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White House Tries to Downplay Campaign Role of Papadopoulos. Trump on Twitter. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired October 31, 2017 - 3:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And Sarah Huckabee Sanders making case today, as she did yesterday, that none of this has anything to do with the president and the campaign.
I think it would be easier for them to make that case if there hadn't been more than the Manafort-Gates part of the story revealed yesterday.
But after the Papadopoulos revelations, and after the revelations of his e-mails with key members of the president's campaign, and after revelations that perhaps this person was wired or has been corroborating with prosecutors, I don't see how you can actually say that yesterday proves that this has nothing to do with the Trump campaign, because what Papadopoulos did was take this inside the Trump campaign.
And that was the importance of his testimony.
BALDWIN: And not only that, Nia. You could hear the reporters kept coming back to the Sam Clovis point, right, Sam Clovis, one of the key contacts within the campaign. I think it was the campaign supervisor was how he was dubbed in the e-mail exchange with Papadopoulos.
And this is an individual who the White House wants to be serving as deputy of agriculture chief's scientist, right? And the question was, based upon what we are seeing now in this criminal complaint, this back and forth, and the fact that this is the guy who apparently was suggesting this meeting with Russia, she responded, nothing has changed.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, they don't want to cede any ground on this. They don't want to treat George Papadopoulos like he ever existed, right?
There's this idea that he was a volunteer. Well, guess what? Most people who serve on boards in those advisory roles are volunteers. And typically they don't meet very often, right? She was saying, oh, they only met once. Typically, they have roles where they're maybe advising on a white paper or something like that.
So that doesn't really wash. The fact that he was just a volunteer doesn't erase that he was very much in touch with the uppermost levels of that campaign. You had Marc Caputo kind of deride him as a coffee boy, a clever, cute nickname. Congratulations on that.
But you look at those documents and you can see that not only is he being encouraged by folks in the Trump campaign. He's sort of following through. He sees it as his duty based on the conversation that he had with someone in the campaign. He sees it his duty to have some involvement with Russia and to have this objective to repair the relationship between Russia and the United States, and then Trump would be the one to do that.
So, try as they might, and you imagine they are going to try to do this over and over again, Donald Trump tweeting about it this morning, calling George Papadopoulos a liar.
BALDWIN: A liar.
HENDERSON: You know, coffee boy, volunteer.
He's got evidence there that there were conversations about Hillary Clinton and her e-mails with people in the Trump campaign.
BALDWIN: I just don't understand how Sarah Sanders can stand up there, Gloria, and say with a straight face that this investigation is wrapping up.
BORGER: Well, I think maybe that's wishful thinking. Look--
BALDWIN: That's what she keeps saying.
BORGER: -- the president's attorneys believe that they have handed all the documents they need to hand over to Mueller.
And I believe that they are hopeful that this is wrapping up. I think there is another school of thought that -- and this comes from other attorneys -- which is that they are just beginning this investigation. And we saw -- in the paperwork that was filed yesterday, we saw one of the attorneys saying that, look, this is just a small part, referring to Papadopoulos, this is just a small part of a much larger investigation.
That doesn't sound to me like it's about to conclude any time soon. And I think that, you know, Sarah Sanders is clearly just trying to kind of downplay this, because they don't want it to overtake everything, including the president's trip to Asia, including tax reform, and whatever else they have on their docket.
And they have a president who has decided to abide by the strategy of cooperating with the special counsel, because that is what his lawyers are advising. But he has Steve Bannon sitting on his other shoulder saying--
BALDWIN: Saying, fight, fight, fight.
BORGER: -- we have to get more aggressive.
So he's kind of playing an inside-outside game, trying to thread that needle, you know, saying to Bannon, it's OK, you do what you have to do, but from inside the White House, I'm cooperating.
BALDWIN: It's like you have one person on your shoulder and then the other person, right, telling you those different things to do.
BORGER: Right. Yes.
BALDWIN: The other hot topic within the briefing, a lot of the questions about the chief of staff's inability to compromise Civil War comments.
So in case you missed General Kelly's initial comment, here you go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it's just very, very dangerous.
And it shows you what -- how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is. I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which in -- 150 years ago was more important than country.
It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it's different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War. And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
So, Sarah Sanders tried to veer in multiple directions answering the questions about that, quoting Ken Burns, saying there were compromises at one point.
HENDERSON: Yes, quoting Shelby Foote in that documentary, and he mentions that.
BALDWIN: Right. Right. But then, ultimately, she said, hey, all leaders have flaws. All leaders have flaws. And if you don't like it, that doesn't mean you simply can't -- you can't erase it.
BALDWIN: How did that sit with you?
HENDERSON: I mean, I don't sense that anyone is necessarily trying to erase Robert E. Lee. I think the erasure that is being attempted is the erasure of slavery
from the Civil War. Right? I mean, there seems to be some fear of admitting what most everyone agrees on, which is that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. The South wanted to maintain slavery.
And Abraham Lincoln had other ideas about slavery, ideas that really were not about a compromise, not expanding slavery, maybe voluntary colonization, maybe paying slave owners for their slaves once they were freed.
So I think that's what's going on here. I think John Kelly needs to do some reading on slavery. I think he can read "Battle Cry of Freedom" by James McPherson. He can watch the movie "Glory," which is about the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. He's from Massachusetts. That was an all-black regimen that fought on the Union side in the Civil War.
So he's sort of talking like, oh, people don't understand history. I think the person who doesn't understand is John Kelly. He has a very sort of rose-colored view of history, and we have seen it sort of again and again with him, sort of talking about women and how they were praised in the past.
So I encourage him though watch the full Civil War documentary. It seems that he's only watched the first part, and he's borrowing from Shelby Foote, in that -- in the phrasing when he talks about compromise, and, of course, Shelby Foote was roundly criticized when he said that as well, because it was very much ignoring the very complex role and obvious role that slavery played in starting the Civil War.
BALDWIN: So well put, Nia. So well put.
And, Gloria, just overarching thought, is it -- General Kelly was supposed to be the guy, the adult in the room that perhaps could keep the president in check, so to speak. And now he's someone who is saying, A, no, I'm not apologizing to Congresswoman Wilson in our fight back and forth, and, yes, I thought the Civil War was because of this inability for the country to compromise.
BORGER: We are getting a look into who General Kelly is besides seeing the stars on his shoulders.
And I think that he is politically very much in tune with the president. I think that perhaps everybody had a rose-colored view of who he was going in, that he was just going to be the person who made the trains run on time, and would have no political opinion, affiliation, whatever.
And I think that's obviously not the case. We know that from the travel ban, for example. And we know that from the things he has said recently. And I think that he and the president are very much simpatico on an awful lot of stuff.
BALDWIN: Ladies, thank you so much.
HENDERSON: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Thank you. Thank you.
We were just talking about Sam Clovis a second ago. We have got some breaking news involving Sam Clovis, one of the campaign supervisors mentioned in those Papadopoulos e-mails here. He happens to be currently nominated for the post as the chief scientist at the Department of Agricultural.
He's already the White House liaison to that agency. And so let's just go back and replay what Sarah Sanders when she was asked about whether or not that may change in the wake of the Russia investigation and his involvement with Papadopoulos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: President Trump's nominee to serve as chief science adviser over at the Agriculture Department is Sam Clovis.
And Clovis was the campaign supervisor cited in that Papadopoulos plea. And his lawyers since acknowledged that he was the one in that plea who encouraged Papadopoulos in August 2016 to make the trip to Russia to meet with Russian officials about the campaign.
Given all that, is the president still comfortable with him saying, Sam Clovis, serving in the administration?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware that any change would be necessary at this time.
QUESTION: And on that note, is the administration aware of who the other three or four campaign individuals who were referenced in that Papadopoulos plea were, and are any serving in or advising the administration?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of the specific individuals.
What I can say is I think that Papadopoulos is an example of actually somebody doing the wrong thing, while the president's campaign did the right thing. All of his e-mails were voluntarily provided to the special counsel by the campaign.
And that is what led to the process and the place that we are in right now, with the campaign fully cooperating in helping with that. What Papadopoulos did was lie, and that's on him, not on the campaign, and we can't speak for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right, let's get a little bit more clarity on this from our correspondent Jeremy Diamond there at the White House.
And so, Jeremy, we now know that Sam Clovis' attorney has just responded. What has he or she said?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right.
What we heard Sarah Sanders there talking about Sam Clovis, insisting that she doesn't believe there's any change that would necessary to Sam Clovis' nomination as the USDA's chief scientist, that comes despite the fact that just moments before that briefing, we heard from Sam Clovis' lawyer acknowledging that he was that campaign supervisor in the e-mail.
Let me read you a part of that statement in which the attorney for Sam Clovis says: "Dr. Clovis never told Papadopoulos that a principal foreign policy focus of the campaign was an improved U.S. relationship with Russia, because that was not Dr. Clovis' view of the Trump campaign's foreign policy priorities. Inside the campaign, Dr. Clovis always vigorously opposed any Russian trip for Donald Trump or staff. If someone proposed foreign travel in a personal capacity, Dr. Clovis would have no authority to prohibit such travel."
Now, what Dr. Clovis, Sam Clovis, wrote in that e-mail to Papadopoulos was in response to his suggestion that he might try and set up a meeting between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials. And Sam Clovis' response to that e-mail was -- quote -- "Great work." And he said that he would run it up through the chain of command inside the campaign.
So this kind of goes a little bit against what the administration has been saying, which is that any attempts by Papadopoulos to set up a meeting with the Russians were quickly shot down. Even Paul Manafort saying that he believed this should stay at a low staff level, if anything, and that Donald Trump certainly would not be involved in that meeting.
Sam Clovis, however, is the one individual in this campaign who appears to have at least congratulated Papadopoulos on his work so far and didn't completely shoot down the suggestion -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Jeremy, thank you, Jeremy Diamond.
Let's talk about the legality of a lot of this news here in the last 24 hours.
Frank Figliuzzi is back with us today, former assistant director for the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, and Duke Law Professor Samuel Buell, a former Federal prosecutor who led the Enron task force.
So, gentlemen, nice to have both of you on.
And, Frank, let me just start with this. What do you make the president's tweet this morning calling this witness, Papadopoulos, this former adviser, coffee boy -- depending who you are talking to, that's how they characterize him -- a liar?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: You know, Brooke, what this reminds me of throughout my FBI career-- BALDWIN: What is that?
FIGLIUZZI: -- is dozens of wiretaps of drug rings.
So, you wiretap a drug ring, and you know what you hear? Who is going to be the courier today? Who are we sending out as the mule who is expendable, who is throwaway, who will give us plausible deniability when he's caught with the 10 kilos of cocaine?
In this case, we are seeing something similar. And that's Papadopoulos. We have people saying, Manafort saying D.T. is not going to do these meetings. You are. It's going to stay at a low level.
That's very reminiscent of listening to a drug cartel.
BALDWIN: That, I hadn't heard before, Frank.
Samuel, what sticks out to you about this guilty plea?
SAMUEL BUELL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think it shows a couple of things.
The headline story obviously is the -- over and above what we already had on the Trump Tower meeting, this is getting closer and closer to outright kind of quid pro quo exchange discussions between the campaign and Russia about information and access to Donald Trump.
The word collusion, at least as it's being used from the White House press Briefing Room podium now, has completely lost all meaning. If this isn't collusion, I don't know what is.
This is certainly evidence of a concerted effort to create that kind of an exchange. So that's clearly the headline here. And there is just, you know, inevitably going to be more to come.
So what we see here is the first really solid evidence that Mueller has acquired on that front, the first evidence. And the fact that he's willing to use false statement charges to prosecute people for lying in FBI interviews makes it highly likely that there are going to be other individuals in those same situations, and they may have additional evidence.
So, really, I think this is just the first shoe to drop.
BALDWIN: Samuel, let me stay with you, just back to the point that I led with on how the president this morning called George Papadopoulos a liar on Twitter.
How problematic is that to have the president going after a cooperating witness? Does it matter?
BUELL: Well, it's a little hard to say that sort of taking a shot in public at somebody's credibility is obstruction of justice on its own or anything like that.
But it's very unbecoming conduct. It's not the kind of thing that a lawyer would want a client saying or doing. You know, the White House just doesn't seem to be able to keep its strategies straight here. I don't know what their argument is. The guy did do something wrong and he was off on a frolic and detour, he wasn't operating with campaign authorization, or what he did wasn't collusion at all or an effort towards that, so there's nothing wrong with it, or none of it happened at all and he's a liar.
I mean, normally, when you are putting together a defense and you're trying to confront allegations, you want to come up with some kind of a consistent strategy. And the president isn't even consistent with his own press secretary, much less what the lawyers are saying.
So I don't think this gets anybody in any particular legal trouble, but it's certainly bad strategy when you're defending yourself.
Frank, one of the big questions -- and I don't know how you can relate this to the drug cartel metaphor here -- but why did Papadopoulos feel the need to lie to the Feds in the first place?
FIGLIUZZI: Yes, I think Mr. Papadopoulos was in over his head.
I think that he saw himself as a bigger player than he was, wanted to protect his higher-ups. It's very, very common for this to happen at all levels of criminal activity.
BALDWIN: What this?
FIGLIUZZI: But what people should be very worried about--
BALDWIN: What this, lying?
FIGLIUZZI: For people to make an initial -- right, an initial denial, right?
BALDWIN: Got you.
FIGLIUZZI: It's just the nature of the beast.
But once that happens and once they are confronted with it and they decide to flip, as drug couriers off do, as we attempt to work our way up, people need to be worrying about, when did George start cooperating? How many phone calls and e-mails were recorded by the FBI?
In fact, I will tell you this. Everybody is focusing on this Dulles Airport arrest of Papadopoulos, right, on July 26. What this smacks of is a coordinated, mutually agreed upon arrest scenario where George was contacted and said by -- the FBI says, George, we're going to need your help on this.
We don't want to come to your house. You need to come back home and you need to agree to cooperate.
My guess is that's what's transpired. And this is almost an arranged arrest not to happen at his home or residence, but rather take him away quietly. And it worked, and he's cooperating. And now we all need to wait and see how many people were called, how many e-mails were sent while he was recording.
BALDWIN: Yes. Frank, thank you.
BUELL: Brooke, could I just add something?
BALDWIN: Yes, go ahead, quickly, Samuel. Go ahead.
So I think Frank is absolutely right. And what's remarkable about is, this is this is standard operating procedure in criminal investigations involving covert organizations, whether they be drug cartels, the mafia, what have you.
But to see this happening under the klieg lights of the Mueller-Russia investigation, I mean, the fact that Mueller could come in as special counsel, and without anybody knowing about it, produce and flip a witness like this from within the Trump campaign, and possibly use that individual -- and we don't know yet -- but possibly to have conversations with people, to record conversations, when everybody in the world is watching this thing under a microscope, is just amazing.
And it tells you something about how this crew that Mueller is investigating just has a kind of recklessness about it. You would think that everybody would have stopped talking to everybody the minute this thing got off the ground in the spring and that doesn't seem to be the case.
BUELL: And so that would suggest there are going to be more similar situations that are going to surface.
BALDWIN: I think, to that end, and just concluding this, the fact that nothing leaked, that no one knew a darn thing about the Papadopoulos piece of this whole web, speaks volumes to how much we don't know and how much more we may -- we may keep going.
Frank and Samuel, thank you, gentlemen, so very much for today.
Coming up next here on CNN, sources are telling us Steve Bannon is advising the president to fight back against the special counsel, Robert Mueller, even suggesting Congress cut his funding.
The real question is, will the president actually take his advice? We have got Michael Smerconish weighing in on that ahead. Also, millions of dollars spent on real estate and fancy cars, antique
rugs, designer suits. We will follow the money trail investigators have discovered in the case against Paul Manafort.
BALDWIN: President Trump is trying to distance himself today from the former campaign adviser who pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians.
In a tweet, he called George Papadopoulos a young, low-level volunteer who is -- quote -- "already proven to be a liar." And this seems to be the Trump White House talking point on anyone in their orbit getting bad headlines.
Take a listen to a couple other examples.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Even General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Paul Manafort, who is a good man also, by the way, Paul Manafort was replaced long before the election took place. He was only there for a short period of time.
SPICER: And then, obviously, there has been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.
TRUMP: 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 very short period of time, relatively short period of time.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: It was extremely limited. It was a volunteer position, and, again, no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign in that regard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let me bring CNN political Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."
It is always a pleasure to have you on.
So, just quickly here, before we get to the Steve Bannon piece, how long do you think that line is going to work?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't think it's going to work all that long.
It's reminiscent of how Papadopoulos was able to attend that initial briefing and be presented to "The Washington Post" editorial board as being a foreign policy adviser, when his resume -- I can't even say curriculum vitae at the time -- consisted of him having once participated in a model U.N.
I don't any if he was homeroom class president, but really all it does is highlight the lack of experience and credibility that he had at a time when he had a seat at the table.
All right, Steve Bannon, Michael Smerconish. Steve Bannon thinks that the president's lawyers have handled this Russia investigation, that it's been, he's quoted saying, an epic failure. The source says that Bannon wants the president to get aggressive against Mueller. He wants him to fight with a massive P.R. campaign, ask Republicans to cut funding, go to court over documents being requested.
What's the likelihood the president actually takes his advice?
SMERCONISH: So Steve Bannon might be giving the president good political advice, but that doesn't matter now. We have entered a different realm.
We have entered a realm where evidence matters and where critical thinking on the part of prosecutors and defense lawyers and a court system is going to determine the next path.
I mean, look, I'm caught up in it in the same way that you are caught up in it, but it's a bit of a sideshow to sit and click, as I do, through all the competing coverage of this issue, because, in the end, it's not going to matter what the defenders of the president say and what the critics of the president say.
We are beyond that now. What's going to matter is the case that gets presented in a court of law, relative to those two who were indicted yesterday, as well as Papadopoulos and his plea and anyone else who is to come.
BALDWIN: And you, sir, with your lawyer hat on, you say this case has now taken a significant step forward in terms of collusion.
SMERCONISH: Well, I think this is a more significant case than potentially the case against Paul Manafort.
I would have never expected to be saying that 48 hours ago. I don't know that I had ever heard the name Papadopoulos in connection with this case.
BALDWIN: No one had.
SMERCONISH: I can barely say it, for crying out loud.
BALDWIN: Me too.
SMERCONISH: But what it represents, Brooke, is a second episode, that meeting in June of 2016 at Trump Tower with Don Jr., with Jared Kushner, with Paul Manafort, and with Russian representatives being the first.
It's now the second series of events where you have Trump campaign representatives who are mingling with, entertaining conversations with Russian representatives who maintain that they have got dirt. What is that dirt? Stolen material that came from a DNC server.
So, yes, I think it's taken a significant step forward in terms of a potential conspiracy claim to be asserted against some of the individuals.
BALDWIN: Indulge me, Michael. In an alternate universe in which there were a Democrat in the White House, what would Republicans be saying?
SMERCONISH: All the jerseys would be reversed, and they would be saying exactly what the critics of the president are saying now.
I paid close attention to Sarah Huckabee Sanders' briefing, and I heard her say that -- essentially trying to distinguish between Papadopoulos doing the wrong thing and the campaign doing the right thing.
SMERCONISH: And she spoke of e-mails having been presented to the special counsel.
And as I was watching that on CNN, I was saying to myself, OK, but when they were presented? And same question we asked about Don Jr. when we learned about the June of 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Why didn't they blow the whistle then?
You know, this is not the typical gathering of information about an opponent, which goes on in all campaigns. When you are talking about a foreign actor wanting to play a role in an American campaign, that's where you stop and you say, wait a minute, I need to notify the authorities about this overture. Even if it's going to potentially help my candidate, this is something you cannot do.
BALDWIN: Michael Smerconish, thank you so much.
Please watch Michael's show on CNN 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning right here.
Thank you, sir, very much.
Coming up next here: the indictment against the former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, details of a lavish lifestyle