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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Obsessed with Identifying Op-Ed Author; Obama Offers Stinging and Pointed Rebuke of Trump; New Letter from Kim en Route to Trump; George Papadopoulos Sentenced to Two Weeks in Prison; Alabama Voters Have a Message for the President; Tesla Stock Sinks after Musk Smokes Weed; Op-Ed Guessing Game. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired September 8, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


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BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The former U.S. president takes aim at the current president and Mr. Trump fires back in kind.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Meantime the U.S. president is asking the Justice Department to investigate that anonymous op-ed piece in "The New York Times."

HOWELL (voice-over): And on the East Coast, bracing for Florence, what could be a major storm that could affect millions of people. Let's watch that one.

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ALLEN (voice-over): Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and all around the world. We're coming to you live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): And I'm George Howell. NEWSROOM starts right now.

ALLEN: Thanks again for being with us, CNN has learned the list of possible authors of an anonymous but damaging opinion piece in "The New York Times" has been trimmed down by the White House to just a few names.

HOWELL: A source says the U.S. president is obsessed at learning the identity of this person identified only as a senior administration official. Our Kaitlan Collins picks up this report.

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KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump tonight calling on his attorney general to investigate the unnamed source of a critical "New York Times" op-ed questioning his ability to lead the country.

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

COLLINS: Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump voicing concern that the anonymous official who described the president as petty and ineffective has a security clearance.

TRUMP: Supposing I have a high-level national security and he has got a clearance and he goes into a high-level meeting concerning China or Russia or North Korea or something. I don't want him at those meetings.

COLLINS: Asked if he can trust his own White House staff:

TRUMP: What I do is now I look around the room and I say, hey, if I don't know somebody.

COLLINS: Sources says Trump his fumed about the op-ed since it was published as the search inside the administration continues to be a guessing game.

TRUMP: We are going to take a look at what he had, what he gave, what he's talking about, also where he is right now. Eventually, the name of this sick person will come out.

COLLINS: As high-ranking officials race to deny it with them who trashed Trump, the president not ruling out administering lie-detector test.

TRUMP: People have suggested it. Rand Paul, who I like and respect, came out this morning. He said have a big lie-detector test. COLLINS: Miles away from Washington, Trump in South Dakota tonight

with the Russia investigation on his mind, telling reporters he's open to sitting down with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, with conditions.

TRUMP: I would do it under certain circumstances. I think it's a big waste of time, because there was no collusion.

COLLINS: But the president voicing concern about perjuring himself.

TRUMP: I don't want to be set up with a perjury trap. Number one, everybody that looked at anybody over there, they get them on some kind of a lie.

COLLINS: Now "The New York Times" has responded to the president's directive for attorney general Jeff Sessions, saying, quote, "We're confident that the Department of Justice understands that the First Amendment protects all Americans and that it would not participate in such a blatant abuse of government power."

Of course the question still remains what it is that the president wants the Justice Department to investigate exactly. But for their part, they are only saying that they don't confirm or deny investigations -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.

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Kaitlan, thank you.

HOWELL: And Natalie, clearly there is a hunt within the White House to find the author of this op-ed but now we're also hearing from the president's counselor, Kellyanne Conway, who says Mr. Trump believes the author is not inside the White House but instead a member of the national security team.

ALLEN: Conway also denies that the op-ed has made the White House staff more paranoid. Here is what she told our Christiane Amanpour in an interview for Christiane's new program, which premieres Monday on CNN International.

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KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I'm not interested in an investigation. I guess those who are investigating, great. I really hope they find the person. I believe the person will put himself or herself out though. People brag to the wrong person. They brag that they did this or they did that because I assume part of this isn't the goal here, not what the op-ed pretends the goal here, isn't the goal to try to sow chaos and get us all suspicious of each other?

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HOWELL: Also on Friday we saw a return of the former --

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HOWELL: -- U.S. President, Barack Obama, keeping in mind that former presidents typically try to stay out of politics or avoid criticizing their successors.

ALLEN: Barack Obama made a very public display of warning that American democracy is in peril all because of Donald Trump. CNN's Athena Jones has the story.

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OBAMA: The politics of division and resentment and the paranoia is unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama making his first foray into the midterm election season, delivering a blistering rebuke of his successor's political tactics.

OBAMA: It did not start with Donald Trump. He's a symptom, not the cause.

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He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.

JONES: The former president who has not spoken within the current president since inauguration day warning the country is at a critical moment with America's very democracy under threat and urging ordinary people to get involved.

OBAMA: You need to vote because our democracy depends on it.

(APPLAUSE)

But just a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different. The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.

JONES: He slammed Republicans in Congress for failing to act as a check and balance on Trump.

OBAMA: Republicans who know better in Congress and they're there, they're quoted saying, yeah, we know this is kind of crazy, are still bending over backwards to shield this behavior from scrutiny or accountability or consequence.

JONES: Obama argued that preventing nearly 3,000 Americans from dying in a hurricane in its aftermath, a reference to Hurricane Maria's toll on Puerto Rico, should not be a partisan issue.

And neither should protecting freedom of the press or denouncing hate, a reference to Trump's much-panned "both sides are to blame" response to last year's violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

OBAMA: We're sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers.

How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?

JONES: And he talked about the importance of showing up, not only on the campaign trail, reaching voters in all corners of the country, but also showing up at the polls.

OBAMA: These are extraordinary times. And they're dangerous times. But here's the good news. In two months, we have the chance -- not the certainty, but the chance -- to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics. What's going to fix our democracy is you.

JONES (voice-over): Athena Jones, CNN, Urbana, Illinois.

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ALLEN: All right. So what did President Trump think of Mr. Obama's unprecedented broadside at his leadership?

Here he is.

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TRUMP: And he said what did you think of President Obama's speech. And I said I'm sorry, I watched it but I fell asleep. I found he is very good, very good for sleeping. I think he was trying to take credit for this incredible thing that is happening to our country.

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HOWELL: Let's talk about this now with Steven Erlanger, the chief diplomatic correspondent for "The New York Times" in Europe, live this hour via Skype in Brussels.

Steven, a pleasure to have you on the show.

Let's start where the former U.S. president, Barack Obama, stating certain truths that should be obvious, that are not partisan, that Nazis are bad, that bullying is bad, that racism is bad. That should be obvious.

But we also saw him casting certain political nets to reach moderate conservatives, to reach undecided voters.

Does it work?

STEVEN ERLANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, we'll have to see. It is really quite unusual for a sitting president to be criticized in this way by his predecessor. It really is unusual. George W. --

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ERLANGER: -- Bush didn't do that. Others didn't do that. So Obama clearly feels --- he was pushed a lot by the Democrats, he clearly feels he needs to engage. It may, of course, backfire.

Because as you heard Trump, Trump is very good at a certain kind of mockery. But at the same time, Obama is trying to energize Democratic voters to send a real message during the midterm. So we'll see what happens. Personally, I think it probably helps the Democrats but it gives Trump something else to punch at.

HOWELL: Well, let's talk more about that, this concept of backfiring. So style and tone very important here. Mr. Trump, we heard a moment ago, saying that the speech put him to sleep. Also this from Senator Lindsey Graham -- if we could pull this tweet to the fore.

The more President Barack Obama speaks about the good old years of his presidency, the more likely President Donald Trump is to get reelected. Goes on to say in fact, the best explanation of President Trump's victory are the results of the Obama presidency.

So to your point, your suggestion here that this could backfire, do Republicans welcome Barack Obama back on the stage?

ERLANGER: Well, Republicans certainly don't. And Barack Obama, you know, when Trump won the election -- but he won it over Hillary Clinton, he didn't win it over Barack Obama. I'm pretty sure Barack Obama would have beaten Donald Trump had he been able to run again for a third term. It is partly on Obama's record that Trump won.

Trump really does disagree with Obama on almost everything and it is clear from Trump's actions many of the things he's done have been to undermine or undo what Obama did, partly because Obama did them. That is true of health care and the Iran nuclear pact, it's true of many things.

So Obama and Trump don't get on; they don't like each other. It will be, you know -- it is a very partisan election. And it is becoming more partisan because, as I say, normally presidents who had had the job don't criticize the ones who are in it.

HOWELL: I want to shift now to talk about Mr. Trump's attacks on his own attorney general, even allegedly calling Jeff Sessions "a dumb Southerner" in the South where it was Sessions' support that helped give rise to President Trump, among other conservatives.

Do these attacks backfire on Mr. Trump?

ERLANGER: Well, I think that they do. Trump is actually popular in the South and mocking Southerners is not a great way of keeping your support.

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HOWELL: No, it really is not.

ERLANGER: Sessions has been very loyal to him from the very beginning. And as usual with Trump, who loves to mock anyway, I mean he does a lot of personal insults like an eighth grader. But what bothers him about Sessions is the Mueller investigation. That is what it is all about.

Let's keep our eyes on the prize. It is about the Mueller investigation. It is not about Jeff Sessions or Jeff Sessions as some sort of Southerner. It is Jeff Sessions as the attorney general, who was appointed by Trump, recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

And it drives the president crazy.

HOWELL: Steven, finally, I want to get your view on the current president drilling down, trying to find the writer of this anonymous op-ed published in your newspaper, "The New York Times."

Mr. Trump even suggesting strapping people down to a lie detector test to find out who did it.

For a president who often complains about witch hunts, what are your thoughts about this witch hunt?

And is it a matter of national security, as Mr. Trump says it is?

ERLANGER: Well, I doubt it is a matter of national security but other presidents have authorized lie detector tests to find out leaks. This is not unusual. As a journalist, I find it sad and rather pathetic but the fact is leaks are a nightmare for every administration. And this one is no different.

The difference inside this one is because it is like an anonymous source speaking. But it is an anonymous source writing, which may, to my mind, give it more credibility. But I don't believe it is a national security issue.

It is an insight into the president's character and the way the White House operates that obviously has the Trump people very, very anxious.

So they are trying to find all kinds of ways to diminish whoever it is, male or female, who wrote this. But trying to find out who wrote it and then firing them, that is something other presidents have done for decades.

HOWELL: It is interesting. My colleague, Chris Cuomo, pointed out, it is an administration that leaks like a sieve. There are --

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HOWELL: -- a lot of people that have different feelings about the U.S. president.

So finding the one person that might have penned that op-ed will be interesting to see if it comes down to one. Steven Erlanger, live for us in Brussels, thank you for your time.

ERLANGER: Thanks, George.

ALLEN: A former aide to the Trump campaign is on his way to prison. And the message to the Trump White House could not be clearer. That story coming up.

HOWELL: Plus from world leaders to penpals, another letter from Kim Jong-un on its way to the White House. Stay with us.

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ALLEN: Welcome back. A new personal letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is on its way to the U.S. president. Mr. Trump says that he thinks it will be a confident letter.

HOWELL: This as North Korea prepares enormous celebrations this weekend to mark the country's 70th anniversary.

ALLEN: And Will Ripley is live in Pyongyang covering it for us.

Kim Jong-un has reportedly expressed unwavering trust in President Trump.

The question is, do North Koreans feel the same way and will this be --

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ALLEN: -- a positive letter?

I guess we won't know.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If the White House releases its contents, maybe we'll get insight. But, frankly, North Koreans haven't said anything about a letter and they often don't release information as freely as Mr. Trump, who tweets what he's thinking and he certainly has tweeted very positive things about Kim Jong-un and has received some letters that we have seen, that have gotten a positive response.

So things are very friendly between the North Korean leader and the U.S. president. Things have been much more tricky when they actually get down to the nitty-gritty of denuclearization talks. On the ground here, I've noticed a dramatic differences from last year versus this year in terms of the propaganda messaging, a lot of the posters depicting images of war, targeting the United States with missiles, those are all down now.

But when you talk to people, decades of hostility and mistrust in the United States, they say it simply can't go away overnight.

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RIPLEY: At the height of U.S.-North Korean tensions last year, when fire and fury rhetoric was at a fever pitch, anti-American propaganda was everywhere in Pyongyang, from missiles blowing up the U.S. Capitol to a personal attack on President Trump.

This propaganda banner says that the workers are motivated by their burning hatred for the United States.

And in fact, it reads "Let's tear apart the mentally deranged U.S. President Donald Trump."

What a difference a year makes. This is my first time back in Pyongyang since President Trump's historic summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Almost three months since their June 12th meeting, North Korea's nuclear program is still here. What's not here, at least as far as we can tell, images like this.

A year ago, when we were here in Pyongyang, you couldn't turn a corner without seeing anti-American propaganda. Now, you're seeing much more of this. This is about building a socialist economy. Even the missile imagery itself has kind of faded into the background.

Government guides are always with us in North Korea, showing us exactly what the state wants us to see. This time, it's all about the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

RIPLEY: Nice to see you again.

I visit the same Pyongyang silk factory and the same worker, Kim Jong Hyang, I first met two years ago.

A lot of people used to describe to me emotions like, you know, burning hatred when they talked about America.

Do people still feel that way now or is it changing?

"Our burning hatred won't go away overnight," she says. "The Americans are approaching us diplomatically, but they're not very sincere."

Workers like Kim used to be surrounded by anti-U.S. slogans. Not anymore.

This one here says, "Compete with the world, challenge the world, overtake the world." A lot different than nuclear annihilation.

What happened to all those signs?

"Those posters were everywhere," she says. "They may be gone now, but that hatred is still deep in our hearts. We don't have any illusions about the Americans, we can't let down our guard."

Here in North Korea, taking down posters is much easier than building up trust.

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RIPLEY: It is really important that last that the worker I spoke with said, "We can't let down our guard."

That really does explain why North Korea is so reluctant to give up their weapons at the beginnings of denuclearization process and not the end. They say they want a peace treaty first. They want security guarantees because there is this real fundamental lack of trust when it comes to the United States.

And we're certainly experiencing that, chatting with people on the ground here.

ALLEN: Very interesting story there, Will. And the different perspective from when you were there last and now. So makes it all the more interesting what will be in this letter Kim Jong-un has sent to President Trump.

But want to ask you about the big 70th anniversary event this weekend, North Korea always does it up big. But perhaps this will be somewhat different with the somewhat changing climate.

RIPLEY: Yes, absolutely. But it will be big. It could be bigger than ever. There are around 130 journalists here; they have actually set up this room behind me as a press filing center. And as the evening progresses, more journalists will be streaming in here from all around the world. That is very rare for North Korea to bring in this many reporters. It

is a hassle for them, managing us, making sure we don't run off and put our camera somewhere that they don't want us to point it. And they are going through all that effort because they want to show something big to the world.

They want to celebrate their 70th founding anniversary and there is a couple big events that we're expecting in the coming days. One, a military parade; we'll undoubtedly see goose-stepping soldiers, satellite imagery has shown the soldiers practicing.

But the big question, will we see the ICBMs rolling through that we saw last year?

If North Korea put those on display because we know they still have them, what kind of a message is that going to send to the United States?

Or will they have keep them in the garage, so to speak, for this particular parade?

And then, of course, the mass games, something that hasn't happened in more than five years.

[04:25:00]

RIPLEY: I've actually never seen this in person. I've been told that it is absolutely extraordinary to see tens of thousands of North Koreans in a stadium, holding up cards and flipping the cards to create these different images.

In the past years, the images were a mushroom cloud, a missile rising up. This year, the messages will tell us a lot about North Korea's focus and their messaging moving forward, as they have said repeatedly, that they are now trying to focus more on their economy and, as the say, they've finished their nuclear program.

ALLEN: We look forward to your reporting on the event. Thank you so much, Will Ripley for us yet again, live from North Korea.

HOWELL: And also good to catch Will on Instagram. He has great information that he posts regularly on his trips to North Korea.

Switching now to a big situation that is affecting the United States on both sides, we are talking about major storms for the U.S. and its territories, from Guam to the Western Pacific, all the way here to the East Coast.

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ALLEN: The man whose actions in the Trump campaign helped launch the Russia investigation, he is now heading to prison for lying about it. We'll have more about that coming up.

HOWELL: Plus Tesla's CEO, you see it there, Elon Musk under fire for -- I don't know. We'll talk about it. Is he having a meltdown?

That is the question. Stay with us.

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ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers. This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following.

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ALLEN: The federal investigation into Russian election interference has now led to the first prison sentence for someone associated with the Trump campaign.

HOWELL: We're talking about the former aide, George Papadopoulos. He will spend the next two weeks in prison for lying to investigators about his contacts with Russians. CNN's Sara Murray explains.

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SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, sentenced to two weeks in prison and a $9,500 fine. Papadopoulos expressing regret for lying to investigators about his Kremlin-lined contacts, telling the judge "People point and snicker and I am terribly depressed."

Papadopoulos' lawyer argued for leniency today, saying his client was naive and to fool.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That whole situation, it's a rigged witch-hunt. It's a totally rigged deal.

MURRAY: But claiming President Trump's comments have done more to harm the Russia investigation than his client's lies; 31-year-old Papadopoulos now the first member of the president's team to be sentenced as part of the Russia investigation and the White House and its allies have been eagerly to downplay Papadopoulos' role in the 2016 campaign.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was a volunteer position and again no activity was ever done in an official capacity.

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I have no idea why people would think that a volunteer coffee boy like George Papadopoulos would get to the top of this campaign. MURRAY: It was Papadopoulos who revealed to a diplomat that he had been told the Russians had thousands of e-mails about Hillary Clinton.

[04:35:00]

MURRAY (voice-over): That helped set off an FBI investigation that eventually became Robert Mueller's special counsel probe.

During the 2016 campaign, the young adviser attended a meeting of Trump's new national security team, including Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions. Papadopoulos pitched a meeting between then candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sessions would later say he discouraged Papadopoulos from setting up the meeting.

But Papadopoulos recently contradicted that, saying Sessions actually seemed enthusiastic about a Trump-Putin meeting. As the Papadopoulos saga winds down, another Trump associate, longtime political adviser Roger Stone, is still under scrutiny.

Randy Credico, a comedian and radio show host, testifying before the grand jury Friday. Stone has claimed Credico was his back channel to WikiLeaks, which Russian intelligence used to circulate hacked information about the Democrats in 2016.

RANDY CREDICO, COMEDIAN: How did I ever the hell get involved in this mess is what I would like to know, a nice guy like me? What's a nice guy like me doing in a place like this?

MURRAY: Credico fielded questions before the grand jury mainly about his relationship with Stone, all with his dog Bianca at his side.

CREDICO: Bianca didn't bark one time. She was so good in there.

MURRAY: Now back on the issue of George Papadopoulos, attorney general Jeff Sessions, through his attorney, put out a statement, saying that he stands by his testimony that he discouraged Papadopoulos from trying to arrange that meeting between then candidate Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin -- Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Sara, thank you.

Until now, Papadopoulos has not done any interviews but he has spoken exclusively with our colleague, Jake Tapper, in his first interview.

ALLEN: And while Papadopoulos maintains he does not remember telling anyone on the Trump campaign that the Russians claimed to have some of Hillary Clinton's emails, he also left open the possibility that it did happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: There are going to be people out there who think, there is no way George Papadopoulos didn't tell anyone on the campaign.

Did you tell anyone on the campaign?

GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP AIDE: As far as I remember, I absolutely did not.

TAPPER: You didn't tell Corey Lewandowski?

PAPADOPOULOS: As far as remember, I absolutely did not share this information with anyone on the campaign.

TAPPER: Not Sam Clovis?

PAPADOPOULOS: Anyone.

TAPPER: Dearborn?

PAPADOPOULOS: Anyone.

TAPPER: Mashburn?

PAPADOPOULOS: Anyone.

TAPPER: Wally Ferris?

None of them.

PAPADOPOULOS: I might have but I have no recollection of doing so. I can't guarantee it. All I can say is my memory is telling me that I never shared it with anyone on the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Papadopoulos also contradicted sworn testimony by U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions.

HOWELL: He says Sessions and then candidate Trump both supported his idea of setting up a meeting between Mr. Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: When did you first meet Donald Trump?

PAPADOPOULOS: March 31st at the national security meeting.

TAPPER: There is a photo of you at the table. Candidate Trump is there, Senator Jeff Sessions is there. What was discussed at that meeting in terms of Russia, in terms of meeting with Putin?

PAPADOPOULOS: As far as I remember, it was I that brought up anything regarding Russia. I was under the impression that an individual I had met in Rome, the so-called professor, was able to provide high level connections in Russia that would result in some sort of summit or meeting -- mostly for a photo op. So I sat down and, you know, I looked the candidate -- I looked at candidate Trump directly in his eyes and said I can do this for you if it is in your interest. And if it is in the campaign's interest. And the collective energy in the room, of course, there were some dissenters but the collective energy in the room seemed to be interested.

TAPPER: The collective energy. Was Donald Trump interested?

PAPADOPOULOS: The candidate gave me sort of a nod. He wasn't committed either way. But I took it as he was thinking.

TAPPER: Senator Jeff Sessions was there, too.

PAPADOPOULOS: Yes.

TAPPER: At the table. What was his response?

PAPADOPOULOS: My recollection was that the senator was enthusiastic about a meeting between the candidate and President Putin.

TAPPER: So you say that then senator and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions was enthusiastic about the idea of candidate Trump meeting Putin but he has said the exact opposite. He says he testified before Congress saying that he, quote, pushed back when you raised the possibility of a meeting with Russia.

That's not true, you're saying.

PAPADOPOULOS: I don't remember that.

TAPPER: You don't remember him pushing back.

PAPADOPOULOS: No.

TAPPER: You remember him saying this is a good idea.

PAPADOPOULOS: I remember him being enthusiastic about a potential meeting between the candidate and President Putin after I raised the question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Papadopoulos there.

Jeff Sessions released a statement through his lawyer and here it is, "Attorney General Sessions --

[04:40:00]

ALLEN: -- has publicly testified under oath about his recollection of this meeting and he stands by his testimony."

Sessions has, of course, been a prime target of President Trump for quite a while now. Sources tell CNN Jeff Sessions concedes his relationship with the president has worsened in recent weeks and likely will not end well.

HOWELL: Sessions was in his home state of Alabama on Friday and so was our Gary Tuchman, speaking with some long-time supporters of the attorney general and it is interesting to hear the different responses from people there in Alabama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alabama might have voted for Donald Trump but really it is Jeff Sessions country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he is doing a great job. I'm behind him. I really like what he stands for. I like the way he thinks. I like the way he executes. I feel good about it.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Folks around here look out for their own. And they don't like the way the president is now treating the attorney general.

TUCHMAN: What would you say to President Trump if you could talk to him about this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say, hey, Trump, let's talk about your personal skills with people. Maybe you could be kinder, a gentler Trump, more understanding, more open-minded and slightly less of a jerk.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): This as the Dew Drop Inn, a Mobile, Alabama, restaurant where Jeff Sessions has been a frequent customer. It's full of people who are glad Donald Trump is president but who are troubled with how disrespectful he's been to Sessions, particularly now, with the revelations in the Bob Woodward book.

TUCHMAN: You hear these quotes calling Jeff Sessions, allegedly calling him mentally retarded and making fun of him as a dumb Southerner.

How does that make you feel as a Trump voter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is upsetting and very discouraging that he would do that, if, in fact, he did that.

TUCHMAN: So do you believe the book?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure.

In Washington, who can you believe?

Who would you believe more, a guy like Bob Woodward or a person like the president of the United States, if you had to put money on it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, I'd probably believe Mr. Woodward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jeff is a patriot. He loves this country.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Diana Whitehead says she's personally known Sessions for about 20 years. And she says she voted for Donald Trump.

TUCHMAN: The president disparages him, disrespects him, puts him down, criticizes him, makes fun of him, how does that make you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not very good.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): There are Trump and Sessions supporters here who say it is not a big deal, that this is just Trump being Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't bother me. I don't think it bothers Jeff.

TUCHMAN: You don't think it bothers him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

TUCHMAN: Mr. Attorney General, can we ask you a question?

TUCHMAN (voice-over): We couldn't find out if the attorney general is bothered because he did not take reporter questions at the dedication of a new federal courthouse in Mobile. A strange relationship with the president certainly bothers a great many people in this city, where Sessions lived and worked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm surprised that Jeff Sessions ever really got involved with somebody of that low character.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The attorney general has plenty of support here and a lot of people wishing Donald Trump would join them in that -- Gary Tuchman, CNN, Mobile, Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: Gary, thank you.

Still ahead, the provocative CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk's latest stunt has a lot of people wondering, is everything OK?

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HOWELL: Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, under fire a bit for lighting up a fire of his own here. You will see in this interview, take a look, Musk and podcast host Joe Rogan, taking a hit of pot there. Afterwards Tesla's stock took a hit as well, plunging 6 percent by the end of the day.

ALLEN: This is just the latest in a string of incidents that has some questioning whether the tech mogul can keep this up. Here is our report from Dan Simon.

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ELON MUSK, TESLA CEO: Is that a joint?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is one of the world's most successful CEOs, with a net worth estimated at more than $20 billion. So when Elon Musk started smoking a joint on comedian Joe Rogan's podcast, people noticed.

JOE ROGAN, COMEDIAN: Probably can't because of stockholders, right?

MUSK: I mean, it's legal, right?

ROGAN: Totally legal.

MUSK: OK.

ROGAN: How does that work? Do people get upset at you if you do certain things? It's tobacco and marijuana in there. That's all it is.

SIMON: It's just the latest bizarre incident for the high profile CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. He's had a couple of turbulent months.

MUSK: Alcohol is a drug. It's been grandfathered in.

SIMON: On the same day the podcast was published, Tesla's chief accounting officer announced his resignation. He did not cite the incident.

Last month during an emotional interview with "The New York Times," Musk said that 120-hour workweeks were taking a toll on his physical health.

I've had friends come by who are really concerned, he said. Some of Tesla's board members have raised concern about his use of the prescription drug Ambien, which Musk admits he sometimes takes to help him sleep. A little red wine, vintage record, some Ambien and magic, he tweeted last year.

The 47-year-old engineer has been called the real life Tony Stark better known as Ironman. But his reputation taking serious hits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a great tech visionary. It's not clear that he is necessarily a great business leader. And I think that's the fundamental problem that's he's running into right now.

SIMON: Musk's judgment was also questioned when he announced he want to take Tesla private. The company lost nearly $2 billion last year and has never earned a profit. Amid a chorus of criticism, he reversed course, saying Tesla will remain public.

And even his admirers had to be dumbfounded when he attacked one of the British divers who helped rescue 12 boys this summer trapped in a Thailand cave. After Musk proposed using a kid-sized submarine to rescue the boys, the diver called it a PR stunt. Musk retaliated calling the man a pedo, short for pedophile. Musk

later apologized, but then last week in an e-mail to "BuzzFeed," escalated the attack, calling him a child rapist.

"BuzzFeed" says Musk did not provide proof of the claims. The diver is reportedly planning to sue.

While announcing a slew of management changes, Elon Musk e-mailed his employees saying in part, quote, "There will be lots of fuss and noise in the media. Just ignore them."

In the meantime, Tesla shares have lost about a third of what they were since August. This latest incident is not likely to help. What will help is profitability and Musk says the future quarter looks bright. It can't come soon enough -- Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.

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HOWELL: It is interesting because Musk represents a brand, right?

He is a visionary, he inspires so many people.

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HOWELL: But when people are investing their money into a company, they want to know that the stability is there. And I think that what he is finding is that you can't square the circle by doing one thing with another.

ALLEN: You can only work 100 hours a week for so long.

HOWELL: Yes, before that grinds on you.

ALLEN: Coming up here, it is probably one of the most scintillating mysteries of this week, who in the White House wrote this op-ed in "The New York Times." We're just as curious as you. And we'll take a look coming next.

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ALLEN: It is the guessing game few can resist playing, who wrote the explosive "New York Times" opinion piece titled, "I am Part of the Resistance inside the Trump Administration."

HOWELL: It is the classic whodunit. The president and White House are definitely focused on finding out who is behind it. Our Jeanne Moos picks up this report.

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JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is, without question, the question of the summer.

MOOS: Who do you think wrote the op-ed?

MOOS (voice-over): Momentary stumped silence on the street.

And on TV?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This could be this person or actually it could be that -- it could be a lot of people.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: It was written by the secretary of...

MOOS (voice-over): Endless speculation.

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MOOS (VOICE-OVER): Punctuated by some, daring to name names.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it fits Dan Coats like a glove.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suggested that it was Kellyanne Conway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was Mr. Vice President.

MOOS (voice-over): His suspicions raised by the op-ed's use of the word --

JIMMY FALLON, NBC HOST: Lodestar.

MOOS (voice-over): A weird word that the vice president favors.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As our lodestar.

You are a lodestar.

MOOS (voice-over): But could lodestar be a loaded word, pointing to Kellyanne Conway?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is the kind of person who would find out that Mike Pence used the word lodestar a lot and put lodestar in to try to pin it on Mike Pence.

MOOS (voice-over): Colbert claimed he had an exclusive with Anonymous.

COLBERT: Are you Mike Pence?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not. Even Mike Pence's silhouette is white.

(LAUGHTER) MOOS (voice-over): On the betting site MyBookie, people were putting their money on Pence.

Omarosa offered a multiple choice survey. The vice president's chief of staff came in first.

MOOS: But enough of the whodunit. Let's move on to who denies it.

MOOS (voice-over): For instance, the vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He done it.

MOOS: He denies it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He done it.

MOOS: He denies it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

MOOS (voice-over): Up sprang the walls of denial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was not them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not me, I didn't do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember that shaggy song.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't me.

MOOS (voice-over): Someone tweeted a live look inside the White House as they tried to figure out who wrote the op-ed. But if you're going to rip into...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anonymous.

MOOS (voice-over): Better learn how to say it.

TRUMP: An anomous (sic), really an anomynous (sic), gutless.

MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN.

MOOS: Who do you think wrote "The New York Times" op-ed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very smart people.

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MOOS (voice-over): New York.

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ALLEN: Jeanne Moos, more about the whodunit op-ed next. We'll be right back with our top stories. HOWELL: Stay with us.