Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Envious of North Korean Dictator?; Paul Manafort Sent to Jail; Trump Praises Kim Dictatorship, Says He's Solved North Korea. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 15, 2018 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we have breaking news for you this afternoon. Donald Trump's former campaign chairman has been sent to jail.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with that stunning development, a judge sending Paul Manafort to jail pending his trial for allegedly attempting to tamper with witnesses in the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Now, Manafort had only been ordered to jail a few hours before President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani began openly discussing in an on-the-record statement with "The New York Daily News" a possible presidential pardon for Manafort.

This stunning news is accompanied by more shocking news about a different Trump confidant. President Trump's longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, who is under criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is, according to sources, considering cooperating with authorities, as the U.S. attorney's office has revealed this afternoon that they recovered pages of material from Cohen's shredder and other information from Cohen's encrypted apps.

Those subjects no doubt weighing heavily on President Trump earlier today when he decided to take a walk on the White House North Lawn and share some falsehoods about his former campaign chairman.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. But I feel so -- I will tell you, I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago?

You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: While accurately pointing out that Manafort may be in lots of trouble for financial crimes that happened way before the Trump campaign, it is patently false to say that Manafort had nothing to do with the Trump campaign or to imply that his time working for then candidate Trump was short or inconsequential.

Trump also falsely said that Manafort worked for him for -- quote -- "49 days or something." Not true.

In point of fact, Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, became campaign chair in May, and after Donald Trump became the Republican nominee, resigned in August. That is nearly five months.

And Manafort was critical in getting Donald Trump through that uncertain GOP Convention.

But despite the president acting as if he barely knew his own former campaign chairman, the signal has clearly been sent to Manafort via Rudy Giuliani that a pardon is on the table.

CNN's Sara Murray joins us now.

And, Sara, I have never seen anything like this. Manafort's trial hasn't even started. What exactly did Giuliani say to "The New York Daily News"?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is interesting, because, today, Trump did not want to talk about presidential pardons. Apparently, Rudy Giuliani, his lawyer, felt differently, telling "The New York Daily News" in an on-the-record statement, "When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons," this as a judge made clear today Paul Manafort could await his trial behind bars.


MURRAY (voice-over): Paul Manafort slated to spend at least the next three months awaiting trial in a jail cell, a twist that took the former Trump campaign chairman and his legal team by surprise today, a source tells CNN.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson saying, "I have no appetite for this" and revoking Manafort's bail after he spent more than seven months under house arrest. The move coming after special counsel Robert Mueller's team alleged Manafort spent five weeks using different phones and apps to try to tamper with witness testimony and called him a danger to the community.

As Manafort pleaded not guilty to two new charges for witness tampering and conspiracy to obstruct justice, his lawyers argued he was unaware of who the government witnesses were. "This will not happen again," one of Manafort's attorneys said.

The judge was unmoved, saying: "This is not middle school. I can't take his cell phone." Manafort faces charges in both D.C. and Virginia related to foreign lobbying and financial crimes. So far, prosecutors haven't tied his alleged wrongdoing to work on the Trump campaign, the core of Mueller's investigation.

But in court filings, prosecutors have said they are probing Manafort's contacts with Russians and Ukrainians and potential coordination with them while he oversaw Trump's presidential bid. Today, President Trump downplayed Manafort's contributions in 2016.

TRUMP: I think a lot of it is very unfair.

But I feel so -- I will tell you, I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago? Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time.

MURRAY: Later tweeting: "Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort. Didn't know Manafort was the head of the mob. What about Comey and crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair."

To be clear, Manafort was not sentenced. He hasn't even had a trial yet.

While the president spent the morning railing against the special counsel's Russia investigation...

TRUMP: There was no collusion. There was no obstruction.

MURRAY: ... the judge in the Manafort case making it clear: "This hearing is not about politics, is not about the conduct of the Office of the Special Counsel."

Soon after, Manafort was led out of the courtroom. Minutes later, a court marshal returned, handing Manafort's wallet, belt and burgundy tie to his wife.


MURRAY: Now, I'm told that Paul Manafort's allies were shell-shocked by the judge's decision today.

And, Jake, as we just pointed out, this is not a sentence. He's not been sentenced yet.



TAPPER: Yes, the president's tweet is wrong.

MURRAY: Right. The president's tweet is wrong.

But if he is convicted and if he is found guilty, this is someone who could spend the rest of his life in jail.

TAPPER: I think it's something like, when you combine the Virginia and D.C. charges, like 300 years in jail if convicted on all counts to the full extent.


TAPPER: Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Let's bring in our legal panel right now.

Laura Coates, let me just read this Rudy Giuliani statement to "The New York Daily News" -- quote -- "When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons."

Your response?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he does have the pardoning power to do so.

But, again, talking about pardons when you're trying to simultaneously talk about somebody's innocence is really a convoluted way to argue your case and present an argument that makes people say, hey, maybe innocence is an option here.

The issue here with Paul Manafort and the president of the United States, it may be true he served a very little amount of time while he was working for Trump, but the time that he was with him was as chairman of his campaign.

And it's not unheard of for somebody who has abused the gift of being able to be released from prison and jail prior to your trial, a gift and a luxury that is not given to many people in a variety of socioeconomic statuses and levels, this is more than the first time he's actually done this, Jake.

He violated the gag order previously by doing an op-ed and talking about this issue over a five-week period of time. This is not that is given just because it's Paul Manafort and his role with the president of the United States.

This is what is doled out to every single person who is accused of a crime who is on bail or bond and is violating the terms of that particular agreement. It is a distrust that the court now has. He should take it very seriously.

TAPPER: And, Josh, that's a perspective of a former federal prosecutor.

You're a former FBI official. What is your response to Manafort being sent to prison, as well as Rudy Giuliani floating the idea of a pardon, when the actual case hasn't even begun?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So, it is a day of reckoning obviously for Paul Manafort.

We have long talked about the serious charges that he faces. I think there are some 18 counts here in Virginia, seven in D.C. They are piling up. We have said a lot of times on CNN that he might spend the rest of his life behind bars. But during this intermediary period, he had the option to stay home. He had the ankle bracelets, obviously. This changes that with the witness tampering charge, with the judge saying, no, you're going to jail, you're being remanded into custody.

What changes things substantially is this new -- these comments from Rudy Giuliani, because there is no question this is signaling, no question in my mind that that is signaling to people like Paul Manafort that, look, continue to stay with us. If you are someone that is in his situation, you're constantly trying to calibrate, should I flip, go with the government, should I stay true to the person who could may be able to get me out of all this?

It sounds like Rudy Giuliani is possibly offering him this lifeline. Obviously, he's in custody. He doesn't have access to CNN and the media, but he's going to have access to his attorneys, who will no doubt be passing on that information.

TAPPER: And what is important here is that if this is an attempt by Mueller to squeeze Manafort to get him to give more information about somebody higher up in the campaign, whether it is Trump or Kushner or who knows, prosecutors say -- and, Laura, you would know this much better than I -- prosecutors say that it is easy to hang tough until you spend that first night in jail.

COATES: Right.

TAPPER: And then that is when people have who have previously said I am not going to cooperate, I am not going to flip change.

Is that accurate?

COATES: Yes. Self-preservation kicks in.

There is something about that orange jumpsuit and being away from counsel, being away from the comfort of home, knowing that this particular cage, which is what it is -- you can make it sound pretty if you want, a cell -- it is a cage -- if you have that cage and that's all you are looking at, and you know this is what is before you if you have a conviction, it is very, very persuasive.

But I want to be clear. This is not a tactic by a prosecutor to try to bolster their case if there is not evidence otherwise. They are not simply trying to squeeze him simply to say -- or any defendant -- simply to say, I'm trying to get you to flip. He may be the biggest fish in this pond.

He may also be somebody...

TAPPER: He might be the whole -- the endgame.


COATES: He may be the whole enchilada, because he is the head of that particular campaign. Now, certainly, Donald Trump is certainly the president of the United

States, but to say and suggest that they are simply trying to squeeze with the intention of persuading him to flip on somebody else is really not true.

But it absolutely, Jake, between the financial strain, the mental health component of this, the stress, and also perhaps knowing that if you do -- if you cooperate now, before a trial starts, if you get a plea offer before a trial starts, it may be the best one you're going to get.

All those will combine and the prosecutors will capitalize on it.

TAPPER: But, Josh, if Manafort is the big fish, if he's the whole enchilada, as Laura says, then why does the Mueller investigation continue?

Haven't they gotten their guy?

CAMPBELL: Well, let's look at what the genesis of this latest action that we saw today was. It wasn't Bob Mueller. It was Paul Manafort.

The allegation is that he tampered with a witness, maybe more than one, which is his own doing. So, again, he knows what he's done. And having worked investigations, I can tell you, I never came across an innocent subject who actively worked to obstruct an investigation that it would have proven their innocence.


So, again, he's innocent until proven guilty, but he knows what he's done in his own mind.

And I think now, again, he's trying to do that calibration. How do I preserve my freedom, if that is what it comes to? But, again, if you are Bob Mueller, we simply don't know. There is a lot that is down there.

Again, with new charges that are more serious, Paul Manafort may be more willing now to talk about what he knows, so even Mueller may not know the fuel utility of what Paul Manafort may provide.

TAPPER: And, Laura, we have also heard from President Trump's legal team that they think, according to sources, that they might be able to avoid having President Trump have to testify before the special counsel, in light of that scathing inspector general report that was critical of former FBI Director James Comey.

Does one relate to the other in any way?


It is a pipe dream, because the idea that he is somehow completely immunized from having a conversation about the full breadth of the campaign and whether or not any part of his campaign or any member of his inner circle was colluding with Russia in some way is but part of an inquiry.

Obstruction is a part of that inquiry. But, remember, we cannot conflate, the way they would like to, conflate the I.G.'s report related to the Hillary Clinton probe and the I.G. report that has never come and has not actually been written or investigated about the Mueller focus on the criminal aspect of collusion.

They are very different concepts. Now, to be fair, Strzok is the common link between the two, which is why they are putting a lot of emphasis on the two.

TAPPER: Peter Strzok.

COATES: Peter Strzok.

TAPPER: The FBI agent, yes.

COATES: He's the FBI agent who had the text messaging between himself and Lisa Page indicating that he will stop Donald Trump in some way.

He was somebody, a part of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe. He was also somebody a part of the Mueller probe at one point in time.

But, remember, Mueller came in, in May. Strzok was released in the summer of 2017, based on those text messages. Since that time, he has a breadth of information to follow. They're conflating the two.

TAPPER: All right, thanks, one and all. Appreciate it.

Tonight, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani will be on "CUOMO PRIME TIME." That's 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

You know what? President Trump says he wants his people to sit up at attention as they do for North Korea's Kim Jong-un. He later claimed he was joking, but is he really?

Stay with us.


[16:16:05] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Minutes before the president's impromptu news conference shall we say this morning where he told repeated falsehoods about any number of subjects, he has appeared on a channel he has behind closed doors, according to "The Washington Post" compared with North Korean state- run television and there on that channel, the president continued to compliment North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

And as CNN's Jeff Zeleny explains, the president even jokingly expressed a longing for a bit of the despot's power.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump is closing his week just as he began it -- showering Kim Jong-un with praise.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's the head of a country and I mean he's the strong head, don't let anyone think anything different. He speaks and as people seat up at attention. I want me people to do the same.

ZELENY: Only when asked today whether he really wished Americans would fall into line like North Koreans are forced to, the president insisted he wasn't serious.

TRUMP: I'm kidding. You don't understand --

ZELENY: But there is no mistaking the president's admiration for strong men and dictators. He spent much of the week flattering Kim, almost never mentioning his heinous human rights record that includes starving and executing his own people.

And in an extraordinary exchange with reporters outside the White House today, the president made no apologies and said the end game was worth it.

TRUMP: Because I don't want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family. I want to have a good relationship with North Korea.

ZELENY: He also extended his adoration to Vladimir Putin. White House is in the early stages of setting up a face-to-face summit with the Russian president, with all the trappings of a Singapore session this week with Kim.

TRUMP: I think it's better to have Russia in than to have Russia out, because just like North Korea, just like somebody else, it's much better if we get along with them than if we don't.

ZELENY: While Trump first met Putin last summer at the Group of 20 Summit in Germany, a one-on-one meeting now would take on even more significance, with the Russia investigation still hanging over his White House. The president misstated again and again Russia's annexation of Crimea, blaming it on President Obama, not Putin.

TRUMP: Not Putin's fault, right. Just so you -- because Putin didn't respect President Obama. President Obama, not Trump. When it's my fault, I'll tell you.

ZELENY: Today, one of the most prominent members of the cabinet, Defense Secretary James Mattis offered a different view of Putin in a speech to graduates of the Naval War College.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Putin seeks to shatter NATO. He aims to diminish the appeal of the Western democratic model and attempts to undermine America's moral authority.


ZELENY: So, to undermine America's moral standing, Jake, very strong words. But important to note, the president has said nothing like that at all. At every opportunity asked about Vladimir Putin, he's never said those words or rarely.

We are hearing that there are discussions about a potential summit between the two. As early as next month around the NATO meeting, but more likely I'm told in the fall. Certainly, the president would like to have a meeting like that.

But, Jake, extraordinary words here from the president standing just behind me earlier today, saying those words about Kim Jong-un and, of course, Vladimir Putin -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us -- thanks so much.

My political panel joins me now.

Scott Jennings, let me start with you. What's your take on the president talking about Kim Jong-un? He says he was just being facetious, sarcastic about wishing people would sit up for him the way they do for Kim Jong-un. But he does keep praising Kim Jong-un and saying things about him being strong and tough, when, you know, the reality is he's a murderous despot?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I take the president as his word on the sarcasm and I see the president's flattery of Kim Jong-un, the way I see all of his treatment of everybody else. He sometimes flatters people. He sometimes savages people. We've seen him do that to his political opponents and other world leaders. And I think he just does it based on his feeling at the time about what do I have to do to extract the result that I want.

I'm not sure if he ever really means any of it. I think he's trying to exact a result in a transaction.

[16:20:00] The fact is, the North Koreans are brutal and they murder people in strange and crazy ways. They treat their people terribly. And I'm sure the president knows all of that.

But I'll tell you what else he knows. It's his job to protect the American people and keep us out of nuclear war and trying to have peace and to try to keep us from banging our head against the wall on this problem, which has been going on for decades. So, I'm willing to give him some rope if that's what the result is.

TAPPER: So, Symone Sanders, let me ask you. I mean, the president, you heard him in that piece say he's trying to prevent people from dying in a nuclear war. The suggestion is, what's the big deal about some flattering words or looking the other way on human rights abuses that he can't do anything about anyway?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, because he's giving credence to them on a platform for the world stage to make it seem though it's normal. I really want to caution the fact that last -- two years ago, three years ago, I did not think we were on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea. But when Donald Trump is tweeting, calling Kim Jong-un little rocket man, saying my button is bigger than yours, he escalated the situation that brought it to a point where North Korea could have attacked South Korea and then we would be in a war situation.

And so, Donald Trump, again, much like many things, brought this upon himself, brought us to a point where we were facing a nuclear face- down with North Korea and that is -- I think he's trying to confuse people but he did this.

TAPPER: David, I want to get your reaction to the president again claiming that the problem with North Korea is over. Take a listen.


TRUMP: You remember the sit-down with Barack Obama, I think he won't admit this, he said the biggest problem that the United States has and by far the most dangerous problem and he said to me that we've ever had because of nuclear -- is North Korea. Now that was shortly before I entered office. I have solved that problem.


TAPPER: I'm not sure that the problem is solved.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Clearly, it isn't. And in fact, Donald Trump said I have people over there, he talked about the verification process and not specifically but acknowledged that one needs to take place. So, even when he was having his conversation with the reporters today, Jake, he made clear he understood this wasn't the end of the road of the process. But in classic Trumpian fashion, he is the master marketer in many ways, and he wants to repeat it as often as possible, even though it's not true so it becomes true in public perception. And that is why he declares peace on earth and he solved this problem even though it's clearly still a pretty big threat.

TAPPER: "The Washington Post" reported more details today about the president's Singapore summit, including this stunning paragraph. Quote: At one point after watching North Korean television, which is entirely state-run, the president talked about how positive the female North Korean news anchor was toward Kim, according to two people familiar with his remarks. The president joked that even the administration friendly Fox News was not as lavish in its praise as the state TV anchor, one of the people added, and that maybe she should get a job on U.S. television instead.

I'm -- Scott Jennings, your response?

JENNINGS: Well, I think the president was -- I think the piece made it clear he was joking about what he was saying. But obviously, he was interested in how the North Koreans were portraying the meeting versus how the U.S. media was portraying the meeting.

And, look, I think the president was rankled. I mean, it is true, last summer for many months, there were people who were very upset with the president for they say being too harsh on Kim and now, after having this meeting, which by the way, Americans support his policy of engagement. CNN's own polling bears that out. Now, they're saying, oh, you're being too nice to Kim. And so, if you're the president, you probably are thinking I can't win

with some of these people. They won't take yes for an answer. So, I think he was joking about the news coverage, but I do think he has some legit beeves with people who just can't seem to be happy with whatever he does no matter the tactic.

TAPPER: Well, Scott, surely you acknowledge there is a difference between brink of war, rocket man, my button is bigger than your comments, and, you know, Kim Jong-un is strong and he's tough and he's a master negotiator. I mean, there is a middle ground where most presidents, in fact, every president except for Donald Trump has resided.

JENNINGS: Yes, there is a middle ground where most presidents have resided and most presidents have failed to move the ball on this issue. We have been banging our head against the wall -- look, I don't know if the president and his tactics are going to work here. I mean, this -- we're at the beginning of a process that could fail. Kim could lie. They may never let us verify any of this and that would be extremely unfortunate.

But it strikes me that we are -- we have a little door opening, we have a little window open and the president is trying to go through it in the way that he does things. Some people don't like it. Some people may think it's not appropriate. But we've got some sunshine where we had nothing and I think most Americans are going to say, well, we're trying something different and maybe that's the answer.

SANDERS: But do we have sunshine, Scott? See, that's the question. So, one is, it's incorrect to assert that no other president could have sat down with Kim Jong-un. Many presidents could have, but they didn't want is what Donald Trump gave Kim Jong-un, which is the flags, the pomp and circumstance, and the state-run TV ad that the Trump White House cut for themselves.

And so, we don't know if we're in a sunshiny place. North Korea has agreed to nothing and I think that's the criticism here.

[16:25:03] And for Donald Trump to be so upset about the coverage that he gets from the media, I think it just goes to show that he still doesn't understand that he is no longer on the TV side of things, he's now in the political arena and as a -- as a spokesperson and as a former press secretary, there are days I didn't like what the media said. There were days I didn't like what CNN was saying about my candidate, but it is not their job to lavish praise on my candidate or principle. It is a job to report the news and it is my job to beat back the lies.

And frankly, the Trump White House doesn't do a good job at the latter.

TAPPER: Something else President Trump weighed in on today had to do with the Justice Department inspector general report about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: It totally exonerates me. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction and if you read the report, you'll see that.


TAPPER: I have read the report. It's not true. It does not address collusion. It does not address obstruction. It has nothing to do with the Russia investigation. And it has nothing to do with anything President Trump or his campaign, what they have done.

David Chalian, does it matter -- does it matter that he says this even though it is patently false?

CHALIAN: Of course it matters. The president should not say untrue things and it's our responsibility as you are doing to call it out.

Will it matter to his supporters? No. I would imagine most of Trump supporters will hear him and say, oh, no, he got totally exonerated from that I.G. report. That did not happen. But again, he was going to repeat this so that he could make it so, not broadly, but so there are no cracks in his line of support with the folks who are already with him.

TAPPER: It was about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and it had some tough things to say about Loretta Lynch, about James Comey, about Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and others. It has to do with the Russia investigation, nothing to do with potential obstruction of justice charges.

SANDERS: Nothing whatsoever. You know, Jake, I often wonder, I wasn't alive back then, but during Watergate if there was Twitter, if there was a 24-hour news coverage would -- would then President Nixon would have been able to make the case that Donald Trump is making now to his supporters? I wonder what the ability to speak so directly to people and to repeat lies time after time after time again has on the American electorate. The facts remain to be seen. But I think that is --

TAPPER: That is interesting. If Nixon had had Twitter and Fox, what might the world have looked like?

Thanks one and all. Stick around. We got more to talk about.

Prosecutors just recovered 16 pages of documents from President Trump's fixer Michael Cohen. Is Cohen going to talk to prosecutors?

Stay with us.