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Trump Calls Ex-Adviser Papadopoulos a "Liar"; Manafort and Gates Plead not Guilty, under House Arrest; White House tries to Distance Itself from Aides Charged; CNN Reaches Site of Deadly Niger Attack. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 31, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. Top of the hour, the president on the attack this morning. On the attack, after a man who was one of his own, not long ago, that man George Papadopoulos. He has proven central in the special counsel's investigation into Russia and election meddling. President Trump now calls Papadopoulos a low-level volunteer who has already proven to be a liar. True, he did plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his own attempts to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, but also not exactly the context, I think, the president meant it in this morning.

BERMAN: No. One of the most important parts of that statement we just put up on the screen there was when the president said, few people knew Papadopoulos.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Well, he knew him. The president did, knew enough to call him an excellent guy when he introduced him to "The Washington Post" March 2016. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George Papadopoulos, he's an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: An excellent guy. But this morning, all of a sudden a few people knew. There's Papadopoulos at the same table as the president now and also the current attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Not exactly the coffee boy described by a key White House ally this morning.

We want to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House. The White House strategy this morning, very clear, diminish, deny, attack, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: And distance, John. They are certainly trying to downplay the role that George Papadopoulos played when he was a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. And we heard directly from the president on this, this morning. We actually had not heard from him himself since the news of Papadopoulos pleading guilty had broken yesterday. But this morning he said, "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." Trump added, "Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar. Check the Democrats!"

Saying that people should focus on tax cuts, the middle class and Democrat corruption, the president said. But, what we're seeing here is the president seeking to downplay the role that this staffer played because yesterday, as the president watched all this coverage unfold, John and Poppy, he was in the residence of the White House and we're told he was, quote, "seething over it."

Now, the White House and the president were expecting an indictment of Manafort especially after the FBI raided Manafort's home over the summer but we're told that the White House was caught off guard by this news about George Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser to the president during the campaign. And though the president said this morning that he was a low-level staffer, that he didn't know him, he did once cite him during that meeting with "The Washington Post" calling him an excellent guy.

Now we know that as the president huddled with his lawyers here in the White House yesterday, that they advised him not to directly criticize the Special Counsel Bob Mueller, but that's not the advice that the president is receiving from everyone. His former chief strategist Steve Bannon who just left the White House a few months ago is actually encouraging the president to push back more aggressively against Mueller, we are told, encouraging saying that White House should tell Republicans on Capitol Hill that they should be publicly speaking out against Mueller, attempting to cut his funding, and slow down what's happening in court here. But it's not clear if the president is taking that advice. He hasn't said anything about it yet. And we heard from the press secretary Sarah Sanders here at the White House yesterday. She said there is no plan to fire Mueller, but the White House still expects that this investigation will wrap up soon, John and Poppy.

HARLOW: We will be watching. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's go to our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider. Just in terms of where we stand in this investigation because it was made clear yesterday, you know, when all of this was unsealed, by Mueller's team. This is a small part of a larger, more in depth investigation. So what comes next?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that's exactly why Poppy, that George Papadopoulos guilty plea. It's really packing the most punch here in Washington. As you mentioned, Papadopoulos he's been cooperating with investigators. He's considered a quote, "proactive cooperator" by prosecutors, which means he is assisting them in that wide-ranging Russia investigation. In fact, Papadopoulos has admitted to repeated contact with Russian nationals after he became a foreign policy adviser for the campaign and the fact that they promised him dirt and e-mails on Hillary Clinton. And that he even tried to set up meetings with Russian officials and members of the campaign team. He also communicated with Paul Manafort on e-mail. So prosecutors have put all of these disclosures really ominously, saying this, saying that his guilty plea is just a small part of what's to come here.

Now meanwhile, the case against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, it is moving full steam ahead, both of those men due back in court on Thursday. And in the meantime, the restrictions on them, they're very extensive.

[10:05:01] Both are under home confinement, meaning they can't leave their houses except for meetings with their lawyers or attending court or medical or religious purposes. Paul Manafort and Rick Gates also under $10 and $5 million bond respectively and they'll have to pay up only if they violate any of those terms of their release. So really, John and Poppy, things moving forward on two different fronts here, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, but also that more ominous George Papadopoulos guilty plea, where more could come out of that in the coming days and weeks. John and Poppy?

BERMAN: And these are the only ones we know about. There could be more beyond this. Jessica Schneider for us in Washington thanks so much.

Joining us now, CNN legal analyst, former bureau prosecutor, Paul Callan and former federal prosecutor, Columbia law professor, Jennifer Rodgers. Professor, Counselor, would you advise your client -- if your client were the president of the United States, to attack a cooperating witness, someone who is working with the special counsel, maybe who has worn a wire in the past, would you advise your client to call that person a liar and diminish his importance calling him a low- level volunteer.

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I wouldn't. I mean, look, this isn't the first time that the president may be ignoring the advice of his counsel, but it's a dangerous tactic. I think like many people think that the president should just stay quiet here. Let the other lawyers do their work and just kind of focus on tax reform and the other things that he's trying to do. This is not an area that he really wants to wade into too much, I think.

HARLOW: The person he chose to attack is -- has been labeled by Mueller's team a "proactive cooperator." Those words tell you what?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look at the timeline involved. He -- Papadopoulos lied to the FBI in January of 2017. He's arrested eventually on the charge in July of 2017. And at that time he becomes a proactive cooperator. Now what that usually means is, they send him out wearing a wire to talk to other members of the campaign and who knows who else. He was a presidential adviser, at least on the books, during that time frame. So we don't know what wealth of material the special prosecutor has obtained from his cooperation.

HARLOW: And in D.C., it's a one-party consent, right?

CALLAN: Yes.

HARLOW: He can record all this?

CALLAN: Oh, yes. He can record all of this, and it's perfectly legal and useable in court. So this is a real bombshell potentially depending upon what Mueller and other FBI people came up with during the summer.

BERMAN: And Professor, it gets to the point of why did we learn yesterday of the existence of this guilty plea of George Papadopoulos when it happened.

HARLOW: It happened on this show, we were reading through this, like what? This guy got arrested a month ago?

BERMAN: And after the president, by the way, put out his statement saying there was no collusion, it was almost as if the special counsel's office saying, well wait a minute, there's this Papadopoulos guy you may what to think about.

RODGERS: It's very well may have been. Because you know, if he was proactively cooperating, obviously, that's over now. So there was a reason to keep it quiet, perhaps Mueller decided that this was a better use of - you know, he either wasn't being productive or it's time to shut it down because the president comes out and says this has nothing to do with the Russia case and he wants to be able to say, well actually we do have something on that too, here it is.

HARLOW: Let's pull up that picture, guys, from the March 31st meeting, OK? This is where the president called Papadopoulos an excellent guy. Let's just talk, Paul, about the context of this meeting of what happened.

So, at that meeting, according to this -- according to all of this from Mueller's team that was unsealed yesterday. It was a national security meeting. The president and other foreign policy advisors for the campaign were in the room. Papadopoulos is there. You see him with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Papadopoulos told the group, according to Mueller's team, that he had connections and could arrange a Trump/Putin meeting. He said that. I can arrange a Trump/Putin meeting in so many words in the room with the attorney general, with the president and the White House is saying nothing to see here.

CALLAN: Well, that's fascinating information. But I think we also have to be very clear, there's not unusual for a presidential candidate to have sort of a foreign policy strategy, people go to Israel and France and sometimes even consult with the Russians. But what were the consults going to be about becomes the question. Because the second part of this is, and I think what's so important about Papadopoulos, is it shows for the first time that there was contact with the Russians early on and Papadopoulos was told there may be many e-mails that were relevant and would be useful.

Now, to make out a case of what we call collusion, what the lawyers would call conspiracy. It's not enough to talk to the Russians about background information about Hillary. That's opposition research. Everybody does that. But collusion or conspiracy requires the violation of a federal law in connection with that information.

Now, if these were hacked e-mails and Papadopoulos was aware that they were hacked, that's -- it might be a violation of federal law for him to use that stolen property in the campaign. Now we've made out a criminal - a criminal act. So that's why this is so important. It's the first little bit of build on the actual crime that could be charged ultimately.

[10:10:19] BERMAN: And the pattern there doesn't look that dissimilar to what happened to Donald Trump, Jr. Offered information damaging to Hillary Clinton, holds a meeting on it, you know, accepts the meeting on it and then you look at Cambridge Analytica reaching out to "WikiLeaks" to help coordinate maybe the e-mail release that they had or ask questions about the e-mails. There seems to be a lot of back and forth here about e-mails and information.

RODGERS: Right, of course. We heard at the beginning when the Don Jr. meeting first came out that they didn't do that, you know, that was all about the Magnitsky Act. So, you know, time and time again, we're actually seeing that there was that kind of communication. The question is where did it go?

HARLOW: Well, and legitimately to that point, I mean you do not see any evidence thus far at least of any of these meeting offers being taken up by the campaign outside of that Trump Jr. meeting, all of these offers that he made, Paul, that did -- Papadopoulos made. No one acted on them. So does that help the administration here?

CALLAN: It helps the administration and circling back to the way we started. That's why it's so foolish for the president to be attacking Papadopoulos. He may be the guy who exonerates the president by saying I never spoke to presidential candidate Trump about this. --

HARLOW: They turned down all of my -

BERMAN: And in fact -- he is in fact a liar. He is now a convicted liar. You know, he pled guilty to it. That matters in a court of law. It may not matter in the investigation as it were because it may provoke him to provide more information. We'll have to wait and see. Professor, Counselor, thanks so much for being with us, fascinating discussion.

HARLOW: Thank you.

A senior White House official says the world is less safe because of this Mueller investigation. We are talking to a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Does he agree?

BERMAN: Also this morning, new information under the scope of Russia's use of social media to meddle in the U.S. election. Facebook estimates it more than half of the total U.S. voting population was exposed or could have been exposed by their estimate of the numbers there.

Plus, 10 minutes was all we had but CNN gets an exclusive look at the site of the deadly attack in Niger that killed four U.S. troops.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:16:40] BERMAN: This morning a senior White House official tells CNN that the world is less safe as long as the investigation into the president's campaign ties to Russia goes on.

HARLOW: Joining us now, Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland. He's also ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee.

So let's get into that, Senator. We appreciate you being here. Given what you have seen so far in this indictment, in this statement of offense against Papadopoulos in the Mueller investigation thus far. Do you agree with that senior White House official who said look, the world is less safe as long as this Mueller investigation is going on? Speaking in the context of this leading up to the president's trip to Asia.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I can tell you the world will be less safe if we do not understand how Russia operates and what they were doing in the United States and their efforts to infiltrate the Trump campaign and the cooperation they received from the Trump campaign. You know, there should have been red flags that went off when there was Russians that wanted to meet with representatives of the Trump campaign. That should have no place in American elections unless -- but those meetings, in fact, did take place. So, now the concern is we have to find out how they operated. We have to find out who are responsible here in the United States. And we must take steps to make sure that this cannot happen.

BERMAN: So one of the things that we did hear again, from White House insiders last night, was the president's worry about his ability to negotiate with various entities, especially as he travels overseas. He's going on this 12-day overseas trip. Do you think this hurts the president's standing with some of these other country's leaders?

CARDIN: No, I think the president certainly we need to find out how Russia operates. We're not naive. We know Russia is trying to influence our system of government. We know that they tried to influence the campaign. I think it's important that the president acknowledge the risk that Russia poses not just to the United States, but to our allies around the world. He can very much cite by example their activities in our campaign. There was Russia activity in the German campaign. There was Russia activities in the Montenegro campaign. There was Russia activities in the French campaign. We need to acknowledge what they did and those who were complicit in the United States need to be held accountable.

HARLOW: So Senator, when this indictment was unsealed yesterday, when we saw the statement of offense against Papadopoulos, there were several of your fellow Democrats who felt the need to come out and talk about protecting Mueller and making sure that the president would not fire Mueller, et cetera.

Lindsey Graham, you know, the Republican with Democrat Cory Booker, put forward this bill to try to make it harder for the president to fire any special counsel. He said I'm not worried about that at all. The White House would be nuts at this point to try to do that. Do you share your fellow Democrats' concerns or do you think Mueller is safe?

CARDIN: Well, I must tell you, if the president tried to compromise Mr. Mueller and his investigation, I think the American people would stand up and this cannot happen. No one is above the law in the United States, even the president of the United States. So I do think that it would be impossible for him to get away with that type of activity. Congress would take steps. The American people would take steps. We hope we never have to deal with that.

BERMAN: The president this morning is writing extensively about the special counsel's investigations and one of the things that he says is that the real story is about Tony Podesta, the lobbyist with Democratic ties who just stepped away from his consulting group or lobbying group, the Podesta group.

[10:20:08] It is possible Podesta will become the focus of this investigation. Lobbying firm A and B were mentioned in the various indictments here. As you sit here are you willing to support this investigation from Robert Mueller even if it delves into issues that concern this Democratic lobbying group and perhaps other Democrats?

CARDIN: First, I think we're starting to understand more and more about the Russia playbook in the United States to try to influence our political system. I think Americans understands the Trump playbook which is to distract from the investigation when it touches anything to deal with him. Yes, we want the Mueller investigation to lead where it may, that if there are individuals who are accountable whether they'd be connected to the Republicans or Democrats, it's important that he has free rein to pursue those investigations.

HARLOW: So, as you know, executives from Facebook, Twitter, Google, are all testifying before Congress today. And we've seen some of the prepared testimony from the attorney for Facebook who will say that 126 million Americans may have been exposed to this content generated by Russian troll farms, may have. If that's the case, that would be more than half of the American electorate at this point, half of those voting age in this country. There have been Republicans and Democrats who say we need to much further regulate these tech companies. Do you agree with them?

CARDIN: Oh, I absolutely agree that we have to take steps to protect us from the techniques that Russia is using to try to influence our democratic system of government. The social media is part of their game plan. What we saw in the elections is just a small part of what Russia does on a continuing basis to try to compromise our democratic system and our Democratic institutions. We've got to take steps to protect our Democratic institutions, including how social media is used by foreign governments to try to influence America's democratic institutions.

BERMAN: Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland thanks so much for being with us talking through these issues today. We look forward to talking to you again soon.

HARLOW: Thank you.

CARDIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, we have a CNN exclusive, retracing the steps that U.S. troops took before the deadly ambush in Niger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:26:45] BERMAN: This morning we're getting our first look at the area where four U.S. soldiers were killed in a deadly ambush by ISIS affiliated terrorists in Niger.

HARLOW: Our Arwa Damon on the ground retraced the steps the U.S. team took right before they were attacked. Here is her exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In this vast terrain it's the wooded sections that worry the Nigerian soldiers most. It's ideal cover for an ambush, so they advance on foot. We're headed back to the site of an attack that has thrown this remote border region into a global spotlight. October 4th may have been America's first casualties in these lands but not Niger's. Their patrols regularly come under attack. The ground outside Tongo Tongo is littered with heavy caliber machine gun pieces. And we asked the soldiers we're with if they know if they were fired by American or Nigerien forces?

Now, they can't be entirely sure because they use similar weapons they said.

We're only given 10 minutes on the ground in the village. People here are terrified, confused and reluctant to talk. We track down the detained village chief's uncle and older brother and they insist the attackers came from elsewhere. Initial reports were that the attack occurred some 10 kilometers outside of Tongo Tongo, after the convoy stopped and villagers stalled them.

They're swearing on the Quran that the American and Nigerien convoy never actually stopped here. That they just drove through the village and then when they hit the very outskirts that's when they heard the first gunshots.

And there are signs of the attack everywhere.

That's the school that we're being told was burnt down in the attack. It's a single classroom. We have to wrap it up right now, because our escorts are understandably quite anxious about spending too much time on scene. But you can see how close it was to the village. They hadn't even made it out.

Weeks after the attack many questions remain. And so too does the threat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: Pretty remarkable access, Arwa got.

BERMAN: I mean, and not altogether safe. I mean, she risked her life and the crew's life -

HARLOW: Not at all, she and her team.

BERMAN: -- went there to see those things and it's important to get that story back here. Thanks to Arwa.

So how far will Republicans go to avoid questions about the indictments from the special counsel? Follow that circle. Senator Chuck Grassley, he is fleeing the interview. Much more ahead.

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