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Trump's Ex Campaign Chief Hires New Legal Team after FBI Raid; Trump Says "Ask Me Later" to "Should McConnell Step Down"; Trump Praises McMaster Amid Attacks from Alt-Right; Trump Threatens North Korea, Thanks Putin for Kicking Out Diplomatic Staff. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 11, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:39] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: "Pretty tough stuff," that's how President Trump described the FBI raid on his Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort's home. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought it was a very, very strong signal or whatever. I know Mr. Manafort. I haven't spoken to him in a long time but I know him. He was with the campaign, as you know, for a short period of time, relatively short period of time. I have always found Paul Manafort to be a very decent man. He's like a lot of other people, probably makes consultant fees from all over the place. Who knows? I don't know. But I thought it was tough stuff to wake him up.


BOLDUAN: On top of that, Manafort is hiring a new legal team. CNN learned it could mean the probe is looking at possible tax crimes.

Joining me now, CNN national security and legal analyst, and former attorney at the NSA, Susan Hennessey. She now works at the Brookings Institution.

Great to see you, Susan. Thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: You heard the president there. Do you think Mueller is trying to send a message through the raid?

HENNESSEY: I don't know that the raid has been conducted for the purpose of sending a message or not the purpose of sending a message to anyone other than Manafort. There are messages that can be gleaned. One of the most significant things is that Mueller chose to have a search warrant at all as opposed to requesting the documents through a subpoena. That indicates two things. One, the judge believes there was probable cause a crime was committed. That's significant. And two, the Mueller team believed Manafort couldn't be trusted to produce the documents they had asked for. BOLDUAN: On the top of messages, the president's attorney on the

Russian investigation, he spoke out about this raid at Manafort's house. John Dowd, speaking in an e-mail exchange with the "Wall Street Journal," he said, "The raid was extraordinary invasive and a gross abuse of judicial process." And he also said, "These methods are normally found and employed in Russia, not America."

Remember, this is Trump's attorney, not Manafort's attorney. What is he doing with this, do you think?

HENNESSEY: Well, this is one of the strange wrinkles of this case, the sort of the -- we heard that earlier statement from the president where he was distancing himself from Paul Manafort, saying he was only with the campaign a very short period of time, despite the fact that Paul Manafort was his campaign manager. So very close to the campaign. Then we see Trump's attorney being involved, making comments on legal matters not related or directly related to his individual client. This is another bizarre wrinkle in an already very, very strange case.

BOLDUAN: Yes. What message he's sending is a -- what message is John Dowd trying to send, I wonder?

On the legal team, Manafort's new legal team, from what we are hearing, they specialize in complex tax investigations. Does this tell you the whole investigation is going the way of taxes or is this just for Manafort?

HENNESSEY: From the beginning, based on reporting, it was clear inquiries to Manafort were largely focused on financial crimes, a focus on taxes, potential Foreign Agent Registration Act violations. There was a report in "The New York Times" about Manafort's name appearing on the ledger in Ukraine that might indicate possible money laundering. We knew this was going to be a complex financial investigation from the outset.

What exactly it signifies that he chosen to switch lawyers at this point and to this form of legal team, sure, possibly, it means he thinks this is going to be the next stage of the investigation. That said, it is a very competent law firm. It's not the kind of firm that couldn't handle this investigation. It is really a rather strange move to change your entire legal team at this point, sort of right as the investigation heats up.

BOLDUAN: Right after your home has been raided by the FBI.

We learned his son-in-law, Paul Manafort's son-in-law, met with Justice Department investigators a couple months ago. Is that surprising?

[11:34:50] HENNESSEY: Remember, there are multiple strains to this case, some are more or less related. Everybody talks about Russian election meddling as though that's the investigation into one single thing. That's not necessarily the case. There's been reports that Paul Manafort's son-in-law was under separate investigation related to a series of real estate deals funded by Paul Manafort. They resulted in a series of bankruptcies.

What Mueller's team might be looking into is, of course, relates not only to Manafort's own financial position, but also possible motivations, why Manafort might be willing to talk to certain people or why he might have done certain things related to his own financial position. It's not necessarily surprising the son-in-law, considering his financial relationship to Manafort, has been brought into this. But it also doesn't mean these investigations are one in the same. It's more that there are lots and lots of criminal investigations that appear to be ongoing and they are overlapping in various ways.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Very interesting.

Susan, great to see you. Thank you.

Coming up for us, a reporter asks President Trump if he thinks Senator Mitch McConnell should step down. His answer not doing anything to cool the tensions between them. Details on that, ahead.

Plus, here is something you don't see every day, a completely empty Oval Office. Why? That's coming up.


[11:40:25] BOLDUAN: President Trump tells Mitch McConnell to get back to work, but is also hinting McConnell may not have that job much longer. Asked if the president thinks he should step down, the Senate majority leader, the president said this yesterday.


TRUMP: If he doesn't get repeal and replace done and if he doesn't get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn't get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure, if he doesn't get them done, then you can ask me that question.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, Justin Sayfie, a Republican strategist and former communications director for Governor Jeb Bush. And Kristen Soltis Anderson, a columnist for "The Washington Examiner," Republican pollster, and author of "The Selfie Vote."

Great to see both of you.

Kristen, if you are Mitch McConnell and you wake up to that vote of no confidence, what do you do?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER & REPUBLICAN POLLSTER & AUTHOR: I think, in some ways, it's the least surprising thing we have heard Donald Trump say. In part, because he loves picking fights with Republicans. Donald Trump enjoys fighting with Republicans more than with Democrats, sometimes.

He's right. You know, coming from the private sector, his expectations for how government works are unrealistic, but not unreasonable. He's used to being able to snap his fingers and stuff happens and the founding fathers didn't set the Senate up that way. You're seeing something, in some ways, predictable, but I don't think Mitch McConnell is shaking in his boots. Mitch McConnell can cause a lot of problems for Donald Trump. And I don't think Trump has thought this through fully.

BOLDUAN: Justin, you have -- no matter what, Mitch McConnell, shaking or not, what are you thinking right now? You have some Republicans coming to his defense, Dean Heller, Jeff Flake, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch. What do you think the impact is of this Trump/McConnell feud if it doesn't cool off?

JUSTIN SAYFIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR GOVERNOR JEB BUSH: I don't know. The impact is going to be that Donald Trump is putting lot of pressure on the Republicans in the Senate. And he did so before with the House. Kristen made the point earlier about attacking, the president attacking Republicans. I think the president is positioning himself against Washington. He is the outsider president. He's almost a nonpartisan president. He is a populist. I don't think any Republican should think they are beyond getting criticized by the president.

Keep in mind, this started when Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, criticized President Trump. Trump has a rule he lives by, and that is if you hit me, I'm going to hit you harder. That rule applies to Republicans and Democrats. That's unusual. But the American people would say, good for him, he's not taking sides. He's trying to get things done for the American people. That's what the answer to the reporters' question showed. It's very agenda focused and very substance focused.

BOLDUAN: Saying infrastructure is easy is maybe missing the mark a bit. Nothing is easy coming from Congress.

I want to move on. We want to move on to --

SAYFIE: Easier than health care.

BOLDUAN: That's saying something or nothing at all.

Kristen, Trump was asked about Jeff Sessions. A golden opportunity to put the bad blood there to bed. This is what he offered up. Listen.


TRUMP: It's fine. It is what it is. It's fine. He's working hard on the border. I'm very proud of what we have done on the border. Very proud of General Kelly, what he's done on the border. One of the reasons he's my chief of staff is because he did an outstanding job at the border.


BOLDUAN: It is what it is, Kristen. Not the best performance review. What gives here? SOLTIS ANDERSON: Jeff Sessions, love him or hate him, is the single

most -- the person in Trump's cabinet that has the most of the Make America Great Again agenda. The things that Trump's base loves the most. That is Attorney General Sessions --


BOLDUAN: What's going on? Seriously.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think for Trump, this Russia investigation is just a constant irritant and the idea that Jeff Sessions could have been in a position to stop it, but did the right thing and recused himself, I think Trump can't let that go. It's a big piece of why he continues to not ever really express this level of comfort with Jeff Sessions who is beloved by the conservative base and was one of Trump's first major endorsers. So, like we said, Donald Trump does not have loyalty to party, not loyalty to those who endorsed him early on. He does not mind swinging if he thinks you have put him in harm's way.

BOLDUAN: You see that in Sessions and McConnell, who helped him get his Supreme Court pick through. Held that seat open so he could have that option.


BOLDUAN: Forget that gratitude.

Justin, he did, however, give one glowing review to national security adviser. Listen.


[11:45:15] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You have full confidence in your national security adviser?

TRUMP: Yes, I do. General McMaster? Absolutely. He's a friend. He's my friend. He's a very talented man. I like him and I respect him.


BOLDUAN: This is between another feud between McMaster and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon in the West Wing. This statement coming from the president, has the president picked his side?

SAYFIE: Well, I think the president, look, he did the right thing. That's his national security adviser. This is the second one. There were some, like you said, internal conflict or tension there inside the White House. I think it was very good for the president to give that strong vote of confidence in his national security adviser, especially with the events taking place around the world, especially with what's going on with North Korea. It was a great move by the president to do that.

BOLDUAN: I give you both a vote of confidence.

Thank you, Justin and Kristen. Thank you, both.

SAYFIE: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, from Mitch McConnell to Hillary Clinton, President Trump spent yesterday lashing out a host of characters, with one notable exception. That's coming up.


[11:50:47] BOLDUAN: President Trump issues a new warning, that the U.S. military is "locked and loaded" to deal with North Korea after, of course, saying his "fire and fury" threat may not have been tough enough.

So does that tough posture extend beyond North Korea to perhaps Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin?

Joining me now, Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, of New York, who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Given his first opportunity to respond to Vladimir Putin after Mr. Putin expelled U.S. diplomatic staff from the country, President Trump, he didn't offer support for U.S. employees there. He thanked Putin instead. Should he be thanking Vladimir Putin for that?

ZELDIN: I don't have a problem with this particular response. It's two steps in a row. One is, signing the Russian sanction package, which included Iran and North Korea. Russia responds to us signing those sanctions. And essentially, with the United States taking it in stride the way that we did, it comes across as a misfire on the part of Putin. It doesn't escalate things further. It's two steps in a row back to back that result in the sanctions package being enacted.

BOLDUAN: Right. But you think --


ZELDIN: And we're on the high road.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, you think the president was right in thanking Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. employees, because he thanked him for helping him cut costs?

ZELDIN: Obviously, he was being sarcastic when he said, thank you. He wasn't genuinely thanking Vladimir Putin. He was being sarcastic, as if -- because Vladimir Putin is taking this action in response to him signing the sanction package, And by him acting the way he did with his tone, with his body language, he's sending a message back to the Russians, that the United States is unfazed by their efforts to escalate. And I think these two steps back to back with signing the Russian sanctions and not freaking out over the response by Putin, I think that the United States got the one-up here in this back and forth these last few steps.

BOLDUAN: What message -- you say that he was sarcastic and you think this sends some message to Vladimir Putin, but what message does this send to U.S. diplomats, the ones expelled or U.S. diplomats everywhere else in the world, some serving in very dangerous places?

ZELDIN: Any of our diplomats serving anywhere in the world should always know that the United States government, the United States people, are extremely grateful for all of their service. These people are --


BOLDUAN: Is this the way you thank them for their service? You thank Vladimir Putin for kicking them out?

ZELDIN: When you go through one diplomat to the next, these are career diplomats. They serve in different locations. These individuals, hopefully, will, the best ones, given opportunities to continue to serve our government in other capacities. You know, that shouldn't by any means be short changed at all. And our diplomats should not take the United States government response to being unfazed by Russia's attempt to escalate after signing a sanctions package, in any way is an affront to them. And there should be other places to land within the United States at State Department or elsewhere for them to continue their great service to our country.

BOLDUAN: We'll see if that's the message they received from the president on this one.

Congressman, always have a lot more questions. Have you back on. Appreciate your time. Thank you.

ZELDIN: Take care, Kate.

[11:54:29] BOLDUAN: Thank you.

We'll be back in a moment.


BOLDUAN: This week's "CNN Hero" was volunteering at a school when he discovered how much students didn't know about food.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: When children come in here and fall in love with the land.

Got it.

That's lunch tomorrow.

In a bustling city like New York City, to find and oasis like this, you can go in and everything seems to slow down. This is their dream safe place. Look at that.

It's not just growing the vegetables. It's growing the children.


BOLDUAN: And to find out more about how his urban farms are sowing seeds of hope, go to

Thank you so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

"Inside Politics" with Dana Bash starts right now.

[11:59:49] DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

A consequential morning in washington. Locked and loaded. President Trump rattles off another aliterative altercation threat on Twitter, saying, military solutions against North Korea are "fully in place."

Plus, the president is publicly rating his own team, things with his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, they're fine. His national security --