, then we'll discuss. We'll put them up on the screen starting with this one: "I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea at this time because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Additionally, because of our much tougher trading stance with China, I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were despite the U.N. sanctions, which are in place. Secretary Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our trading relationship with China is resolved. In the meantime, I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon."
So, Kaitlan, give us some context right now. It was only yesterday that secretary Pompeo said he's heading next week to North Korea.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is really big. Mike Pompeo was scheduled to make his fourth trip there next week. He just announced a newly appointed envoy. Now the president is cancelling it, telling us he asked Pompeo not to make that trip. Pompeo was under a lot of pressure. This was going to be one of the most significant trips of his career because he's under real pressure to show this diplomacy with North Korea is actually producing tangible results. That's something that's been in question ever since that summit in Singapore between the president and Kim Jong-Un when they sat down and signed that agreement about denuclearizing. Yet, there have been no real results since then. The administration is only able to point to things that happened before Singapore, like no more missiles being fired off or anything like that, of that nature.
Of course, Wolf, you'll remember the last time that Mike Pompeo went to North Korea, he was jerked around by the North Koreans. They kept changing his schedule and informing him of things later on. Then he never even met with the North Korean dictator as he was scheduled to. So this really does show off a lot of the frustration that has been happening inside the West Wing among not just the president and Mike Pompeo, but also his other national security officials, the Defense Secretary James Mattis and the national security adviser, John Bolton, over how they should move forward with North Korea because they are seeing this frustration that there's actually not that much progress being made as far as denuclearization is going. So that is what we seem to be seeing a result of here.
Wolf, we did see the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just outside the West Wing maybe an hour or so ago. That likely was when that meeting occurred, that the president asked Pompeo not to make that trip to North Korea. Certainly, some very big news that he's this concerned about the progress that they're making, that he's going as far to ask his secretary of state to cancel a trip that had already been announced to go to North Korea.
BLITZER: Yes, you're certainly right. A very big deal. The president at least in part blaming China, the trade dispute between the U.S. and China, the tariffs and trade, for this decision.
Kaitlan, thank you very much.
Let's discuss this and more with Ryan Lizza, CNN's political analyst, chief political correspondent for "Esquire." Also joining us from New York, S.E. Cupp, CNN political commentator, the host of CNN's "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED," which premieres on CNN this Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll talk about that in a moment.
Ryan, first to you.
Give us your reaction to this news that the president announcing on Twitter that Pompeo is not going next week to North Korea.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's part of this sort of erratic pattern of decisions with respect to North Korea. I mean, there are two notable things in that series of tweets. One is he's mostly blaming this on China, right? He made some reference to this in the interview with FOX News this week. He believes that China is no longer putting enough pressure on North Korea to act the way we want North Korea to act. And he blames essentially the trade war that he started with China for their alleged retreat here. The second thing is he continues to have these kinds of odd, very warm and respectful comments for Chairman Kim. He ends the series of tweets with sort of a, you know, don't worry, Chairman Kim, I still like you.
BLITZER: "My warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon."
LIZZA: So needless to say, this is not the normal kind of diplomacy we are all used to. It's frankly very bizarre. And, look, a lot of people did warn the president that starting a trade war with China would have ramifications if you need their Cooperation with North Korea. Trump himself now seems to have come to that conclusion.
BLITZER: Another bizarre twist in all of this, S.E. How do you see it?
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED": Well, just to you know, how you end a letter to a pen pal. It is not how you address one of the world's worst dictators who starves his own people. Even if you are trying detente, diplomacy, even if that is your effort and you're trying to sort of thaw the freeze, you still need to recognize who this man is and treat him accordingly. But also, yes, North Korea was always going to be a folly and going to Singapore and staging these theatrics was not going to simply reverse, you know, decades of policy and inaction and stubbornness on behalf of the North Korean regime. So if Trump's shoot first aim second kind of foreign policy is backfiring, color me unsurprised.
[13:50:36] BLITZER: And, S.E., what is your reaction, how worried should be the president be that Allen Weisselberg, for 40 years, a key player at the Trump Organization, chief financial officer, has now been granted immunity and is talking?
CUPP: Yes, this is as if almost as if Oprah is in charge. You get immunity, you get immunity, you all get immunity so that everyone connected to the Trump inner circle feels as though they can go on record and they can go on record presumably because they have something to go on record about. I'd be very concerned if I were Trump that he will be implicated in to what is being alleged as campaign finance violations, that is telling one of these people, either David Pecker or Weisselberg, we need these stories to go away because of the election. It is very possible one if not all of these players have exactly precisely that information to relay and possibly proof of it.
BLITZER: Very quickly, if the stories that these two women who say they had an affair with the president years earlier, if, in fact, the details had come out in the days just before the election in 2016, would it have made a difference?
LIZZA: You know, that is a great question. We do know that Trump's supporters, his hardcore supporter, know all of these facts now and they haven't turned on the president. But right before the election in 2016, when some of those voters were taking a little bit more of a gamble, look, it was an election decided by 80,000 votes in three states. So you flip half those plus one and Hillary Clinton would have been president. I think this is the argument that as we digest the fact that the president seems to have been involved in what prosecutors say was a criminal conspiracy as Democrats start to digest this and Republicans think is this an impeachable offense or not, I think the argument that at least to me is on the more persuadable side is acts that helped elect you that were illegal in some way, that is in the category of things that should be impeachable. If you did something corrupt or criminal that got you elected, that is in the universe of impeachable things.
Some crimes a president may have committed before they were in office don't rise to an impeachable offense and some things that you do as president that are not technically illegal could be impeachable. So I think that is -- your question is the key one, was this criminal and did it help elect him. And once you start answering yes to those questions, you're in the universe of impeachment.
BLITZER: And, S.E., if we would have all known about Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal two week before the election, do you think that that would have made a difference?
CUPP: It is hard to say because we know about it now, but that is after a year-plus of Trump and Trump surrogates sort of bashes us over on the head with these stories of fake news and witch hunts and so it is all -- I don't want to say it is normalized, none of this is normal, but it is all part of this big noise pattern that wasn't there quite yet in the months leading up to the election. Yes, Trump was talking about a rigged election. He was sort of laying the ground work. But I think we were still capable of surprise back then. We're all a little jaded now. So I imagine had all that built up especially following "Access Hollywood," maybe it would have turned enough voters, it wouldn't have taken many, to push the election Hillary's way. We'll just never know.
BLITZER: We know that we didn't know before the days leading up to the election because of the $130,000 that were paid to Stormy Daniels, $150,000 that were paid to Karen McDougal, the hush money payments.
S.E., Ryan, thank you to both of you.
Important note for our viewers. Remember, you can catch S.E.'s new show right here on CNN tomorrow night Saturday night, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. It is called "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED." We'll be watching. Congratulations.
CUPP: Thank you.
BLITZER: Looking forward to the new show.
CUPP: Thanks a lot.
[13:55:00] BLITZER: Any moment now, the president will be departing the White House for Ohio. Will he address the immunity deal or the North Korea talks? The breaking news continues next.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[13:59:54] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera. Brooke Baldwin is off.
We begin with breaking news on this Friday. Just 70-some days since the president's meeting with the North Korean dictator and he is conceding that things are not going as he had hoped. He just tweeted this, quote, "I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea at this time because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with --