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Trump Anger over McGahn Interview; Giuliani Clarifies Truth; Manafort Jury in Day Three of Deliberations; Cohen Could be Charged. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Erica. Nice to see you.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The president lashing out at Robert Mueller, accusing him of trying to sway the midterm elections, but the true source of his anger, learning his White House counsel answered prosecutor's questions for 30 hours.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani defines or redefines truth and collusion. Is the president going to regret his choice of lawyers?

And, as the president bullies the special counsel on Twitter, the first lady says cyber bullying is wrong. And she adds this priceless twist.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: 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.


KING: Back to that in a bit.

But we begin today in the dark with an angry president. President Trump and all of us still have no comprehensive idea of what the Special Counsel Robert Mueller knows at this point. Now, the president knows more than most, and he is very angry today, as he was throughout the weekend. He now knows his White House Counsel Don McGahn has spent some 30 hours in interviews with Mueller's team of investigators and prosecutors and, insert anger here, a source telling CNN the White House did not get a full briefing on what McGahn discussed with investigators, nor, we're told, did they ask for one.

Another source insists McGahn provided no information that would be incriminating to the president. Yet, friends tell CNN the president is mad, venting about having no control over an investigation with no end in sight.

Fresh Twitter attacks on Mueller today, accusing him, get this, of trying to hurt the president and his party in the midterm elections. Mueller's a Republican, by the way. Those after weekend efforts to insist he's not worried about McGahn's breathtaking cooperation. Quote, I allowed White House Counsel Don McGahn and all other requested members of the White House staff to fully cooperate with the special counsel. In addition, we gave over 1 million pages of documents, most transparent in history, no collusion, no obstruction, witch hunt, with an exclamation point from the president.

Now, the White House counsel for George W. Bush says he gets the president's frustration.


ALBERTO GONZALES, SERVED AS WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Any time there's an ongoing investigation, particularly one of this magnitude, one that has generated so much publicity, it's human nature to be concerned about where the direction of the investigation, even though you may feel that you've done nothing wrong. From my perspective, it would be human nature. You want to know what's going on.


KING: CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us live from the White House.

Kaitlan, in the president's tweets you see a lot of anger. Is it really just human nature?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, the president seems rattled through his tweets today. We can see that from this report that the president was aware that Don McGahn did meet with the special counsel, but he wasn't aware of the extent of those conversations that the White House counsel had with the special counsel. And that's coming through in the president's tweets today.

Now, of course, though, they were aware, but they did not ask for a full debrief of everything that the special counsel asked Don McGahn. That is stunning in and of itself here, John, because typically they would try to figure out everything that the special counsel knew and what he was trying to get at during those conversations with the White House counsel. But that simply didn't happen.

Rudy Giuliani made that quite clear when in an interview yesterday he said that he was aware that Don McGahn had spoken with the special counsel but that he was relying on what John Dowd, the president's former lawyer who left the legal team in March had told him about those conversations. So making clear that the current legal team is unaware of what Don McGahn said to the special counsel during those interviews.

Now, of course, Don McGahn is not the president's lawyer. He is here representing the presidency. That is something that hasn't always been clear to President Trump himself. But, John, what we are learning today is just how bothered the president is that he may not know every single thing that Don McGahn revealed to the special counsel. Don McGahn, who has been at the center of a lot of these things, including when the president ordered him to have the special counsel fired several months ago. That is another episode that Don McGahn was involved in. The president doesn't seem to know everything that he told Robert Mueller and his team.

KING: Kaitlan Collins live at the White House. And got to give the president some credit at least for transparency. When he's mad about something, it's pretty easy to figure that part out.

One interesting note, before we have a conversation here, we typically don't see a lot of the White House counsel, Don McGahn, but we did see him stay up on Capitol Hill. You see him in the back there, right behind Brett Kavanaugh, the president's Supreme Court nominee, being escorted into a meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. McGahn, of course, intimately involved in the judicial nomination process.

With me in studio today to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg." Sahil Kapur, also with "Bloomberg." Olivier Knox with Sirius XM. And CNN's Sara Murray.

[12:05:06] I make the point about transparency because it's true. When this president is mad, you don't have to call your sources. You can call them for a little back fill, but the president does it on Twitter.

The new thing was Don McGahn spent 30 hours with the investigators. The president's tweets go after Bob Mueller, go after Democrats, go after the news media. But they came after he learned Don McGahn spent 30 hours with Mueller's team.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": Yes. And one of the most interesting bits of "The New York Times" fine reporting on this piece, I thought, was the notion that part of the reason why McGahn decided to spend so much time and be so cooperative was that he was concerned that if he didn't, he might imperil himself, but because the president might set him up. So it gives you some of the sense of the climate internally that any -- and, in fact, many officials are facing as they make these decisions about what would a traditional White House counsel do and what should the current White House counsel do.

KING: Right. And just -- I want to just get to some of the president's tweets. He goes after the failing "New York Times," which is what he does. He attacks the organization. In this case, that's his favorite label for "The New York Times." Wrote a fake piece, he calls it, implying that White House Counsel Don McGahn giving counsel must be a John Dean type rat, rats in all capitals there. The president says they have nothing to hide.

Then he goes on to the rigged and disgusting witch hunt. And this one's rich, I guess for a relatively neutral word. The president of the United States calling Robert Mueller McCarthyism at its worst. Again, rich.

Then another one. The failing "New York Times" goes at it again. Said -- implying that he had turned on the president when, in fact, it's just the opposite. Again, when the president's mad, we know.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, we do know. And I think that sort of this notion that the president doesn't know everything about what Don McGahn said, I'm sure that drives the president crazy. Should he know everything Don McGahn said? No, absolutely not. I mean this is an ongoing investigation. And the president shouldn't be hauling witnesses in who just went to talk to Mueller and saying, please report back to me everything you just said.

But I think one of the other things that's interesting in the case of McGahn is, the guy who's representing him is representing a bunch of other people from the White House, which means that either all these people are telling essentially the same story about what went down in these key moments, or this lawyer has a very big problem on his hands when it comes to his clients.

So, in many ways, the president was going to -- once they decided this was their strategy to not invoke privilege, to let all of these officials from the White House go in, you know, they were setting themselves up for this. Maybe it will ultimately protect the president because everyone will go in and they will share the very same version of events and it will fall short of obstruction of justice. But maybe not.

KING: And to this point, you saw Don McGahn. He's up on Capitol Hill with the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Reporters tried to shout questions at him. They did shout questions at him as he left the meeting. They're asking Don McGahn, was it a mistake -- this is interesting, they usually ask a few questions at the nominee. The nominee never answers. In this case Don McGahn didn't answer.

TALEV: Right.

KING: But the question was, was it a mistake to have you speak without limits to the special counsel, meaning, that they did not assert privilege. Now, there are some areas of Don McGahn's job that are not privileged. He's the White House lawyer. He's the institution's lawyer, the presidency's lawyer, not the president's lawyer. It's an important distinction. But his conversations with the president, if he's in a meeting about a personnel matter, that has executive privilege. The president has the right to talk to his advisers about sensitive subjects, so they could have asserted privilege. They decided not to. That was the president's first legal team.

Here's the former governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, former prosecutor, saying big mistake.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: And it put Don McGahn in an impossible situation because once you waive that privilege and you turn over all those documents, Don McGahn has no choice then but to go in and answer everything, every question they can. It's bad legal advice, bad lawyering, and this is the result of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Is it bad legal advice, bad lawyering? And, if that's true, then it's a bad decision by the president.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: Do you remember that overheard lunch at BLT Steakhouse where one of the president's large legal team suggested that Don McGahn was withholding documents in a safe at the White House? I'm guessing that had something to do with Don McGahn's decision to actually go the other route and share as much as humanly possible. I don't know whether this is good lawyering or bad lawyering, but it's -- I'm also unclear as to what the president learns from his legal team. You know, they've been assuring him it'll all be over soon. That's not true. You've got Rudy Giuliani going out there acting more politically than legally and getting himself all messed up there too.

TALEV: In fairness to the president's legal team, though, the information they had going in from their client and his key advisers also changed from the beginning of this (INAUDIBLE).

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": And there are two potential things that the president may be angry or worried about here. The obvious thing is the truth. If there is something he wanted to get out there or he didn't want to get out there, McGahn's a seasoned lawyer, he's not going to lie to the special counsel, especially if, as "The Times" reporting suggests, you know, he was worried he may be getting set up as the fall guy.

The second is the whole question of obstruction. Did Mueller ask him, you know, get testimony from McGahn what the president's state of mind might have been when he tried -- when he fired Comey, when he tried to get McGahn to dismiss Mueller, and is that going to be used as, you know, the basis for a case against the president on obstruction of justice?

[12:10:07] MURRAY: Yes, and I think that gets to the question of, OK, is this good lawyering or is it bad lawyering? I mean maybe it's good lawyering in the sense that, OK, you put -- you made everyone available to recount anything the special counsel might want to know about potentially collusion, about potentially obstruction of justice. And so we are going to use that as a firewall to insist that you cannot speak to the president. That's certainly an argument some of the president's previous lawyers have made.

On the flip side, everyone has now been in. They have now shared their version of events. The special counsel may have a better case than we think about obstruction. They may know what the president did, what the president lied about, what motivated his actions, and they may be using all of that for an interview, just waiting to catch the president in a lie, waiting to confront him with the evidence they have. We just don't know what all of these witnesses shared.

KING: Right. And to that point, now they have this from Don McGahn, who's with the president, either in some of these meetings or just after some of these meetings or when the president's mad about things that have happened and asking Don McGahn, fire the special counsel, get Jeff Sessions, what, talking about the Comey firing, which, you're right, if you clear it all up, you can make the case you don't need to talk to the president. But if he raised questions or contradicted other White House officials, then Mueller says I need to talk to the president. He's the only one who can resolve this.

We'll see as this one plays forward. More of this conversation as we go with the other member of the president's team, the current front lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Before we go to break, though, there's been a lot of talk in recent days about John Dean, White House lawyers, Watergate tapes. Here we go. Flashback, 1973, Watergate testimony from the man President Trump referred to over the weekend in that tweet as the rat, the White House Counsel John Dean, who flipped on Richard Nixon and helped bring down the presidency.


JOHN DEAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It is my honest belief that while the president was involved that he did not realize or appreciate at any time the implications of his involvement. And I think that when the facts come out, I hope the president is forgiven.


[12:16:15] KING: Welcome back.

We learned true and false about the same time we're taught right and wrong, but in this age of Trump, can even truth be redefined?


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth. The president of the United States says I didn't -- don't do this to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't do truth isn't truth to me.

GIULIANI: Donald Trump -- Donald Trump says I didn't talk about Flynn with Comey. Comey says you did talk about it. So tell me what the truth is.


KING: Today, Rudy Giuliani trying to explain just what he meant there. The question was in the context of whether President Trump will or should do an interview with the special counsel. Giuliani tweeting this morning, my statement was not meant as a pontification on moral theology but one referring to the situation where two people made precisely contradictory statements, the classic he said/she said puzzle. Sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth. Other times it doesn't.

I hope that cleared it up.

CNN legal analyst Shan Wu joins our panel. He's a former federal prosecutor. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I get the point there. Rudy Giuliani is trying to say, if James Comey says I was fired because I wouldn't go easy on Mike Flynn and the president says that's not why I fired James Comey, how does Robert Mueller -- how do you solve it? Who's telling the truth?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the jeopardy really only arises if you're under oath. So if Trump does go in to be interviewed, then he's creating some jeopardy for himself.

I think the problem -- well, it's not really a problem. Rudy has been working at this model for a while. He wants to set up the situation where if there's anybody who could contradict the president, then he has ammunition to say this is a perjury trap, I'm not walking him into that. And that's what he's been working on for a while. And I think he's been a little bit successful of that, especially now that he claims that the president never said anything about -- to Comey. So --

KING: But he's on television talking to the president, right?

WU: Right. Yes.

KING: He's not talking to us.

WU: Exactly.

KING: He's talking to the president.

WU: Right.

KING: He's trying to convince the president (INAUDIBLE).

There's another thing he said yesterday that was interesting. And if you look up collusion in the dictionary, you get one definition. Remember, in the legal context, you need the conspiracy, the nefarious, the plotting. That's what Mueller has to figure out. But here's Rudy Giuliani. The latest explanation, June 2016, Trump Tower meeting, led by Donald Trump Junior, several other campaign officials involved. They think there are a bunch of Russians coming in with dirt on Hillary Clinton. Rudy says --


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The meeting was originally for the purpose of getting information about Clinton. The meeting turned into a meeting that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which in itself is attempted collusion. I under --

GIULIANI: No, it's not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just said it. The meeting was intended to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Kremlin lawyer.

GIULIANI: No it wasn't. No, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the intention of the meeting. You just said it.

GIULIANI: That was the original intention of the meeting. It turned out to be a meeting about another subject, and it was not pursued at all. And, of course, any meeting with regard to getting information on your opponent is something any candidate's staff would take.


KING: OK. I'm going to leave -- stick with the lawyer for a second here.

Did he not just say right there that it was attempted collusion? Now, the question is the conspiracy part of it. But Donald Trump Junior, other top campaign officials, meeting with known Russians, can't take any contribution in a campaign, financial or any other goods, material goods, from a foreign national, period. Never mind a foreign national from Russia, who most people would think of as not having the United States' interests at mind. Isn't that what he just said there, that this -- this -- if that is the truth, that this was attempted collusion, the Russians didn't bring the dirt maybe, but they went into it expecting it?

WU: No, absolutely, it doesn't have to bear fruit for their attempt or the conspiracy aspect of it. And I think that's --

KING: But if you were Bob Mueller, what would you do with that?

WU: Well, I wouldn't want Rudy to be testifying, but I'd -- I would be asking questions about that. And that would peek my interest. I think their interest is already peeked on that front.

[12:20:04] KING: So the non-lawyers at the table, help me. No, we've talked -- we've talked about this before, that a lot of what he's doing is political. It's not legal. He's trying to convince the Trump base and trying to convince all Americans, frankly, don't believe anything you hear from the media, from Bob Mueller, from the Justice Department, from any institution that might file some charges against anybody in Trumpland, or might question the conduct of the president.

What purpose is he serving there? He's not helping his client.

MURRAY: No, and the thing that makes me bang my head against the wall every time anyone related to this case and to this campaign has said it, is that, well, any campaign would go and get dirt on their opponent. And, yes, that is true, any campaign would seek out dirt on their opponent, but not from a foreign government and not from someone from the government of Russia.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: That is not how it works. And when you talk to other campaign aides who worked on any other campaign, it really makes them want to set their hair on fire because they're like, in any campaign, there are always people coming from outside governments trying to be helpful. And you either rebuff those or you sent them to the FBI or you certainly send them to the counsel for your campaign. It's the Trump people who thought, wow, what a good idea, we should take the meeting.

KING: And to that point, here's Rudy Giuliani, again, yesterday, on that meeting, trying to say, well, they didn't know.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: She didn't represent the Russian government. She's a private citizen. I don't even know if they knew she was Russian at the time. All they had was her name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They knew she was Russian. I think they knew she was Russian, but, OK.

GIULIANI: Well, they knew it when they met with her, not when they set up the meeting.


KING: That's not true. Donald Trump Junior himself released some e- mails when he got caught in a lie about this, released some e-mails making clear he knew she was Russian. They have this thing called the Internet. You can look up her name if you do any due diligence. Plus, we know from testimony during the congressional investigations that they knew they were Russians and knew those Russians were promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. How can he say that?

TALEV: And then there's the matter of what the president did or didn't dictate as a response, which is also --

KING: But is the president's lead attorney just uninformed or is he deliberately lying on television?

TALEV: Does it matter? I mean, I don't know. Like, the story --

KING: That's a sad question. I get -- the right question. It's the right question, but that's a sad question.

TALEV: (INAUDIBLE). The story has changed so many times and it is now -- all of this entirely -- well, like, 75 percent for public consumption, 25 percent for POTUS consumption. And the kind of derivative of it is that Mueller and his team can watch all of it and if they want to, if they find it's useful, fold it back into what they're actually doing. But none of this helps on the legal side.

KING: Do you're think, in the end, the president's going to wish he had different lawyers?

WU: He'll never admit that. But I think that's --

KING: I didn't ask if he'd admit it.

WU: Yes. He may think that. I think the strategy has been pretty disorganized. And, you know, I think the interesting thing, to go to Sara's point, Giuliani would never have taken than meeting. Never.

KING: Right. No. He's -- MURRAY: He would know better.

WU: Right.

KING: Right. One would hope. That's a little segue here. Jurors in the Paul Manafort trial now in their third day of deliberations after being allowed to go home for the weekend. The former Trump campaign chairman still waiting to hear if he'll be found guilty or innocent on several counts, 18 charges in all, bank fraud, tax evasion, other charges he faces. Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing, appearing upbeat on his way into court this morning.



QUESTION: How is your client feeling today?

DOWNING: He's feeling really good.


KING: Not sure what he's supposed to say.

CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz following the trial, joins us now.

Shimon, any hints about where the jury is, how far along they are?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: No, we have no hints. We've heard nothing from the jury today. Usually, you know, if there was some kind of movement, we'd get a request, a note would be sent to the judge. We have had no notes from the jury so far today.

Of course, they came in promptly this morning, 9:30. They started their deliberation. And now almost three hours they've been working. You know, of course, they went home early on Friday. They asked to go home at 5:00 because one of the jurors had an event. And, since then, we have not heard anything from the jurors.

Also in the court today, there was some strange activity again with the judge. He had two bench conferences with all of the lawyers. Manafort was present in court for that. We don't know what that was about. That's been sealed. The judge, like he's done with other bench conferences, said that he'll release the transcripts, John, once the trial is over.

So there has been some mystery in the court. And, of course, we all continue to wait.

KING: More than any trial I can remember. I think those sealed transcripts are going to be as informative as the verdict itself.


KING: We'll see how this plays out. Shimon, appreciate it. Keep us posted.

Up next, new signs New York prosecutors closing in on charging the former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen.


[12:29:17] KING: Welcome back.

Today, fresh evidence the president needs to worry about another potential source of legal exposure. His former fixer, personal attorney Michael Cohen. Sources saying prosecutors in New York could soon charge Cohen with blank fraud, possibly by the end of the month. "The New York Times" first to report last night investigators in the southern district of New York zeroing in now on $20 million or so in loans Cohen secured from two banks. This morning, CNN producers spotted Mr. Cohen entering the offices of his attorneys in New York.

He's been under investigation for some time. "The New York Times" story, some follow-up reporting by CNN, leading to believe that both from the prosecution's standpoint and Mr. Cohen's legal team think this is reaching the charging point, which tells you what?

[12:30:00] KAPUR: Well, bigger picture wise, I will say, you know, the politics of this are unpleasant. There's a whiff of swampiness here that is, you know, not nice for the president's party going into a midterm election with the Cohen charges potentially percolating, the Paul Manafort trial in jury deliberation phase and the president