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AT THIS HOUR

Trump Increasing Worried Over Don Jr's Trump Tower Meeting; White House Re-imposing Sanctions on Iran But Willing to Talk Without Preconditions; Source: Strong Possibility of 2nd Trump/Kim Summit as Evidence Shows North Korea Not Denuclearizing; Ohio Special Election Down to the Wire. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 6, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Kate Bennett, thank you for being here as always. Good to see what's happening for those kids in Akron.

All right. Thanks for being with me today. I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York. I will see you tomorrow morning.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

New worries in the White House over an old problem. What exactly happened behind closed doors in Trump Tower in June of 2016 when top Trump campaign officials sat down with Russians, including one linked to the Kremlin, with the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton? What's old is new again, folks. Not only what happened is key, but who knew about the meeting and when, and why the White House story keeps changing. Remember, this was Don Junior last summer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST, HANNITY: A lot of people want to know this about your father. Do you tell your father anything about this?

DONALD TRUMP JR, SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: But there sure was a lot more than nothing to tell. Otherwise, why has the White House and the president's lawyers tied themselves up into knots over trying to explain this away?

Sources tell CNN that the president is now increasingly worried about the legal risk to his son, Don Jr, over that infamous meeting. But the president going on the attack, tweeting out the latest twist, saying flat-out it was, "It was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all of the time in politics. And it went nowhere. I did not know about it," tweets the president.

So simple. Yet not at all. In July of 2017, Don Jr told the "New York Times" this in part. "We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children. Misleading at best."

But that storyline that the meeting was about Russian adoptions, remember, remained the White House's talking point for a while.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY (voice-over): There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything, except for adoption and the Magnitsky Act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: You'll recall the president's own legal counsel was adamant that the president wasn't involved in any of this.

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JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Let's focus on what the president was aware of, nothing. He was not aware of the meeting, did not attend the meeting and was only informed about the e-mails very recently by his counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: It turns out, it's simply not true by the president's own admission. In a letter to special counsel, Robert Mueller, quote, "The president dictated a short but accurate response to the 'New York Times' article on behalf of his son."

To that, the president's attorney says, now, he made a mistake and it happens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEKULOW: I had bad information at that time. I made a mistake in my statement. I talked about that before. That happens when you have cases like this.

I think it's very important to point out that in a situation like this, you have over time facts develop. That's what investigations do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: We've hashed, rehashed, hashed and rehashed again this meeting. Why is this moment different? Why is the president now so concerned?

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is in New Jersey where the president is staying. She must have some answers for us.

Kaitlan, what are you hearing about this today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: So far, Kate, nothing from the White House on this today, even though this goes against what several of the president's own spokesmen have said for months now. Instead, the White House has established a photo travel lid, which means we don't expect to see the president for the rest of the day, even though he does have a dinner with supporters on his schedule here in New Jersey tonight.

But this tweet from the president over the weekend, Kate, is the most explicit acknowledgment from the president that that meeting was not about Russian adoptions, but instead about getting dirt on the president's opponent, Hillary Clinton. Now that goes against what the president's own son, his press secretary, and his legal team have said for months. And even the president himself, since he was the one who dictated that initial misleading statement from Donald Trump Jr that was put out last summer after the "New York Times" first reported on this meeting, that is, according to the president's legal team, something the president himself dictated. And now he's going back, saying that this meeting that his son did was by the book, there was nothing wrong with it. Raising the question, Kate, of why if that is what stands and that is what's true, why did they publish this misleading statement on this in the first place?

Now, this tweet from the president comes in response to some CNN reporting that the president is getting increasingly concerned that his son, Donald Trump Jr may be exposed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. He's worried for months now his family could be entangled in it, particularly about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also present for the meeting. But in recent weeks, sources tell myself and Jake Tapper that the president is becoming more and more concerned about Donald Trump Jr being ensnared in that Russia probe. So the president is maintaining there was nothing wrong with that meeting. But at the end of that tweet, Kate, he's defending what Donald Trump Jr did, but also maintaining his distance from it and saying and repeating once again he did not know about that meeting beforehand.

[11:05:06] BOLDUAN: It's starting -- as if it's starting -- it continues to make your hair hurt trying to follow it all. But we shall continue.

Great to see you, Kaitlan. Thank you so much. And great reporting.

Joining us to discuss Kaitlan and Jake's reporting, Shan Wu, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Nia Malika Henderson, CNN political reporter, and Norm Eisen, CNN contributor and former White House ethics czar under President Obama.

Shan, this was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, the meeting. The president now making no secret of it, making it maybe more explicit and clear than ever before. He said it before, but the timing of this statement, does this create new legal problems for the president and his family?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANAYST: Absolutely. I mean, if I were advising him, I would say leave this alone, bury it in the basement, but he's like a moth drawn to flame, he just keeps going at it. So this tweet by itself, short tweet, opens up lots of issues. Opens up the question, of course, most importantly, for his son's criminal liability in terms of the wrongful statements he's made. And it creates much more interest on the Mueller team part to really want to get to the bottom of what did the president know and when did he know it? And really, they can only get those answers from talking to the president, either in a combination of direct written questions or getting him to sit down. So he really is just adding a lot of fuel to the fire.

BOLDUAN: And, Nia, if the meeting was a nothing, why is the story still changing? Why is there still not a straight answer? Why -- why do they continue to twist themselves into knots for over a year to say it wasn't about what it was about?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. That's the big question. It's a big question, obviously, Mueller has. That's the big question our folks on the Hill had when they wanted to talk to Jared Kushner, wanted to talk to Donald Trump Jr to figure out what this meeting was about, who knew what, when. And you have the president there on the one hand saying, oh, it was no big deal. Anyone would have taken this meeting, there was no collusion. But also saying he didn't have anything to do with it, he didn't know anything about it. So why is he trying to distance himself from something that he is also saying is routine?

It also raises the question, well, if it was so routine, why wouldn't you want to bring in the candidate who wants to figure out if someone has dirt on an opponent? So he is I think opening himself up to a lot of additional questions, even as the Trump legal team essentially tries to say, oh, well, they don't really need to talk to Trump in person about this idea of obstruction of justice. They can just have written questions that there's no "there" there. He is, I think, opening himself up to a lot of scrutiny and really I think making the case for Mueller that he is key to trying to figure out what happened with his meeting and what happened with this meeting beyond just the meeting. Was there any sort of further contact, any sort of further conspiracy to disseminate any of this information? Because that's obviously what happened after this meeting.

And it also goes to this idea -- you've had President Trump basically saying, oh, the Russians didn't help, the Russians really wanted Hillary Clinton to win, they're upset that I won. He said at his rally just recently. But here he is, admitting that there was this meeting with the Russians, where the Russians were trying to help his campaign.

BOLDUAN: And, Norm, you've worked for the administration, you worked for President Obama. The fact that a lawyer for the president of the United States says that he got bad information, when it comes to Jay Sekulow, who would he have gotten that bad information from that he was so comfortable then going on tv and repeating?

NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Kate, the bad information we now know originally stemmed from President Trump when he dictated that false coverup statement. That kind of a statement, if it's found to be an intentional, can be part of a larger obstruction or conspiracy case, the statement dictated on the plane. And the fish rots from the head. Clearly, it had to have some involvement by President Trump. And that's the key problem here. If we can't believe President Trump that this was a meeting about Russian adoptions, then why do we believe him now when he says he didn't know about it, as he declared in his tweet? There's been so many lies from this president. Thousands, according to the "Washington Post." And they're accelerating. That's the reason that he probably -- his lawyers do not want him to talk to Bob Mueller, because as soon as he opens his mouth about this or anything else, he's either going to commit perjury, or he's going to confess to obstruction or conspiracy. So we're seeing it spinning out of control.

BOLDUAN: Well, quite simply, no one knows. And that's why I keep saying my hair hurts on this. If it was nothing, if they got nothing, if there's nothing wrong, then why, oh, why has it taken -- if there's still no clear answer of who knew what, when and why? Donald Trump disputes this. But the CNN reporting that he is really worried, as you're talking about, the legal exposure to his son, Don Jr, about this, where is the legal exposure he should be worried about?

[11:10:22] SHU: For Don Jr, he's the only one that's testified under oath. The more that comes up with his inconsistencies, the problem. For example, did he tell his dad, did his dad know about it? Did he realize his meeting with Russian officials, which seems blatantly obvious from the first e-mail that says it's a crown prosecutor in Russia? So he's got the most exposure on that.

For the president, I mean, it would be a novel prosecution theory to go with obstruction, just based on tweets. But I think as Norm pointed out, the president is just making more trouble for himself with the tweets. And the tweets can set the foundation for him being questioned and making false statements under oath or during interview testimony. Even if they can't prosecute him on obstruction based on the tweeting, the tweets create a dangerous atmosphere for him.

BOLDUAN: Norm, go back to the basics. President Trump says that what was done in the -- taking the meeting to get dirt was totally legal and done all of the time in politics. Is that the case?

EISEN: Kate, I was a lawyer for the Obama campaign, the Obama transition and the Obama White House. And I can tell you, we didn't have a single contact with a hostile foreign adversary to offer dirt on John McCain. If we had, we wouldn't have replied, as Don Jr did. If it is what you say, I love it. Our reply would have been, call the FBI. And this is not normal. I've written about the potential crimes that come in under the heading of collusion, including conspiracy, an agreement to attack the United States. There were more than 80 contacts, according to my count, between the Trump campaign and Russia. And if those contacts -- we know Bob Mueller, I've worked with him and against him for a quarter of a century. We know that if Bob Mueller believes that there was a Trump campaign participation in a conspiracy to attack the United States' election -- he's already charged dozens of Russian individuals and companies with that. If he believes the Trump campaign participated at the Trump Tower meeting or in any of these 80-plus contacts, he's going to charge somebody. And I agree with Shan. Don Jr is among the most likely targets. And we have a clue. Mueller hasn't yet talked to him. He's saving him for last. That's a sign that he may be charged. BOLDUAN: If there's one constant in the inconsistencies in all of it,

the one thing is, that the president says that he didn't know anything about the meeting, didn't know anything about the meeting in advance. That's the one constant there's, which I find fascinating. And we'll continue to follow it, I guess is all we can say.

Shan, Nia, thanks so much.

Norm, great to see you, thank you.

I appreciate you guys coming in.

EISEN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: In a matter of hours, the White House will be putting sanctions back on Iran, but also says it is still willing to talk without any preconditions. What is going on here? And what does this mean in the very immediate future? We have details on that ahead.

Plus, "The saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen." That is how a sheriff is describing the 11 children found starving in the middle of the New Mexico desert. We're going get an update on how those children are doing now today and how they ended up in these horrific conditions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:18:06] BOLDUAN: Sanctions back on. Hours from now, the Trump administration will take the first major step of re-imposing sanctions on Iran. These are the sanctions relaxed by the Obama administration, as part of the Iran nuclear deal. They go back into effect at 12:01 tonight, hitting gold, coal, steel, aluminum, Iran's auto sector. This morning, Trump officials say that they don't want regime change. They're just looking for a change in behavior.

At the very same time as they're throwing this punch, though, the White House is also reiterating, it's willing to talk and sit down with Iran without preconditions.

Joining me right now, CNN global affairs analyst, Max Boot. He was a foreign policy adviser to the McCain, Romney and Rubio presidential campaigns.

Great to see you, Max.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So at this moment, what will sanctions being slapped back on Iran, what do they do now?

BOOT: Well, there's no question that it will increase the economic pain on Iran. You've had the Iranian currency already fall in roughly by half this year. And there's unrest in Iran, and I'm sure this will contribute to that. The most important part will happen in 90 days when they're going to slap oil sanctions on Iran. But, you know, it's not clear to me that the Trump administration has

any plan. And let me make that actually stronger. I don't think the Trump administration has any plan for how to translate these sanctions into actual -- into an actual agreement that would end the Iranian nuclear program to a greater extent than it was already ended under the agreement that Trump tore up a few months ago, under which Iran had given up 97 percent of its material. At the moment, I think the Trump strategy is basically unilateral sanctions, tough tweets and a lot of hope. I don't think will be successful.

BOLDUAN: You actually raised something interesting there. The ball is in whose court then? Sanctions go back on. Iran needs to come to the Trump administration to say, let's talk? Or Trump needs to go to Iran and is already saying, we would be open to talking. It's unclear to me.

[11:20:01] BOOT: Trump seems to be pursuing the same kind of strategy he pursued with North Korea, issuing blood-curdling tweets, which he did a couple weeks ago and then a week later saying, oh, I'm ready to talk without preconditions. And he thinks that strategy was successful with North Korea. News, earth to Trump, it has not succeeded. North Korea is not giving up their nuclear weapons, and there's no sign it's going to succeed with Iran because the sanctions that we're going to impose I don't think are going to put sufficient pressure on Iran to make bigger concessions than they already made with the Obama administration. Because every indication is that the Russians and Chinese are coming in to take over the kind of work that European and U.S. companies are doing in Iran. China will probably continue buying Iranian oil. So I don't think this policy is going to work. In fact, there's very few -- I mean, they seem to have hope of regime change, but there's very few examples in history of sanctions actually forcing regime change. South Africa might be the only one. Countries like North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba have endured decades of U.S. sanctions without changing regimes or changing their behavior. So, you know, I don't see a well-thought-out Trump administration policy in place here.

BOLDUAN: I just wonder what the status of the relationship really is. Because over the weekend, the president raised again the idea of meeting with the Iranian president, much like as you're talking about, the meeting he had with Kim Jong-Un. But how would you describe the status of this relationship/non-relationship with Iran right now.

BOOT: It's obviously a very tense relationship. If I were the Iranians, I would take Trump up on his offer to meet, because given Trump's track record, he is easily duped in these kinds of negotiations. He is prone to go into a negotiation, like with North Korea or the European Union, you know, breathing fire and brim stone. And then it's all sweetness and light and he's back-slapping everybody, praising interlocutors. He could easily praise President Rouhani as being intelligent, warm, witty, et cetera, after a meeting and, you know, concluding a deal, which is probably going to be half as onerous as the one he tore up. I think there's actually a lot in it for Iran. I think they're shortsighted not to take advantage of Trump in that respect. But, you know, assuming they're not going to meet, I think you're going to see, you know, further tensions ratcheting up.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you, then, about North Korea. Because CNN is reporting that North Korea actually believes there's a strong possibility of a second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un later this year. But if you look at the latest facts since their last summit, you've got the secretary of state saying that North Korea is continuing to make fissile material. Images indicating that North Korea is making new missiles. But North Korea did return what the Trump administration believes are the remains of more than 50 servicemembers from the Korean war which is what they discussed in the summit. What's the point of a second meeting now?

BOOT: That's a great question, Kate. Everything I'm seeing suggests that North Korea is taking Donald Trump to the cleaners. His credulity in the face of North Korea defiance is staggering. North Korea is not taking significant steps to denuclearize as they supposedly promised at the Singapore summit. They're doing the absolute minimum, turning over these 55 remains, which may or may not be U.S. servicemembers remains. They could be dog bones, for all we know. And they're continuing their development of ICBMs. They're continuing their development of nuclear fuel, as Mike Pompeo acknowledged. So there's no sign they're actually denuclearizing. And the notion of rewarding with a second summit? I mean, that is ludicrous. The first one is bad enough, but a second one after they haven't done anything significant is absurd. Clearly what the North Koreans are angling for is major massive concessions on the part of the U.S. For example, a peace treaty with North Korea which could pave the way for the pullout of U.S. forces from South Korea after Trump already agreed to suspend U.S. military exercises with South Korea. They are looking for major concessions on the U.S. part and they're not doing anything significant on their part. But, you know, Trump is kind of going along with this travesty, because he wants to run around and beat his chest and claim that he's the world's best deal-maker and got a great deal from North Korea.

[11:24:12] BOLDUAN: Let's see, Max. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

BOOT: Thanks, Kate.

Coming up for us, it's a district that President Trump won by double digits in 2016. Why is tomorrow's special election in Ohio coming down to the wire then? The latest from the ground and what it all means for the all-important midterm elections.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: It is down to the wire, folks. Ohio voters will be heading to the polls in less than 24 hours. Right now, the special election in Ohio's 12th congressional district is neck and neck. Like as in the latest poll shows, the Republican and the Democrat separated by a single point. Within the margin of error. Why is this getting so much attention? This one simple fact. Republicans have held that seat for more than three decades. Why so close? What does it mean for the midterms? President Trump campaigned for the Republican Troy Balderson over the weekend. Will he be making all of the difference? Joining me right now, CNN political director, David Chalian, and

Washington correspondent for "The Columbus Dispatch," Jessica Wehrman.

Thanks for being her, guys.

Jessica, let's talk about the feeling on the ground right now. What is the feeling there? What is the impact of the president's visit Saturday?

[11:29:58] JESSICA WEHRMAN, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: I mean, there are folks who are very motivated. This is a very interesting district because it has suburban and very rural areas. The rural areas are supportive of Trump. Closer into Columbus, the feelings are a little more skeptical. And that's a place where Governor Kasich, who is more moderate, pulls better.