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Kelly: Probe "Is Very Distracting To The President"; Former Trump Adviser Sought Campaign/Russia Sit-Downs; White House Downplays Ties To Aides, Adviser; Trump Bashes Cooperating Witness As "Liar"; "Foreign Contact 1" Matches Profile Of London Professor. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired October 31, 2017 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. President Trump seething and distracted today all over the big developments in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Seething according to a Republican close to the White House. Distracted according to his own Chief of Staff John Kelly in an interview on Fox.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It is very distracting to the president as it would be to any citizen, to be investigated for something while at the same time trying to carry the weight of what being president of the United States means on his shoulders.


BOLDUAN: The president is also fighting back, on Twitter, of course. The fake news is working overtime as Paul Manafort's lawyer said there was no collusion and events mentioned took place long before he came to the campaign.

Few people knew the young low-level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar. Check the Democrats. Quick note, Manafort indictment does include statements made during the 2016 campaign, important to keep in mind.

Manafort and Rick Gates are under house arrest on court order, and new court documents shedding new light on the former campaign adviser that the president calls a liar and how he is now cooperating with federal investigators.

Let us begin there with CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. Jessica, these new court documents coming out kind of connect the dots somewhat on what happened and when George Papadopoulos -- with George Papadopoulos, lay it out for us. JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you know, from those court documents, I want to give you two words that are really sending shockwaves here in Washington, pro-active cooperator. That's how prosecutors are referring to George Papadopoulos, which means he's a major player contributing to their wide-ranging Russia investigation.

Now, in court files that were just unsealed, prosecutors put it this way, it's up on your screen, "They say Papadopoulos has indicated that he is willing to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election."

But you know his guilty plea was kept quiet for several weeks because of what they said next, they said, public disclosure of the defendant's initial appearance, however, would significantly undermine his ability to serve as a proactive cooperator.

Now Papadopoulos has revealed he had repeated communications with Russians, even tried to set up meetings with Russian officials and members of the Trump team. So, when you put all of those revelations with a timeline, it gets really interesting.

Take a look at this, the Russian hackers were well at work in July 2015 and then into March 2016 when Hillary Clinton's Campaign Manager John Podesta had his e-mails hacked, it was one month after that, when Papadopoulos was told that Russians had e-mails and dirt on Hillary Clinton that they wanted to hand over.

At that point, Papadopoulos e-mailed Paul Manafort about it and then a few weeks later is when that infamous Trump Tower meeting happened where Donald Trump, Jr. admitted he was also promised dirt by a Russian lawyer, but didn't get it.

Then, of course, there's the cascade of e-mail releases on Wikileaks on July 27th, 2016, then Candidate Trump publicly asked Russia to hack Clinton's e-mails. So, then it all goes from there.

And then jumping to 2017 this year, that's when the FBI investigation into Papadopoulos really ramped up, Kate. Of course, they began interviewing him later learned that he lied and that led to his arrest in July and his guilty plea just this month -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That timeline that you lay out is fascinating and important to keep in mind with all of this. But also in the court documents, Jessica, there are several unnamed Trump campaign officials that Papadopoulos was in contact with. Are we getting a clearer idea of who these people are?

SCHNEIDER: A little bit. The identities are slowly beginning to trickle out because in the court filings, they are only identified by their titles as you can see here. We do know that the identities of some of those titles, that Papadopoulos sent an e-mail to Paul Manafort telling him that the Russians were interested in meeting with then Candidate Trump. So, Paul Manafort, listed as the high-ranking campaign official there. Well, then Manafort forwarded the e-mail to his deputy, Rick Gates, and of course, both of those men now face 12 counts in a separate indictment related to money laundering.

We found that out yesterday and the court filings also mentioned this campaign supervisor. He is identified by "The Washington Post" as Sam Clovis, the campaign national co-chair, and Clovis allegedly wrote back to Papadopoulos telling him that I encourage you to take that trip to Russia and get the proposed dirt and e-mails on Hillary Clinton.

So, the interactions with the Trump campaign here were widespread. It's important to note, though, Kate, in terms of Sam Clovis, he has responded to the "Washington Post" report and said he didn't really mean it.

[11:05:10] He didn't really mean that Papadopoulos should go to Russia and get the dirt and the e-mails. He said he was just being polite. So, we'll see if the details continue to trickle out.

BOLDUAN: All right. Jessica, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Let's go over to the White House right now, where the White House is downplaying both the roles of Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos in the whole grand scheme of the campaign and the president has also said to be seething over these developments.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joining us now with the very latest. He maybe seething and he's not seething quietly, Kaitlan. The president is not sitting by today.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: No, he's certainly not. But we've heard from him several times on this, this morning, Kate, after he had been largely silent about the Papadopoulos news, but the White House is essentially trying to downplay the role that he had in the campaign, saying he was a lowly staffer, a volunteer, and did not play a critical role in this.

But we're told that the president was seething as he watched all of this unfold from the third floor of the White House here in the residence yesterday. The president and the White House were caught off guard by the news that George Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser during the campaign, had pled guilty to lying to FBI agents about his attempts to establish a connection between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

But the president is now trying to distance himself from Papadopoulos saying that very few people knew his name. But there is one person who knew his name, Kate, and that's the president because he mentioned it during an interview with "The Washington Post" just last year.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If you want, I could give you some of the names.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I would be delighted.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: George Papadopoulos. He's an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy.


COLLINS: Now as the president huddled with his lawyers in the residence yesterday as they watched all of this unfold, he was advised not to directly criticize the Special Counsel Robert Mueller by his Chief of Staff John Kelly and other lawyers.

But there is one person who doesn't think that's a tactic he should pursue, Kate, in fact, Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, who left just a few months ago, is encouraging the White House to tell Republicans on Capitol Hill that they should take a more aggressive stance against Bannon and go after him and seek to cut off funding from his campaign -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, thank you so much as always. The White House, yard work, always continues regardless.

Joining me now to discuss all of this and there's a lot to get to, as we've heard from Kaitlan and Jessica, former federal prosecutor, Steven Levin, Walter Schaub is here, a CNN contributor and former director of the Office of Government Ethics, and Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. He worked under Bob Mueller at the Department of Justice. Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here.

Michael, let's get to some of what we -- is also coming out in these court documents. Jessica mentioned the proactive cooperator that we've discussed, but also the government arguing in the court documents that -- some of them that were unsealed that they wanted the plea deal so long because they feared it would otherwise reveal like, quote/unquote, "road map" about the ongoing investigation. Is that a road map to someone or somewhere do you think?



ZELDIN: It is how are they conducting their investigation, where, and by what means in this case, it was Papadopoulos most likely cooperating by wearing a wire or otherwise recording communications with people. So, they didn't want people to know that he was sort of on Mueller's team and they didn't want people to know where Mueller's team was headed.

BOLDUAN: So in -- on that exact note, Steven, also coming out in these documents is the government mentions in the way they put it a large-scale investigation, which this is a small part relating to Papadopoulos. Does this offer any clues to you?

STEVEN H. LEVIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Absolutely. It's clear that for quite some time now, Papadopoulos has been cooperating. Whether he's been wearing a wire or whether he's been meeting targets of the investigation in a place that has a recording device.

Those individuals who have had conversations with Papadopoulos in the last few months, should probably be very concerned about what they may have said to Papadopoulos. This is how a federal prosecutor builds an investigation.

They use a cooperator and in this case the challenge for a prosecutor is that Papadopoulos has acknowledged he lied to federal officials. So, they don't want to rely just on his words. They want to corroborate what he is telling.

BOLDUAN: One consistent thing that we are hearing from the Trump world and allies, Walter, is that Papadopoulos was a nobody, a coffee boy one person said today, a low-level volunteer is how the president described him today. But I've noticed that you have made the point that this volunteer was able to get more meetings with the president than you did as the Office of Government Ethics.

[11:10:06] WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. I mean, there's a publicly available picture floating around on the internet of him sitting at a meeting with the president and the president referred to him as an excellent guy and energy and oil consultant. So, it's quite a bit of rewriting of history.

As the head of a federal agency whose job was to work closely with the incoming administration during the transition, I never met with the man once and found out from the news, for instance, when they had issued an ethics executive order so it's just unbelievable to me that they're calling a guy a coffee boy, who had a whole lot more access to the president than I did.

BOLDUAN: And Michael, isn't the truth that coffee boy or low-level volunteer or lesser players have often by keys to an investigation, a successful investigation?

ZELDIN: Absolutely. It doesn't preclude a conspiracy from being found on the basis of stature within the organization. If he's got the organization to move forward and it appears to have, he's communicating by e-mail with Manafort at least with respect to Hillary Clinton's dirt and e-mails and you can't forget the fact that that's almost the exact language used in the June 2nd e-mail to Donald Trump, Jr.

I mean, so, they're using the same language and offering the same prize, stolen e-mails, as the hook to create a communication and it is clearly a crime under the federal statutes to hack someone's computer, to distribute that, to conspire to release that.

And so, the notion of what is collusion here, it's a conspiracy to violate those privacy and computer hacking laws and this evidence here, it comes pretty close to that. And it's not there yet, but it's the beginnings.

BOLDUAN: Steven, Corey Lewandowski, he was the campaign manager before he was pushed out from the campaign. "The Washington Post" reports that he is also one of the high-ranking officials as referenced in the court documents that Papadopoulos was in touch with. Here is how Corey Lewandowski answered some questions about all of this today. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you the, quote, "high-ranking campaign official," who received three or four e-mails from George Papadopoulos during this April, May, June time period during the campaign?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: You know, it's a great question, Savannah, I don't know the answer to it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The campaign official, which may or may not be you, forwarded an e-mail and said you're running point on this. Did you send an e-mail like that?

LEWANDOWSKI: Yes. Savannah, look I don't recall that specific e- mail, but you're asking me to remember an e-mail from April of 2016, on a day that I -- any given day I would have received a thousand e- mails.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did George Papadopoulos tell you either verbally or in an e-mail that Russian officials had told him that they had dirt on Hillary Clinton specifically thousands of her e-mails? Do you ever remember receiving that message from George Papadopoulos?

LEWANDOWSKI: I don't remember that.


BOLDUAN: Steven, what do you make of those answers?

LEVIN: I think Lewandowski would be best served by not answering any questions related to this investigation. I think he was purposely not answering the questions. He shouldn't answer the questions. If I were his lawyer, I would tell him not to put himself in a position where he's going to be asked because you can rest assured that Mueller and his team are going to use anything Lewandowski says publicly to potentially make a charge against him if that's where they're headed.

BOLDUAN: That's why it surprised a lot of folks, that so many folks keep popping up on tv and in interviews. Stephen, Walter, Michael, thank you all so much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the man once touted as the moderating force in the White House, Chief of Staff John Kelly, he's facing some backlash right now for saying a lack of compromise is what led to the outbreak of the civil war. That's not all. Hear from him in his own words.

Plus, a new bombshell from Facebook ahead of a very big hearing on the election meddling. The social network saying that shady posts from Russian troll farms could have reached more than half of the American voting population. Stay with us.



BOLDUAN: New details this morning about all of the unnamed players cited in the Mueller investigation court documents that were unsealed yesterday. One of the biggest mysteries has been who is this overseas professor that George Papadopoulos was in contact with. We are now beginning to learn.

Let's get over to CNN's Nic Robertson in London with the details. So Nic, who is this professor and what are you learning about him?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, he appears to be because he seems to fit the description in many, many ways, I'll explain here to be Professor Joseph Mifsud (ph). He was running the London Academy of Diplomacy, the London Academy of Media and Diplomacy, the London International Center for International Law Practice.

These facilities are closed down. However, I've been talking with a source who has known Mifsud for a number of years now and he said that Mifsud had pro-Russian inclinations. That he would often brag about his relationship with leading Russian figures like President Putin, saying he had dinner with Putin amongst a group of other people.

Even bragged to this source that they, the Russians, had a lot of stuff, a lot of information, on Hillary Clinton. But the reason that we can perhaps get some clarity that Mifsud is the professor, my source said that Mifsud put him in contact with George Papadopoulos early April last year.

Because Papadopoulos -- he was introduced to Papadopoulos as an adviser for then Candidate Trump on foreign affairs. My source says that he found Papadopoulos to be, he says, a nice guy, but somebody who wasn't particularly well informed, didn't have a lot of depth of knowledge about foreign policy issues of which he was speaking.

[11:20:08] And that caused my source to have concern in his mind about the quality of Papadopoulos as a foreign policy adviser for President Trump. These connections coming at the key time in the sort of second week of April last year.

BOLDUAN: We are starting to get more and more details, more and more information about all the players here. Where that leads? We will see. Nick, great to see you. Thank you so much for that. I really appreciate it.

So, on George Papadopoulos, he is clearly a key player in the Mueller investigation, but what about the congressional probes that are happening at the same time. CNN's Manu Raju is reporting this morning that Senate Intelligence Committee has not interviewed him, has not interviewed him.

But that committee chairman, Senator Richard Burr, says today that Papadopoulos was in constant contact with their legal team. So, there is that. Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Denny Heck of Washington. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: So, the reporting that I have seen is that your committee has not had a chance to meet with Papadopoulos either, but has he been on your radar as well?

So, anybody and everybody associated with the Trump campaign that may or may not have played a role in alleged collusion would be somebody on the radar, but as to the specific people that we have interviewed or will interview.

We've made a pledge not to reveal that or disclose that unless we make the exception as we have this week, tomorrow, the social media platform companies will be in and as has been announced later in the week, Carter Page will be in.

BOLDUAN: Would it be wrong to say that your committee has been in touch with Papadopoulos, albeit, you haven't interviewed him?

HECK: It would be wrong to disclose that either way, Kate. That is what would be wrong.

BOLDUAN: In light of the charges, you're keeping your pledge, good for you, in light of the charges, some Republicans have been dodging questions on Capitol Hill about how they're reacting to all of this, others have had this to say. Listen to this.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: It is big news. It's big news but this is what you get from a special counsel. They have made an indictment. I have nothing to add because I haven't even read it. So, I'm not going to speculate on something I haven't read.

SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The special counsel appointed by the Department of Justice and that is the person you need to be asking the questions. That's not our responsibility.


BOLDUAN: Is that a fair answer?

HECK: So, Kate, I am completely embarrassed. People walk by and we're making a lot of noise and I couldn't hear that and I apologize.

BOLDUAN: It's OK. Essentially both Paul Ryan and John Cornyn saying that's not their per view, this is the lane of the special prosecutor and that's where you should direct your questions for reaction on what is happening with the investigation.

HECK: Well, it's certainly consistent with what Speaker Ryan has done all along, which is in my humble opinion, not given enough credence to the importance of this investigation. But despite that utterance and despite previous utterance, we labor on and we will continue to. So, my perspective, Kate, is a little different. I think all of the investigations under way kind of have a synergistic and positive effect. Somebody discovers something, something is in the press, leads other people to become more serious than they have been in the past.

Truth of the matter is, I wish this were going better in some ways, but we are a million miles from where we were last January and that's good news for America.

BOLDUAN: What do you mean going better? I wonder -- I have been wondering if the announcement of charges yesterday does it get in the way of your investigation at all?

HECK: No. I think it propels it. Any time and every time that there is a disclosure or revelation of a material in substantive nature, I see some of my majority party colleagues lean into this a little bit more with earnest than they had previously. So, I think it's going to end up being constructive.

So, look, think about where we were ten months ago. The claims especially by the administration and some majority party members were this, it's all a hoax. There was no interference. Well, that's long since dropped away.

Then it was, yes, well there may have been interference, but there was no talking, no collusion between the Trump campaign and cutouts or Russian government representatives and the fact of the matter that's now all fallen away.

You know, third, what we're going to get to here, Kate, is well, maybe all of that is true but didn't affect the outcome of the election except we're now learning from the social media platform companies that by golly, more than half of the American public actually was exposed to some of this disinformation put out by the Russian government. So, one by one, they tend to be falling.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this, on that -- on this point of what the line is coming from Trump and President Trump and his team, here's the line today. Collusion is not illegal. The word from one of the president's attorneys, Jay Sekulow. I mean, he literally said, there is no crime of collusion. Technically, I guess, he is not wrong. What do you say to that?

HECK: Well, I say that these are the same people that first said there was no interference, and these are the same people that then said there was no collusion. So, they were wrong on both those instances, and we'll see where this goes.

[11:25:06] Look, I've said it to you on your program before, Bob Mueller is not going to be intimidated and not going to be misdirected and not going to be delayed or deceived or in any way distracted by the president's tweets. He's coming at this as the consummate professional that he is.

BOLDUAN: Your committee is also meeting with Carter Page this week. He is another foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign and actually was on the same foreign policy advisory committee that Papadopoulos was on, and he was also, of course, under scrutiny with his trips in connections to Russia. Here is what he had to say about yesterday's developments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you guys on e-mail chains together, you and Papadopoulos?

CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Look, there's a lot of e- mails all over the place when you're in a campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. But yes or no, like were you in the e-mail chains with Papadopoulos?

PAGE: Probably a few.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you in e-mail chains with him about Russia?

PAGE: It may have come up from time to time. Again, you know, there's nothing -- nothing major.


BOLDUAN: So, that's what Carter Page is saying now. What questions do you now have for him?

HECK: So, it's the same pledge that I alluded to earlier, Kate. I'm not going to disclose that it is I'm going to ask Carter Page in advance of the hearing. It's a closed open hearing. Only in Congress could we come up with a phrase like that. What that means is it's close to the public coming in during its occurrence, but afterwards the transcript will be made public and then all shall be revealed.

BOLDUAN: Closed/open, that seems to be a very emblematic of what we see in Congress. Real quick, the name George Papadopoulos, when that popped up yesterday, was that news to you?

HECK: I was actually a little bit surprised at his plea bargain. I think it's probably pretty indicative of conventional wisdom in this case, is actually accurate, often isn't in this environment as you know, but I think Director Mueller is putting a big squeeze on some people and he's probably doing it through Mr. Papadopoulos.

One of the names that did not come up that surprised me frankly was General Flynn. I kind of expected him to be on the list just on the basis of what we know he did through open sources, but clearly as some people would like to say, this is not the beginning of the end. Kate, this is the end of the beginning.

BOLDUAN: Do you think Michael Flynn comes next? Is that what you're saying?

HECK: I can't sequence them out for you. Director Mueller is like a million times better at this than I could ever hope to be. But I will say this, I said in the spring, Kate, I don't remember if I said it with you on your program, that I would be surprised if there were people that did not go to jail. It was little controversial at the time I said it. I will say now, I will be very, very surprised if there aren't more names and more indictments in the not too distant future.

BOLDUAN: We will see. Congressman Denny Heck, thank you for this closed/open interview. I appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

Coming up for us, the president's chief of staff, John Kelly, is not the biggest fan of facing the press. He said that himself. Why he was answering questions about the civil war and Robert E. Lee? Why now? What he said that's sparking criticism today. That's coming up next.