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Washington Post: Russian President Putin and Hungary's Prime Minister Helped Sour President Trump on Ukraine. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired October 21, 2019 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And good evening.

All roads lead to Putin. That is what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said about President Trump.

Well, tonight there's breaking news on what could be yet another road. "The Washington Post" tonight reporting on conversations the president had with Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. "The Post" headline, Putin and Hungary's Orban helped sour Trump on Ukraine.

According to the report which cites current and former U.S. officials, the conversations reinforced President Trump's perception of corruption in Ukraine. "The Post" reports neither Orban, nor Putin specifically encouraged the president to see Ukraine as a source of dirt on Joe Biden nor did they describe Kiev as complicit in that conspiracy theory that he latched onto about the 2016 election.

However, "The Post" reports that their disparaging descriptions did reinforce the president's perceptions of Ukraine to the dismay of some of his advisers. Quoting now from "The Washington Post", quote: Overtime, you just see a wearing down of defenses, a former White House official said, describing the struggle to contest the influence of Giuliani, Putin and Orban.

Just pause a minute to consider the implications. The leader of the country that no president before this one has ever fully trusted was telling this president not to trust Ukraine, a country that Russia seeks to dominate.

Joining us now is "The Post's" John Hudson who shares a byline on the story.

So, John, what exactly happened in these conversations between President Trump, Putin, and Orban. I understand at least one of the conversations Orban was face-to-face in the White House and there wasn't anyone else present, is that right?

JOHN HUDSON, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: That's right. U.S. officials described to "The Post" an alarming sort of evolution in President Trump's view of Zelensky and Ukrainian officials in general. Now, it started out a little bit positive. They had a congratulatory phone call, and U.S. officials were comfortable with the direction things were going.

And then things turned sour, and so one conversation, for instance, he had with Vladimir Putin, Trump actually broached the subject of Zelensky and said, what do you think about him? And Putin said, according to a Western official familiar with the conversation, that this is someone with -- this is someone who's a comedian, and this is somebody who is linked to Ukrainian corrupt oligarchs. He was somebody who is linked to Ukrainian corrupt oligarch.

He was speaking of Kalinowski (ph) at this point. This is somebody who has a long time oppositional and sort of tiff with Putin over a long period of time.

And so, these conversations added to each other and sort of reinforced Trump's view already that Ukrainian officials are corrupt, Ukrainian officials did not want him to win the 2016 election, and that was a view that was very difficult for U.S. officials to combat and counter act who saw Ukraine as a country that they wanted to align with and strength within as it was fending off Russian backed separatists in the east.

COOPER: And according to your reporting, the efforts by Putin and Orban were actually anticipated by national security officials. I mean, how did it go from, you know, folks in the Trump White House, the national security team, you know, being concerned that Putin and Orban were going to be, you know, whispering in the president's ear about this to the point where they actually -- that actually happened?

HUDSON: That's right. There was a very contentious decision over whether or not to invite Viktor Orban to Washington to have a meeting with President Trump. This is something that gives a lot of credibility to leaders and a lot of U.S. officials saw the Hungarian prime minister as someone who was part of a sort of right wing populist movement in Europe that is sort of antithetical to some Western values, not helpful towards the fight to support Ukraine against Russia. That's for sure, and they opposed that position.

Of course, Trump was very much open to it as he is open to many world leaders that are not necessarily allies with the United States, and so, ultimately, Trump's desire to meet with this person who has been one of the most prominent backers of Trump in Europe, a continent that hasn't been necessarily warm to the president. He got that meeting, and in that meeting Orban who is a skeptic of Ukraine, some of that historical, some of that personal with the Ukrainian President Zelensky, again, reinforced a view of Ukraine that is corrupt and not favorable to President Trump, thus further reinforcing these negative views the president has.

COOPER: I also want to be clear about this, because in the report, you say that there's no indication that Vice President Biden came up in the president's conversations with either Putin or Orban, it would make sense for this -- for President Trump who has now asked not only Ukraine to look into the Bidens but also China -- well-known for their, you know, fair investigations and treatment of any sort of suspect -- it would make sense if you're asking China to investigate the Bidens. [20:05:17]

You -- why not ask, you know, Vladimir Putin?

But there's no evidence that came up at all?

HUDSON: Right, he has outsourced that question pretty widely. There's no evidence that he outsourced that question and tried to get either the Hungarians or the Russians to get more information on Biden specifically. But he was poking around, and he was asking, you know, the views on Zelensky and he certainly got some answers on that.

COOPER: It's also amazing that his own people in the White House or at least those who were there, Mattis and Kelly, were concerned about, you know, what Putin might say him, what the Hungarian prime minister might say to him, and nevertheless, they're gone, and he meets with the Hungarian prime minister one on one, and it's not until later I understand that Bolton and his counterpart enter the room?

HUDSON: Yes, absolutely, and you know, there have been a number of instances with which the president meets leaders, especially leaders who are not necessarily seen as friends of the United States, and there's not note-takers in the room. There aren't a lot of the officials such as the national security adviser or the secretary of state who will be in the room sort of overseeing this.

And that's why a lot of this testimony, especially with we're talking about senior State Department official George Kent who testified last week, they sort of pointed to these meetings and noticed a trajectory and a change in President Trump's tone, but it's not like they have a lot of knowledge about what happened in those either because the details of these meetings are not widely dispersed and disseminated within the White House and within the administration. And that's a pattern that has continued as the president becomes increasingly frustrated by leaks of the content of those discussions.

COOPER: Yes, John Hudson, stick around. I want to bring in CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, also CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

David, shouldn't Putin be the last person on the planet influencing how President Trump feels about Ukraine given the fact that Putin has invaded Crimea?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely, and it's hard to think of a more wholesome trio than Giuliani, Putin, and Orban, you know. It is like what? What are we doing here?

Listen, a little context. It has been American foreign policy for some time now to support and strengthen Ukraine, to come to the aid of those leaders. That's why we were sending them money because the Russians had invaded their country, were threatening to dominate the country, and so the whole point of Mattis and Kelly and Bolton was to reinforce the president and make sure he approached the Ukrainians in a sense of trying to help them. Instead, what the president listened to with Putin and Orban and

Giuliani and it soured his view on the Ukrainians and that instead of trying to go to support the Ukrainians, that's when the president then instead went to them for a favor to dig up dirt in the political campaign.

So, I do think we see this from a foreign policy point of view as a very depressing disappointing and dangerous exercise of diplomacy by a president who simply isn't going to get reined in. That meeting with Orban according to John went for an hour --


GERGEN: -- with no note-taker.

COOPER: And, Kaitlan, I mean, you know, the president, you know, has suspicions about Zelensky, and relationships with oligarchs, Zelensky did, at least, run on an anticorruption platform and was won overwhelmingly given the fact he had no career in politics, was a comedian, and the ambassador who the president got rid of was actually spearheading anticorruption efforts in Ukraine.

Last week, you had Nancy Pelosi, Kaitlan, reportedly telling the president that all roads lead to Putin. Here we are with yet another road leading to or from Putin.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And this was a big question instead the White House when the president wanted to make that July call to Zelensky because he had already made a congratulatory call earlier in the year. They'd already spoken, gotten that out of the way, but people were surprised, we were told when we were reporting this out by the president wanting to make that phone call because before he had essentially dismissed Zelensky, believing he was just like his predecessor, he was going to be corrupt, that he wasn't going to be able to make reforms or changes that the president now says he wanted to see.

But, of course, also noting the way the president has reacted to these two people who were very anti-corruption and how the president has squared that with his insistence that this was all about corruption in Ukraine when he was pushing them about Joe Biden and about that unsubstantiated theory really pulls that into view for you, and it kind of answers that question that a lot of White House officials were even asking us about why it was the president, all of a sudden, wanted to make that call after two months before he had been pretty dismissive of the new Ukrainian leader from the get-go.


COOPER: Jeff, I want to put on the screen sort of a time line to just kind of help sort through this, because there's a lot going on. Early May, President Trump speaks with President Putin. May 9th, Giuliani tells the "New York Times", he's going to travel to Ukraine and later says he isn't going when people complain about it. May 14th, Trump tells Vice President Pence not to attend Zelensky, the Ukrainian president's inauguration. July 18th, Trump decides to withhold nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine that's already been passed by Congress. July 25th is that Trump and Zelensky phone call.

I mean, I don't know if it's -- you know, if it begins with the call from Putin, but there certainly is a lot of activity, a lot of dominos falling.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Especially when you combine this with what's come out in the depositions in Congress, that -- during this early summer period, there is all this activity led by Giuliani, which is about, you know, limiting our cooperation with the new president unless he comes across with the dirt on Biden. It's all going on at the same time.

Now, whether that originated with the phone call from Putin in May or, you know, other sources from Giuliani who has his own connections in Ukraine, we certainly don't know that, but the thing about all the evidence is that it all fits together. I mean, it all fits together in an explanation that the president just didn't want anything to do with Ukraine unless they could come across with dirt, and every piece of evidence that has come forward in the depositions and certainly in the partial transcript that we've all seen many times, it all points in the same direction.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, he's certainly not concerned about Russian involvement in Ukraine. He certainly doesn't seem to be concerned about Crimea, he certainly doesn't seem to be concerned about anything other than the dirt and, you know, this fantasy server.

TOOBIN: And he keeps talking about corruption.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: He's not interested in any corruption except Hunter Biden's alleged corruption. I mean, it's not like he's concerned with the wellbeing of the Ukrainian people. It's only about finding out what Hunter Biden did in --

COOPER: Yes, we've got to take a quick break.

Coming up next, the former man in charge of Russia operations, the CIA reacts to the breaking developments in "The Washington Post."

And later, a Republican congressman breaks ranks with the White House. More ahead.



COOPER: Returning to breaking news, there's new report in the "Washington Post" about Russian and Hungarian efforts to, in the words of the headline, sour Trump on Ukraine. And as our own timeline shows, they may have been pushing an open door, because even before the conversations, TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani was already pushing conspiracy theories to the president and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine had already been recalled.

But now with David Gergen, Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Toobin. Joining us now, former CIA head of Russian operations, Steve Hall.

So, Steve, I mean, you ran CIA's Russia operations division. Does President Trump seeking advice from Putin and the Hungarian prime minister in a private one-on-one conversation jeopardize national security?

STEVE HALL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Anderson, I mean, you've got this veritable buffet of horribleness in front of us. It's difficult to say which is the most horrible thing. That is certainly a terrible, terrible thing when you've got the president of the United States of America reaching out to a foreign leader and asking for that help, regardless of whether there's a quid pro quo.

I mean, you look at the other stuff that's going on here, you've got basically the decimation of anybody in this administration who understands Russia and who understands Ukraine, getting rid of all those people, Ambassador Yovanovitch, even John Bolton, who replaces them, as you said Rudy Giuliani. And then you've got, you know, the president consulting with Vladimir Putin and guys like two bit dictators, autocrats like Viktor Orban.

I mean, these are not -- you've got the State Department. You've got all sorts of people in your own government you can consult with. The amount of things that have gone wrong here, it's just befuddling and amazing to me.

COOPER: Right, the idea that you're rejecting, you know, everybody who works at the State Department and sending, you know, Rudy Giuliani to skulk about in Ukraine and, you know, meet up with his friends who he's being paid by, who are taking him around to hunt down, you know, Biden scoops in a server, I mean, it sounds almost like a joke, but the idea that it's actually real is extraordinary.

HALL: Yes, I mean, it's horrific, and then you've got the president throwing Ukraine under the bus essentially, vis-a-vis Russia by saying, well, OK, you know, the brain surgeons that I have working on this, the guys like Giuliani and Putin, of course, and, of course, Orban telling me, look, Ukraine is a very corrupt place, not to be trusted, don't help them because of course that would be bad for Russia, and he buys it. The president says, yes, I believe what Vladimir Putin tells me about this, and so I'll hold the money that they need so badly. Why? To thwart Russian invasions and further annexation of Crimea.

I mean, how is this good for U.S. security? I do not understand.

COOPER: Right, and also as if there's no corruption in Hungary or in Vladimir Putin's Russia -- I mean, Steve, I also want to play this back and forth from one of the 2016 debates that kind of rings a bell right now. Let's listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Eighteen hundred nuclear warheads and she's playing chicken. Look, Putin -- from everything I see has no respect for this person. HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that's

because he's rather have a puppet as president of the United States.

TRUMP: No puppet, no puppet.

CLINTON: It's pretty clear --

TRUMP: You're the puppet.


COOPER: When you put this in category of President Trump acting as Putin's puppet?

HALL: Well, it's certainly a case of, you know, I know you are, but what am I, down to the preschool level.

But, look, if you look just over the past couple of weeks, who has benefitted out of this president's decision-making, especially vis-a- vis foreign policy? It's got to be none other than Vladimir Putin.


I mean, Vladimir Putin is now, you know, running up and down the Syrian border with his military forces opposite Turkey, you know, with Russian flags, going in to abandoned U.S. bases there and making a big propaganda deal of it. He's holding back funding or was holding back funding, certainly not empowering Ukraine to fight back against Russia, fighting within NATO allies like Turkey.

I mean, this is all -- you know, Vladimir Putin wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks, I must be dreaming, this is absolutely fabulous. It benefits nobody more than Vladimir Putin in my view, in my assessment.

COOPER: And, David Gergen, according to "The Washington Post", this information came from George Kent, the State Department official who testified in front of Congress last week. It's so interesting to me because, you know, for the last two years, Trump, you know, supporters on television and elsewhere have been saying and the president himself has been saying nobody's been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump, and really the only kind of main thing they look at is sanctions, which were passed by Congress, and they said oh, his actions in Syria, you know, he bombed an airfield, and there was a fight between U.S. forces and Russian-backed forces.

The idea that anybody would say that this is not a gift to Russia, what he has done in Syria, there's -- there's no way around it.

GERGEN: There is no way around it, Anderson, and I pray we won't really understand what's happened here for years because some of these documents will be locked up away from public view. But I do want to go back to what Jeffrey said about the more consistent complete picture is now emerging.

I think there's something new about the picture that we're now seeing. In the beginning, it sounded as if the call on July 25th might have been an insignificant call, maybe on a whim, who knows, the president has a busy day. He makes a call, how big a deal is that?

It's now apparent from what we've learned from these courageous State Department officials as well as others that this was a very big deal. It was central to his presidency. President Trump turned his foreign policy upside down in order to get this dirt out of Ukraine.

COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, I mean, it does seem -- I mean, I think David sounds exactly right.

COLLINS: Well, and also we need to talk about one notable aspect of this, you were talking about the lack of officials who had been there before that were very aware or very cautious of Putin and the president's relationship that's, you know, Mattis, John Kelly, John Bolton, but also the presence of Mick Mulvaney as a central notable aspect of this, because he was someone who at times overruled national security officials. He has his own national security adviser which is unusual for a chief of staff.

And as we reported over the summer, he was locked in this feud with John Bolton over the holdup of this Ukrainian aid, which at the time we were reporting it out, people were confused by it and didn't understand the reason. There seems to be a role in all of this and why the president was able to sit down with these officials, have these conversations that have so clearly changed the trajectory of so many aspects of his presidency.

COOPER: Yes, "The Washington Post" in that report, saying Mulvaney was critical in terms of getting the Hungarian prime minister to allow him to meet with the president, which a lot of folks, the adults previously hadn't.

David Gergen, Kaitlan Collins, Jeff Toobin, Steve Hall, thank you very much.

The White House today, the president lashed out at the media, surprise, and what he called the, quote, phony emoluments clause, unquote, you know, the one in the Constitution. We're keeping him honest, next.



COOPER: If the new reporting tonight on the President Putin and Ukraine bears out, it adds yet another data point in the story and could raise yet more concerns about the president's conduct. We say yet more because the story hit just hours after the president spoke at length to reporters and provided foe and friend alike plenty of new material to consider. He talked about impeachment.


TRUMP: The president of the United States should be allowed to run the country, not have to focus on this kind of crap while at the same time doing a great job on Syria and Turkey and all of the other things that we're doing.


COOPER: Doing a great job he said. That presumably includes his snap decision that the one and only place for next year's G-7 summit would be at Doral, his Miami area golf resort.

Under pressure, including from members of his own party, he backed down from that on Saturday. Here's what he said about it today.


TRUMP: Doral was a very simple situation. I own a property in Florida. I was going to do it at no cost or give it free if I got a ruling because there's a question as to whether or not you're allowed to give it because it's like a contribution to a country. I'd have to get a ruling, but I would have given it for nothing.


COOPER: Keeping them honest, do you notice he said I -- as in I will give the hotel for nothing, as if he still has control over the business, which is weird because he claims he no longer has anything to do with the company. Remember as president-elect he said this?


TRUMP: And what I'm going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company. They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They're not going to discuss it with me.

Again, I don't have to do this. They're not going to discuss it with me.


COOPER: They're not going to discuss it with him he said right there. So, if they don't discuss the business, how would the president get a deal on the hotel he supposedly doesn't control and doesn't discuss with his sons who in between tweeting a lot and making campaign appearances and going on Fox News allegedly run the Trump Organization?

Not that this would run afoul of the Constitution or anything which specifically says and I quote: And no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, meaning the United States, shall without the consent of the Congress accept of any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any king, prince, or foreign state.

That's what the Founders wrote and here's what the president said today.


TRUMP: I don't think you people with this phony emoluments laws, and by the way, I would say that it's cost me anywhere from --





DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I don't think you, people, with phony emoluments clause, and by the way, I would say that it cost anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion to be a president. And that's OK, between what I lose and what I could have made. I would have made a fortune, if I just ran my business. I was doing it really well. I have a great business. I have the best properties.


COOPER: The best, great, the phony emoluments clause, and, you know, the constitution phony, the best properties. You know, once-- he sure spends a lot of time as president promoting and playing golf at.

Tomorrow Ambassador Bill Taylor who directly raised concerns about a quid pro quo in those text messages that have become public with another ambassador was already testified. Taylor is going to go before congressional investigators. Earlier tonight, I spoke with retiring Republican Florida Congressman Francis Rooney.


COOPER: Congressman Rooney, you said you find the whole situation with President Trump and Ukraine, in your words, quite troubling. To be clear, do you believe the impeachment inquiry is a valid exercise of the House's power? Because the president obviously has called it a coup.

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I think it's fine to have the inquiry. I haven't heard anything yet that would tell me that we should impeach the president of the United States. But I'm very interested in hearing the rest of the testimony, particularly Bill Taylor, this week, and hopefully at some point Ambassador Bolton.

COOPER: How do you square the President's defense of his phone conversation with the president of Ukraine? Because he said once again today that it was perfect. Is there anything perfect about it in your opinion?

ROONEY: Well, I think it's confusing to me to mix business things of Rudy Giuliani with statecraft. It's also confusing to me to have rough amateur diplomats out there conducting parallel diplomacy when we have professional diplomats doing their job in the Ukraine.

COOPER: So, the fact that it seemed like this policy to Ukraine was being run through Rudy Giuliani who also as you point out, has a long- standing business interests in Ukraine and the region. I mean, is there anything that makes that even appropriate? I mean, is there any explanation that would sort of make that appropriate?

ROONEY: No, that's where the rub comes in. The rub comes in that we have professional diplomats trying to do their job to root out corruption, and then we have Giuliani parachuting in, talking about corruption but maybe representing his customers. I don't know. I want to hear the rest of the testimony, especially John Bolton.

COOPER: And that phone conversation, which is just a rough transcript, we don't have the actual word for word transcript, which is the President claims this was, but it's not. It is -- when the president, you know, the president of Ukraine asks for a -- asks for, you know, talks about the importance of the military aid and the aid that's being held up. And the President says that he would like -- he has a favor for us, and then he talks about, you know, crowd strike, this whole essentially conspiracy theory about the server being in Ukraine. And then also about finding dirt on the Bidens, does that not on its face seem wildly inappropriate? Does that seem like a quid pro quo to you?

ROONEY: Well, it's inappropriate. It's bothersome. And it's especially bothersome to talk about the server, which our intelligence services have continued to say didn't exist.

COOPER: And Mick Mulvaney, his admission that, I mean, he didn't use the words quid pro quo but when asked by Jonathan Carl he said, yes, we do this all the time. And he was specifically talking about the crowd strike Ukraine server investigation.

ROONEY: I was very disappointed to hear the comments of the Chief of Staff. We don't do this all the time, OK? We don't use the power and prestige of America to beat on people for political purposes. I think of a lofty foreign policy of Dean Acheson, and Paul Nitze, and George Kennan, and Henry Kissinger where we're promoting US interests, not the banal commercial interests of particular people.

COOPER: If the president of the United States was holding taxpayer money over the head of the president of Ukraine, who is trying to fend his countries from a Russian attack, and the president is using taxpayer money in order to get dirt on the Bidens to help him in a political campaign that's coming up, would that to you be an impeachable offense?

ROONEY: You know, I don't know. I don't know if it's impeachable or not, but it's certainly troublesome. And I think we need to get all the facts out there, and I would like to get some more advice about what is an impeachable offense, how this relates to what happened with Clinton, or it doesn't seem as much as Nixon where he paid off plumbers. That seems a lot worse, but it's troublesome.


It's not a good thing. And you're on to something here that we should not be beating on a foreign country for political gain but should be for advancing United States strategic interests, which I think Ambassador Yovanovitch was doing.

COOPER: The President said today that Republicans need to stick together, that at least Democrats don't have someone Mitt Romney. I'm wondering what you make of that. Essentially, I mean, is -- shouldn't there be room for dissent and people of, you know, firm belief being able to voice their opinions?

ROONEY: Well, I think our country is built on speaking your mind and having freedom of expression. It doesn't mean that there's anything there to impeach the President, it just means that we need to serve up all the different thoughts, comments, get everything on the table, and let people make their own decision.

I thought that Mitt Romney's comments were very courageous and I think a lot of him. I've worked hard on his campaign. He's a close personal friend, wonderful American and family leader, and I appreciate what he did.

COOPER: You've just recently announced that you're not running for re-election. Do you think it would be much harder for you to win given that you've been somewhat critical of the President? Is there room for that sort of candidate in a Republican primary anymore?

ROONEY: There would be some people that won't vote for me because of my more nuanced view of getting all the facts on impeachment and not just lock step saying, oh, no way. But at the end of the day, I'm not running again because I've accomplished the things I've set out to do, and I never want to be considered a career politician.

I'm a business person. I build up companies and create jobs for Americans.

COOPER: Congressman Rooney, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

ROONEY: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: Just ahead, I'll talk with the former White House ethics lawyer about the promise that President Trump made before the inauguration to totally separate himself from his business and how that promise stacks up today.



COOPER: Tonight we've talked about President Trump, his retreat on hosting next year's G7 at his own Florida golf resort and what he calls the "phony emoluments clause" in the US Constitution. It's important to remember that before the inauguration, he was adamant that his sons were running his business, which would include the golf resort.

He said in November 2016 the quote, "I will be leaving my great business in total." He said, he would never talk to his kids about it. He made a big show of that claim. More than a month later said he'd turn over complete total control to his sons, never speak to them again about it.

Today, complete and total control sounded kind of like an afterthought.


TRUMP: I own a property in Florida. I was going to do it at no cost or give it free if I got a ruling, but I would have given it for nothing. It's a lot of money I would have given away, like I give away my salary. But I was willing to do this for free, and it would have been the greatest G7 ever, and I would have said to my family, because they run my business now, I don't run my business.


COOPER: I'm joined now by a former White House Ethics Lawyer under George W. Bush, Richard Painter. We should also note, he's been affiliated with the campaign Legal Center, a left-leaning group that frequently criticizes the Trump administration. He's involved in the pending emoluments lawsuit CREW v. Trump.

Richard, I mean, do you get the sense that while the President may have reversed himself, he doesn't seem to think he did anything wrong in the first place, and said that he thinks the emoluments clause is phony.

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, he says the emoluments clause is phony. He says judges are phony if he disagrees with them or they happen to be Mexican American judges. He says that Democrats in the Senate and the House are phony if they want to investigate him. He attacks the press, fake news media. He goes on and on.

But the emoluments clause is real. It's in there for a reason. It's there to prevent any person holding a position of trust with the United States government from receiving profits and benefits from foreign governments. And he's been in violation of it since day one of his administration, and that's why we sued him.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, when I was the vice chair, the case now proceeded. The Second Circuit sided with us against President Trump. Other suits are going forward.

He is just wrong about the emoluments clause. He has sought to use his presidency to enrich himself and his family. He's getting emoluments and the Trump Tower Istanbul. He's allowing the Turkish army to slaughter or allies, our Kurdish allies in Syria. The list of conflicts of interest for this president goes on and on. It has tragic consequences. He needs to be impeached.

COOPER: When he says that, you know, he would have given his hotel at cost or for free, I mean, theoretically it's his kids who are running the hotel and making all the decisions, and he has no communication with his kids or his family about the hotel. I don't know how they have time to run a global business that is of the scale that the president claims it is when they're constantly tweeting, and apparently watching television, and doing speaking engagements, and going on Fox News.

But the idea of him communicating with the kids, you would have to communicate with the kids in order to, I guess, you know, convince them to donate the hotel.

PAINTER: Well, yes, the kids are his bag men. They run all over the world and cut deals for the Trump Organization. But he still owns the Trump Organization. The kids just run it, and he has been very much involved in running the Trump Organization.

Look at what's happened here. He tried to set up a G7 meeting at the Trump Golf Resort, and that would have involved foreign governments making payments to the Trump Organization. Maybe it was at cost, maybe not, but that doesn't matter under the emoluments clause.

This was prohibited. He never should have suggested it. He has been using the presidency to enrich his own businesses. He still owns the businesses. He's profiting from that Trump Tower Istanbul as the Turkish army is invading Syria.

That is a fact. It's unconstitutional what he's doing, and this is on top of his using foreign powers to influence American elections. He's in violation of our constitution. This is not a left wing or right wing issue, this is an American issue. He doesn't belong in the White House.


COOPER: He's also basically pitching this resort over and over, and over again on a global scale, you know, mentioning the name of it, praising it. I mean, he's essentially doing infomercials for his property as he does for, you know, the myriad of properties that he visits and plays golf at, and , you know, is photographing talks from on weekends.

I was also interested that the President had a lot to say about George Washington in this matter, because I wasn't aware he was quite as big a student of history, but I just want to play what he said.


TRUMP: I give away my presidential salary. They say that no other president has done it. I'm surprised to be honest with you. They actually say that George Washington may have been the only other president who did it. George Washington was actually considered a very, very rich man at the time. But they ran their businesses. George Washington they say had two desks. He had a presidential desk and a business desk.


COOPER: What do you think George Washington would have had to say about all of this? PAINTER: Well, I think George Washington would have been disgusted with Donald Trump and his behavior, and his dealings with foreign countries. And George Washington never dealt with foreign countries and foreign governments did not violate the emoluments clause of the United States Constitution.

Second, George Washington, although he was a great president, that business he ran and the business Thomas Jefferson ran used slave labor. They did have an economic conflict of interest. It was a domestic conflict of interest. It did not trigger the emoluments clause of the Constitution. But it was very tragic.

And for Donald Trump to admire that part of George Washington's history and Thomas Jefferson, and refer to those plantations as wonderfully successful businesses. I mean, that shows his lack of understanding of American history, the role of slavery and also economic conflicts of interest, and how tragic economic conflicts of interest, a very, very rich powerful politicians can be for our country.

COOPER: Richard Painter, good to have you on. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

Up next, CNN exclusive, did someone in the Trump administration tip off a mining company, the good news was coming its way over a controversial gold mine in a pristine Alaska. Allegations of insider trading are being leveled. We'll take a look.



COOPER: A group of Democratic senators tonight is urging several federal agencies to investigate what they call "disturbing reports of suspicious trading timed to President Trump's comments on trade."

Fourteen senators are calling on the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission to look into reports that investors with access to nonpublic information may have made money off trade timed to the President's comments that moved market. In their letter, they say some investors may have taken advantage of "market moving information potentially from government sources."

Now, that news is plans for a controversial goldmine in a pristine area of Alaska are facing more questions tonight, over allegations also involving insider trading. We first brought you report earlier in the year about the mine itself and its potential impact on salmon spawning grounds.

Our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin has the exclusive details of this latest development. An environmental group has filed an SEC complaint asking for an investigation. It alleges that someone in the Trump administration had tipped off the mining company that good news was coming their way. Here's Drew's report.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: The pebble mine is controversial because of its potential to pollute pristine rivers, creeks and lakes that feed into Bristol Bay, where 35 million wild sockeye salmon return to spawn every year.

Under President Obama, the EPA in 2014 put a special protection on the sensitive watershed, making it almost impossible for Northern Dynasty, the mine's Canadian parent company, to get a mining permit. Under the Trump administration, that all changed on June 26th, when the EPA announced it was beginning the process to remove those special protections.

The timing of that announcement was a surprise. Even EPA scientists were caught off guard. But something was happening days before the EPA announcement that former Canadian securities regulator and financial securities lawyer Joe Groia seems to think is more fishy than just salmon. Northern Dynasty's stock volume began to move.

JOE GROIA, GROIA & COMPANY: From very small amounts, 100,000 shares a day or less, to very large amounts, 700,000 shares on one day over a million. And someone looking at that is going to say what is causing that sudden interest in this company.

GRIFFIN: 1. 2 million shares were bought on June 20th by a company insider and director of an offshore investor firm. The timing of stock purchases in advance of a major EPA policy change is raising calls for an investigation.

LIN DEOLA, ATTORNEY FOR EARTHWORKS: We believe what happened is that inside information was disclosed. Insiders in the company traded on that information, and then made a profit as a result of that.

GRIFFIN: And that's illegal.

DEOLA: Yes, it is.

GRIFFIN: Lin Deola is an attorney working for the environmental group Earthworks, which just filed this complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission and New Jersey's Bureau of Securities. At the heart of the complaint, did company insiders know in advance the EPA was reversing course.

GRIFFIN: So does that suggest that the inquiry that you are looking for would also include who at the EPA may have tipped?

DEOLA: Absolutely, absolutely. That's key here. Because governmental employees are bound by the insider trading rules just as much as the average person or person in the investment community.

GRIFFIN: Earthworks complaint is based on post on a stock tip website during an investor's conference that Northern Dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen attended, had a half hour sit down with Ron this morning.

[20:55:00] And later, if you are thinking about selling, don't. The posts were

removed shortly after CNN began asking questions about them, and the company forcefully denies its CEO released any inside information to anyone. A company spokesman says Mr. Thiessen expressly did not tell investors in public or private conversation on June 19, 2019 or at any other time that he expected EPA to imminently withdraw its veto.

CNN also obtained this, official notes from an EPA meeting with scientific research teams and groups opposed to the mines on June 26. The EPA notes participants at the meeting saying Northern Dynasty Minerals and the Pebble Limited Partnership have been telling investors that the EPA would be announcing a decision soon that would be very favorable.

GROIA: I'm not suggesting the OSC or the SEC is investigating yet, but certainly there's ample grounds that I can tell you that Canadian investors would hope this is a case that ought to be looked at by the securities commission.

GRIFFIN: And if you were in charge of making that decision, you'd do it.

GROIA: I would, absolutely.

GROIA: The mining company has refused CNN's request for an interview, telling CNN the insinuations are you making are entirely false and without merit.


COOPER: And Drew joins me now. I mean, the EPA has already being sued by environmentalists over this mine, but this is completely different. I mean, this is allegations of a crime. What is the EPA saying?

GRIFFIN: We know a pebble mine executive last year was very comfortable reaching out to the EPA about the stock price of this mine. We also know that there were meetings in advance between the EPA's top decision-maker on this and the mining company, but the EPA is insisting that there was no advanced notice on what they called the timing or content of this decision. They said that those meetings, including meetings with those opposed to the mine are quite common. The EPA fighting back on this with us saying there was no tip.

COOPER: So where is this complaint going? Because the idea, I mean, the SEC is not investigating at this point, right?

GRIFFIN: Well, we don't know. This complaint was just filed. We can tell you we've talked to about a half a dozen former investigators, experts on this. They all say, look, there's red flags here. We won't know if the SEC is investigating. Even if they are investigating because that's pretty much private, but we will find out if something comes out.

COOPER: All right. We'll follow Drew Griffin, thank you so much, appreciate it as always. More to come on tonight's breaking news, did Vladimir Putin pull more of the President's strings by souring him on Ukraine? Did President Trump play right into Putin's hand? Again, right back on the report with the House Intelligence Committee member next.