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Obama On GOP's Love for Russia Asks What Happened to them; Global Impact on How Allies and Enemies See Trump in Chaos; Putin Takes Advantage of U.S. Infighting; "RBG" CNN Film About Ruth Bader Ginsburg Airs This Sunday; Trump Wants Jeff Sessions to Investigate "The New York Times" Op-Ed Author; Creating A Global Family While Helping Kids Heal. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 7, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Right now, U.S. troops are conducting unexpected military exercises in Syria. A U.S. defense official telling CNN the sudden show of force a direct response to a series of Russian military threats, twice in recent days the Russians have warned the U.S. that it was going to attack this one particular area and go after militants in that region. The U.S. has dozens of troops and military base in this area. And this rising tension comes as the fate of the last rebel stronghold, city of Idlib and its 3 million residents hang in the balance. Today at a trilateral meeting with Iran and Turkey Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected calls for a truce. Former President Barack Obama took aim at the Trump administration today and fellow Republicans for not being tougher with Russia.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: They are undermining our alliances, cozying up to Russia, what happened to the Republican

Party? It's central organizing principle in foreign policy was the fight against communism and now they are cozying up to the former head of the KGB, actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack. What happened?


BALDWIN: Global affairs analyst Susan Glasser is with me. Welcome. We know that Russia and Iran rejected Erdogan's call for a truce which means that an assault looks imminent. Trump has already warned against it twice. What does the U.S. do once it happens especially given this bizarro relationship between Putin and Trump?

SUSAN GLASSER, GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think you look at that picture that you just showed of the three leaders meeting today you have Russia's leader, Turkey's leader, Iran's leader, where is the United States, what happened to American leadership? In many ways you have seen Vladimir Putin take advantage of American disengagement in the Syria conflict over the last few years starting I should note in Obama's presidency, but of course throughout Trump's presidency, he has been so ambivalent, about what if anything to do in Syria, he has continued to leave the field to others. And I think we're looking first of all at potential blood bath in

Idlib. You pointed out there 3 million residents, and it is the effort by the Assad government to consolidate the victory in the civil war has been had, but not fully. He needs to reconquer his own country in order to fully regain control over Syria. And so that is why Idlib has loomed so large as the next battle.

Remember, the horrific civilian casualties in the battle of Aleppo, you could be looking on that on an even greater scale here. So, I'm struck by number one, the marginalization of the United States and the confusion as to just what is America's Syria policy under President Trump. He has agreed to stay, but in such a limited way, it is not clear.

[15:35:00] And then too you pointed out what is our relationship with Russia right now. President Trump just said I noticed yesterday that he hasn't spoken with President Putin since their now famous or infamous summit meeting in Helsinki. So at least the two of them are not talking about this imminent battle in Idlib.

BALDWIN: You say blood bath, that is Syrians and that is U.S. troops as well. I want to move you to -- I read your "New Yorker" piece on the "New York Times" op-ed and the Woodward book. And it seems like your takeaway is not Trump's behavior, but how those around him either enable or react to it.

GLASSER: Well, that's right. I think that Woodward's book doesn't officially come out until next week, but I did have a chance to read a copy. And to me that is what is really new about this, we're beginning to see reported vetted accounts from people respected journal journalists like Bob Woodward. We know President Trump has a problem with the truth. We know about his erratic character and his unconventional, the term the White House likes to use, the unconventional ways. But I think trying to understand what has been going on behind closed doors by those who surround President Trump, that is where the reporting is new and fresh and kind of eye popping, right? I mean this is an incredible story Bob Woodward called it an administrative coup d'etat.

Whatever you want to call it, the chief economic adviser to the President was reduced to stealing papers off of his desk in the oval office to prevent a major foreign policy move. And by the way, I think this is connected to foreign policy which is why I wrote my column about it and why we're talking about President Trump's behavior this week and not so much about what is happening in Syria and the imminent battle in id will I be Idlib. The uncertainty surrounding American policy right now is the major foreign policy crisis in the world today because no one knows what America is positioned to do or not to do in Syria because no one can tell you what is American policy in Syria because it changes day to day and week to week and even hour to hour according to where President Trump is at or what his advisers are convinced him to do on that particular day.

BALDWIN: Susan Glasser, thank you.

Just a reminder, any moment now former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos will find out his fate for lying to investigators. We'll take you live outside the courthouse.

Also coming up, Papadopoulos gives his first TV interview, a CNN exclusive.


BALDWIN: Professor, litigator, role model, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has earned countless titles during her legal career. And now the film RBG takes an intimate look at her life and legacy, including the first women's rights case she heard as a Supreme Court Justice. It was United States V. Virginia that struck down the male only admissions policy at VMI, the Virginia Military Institute. Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in that case. Here is a peek from the film.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: VMI fought very hard to keep women out. I had an alumnus walk up to me and he says I'm not going to shake your hand. I want to why you're here and why you decided to ruin my school.

RUTH BADER GINSBERG, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I know that there were some people who did not react well to the change. And my response to this was wait and see. You will be proud of the women who become graduates of VMI.


BALDWIN: With me now, she was a clerk for Justice Ginsburg when the court issued its historic ruling. Lisa, so nice to see you in person. I've watched this film two-time times. clerking with this justice, you lucky woman.


BALDWIN: what was that like?

FRELINGHUYSEN: She had been a hero of mine personally having worked at the ACLU on women's rights and reproductive freedom. So, it is a thrill to get to work with her. And then professionally, it is one of the most awesome experiences because the Supreme Court gets the most challenging and often controversial cases where there is a circuit split.

[15:45:00] And you are working with some of the country's most amazing attorneys, thoughtful, you know, clerks and justices. It is a wonderful experience.

BALDWIN: So, it was a life highlight for you.

FRELINGHUYSEN: It really was. And she is a tremendous -- she a terrific manager too. She is somebody who works extremely hard. She is very devoted to justice. There is no, you know, sitting around and kicking your feet up and chewing the fat. It is a thoughtful, quiet, work intensive place. And she works extremely hard. She expects a lot out of her clerks. She is very respectful people's opinions. And she is a night owl. So, if you are working late and you have questions --

BALDWIN: In the film, her own kids are like she would go up at 4:00, 5:00 on in the morning and catch up on the sleep on the weekends. The VMI case, what was it like working with her and what was her approach to this case?

FRELINGHUYSEN: So, working on VMI was both absolutely thrilling and terrifying at the same time because it was her first women's rights case as a sitting Supreme Court Justice. And I knew a great deal about women's rights, I had worked closely with a big constitutional law scholar, ran the Stanford law review where we wrote articles about gender law. But she knew everything there was to know about gender law and equity, every case, every brief, every footnote. But you know, this was a really exciting, exciting case involving whether or not Virginia Military Institute could continue to close its doors to women. And she looked to one of Justice O'Connor's opinions to help clarify the standard for gender classification. And used the words exceedingly persuasive justification. If you want to bar your doors to women, you have to have an extremely pervasive justification to do so, otherwise you open your doors. And we had the great good fortune to go back together 20 years after the decision which was a very moving experience to see these, you know, young cadets, women cadets, come up to her and thank her for opening those doors and allowing them to pursue their dreams. And boy, were they thriving.

BALDWIN: Which would be part of the legacy that she's left. Her legacy would be --

FRELINGHUYSEN: Her legacy is the work that she has done as an advocate bringing cases to the Supreme Court to establish gender justice as we know it today, equal rights for women. And then turning around and living that by stepping on to the DC Circuit and the Supreme Court and becoming the incredible influential and profound justice that she is.

BALDWIN: Lisa, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with her. RBG airs this Sunday 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN. CNN now reporting that discussions have picked up between the President's lawyers and Robert Mueller's team. This is happening as the President gives a big hint about whether he will actually sit down for an interview. Plus, as the President calls on his attorney general to investigate this mysterious senior administration official who penned the "New York Times" op-ed, we are learning that Jeff Sessions is apparently preparing to be fired. Stand by for that.


BALDWIN: Here's the breaking news. President Trump wants attorney general Jeff Sessions to investigate and uncovered the identity of the senior administration official who anonymously penned the op-ed in "The New York Times" this week. This is what the President said on Air Force One.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Jeff Sessions should be investigating who the author of the op-ed piece was or who --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think so because I think it's a national security. I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it's national security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there action to be taken against "The New York Times"?

TRUMP: We'll see. I'm looking at that right now.


BALDWIN: This as CNN has been reporting on Session's mindset on his relationship with President Trump. He is prepared for whatever outcome awaits him including his being fired. Let's start here with Sessions. Former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig is back with us, as is Rachel Kugel, criminal defense attorney. Guys, welcome. And you heard the President on Air Force One saying this is a national security matter.

RACHEL KUGEL, criminal defense attorney: Yes.




HONIG: I think the president's problem is he has a hard time distinguishing between things that make him feel angry and things that are federal crimes. And ever since the start he has viewed the Department of Justice as his own personal vengeance machine.

[15:55:00] Obviously, he's riled up about this op-ed but the notion of using the Department of Justice --

BALDWIN: Like sic the DOJ on this.

HONIG: Insane. The tweet where he said turn this person over to me, under what authority and to do what? To imprison the person? To lash the person? It's completely lawless and it goes to sort of President's fundamental misunderstanding that everybody in the executive branch works for him personally.

KUGEL: So, I agree in some respects. I don't think there's an obvious crime that Sessions needs to be investigating or national security interest. That said, he is the boss of people. He's an employer and if he chose to, you know, do lie detectors or figure out on his own effort --

BALDWIN: Do we really think the lie detector thing --

KUGEL: I'm just saying it's an option outside of the DOJ that he could engage in if it bothers him that he has someone within his staff that he feels this insubordinate.

HONIG: He's not a private employer. He's a public -- not an employer, actually. He's in charge of the executive branch which is a public function. You can't go hooking people up to lie detectors because you're ticked off. That's lawlessness.

KUGEL: I think you actually can investigate whether people in the staff are subordinate or insubordinate. I think that's a concern. I think it's a legitimate concern. I don't think it's criminal. I don't think it's national security. But I think it's a legitimate concern.

BALDWIN: Papadopoulos, right? Former Trump campaign advisor he was the guy who pleaded guilty to federal investigators, to lying to them. He triggered the Mueller investigation. Waiting to hear his sentencing, whether the judge throws the book at him. His lawyers have asked for leniency. How's this going to go do you think?

HONIG: We'll disagree and we're going to bet. I think he is going to get jail time. Mueller asked for up to six months imprisonment and, of course, Papadopoulos wants nothing. He lied to the FBI. That is a very serious matter that undercuts the core function of the Department of Justice of finding truth, finding fact. And Mueller sentencing memo comes down hard saying he lied to us over and over again and impeded the ability to investigate this at an early phase. The attorney involved with Manafort got one month for lying. I think his lies were much more serious and repeated so I think he gets more than one month.

KUGEL: At the time of Van Der Swan and the sentencing, they discussed he should have known better as an attorney, understood that. That's a vast difference. Padopoulos like a 28-year-old staffer and I question how high level he was and motives. Lying to impede the investigation or to maybe try to make good for a boss as a 28-year-old, you know, newbie in the profession? I don't think he gets significant jail time. Zero to six months and likely probation. To me, the most upsetting thing about this, this is a crime created from the investigation and not itself the crime they were going to look for.

BALDWIN: Our time is up. Reminder to everyone trying to keep track, this is the coffee boy, right, according to this President and leave it up to the judge to see how important the role is and the ramifications of this lying to the FBI. Thank you so much.

Moments ago, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley dropped an op-ed of her own challenging the anonymous colleague. Her message to this individual, next.


BALDWIN: This week's CNN hero started bringing kids to the United States for medical treatment 20 years ago.


ELISSA MONTANTI, FOUNDED GLOBAL MEDICAL RELIEF FUND: We're empowering them because we're giving them back what they lost. A chance to stand on their own and write and go to school and contribute to society. They come from different corners of the earth and they all heal together, laugh together. They don't speak the same language.