Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Melania Trump Speaks at Cyber Bullying Prevention Summit; Pope Addresses Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Report; Manafort Jury Begins Day 3 of Deliberations; White House Don't Know What Don McGahn Discussed with Robert Mueller. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Hope you had a great weekend.

This morning President Trump not letting up on his attacks on the special counsel and the investigation, accusing his team of trying to impact the election. That was Mueller's team of course. This follows a weekend of attacks on the Russia probe after the "New York Times" broke the big story that White House counsel Don McGahn has spoken to Mueller's investigators for over 30 hours of interviews, three different interviews.

CNN has learned the president' lawyers also don't know exactly what McGahn said because the president's attorneys didn't ask for a complete debriefing.

Also more potential bad news for the president on the legal fronts. Sources say federal prosecutors could file bank and tax fraud charges against former Trump fixer Michael Cohen. That could come by the end of this month. What could this mean in terms of Cohen potentially running to Mueller to cooperate? We'll see.

And while President Trump rants on Twitter against Mueller, the Russia investigation and his critics, we're just minutes away from the first lady once again taken to the podium to speak out against cyber bullying. You'll hear her here live.

But let's start with the stunning news that the White House counsel has been cooperating with Bob Mueller's investigators. Joe Johns joins me now from the White House.

And I think, you know, the White House, the president, if you listen to them over the weekend, says this is not stunning, of course we want full transparency, of course we want him to talk. The important nugget in the "New York Times" story that they broke is that Don McGahn, the White House counsel, felt like perhaps, you know, he was being used as a trap and flipped his strategy with his lawyer.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I think there's another inference you can take away from the reporting over the past few hours, and that is that you have to ask the question whether the president and his legal team simply don't know what they don't know. I mean, our reporting is that among other things Don McGahn didn't give any incriminating information to the special counsel as far as we know. On the other hand, they don't know everything he said because he didn't give them a full download on what it was that he said to the special counsel.

So a lot of questions there and some of them quite frankly in conflict. The president did tweet this morning that he gave his approval for Don McGahn to sit down for those 30 hours, also indicating that he did so in the interest of transparency, and as you said at the top there, Poppy, he did also include quite a bit of vitriol as we've heard many, many times before for the special counsel's office.

HARLOW: What about Rudy Giuliani? I mean, you know, he again all over the air waves this weekend. Again very clear that he does not want the president to sit down for an interview with Mueller. Especially after something he said yesterday about the truth.

JOHNS: Right, he's really been on a roll as you know in his interviews with the media and this latest quote has been compared to something you might have taken away from George Orwell's book, "1984." All of this in an attempt to explain why he has concerns about the president sitting down with the special counsel. So listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury. And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he's going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, well, that's so silly because it's somebody's version of the truth, not the truth. He didn't have a conversation about --

CHUCK TODD, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": Truth is truth. I don't mean to go like --

GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Right. So truth isn't truth. That of course is the kind of thing that leaves an interviewer speechless. Giuliani this morning trying to clean that up this morning just a bit in two tweets, one tweet says, "My statement was not meant as a pontification on moral theology, but one referring to the situation where two people make precisely contradictory statements, the classic he said-she said puzzle, sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth, other times it does not."

So Rudy Giuliani trying to clean up that statement, which obviously is one of the classics so far in the Russia investigation.

HARLOW: As you point out, Joe Johns, is it 2018 or is it 1984?

JOHNS: Exactly. HARLOW: This morning. Thank you.

Let's talk about all of this with our legal analyst Shan Wu.

Shan, thanks for being here. The president's former lawyer, John Dowd, insists look, this is a good strategy. He said he, being McGahn, was a strong witness for the president's case and the strategy is working. His thinking behind this is that if Mueller's team gets all of these answers from all the people around the president and the 1.4 million documents, then he has no need to question the president, right?

[09:05:05] And he would have no legal basis on which to argue it all the way up through the Supreme Court to question the president.

Do you agree with John Dowd that this was the right strategy to just let McGahn go and just assert no attorney-client privilege?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I don't agree with it. I'll come back to sort of the pros and cons of that, but I think it's very dangerous not to assert the privilege and it's important for us all to remember, there are actually two kinds of privilege at stake here. There's the so-called executive privilege, which got litigated in Watergate.

HARLOW: Right.

WU: And then there's the more traditional attorney-client privilege with a twist, which is McGahn is the White House counsel, not Trump's personal lawyer. So he's really a government lawyer. And out of I think the three Courts of Appeals that looked at that, only one has upheld attorney-client privilege for a government lawyer.

HARLOW: Right.

WU: So they may have been thinking that well, what's the point of fighting this, we're probably going to lose? But whenever you waive the privilege it's just a very dangerous thing. I would not have so cavalierly waived it.

HARLOW: I do think it's interesting, though, on the attorney-client privilege, part deep into the "New York Times" reporting, it talks about how, you know, their follow-up report which by the way was that the president's lawyers never fully asked McGahn to detail all of the things that he testified about in those 30 hours to Mueller. They actually still believe according to "The Times" reporting that they would have some legal ground to stand on to sort of retroactively assert attorney-client privilege and stop Mueller's team from handing over at least the McGahn testimony part of it in his report to Congress.

What do you make of that?

WU: Well, good luck with that. I mean, once it's waived, it's waived, and first of all, I don't even know how they would figure out what parts to assert that privilege over. 30 hours is an enormous amount of time for him to have interviewed and they really don't have any idea what he said. I mean, the idea that Dowd could have been, quote, "debriefed" from a 30-hour interview is just preposterous. They really don't know what he said.

I mean, they could theoretically try to assert something and maybe there's some control over exactly how much detail is given in the report that that's possible. But I think they're on shaky ground now after the fact trying to reassert the privilege that they already waived.

HARLOW: What does it tell you that -- and let me read you the reporting from "The Times," quote, "Mr. McGahn and Mr. Burck," that's his lawyer, "fear that Mr. Trump was setting up McGahn to take blame for any possible wrongdoing. So they embrace the opening to fully cooperate with Mueller in an effort to demonstrate that Mr. McGahn has not done nothing wrong."

Again, just to be very clear, Don McGahn is not the president's personal attorney. He is the attorney for the office of the presidency, for the White House, paid for by the taxpayers. He hasn't loyalty to the president, he has the responsibility to protect the office. So the fact that he thought that the president may try -- be trying to use him as a scapegoat and that that changed his own legal strategy, concerning to the White House?

WU: I think it's very worrisome to the White House. And actually that's very hard situation for McGahn to be in but, you know, as an ethical matter, seems to me he has some conflicting loyalties there and not necessarily a true conflict of interest in that his loyalty lies to the White House not to President Trump. But certainly if he's concerned that he's being set up, I'm not really sure how he can zealously advocate for his client, meaning the White House. And so that raises a question whether he should have just stepped aside at that point.

HARLOW: But he didn't.

WU: Right.

HARLOW: And we'll get into more of that a little later.

Before you go, Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, former self-proclaimed fixer, our reporting is that federal prosecutors are preparing to bring charges against him possibly by the end of this month. Possibly on two different issues, one campaign finance potential violations for the payoff to Stormy Daniels and the second thing would be possible bank fraud charges related to $20 million in loans tied to his taxi medallion business.

If you're sitting in the White House, if you're the president right now and you're looking at this, what are you thinking?

WU: I'm thinking that's going to be a big problem because he has signaled loud and clear he wants to cooperate. And it looks very much like they are moving towards a quick indictment for him. That's a lot of exposure with that amount of money and he's almost guaranteed to be looking to do a deal.

HARLOW: He said his loyalties to the country and to his family, what would that actually mean if push comes to shove. We'll see.

Shan, thank you.

Let's talk about the politics of this, Rachael Bade is here, our political analyst and congressional reporter at Politico. Perry Bacon joins us, senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.com.

And by the way, Rachael, it was Politico's reporting that so fascinating that Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen's attorney, has been talking to Nixon's former White House lawyer, John Dean. Tell us more.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's exactly right. And that should worry the president. Right now he's getting squeezed by two of his former lawyers, not just one. In the case of the former White House chief counsel, this is the guy that the president said point blank, I want you to fire Robert Mueller.

[09:10:08] This is a guy who witnessed firsthand anything that might be considered an obstruction case. And so the -- obviously the federal law enforcement officials are going to want to talk to McGahn and they're talking to him, he's being clear. His lawyer has said he's telling them everything because he's worried that the president is trying to basically screw him. So that's a problem for the president.

And as you mentioned right now, Michael Cohen, this is a whole another issue. This is somebody who federal prosecutors are squeezing right now, investigating him for potentially tax and bank fraud saying he potentially took out $20 million in loans that he wasn't supposed to get. And that's a problem for him. It's really a liability. And that's why they are trying to flip him and get him to talk about what he knows about what the president might have done during the election regarding trying to keep things secret, regarding lovers, former Playboy models as you know.

And yes, his lawyer has reached out to former Watergate counsel who flipped on Nixon.

HARLOW: Right.

BADE: And that -- he said there's parallels to their stories and again that's troubling for the president.

HARLOW: So, Perry, back to "The Times" big scoop over the weekend that McGahn has spoken for 30 hours with Mueller's team. Here's some pushback on that coming from Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for the president's legal team. Here's what he says, quote, "I can't imagine that McGahn would still be White House counsel if he had produced any damaging information. He'd have resigned."

And that is our reporting that -- you know, that the information to, for example, ."The Times" reports that McGahn cautioned investigators he never saw the president go beyond the bounds of his legal authority, for example. Do you think Mark Corallo has a point, look, if this was all so bad for the president McGahn wouldn't be working there anymore?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM: I really do think he has a good point. I think the story that came out on Saturday was good for McGahn. It seems like McGahn is saying to everybody else, we now know he's cooperating. I wonder if he -- if people close to him leaked the story even.

I do think in terms of, like, what this means for Trump, we don't know because we don't know what McGahn actually said. I mean, if he said that Trump, you know, asked him 27 times each hour to fire Mueller, that's one thing but it is not, there's another. I think it really -- we don't know how damaging this is for the president in part because we don't know how much McGahn detailed White House operations.

How much he said things that are actually illegal or could lure the president did or whether the president did anything illegal. So I think we should be more -- I think we should be really cautious about the story itself.

HARLOW: Well, we do know a few things, right, from the reporting in terms of topics. Right? None of us were flies on the wall, we don't have the verbiage, we don't know what was said, the transcript. But we do know that McGahn told Mueller's his team about some really, really intense moments and potentially obstruction, moments of a potential obstruction. One, the comment and actions during James Comey's firing, what was the intent behind that.

The obsession that the president had with putting a loyalist in charge of the probe and his attempt to fire -- or desire to fire Special Counsel Bob Mueller at one point.

Rachael, I mean, the fact that all of this came forth but yes, the White House strategy was go, freely testify, we are not asserting any kind of privilege here, tell your story, put it out there. Does that reflect well on the White House?

BADE: Well, they can say look, we tried to be transparent. We told McGahn to go talk to the special counsel. But, you know, according to a lot of reports from various newspapers, they are regretting that strategy. They are concerned and they don't know -- as Perry just said, they don't know exactly what McGahn told the special counsel and if it's going to in any way harm the president.

I do think it's interesting that Giuliani has gone out there and accused the special counsel of leaking this story, saying they're trying to trap the president with some sort of perjury charge. But that doesn't make sense because obviously if the special counsel was really trying to trap the president in some sort of perjury charge, they won't put out there that Don McGahn had met with him for 30 hours and had been very forthcoming.

They would just interview the president and compare what he said to what Don McGahn said. If anything this news helps them because it allows them to prepare the president if he is going to sit down with Mueller.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

BADE: What to say and what not to say.

HARLOW: Very quickly before we go, Perry, is the truth the truth or the truth is not the truth this Monday morning?

BACON: I hope the truth is the truth but I think the reality is, Giuliani is trying to build a case for Trump to not testify. And we've been talking about this since December. I think it's pretty clear at this point Trump does not want to testify. All of this is like a predicate to the president, you know, refusing to talk to Mueller and then they'll fight over subpoena about some kind of testimony because this is what Giuliani trying to say, there's no legitimate investigation here so therefore the president should not talk to Mueller.

HARLOW: All right, thank you both. Nice to have you.

Ahead for us, "Be Best" is back in the spotlights. Just minutes from now, Melania Trump, the first lady, will speak out against cyber bullying as her own husband tears into his critics on Twitter, again and again. Will she address that elephant in the room? She has before.

Also jurors in the trial of ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort kick off day three of their deliberations this morning, we'll take you live to the courthouse.

[09:15:00] And we shared no care for the little ones, we abandoned them. Words from the pope, breaking his silence on the sex abuse scandal in Pennsylvania rocking the Catholic Church -- much more on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right, so this morning the first lady Melania Trump, you see her there, she's speaking out against cyber bullying, addressing a cyber bullying prevention summit in Maryland. This is all part of her signature issue and her 'Be Best' campaign.

[09:20:00] All of this of course as her husband uses the very tactics on social media that she is trying to tackle, berating and belittling his Twitter -- his critics on Twitter. Let's listen to the first lady.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much Dr. Theresa(ph) and Dr. Zigona(ph). Good morning. It is great to be here with all of you today. I'm honored to open this important summit on cyber bullying prevention.

And want to start by thanking each of you for your commitment to the topic. I know many of you are here representing social media companies, federal agencies, educational organizations, youth programs and law enforcement.

I also know we share one goal to pave a smooth way forward for our children, our next generation. I launched my 'Be Best' campaign in May with a focus on the many issues facing children today.

One of them being the safe and responsible use of social media. In today's global society, social media is an eventful(ph) part of our children's daily lives. It can be used in many positive ways, but can also be distractive and harmful when used incorrectly.

This is why 'Be Best' chooses to focus on the importance of teaching our next generation how to conduct themselves safely and in positive manner in an online setting. I have been so inspired by the children I have met in my time as first lady, and believe our next generation has unlimited potential to impact our world in positive ways.

As an example, I recently had a privilege of meeting several bright students who are part of Microsoft Council for Digital Good. In addition to sharing their 15 beliefs of how to be healthy and safe online, they each showed me individual projects representing their thoughts and ideas on what responsible behavior means to them.

I was impressed by their deep understanding of how important it is to be safe and was inspired by their sincere commitment to reducing peer- to-peer bullying through kindness and open communication.

I encourage technology and social media companies, schools and community groups to establish more opportunities for children such as Microsoft's Council for Digital Good. By listening to children's ideas and concerns, I believe adults will be better able to help them navigate these often difficult topic.

Let's face it, most children are more aware of the benefits and pitfalls of social media than some adults. But we still need to do all we can to provide them with information and tools for successful and safe online habits.

Thank you all again, our children deserve all of the opportunities we can give them to grow up happy, healthy and socially responsible adults. And your commitment to this topic is an example of one of those opportunities. I look forward to today's discussion and to working with all of you in the future. God bless you and your families and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

HARLOW: There you have the first lady, Melania Trump urging children to fight against social media bullying. Let's bring in our contributor Kate Andersen Brower, she joins me now, she's also the author of the "First Woman: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies".

So thank you for being here. And look, the elephant in the room of course is the cyber bullying that her husband, the president engages in on a daily basis. She has said before, you know in March when she said look, I know people are skeptical of me talking about this issue, but that's not going to stop me and it clearly hasn't.

Listen to this line near the end of her remarks that just struck me. She just said, let's face it, most children are more aware of the benefits and pitfalls of social media than some adults. What do you make of that?

KATE ANDERSEN BROWER, AUTHOR: I mean, you could think it was a veiled message to her husband, right? And she has asked him to -- and she's talked about this, to tone down his tweeting and maybe start consider stopping tweeting so often.

[09:25:00] So -- but it's been clear that President Trump will do what he wants no matter what his wife may suggest. And she has said, publicly, you know, I know I'm going to be criticized for this campaign, but I'm --

HARLOW: Right --

BROWER: Going to do it anyway. What struck me was when she said social media can be destructive and harmful when used incorrectly in a speech.

HARLOW: Right --

BROWER: And obviously, you know, last -- over the weekend, we saw kind of an unprecedented number of tweets, I think, I mean, at least a large number of tweets from her husband about the Russia investigation and you just have to wonder what she's thinking through all of this because it's obviously a message that she is committed to delivering even though she knows there are charges of hypocrisy surrounding it.

HARLOW: She -- her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, obviously you saw a "New York Times" profile on her over the weekend. And let me read part of what her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said about the first lady in a quote, "Mrs. Trump is staying true to the independent woman that she is by doing things her own way.

This should be celebrated, not criticized. Her priorities remain her family, her health and her role as first lady." But their point is you should applaud her, not point out -- you know, people should applaud her, not point out the hypocrisy in this.

BROWER: Well, I mean, she has done things in a really unusual way, not only not moving to the White House right away, but she came out and the whole LeBron James message --

HARLOW: Yes --

BROWER: That she delivered through Stephanie Grisham, her spokeswoman, where she basically disagreed with her husband, which is something, you know, she said she would be willing to go to the school that LeBron James had started in Akron, Ohio, that he's doing good work while her husband attacked him on social media.

And so you know, there's an understanding between first ladies and their husbands that they will not publicly criticize them. And I think Melania Trump is the only first lady we've seen, at least in modern history to really come very close to that line.

She's walking up to that line where she's publicly criticizing her husband. And I think that is unique and some people might praise her for doing that.

HARLOW: Right or going to the border to see --

BROWER: Yes --

HARLOW: These detention facilities that were filled with children separated from their parents as a result of her husband's practice and policy. All right, Kate, thank you for weighing in --

BROWER: Thanks --

HARLOW: Appreciate the expertise. Up next for us, almost 9:30 a.m. Eastern, that means the Manafort jury will begin the third day of deliberating, still deliberating so what does that signal?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)