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Paul Manafort Sent to Jail; President Trump Envious of North Korean Dictator?; Interview With Stormy Daniels Attorney Michael Avenatti; False Statements, Praise for Kim Jong-un in Surprise Trump Remarks; Giuliani Says Things Might Get Cleaned Up With Pardons After Former Trump Campaign Chair Manafort Sent to Jail. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 15, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Pardon cleanup. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani says there may be presidential pardons when the Russia investigation is over. Is he sending a signal to Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and others?
And unscripted. President Trump caps his wild media week with an impromptu question-and-answer session on the White House North Lawn, making multiple false claims, including that the watchdog report on the FBI -- quote -- "totally exonerates" him.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, hours after a federal judge ordered former Trump campaign Paul Manafort jailed, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told "The New York Daily News" that Robert Mueller's Russia investigation -- and I'm quoting now -- "might get cleaned up with presidential pardons."
Also, a source is telling CNN the president's lawyer Michael Cohen is indicating he is willing to cooperate with federal investigators. Tonight, a judge has denied his request for an immediate restraining order against Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti. He will join us live in just a few minutes. And our specialists and analysts are also standing by.
First, CNN political correspondent Sara Murray has more on the breaking news.
Sara, the president is downplaying his connection to Paul Manafort.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. He is. And he also made it clear that he did not want to talk about presidential pardons earlier today. That was not the case, though, for President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani. He told "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 makes clear to Paul Manafort today he will be awaiting his trial behind bars.
MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is headed to jail, where he will await his September trial on foreign lobbying and obstruction charges.
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.
Special counsel Robert Mueller's team argued that Manafort is a danger to the community and carried out a sustained campaign over five weeks using different phones and apps to try and mold witness testimony, including using a system called foldering, where multiple people have access to an account and write messages to one another and draft e- mails that are never sent.
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.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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, Wolf, I'm told that leading up to this hearing, Paul Manafort and his legal team were actually optimistic that he would be able to -- be able to avoid going back to jail awaiting trial.
I'm also told that Manafort's allies are shell-shocked by the judge's decision.
BLITZER: Sara, I want you to stand by.
I want to bring in, also joining us, our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, and our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Shimon, what does this development say about the Mueller investigation?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, that there are witnesses that are continuing to come forward and provide information.
This is how they found out about this situation regarding possible witness tampering when it came to Paul Manafort. It also just tells us that there's a lot of pressure, continuing pressure, perhaps on Paul Manafort by the special counsel team, by the FBI agents who are continuing to probe the Russian interference, possible campaign -- any kind of financial investigation here.
That's just continuing. And really, I think, Wolf, this tells us that there is going to be a continued amount of pressure on Paul Manafort. Perhaps the government here, that there's every indication that they need him and that they want him to cooperate.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, how would you react if your client was engaged in this type of behavior? If you were representing Manafort, for example, what would you be telling him?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Manafort's lawyers are honorable people and honorable lawyers.
And there's no suggestion that they had any involvement in this. This was absolutely insane for Manafort to do. He had to know this was wrong. This was, as the grand jury found probable cause, it was a crime to try to reach out to these witnesses immediately after he was indicted and line up this false story.
In court today, his lawyers made the pitch, we will tell him not to contact anyone who is a possible witness. We will take his cell phone away. We will take his Internet away. But it was too late for that. The judge said, look, this was a crime. I have every reason to believe he might do it again. So, she locked him up.
And that's a big deal. It's a very big difference between waiting in your apartment awaiting trial and waiting in jail. Jail stinks.
BLITZER: Yes. Even if you are in an apartment with an ankle bracelet, it's a whole lot different if you are actually in a federal prison.
TOOBIN: A whole lot different.
Sara, in your report, you mentioned what Rudy Giuliani told "The New York Daily News" on the record -- quote -- "When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons."
With are you hearing, Sara, about the possibility of a pardon?
MURRAY: Well, Wolf, I think that what Rudy Giuliani said is so interesting because it's different than what President Trump himself said earlier today. He did not want to talk about the idea of presidential pardons.
And, recently, he's also said he didn't want to talk about the notion of pardons because no one has been convicted of anything. Paul Manafort hasn't been convicted of doing anything wrong.
So, the fact that you have Rudy Giuliani out there today sort of floating this notion that pardons could clean this up, I mean, this could be a signal that Trump and his allies are worried about this pressure on Manafort, worried that he might ultimately decide to cave or that someone like Cohen might decide to flip on the president and cooperate.
This does send a signal that the president and his team are thinking about pardons and who to offer those to, even as President Trump says he doesn't want to talk about it.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what concerns does it raise when the president's lawyer, in this case, Rudy Giuliani, says something like that?
TOOBIN: It's so corrupt and unethical, what Giuliani said.
We are in an area here that is literally unprecedented, because not that many people in American life have the power to give a pardon. So, the idea that you could dangle a pardon with the apparent intention of shortening an investigation or getting people not to cooperate, I think there are definitely people out there who believe that alone is obstruction of justice and perhaps even an impeachable offense, if you were to -- if the president were to be involved in this.
We are so far out of normal ethical behavior, that it's just worth preserving our sense of outrage about it. Because so much of this stuff happens every day, we're kind of inured to it. Because it really is appalling.
BLITZER: Shimon, what message does this send, let's say, to Michael Cohen and to some others?
PROKUPECZ: Well, certainly, witnesses that could be contacted by anyone who is a subject, a defendant, a target of the Mueller or any other investigation -- Michael Cohen, this is an investigation that is coming out of the New York of the Southern District -- that they are going to come forward if there's anything inappropriate that witnesses see or experience or maybe there's a reach-out from someone.
I think it tells us, certainly when it comes to the special counsel investigation, they are going to reach out to the special counsel, to the FBI, because this is how we have heard about this. The witnesses who have been before the special counsel and come out of there, just their experience there, the fear that they have.
And it's clear that that's probably what happened in the Manafort case. It's one witness who came forward to the special counsel thinking there was something inappropriate with the contact. They came forward.
And I think that's what everyone needs to realize here, that this is a very serious investigation and that folks are going to come forward if anything inappropriate occurs.
BLITZER: Good point.
Sara, the president is trying to distance himself from these men. But, at the same time, he also expresses some sympathy for them. Doesn't he?
MURRAY: Yes, that's right.
And, look, that's been true of Michael Cohen. That's been true of Paul Manafort. It's also been true of Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating.
The president has said some of this publicly, but also even more privately, that he feels like the only reason these people are in this mess is because they came to work for his campaign or they have served for President Trump in the case of Michael over the long term, and they now feel like this is kind of an investigation run amok, that people can dig into the past decade of Paul Manafort's work or the past decade of Michael Cohen's businesses, and that it's all part of sort of this vendetta against the president.
[18:10:24] Now, these are the president's personal feelings here. Obviously, law enforcement has a very different view of this, that It's not a personal vendetta, that they're just doing their jobs, investigating what comes up in the course of the Mueller investigation.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, the president's pardon power, according to the Constitution, is very, very powerful. But you are suggesting that if he dangles a pardon, there potentially could be obstruction of justice?
TOOBIN: Well, certainly, there would be members of Congress who would view dangling a pardon as a high crime and misdemeanor.
I don't think it's an obstruction of justice. But only the president can pardon. And if he uses the pardon power to help his own political and legal interests, not for the usual purpose that pardons are used for, I could definitely see that members of Congress could see that -- could see that as an impeachable offense, because this is a power that only the president has.
And just because he has it doesn't mean that he can use it for absolutely any purpose, even if there is corrupt intent behind it.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, Shimon Prokupecz, Sara Murray, guys, thank you very, very much.
There's more breaking news we're following right now. President Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, said to be getting closer to cooperating with federal investigators. I will talk to Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti. He's standing by live.
A judge has just denied Cohen's request for an immediate restraining order against Avenatti.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight.
President Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, said to be angry at his treatment by President Trump and Rudy Giuliani, now signaling an openness to cooperating with federal investigators.
Our national correspondent, Athena Jones, is working the story for us.
Athena, Cohen is under tremendous pressure tonight.
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly is, Wolf.
And, look, this is the main reason we have been so focused on Michael Cohen these last couple of months. It's less about the specifics of his legal troubles and more about what it could mean if the president's longtime lawyer, who knows a good deal about him and his business dealings, decides to share what he knows with the feds. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good luck, Mr. Cohen.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: Thank you so much.
JONES (voice-over): Tonight, a source tells CNN President Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, has indicated to family and friends that he is willing to cooperate with the feds to alleviate pressure on himself and his family.
He is under criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York for his personal financial dealings, including the $130,000 payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election to keep her quiet about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.
Cohen has expressed anger with the treatment he has gotten from the president, who has minimized his relationship with Cohen, according to the source.
TRUMP: Look, I did nothing wrong. You have to understand, this stuff would have come out a long time ago. I did nothing wrong.
QUESTION: Is Michael Cohen still your friend?
TRUMP: It's really nice.
QUESTION: Is he still your friend?
TRUMP: I always liked Michael Cohen. I haven't spoken to Michael in a long time.
QUESTION: Is he still your lawyer?
TRUMP: No, he's not my lawyer anymore. But I always liked Michael.
JONES: Trump suggesting he is not concerned about Cohen potentially flipping, though, in recent months, he seemed to be trying to inoculate himself in case his now former lawyer does decide to cooperate with investigators, tweeting in April: "Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories."
Cohen is also unhappy with comments made by Rudy Giuliani, one of the newest members of the president's legal team, all of which has left him feeling isolated and more open to cooperating, although he has not met with prosecutors to discuss any potential deal, the source said.
The latest development coming on the heels of Cohen losing his request made late Thursday for an immediate restraining order against Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I'm not deterred. I'm not going to be gagged. I mean, this is a search for the truth.
JONES: Cohen arguing what he called Avenatti's publicity tour, dozens of television interviews, and hundreds of tweets is -- quote -- "likely to result in Mr. Cohen being deprived of his right to a fair trial."
The judge declined to grant an immediate restraining order. But he did set a meeting for a briefing for later this month and will make a final decision afterwards.
Meanwhile, Cohen is in the midst of changing his legal team, seeking lawyers with experience appearing before judges in the Southern District of New York.
JONES: And we got an update this afternoon from the government on some of the material that the FBI seized in that raid's on Cohen's home, office and hotel room in April.
The feds are still working on getting into one of Cohen's two BlackBerrys. But they have been able to reconstruct some 16 pages of documents that have been found in a shredding machine.
They also obtained some 730 pages of messages and call logs from encrypted apps like WhatsApp and Signal.
The special master in charge of this process has extended the deadline to review these documents and all other material for attorney-client privilege to June 25. That deadline had been today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. Athena, thank you very much, Athena Jones reporting for us.
Joining us now is Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti.
Michael, thanks so much for joining us.
Let me get right to the question. What would it mean for your case if Michael Cohen were to decide to cooperate with federal prosecutors?
AVENATTI: Well, Wolf, I think it would certainly be a positive development for our case.
The more information that we have, the better off we are. I have been saying for some time that it was only a matter of months before he ultimately would be forced to cooperate, as opposed to potentially serve a significant jail sentence.
I think that what happened today with Mr. Manafort is also going to further tighten the noose as it relates to Michael Cohen. And it's only a matter of time, in my view, before he is indicted and ultimately attempts to provide information relating to his dealings concerning the president. BLITZER: What's your reaction to President Trump saying today that
Michael Cohen isn't his lawyer?
AVENATTI: It's interesting, Wolf, because, with each passing week, it changes.
I mean, it wasn't that long ago -- I think the president was aboard Air Force One standing on Air Force One and he was asked about the $130,000 payment to my client, and he directed the press and American people to his lawyer at the time, Michael Cohen.
So, at some point in time between that date and today, I guess Michael Cohen ceased being his lawyer. I think, if you go on Michael Cohen's LinkedIn page and other social media, I think Michael Cohen still lists himself as the president's lawyer.
BLITZER: Well, the president says he is no longer his lawyer.
You point out, Michael, that the government has now produced the reconstructed documents seized from Michael Cohen's paper shredder. Also -- you also seemed to taunt Cohen on his encrypted messages, tweeting this -- quote -- "So much for encryption protection."
What are you implying here?
AVENATTI: Well, what I'm implying, Wolf, is really that's not directed to Michael Cohen, per se, but there's a lot of people around the country that rely on WhatsApp and Signal for encrypted communications.
And when I received that letter and the government disclosed that, in fact, they had been able to decrypt, if you will, those communications and produce over 700 pages relating to Michael Cohen's communications that he thought were encrypted, I thought that was rather stunning.
Michael Cohen is not using encrypted applications to communicate with family members about the ball game. Those communications are going to prove to be incredibly damaging, I predict, to Michael Cohen and ultimately perhaps the president.
BLITZER: How important do you believe these shredded and encrypted documents could be to your case?
AVENATTI: I think they could be critically important, especially as it relates to communications that Michael Cohen may have been having with Mr. Davidson concerning my client and others.
I think that the documents that were reconstructed from the shredder and these encrypted text messages could ultimately prove to be the most important documents in the entire case. That would not surprise me in the least bit.
BLITZER: Let me turn to Michael Cohen and his attorneys filing this restraining order against you. What's your reaction to that? AVENATTI: You know, Wolf, it's pretty transparent. It's baseless.
They can't beat us on the truth, the facts and the evidence. And so they're trying to shut me up. They're trying to get a federal judge to basically infringe on my First Amendment right and also prevent me from cooperating with the press and providing information and documents to the American people.
It's a Hail Mary. I was pleased to see that the judge literally within business hours shot down that request on an emergency basis, and, ultimately, I think it's going to be denied in total.
BLITZER: Are you still confident, though, that you will prevail in court when all is said and done, considering the judge's previous comments about your -- quote -- "publicity tour"?
AVENATTI: Well, Judge wood made that statement, and then she immediately qualified it and stated that she didn't find anything wrong with it, per se.
And I am highly confident in our case in California. And I think we are going to prevail. And I think, in a matter of months, I'm going to have an opportunity to depose the president under oath as to a number of critical issues. And I'm looking forward to it.
BLITZER: It wasn't that long ago you predicted Cohen would be in jail in 90 days. Is that still your prediction?
AVENATTI: I think we're at day 59. So, I'm going to hold true to the 90, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, where do you see this heading in the immediate future?
AVENATTI: I think that Mr. Cohen is going to be indicted. And I think he is going to be doing everything in his power to avoid ending up like Mr. Manafort. That's what I think.
BLITZER: Michael Avenatti, thanks so much for joining us.
AVENATTI: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following.
With his former campaign manager just put in jail -- I should say campaign chairman just put in jail, is President Trump considering pardoning Paul Manafort?
Plus, President Trump expresses envy of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He's the head of a country. And, I mean, he is the strong head. Don't let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Trump caught everyone by surprise today with an impromptu question-and-answer session on the White House North Lawn.
Our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us right now.
[18:30:00] Pamela, you have details. The president's remarks were pretty shocking, as his unexpected appearance before reporters.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And during this impromptu gathering with reporters, Wolf, the president made a series of false claims. And he even sent lawmakers on Capitol Hill scrambling when he said he opposed an immigration bill that his own White House staffers had been negotiating.
BROWN (voice-over): President Trump making an unusual appearance on the White House North Lawn today --
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Listen, I'm doing an interview over here, folks.
BROWN: -- telling reporters, the inspector general's report on Hillary Clinton's e-mail practices issued Thursday absolves him from Mueller's investigation.
TRUMP: I think that the report yesterday may be, more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction, and if you read the report, you'll see that.
BROWN: But the report did not address anything about possible collusion or obstruction, and determined the FBI's handling of the Clinton e-mail probe was not politically motivated.
But it did chastise FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, who worked on the Clinton and Trump investigations, for exchanging a series of anti-Trump text messages.
And it found that former FBI director James Comey acted in an extraordinary and insubordinate manner at times during his investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So from what you've seen so far, should James Comey be locked up?
TRUMP: Well, look, I would never want to get involved in that. Certainly, he -- they just seem like very criminal acts to me. What he did was criminal.
BROWN: But the president today stopped short of putting an end to the Russia investigation. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you thinking of suspending Mueller?
TRUMP: No, but I think that whole investigation now is -- look, the problem with the Mueller investigation is everybody has got massive conflicts.
BROWN: Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, went a step further, telling FOX News --
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Peter Strzok was running the Hillary investigation. That's a total fix. That is a closed book now, total fix. Comey should go to jail for that, and Strzok. Let's investigate the investigators. Let's take a halt to the Mueller investigation.
BROWN: The president today also talking about his newly-minted relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
TRUMP: He's the head of a country, and I mean, he is the strong head. Don't let anyone think anything different. He speaks, and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the the same.
BROWN: Later telling reporters he was joking.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you mean just now when you said you wished Americans would sit up at attention when you spoke?
TRUMP: I'm kidding. You don't understand sarcasm.
BROWN: He was also pressed on his previous statements about the North Korean dictator loving his people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can Kim love his people if he's killing them?
TRUMP: I can't speak to that. I can only speak to the fact that we signed an incredible agreement. It's great.
BROWN: The president causing angst on Capitol Hill today after a White House source said he misunderstood a question on immigration, saying he would not support the House's compromise immigration bill.
TRUMP: I certainly wouldn't sign the --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does the bill need?
TRUMP: I need a bill that gives this country tremendous border security. I have to have that.
BROWN: Trump today also inaccurately blaming Democrats for the new Department of Justice policy that separates families at the border.
TRUMP: That's the law, and that's what the Democrats gave us. And we're willing to change it today if they want to get in and negotiate. But they just don't want to negotiate. They're afraid of -- they're afraid of security for our country. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BROWN: And Wolf, nine hours after the president made that remark on FOX News, the White House released a statement correcting the record; clarifying, saying that he did support the immigration bill he seemed to say that he had opposed it on FOX News.
But I can tell you, during that interview, Wolf, I spoke to one White House official who said there was an audible gasp in the room among the officials watching it that the president said that he had opposed the bill.
Then following that, leadership on Capitol Hill reached out to the White House, confused, upset about what the president had seemed to say. But again, it took nine hours for the White House to put out that on-the-record statement correcting the record -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. All right, Pamela, thank you very much. Pamela Brown over at the White House.
Let's dig deeper. Our specialists and analysts are standing by right now. And Abby -- Abby Phillip is with us.
Abby, you're one of our White House reporters. You were actually there when the president walked out on the North Lawn of the White House. Walk us through what happened.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was incredibly surreal, Wolf. I mean, watching the president walk from the back way of the White House up the front lawn is something that literally none of us had ever seen any president really do before.
And frankly, several White House aides, just moments before the president walked out, were telling us not to expect him to come out. They did not believe that he would actually come out to the front lawn to do that interview.
But he was relaxed throughout the whole thing, wanted to make his points. And as Pamela pointed out, many of them not entirely true. But he wanted to present his version of this case on a number of issues from North Korea to the inspector general report to all kinds of issues.
[18:35:10] He answered questions from FOX News for a half an hour and then spent another half an hour answering more questions from reporters.
There were some really tense moments, Wolf. I think particularly on the issue of North Korea and human rights. You know, I asked him several questions about why he seemed to want to praise Kim Jong-un. And the president was getting frustrated and agitated. He chastised another reporter.
So it was really a kind of free-wheeling morning, both for the press corps and for this White House. It was very clear that his aides were not expecting him to do this and were standing by, sometimes looking aghast when he was answering some of these questions. And he had no -- seemed to have no intention of stopping any time soon. He went on for a full half an hour, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. He's been making himself available to the news media a lot more. That's, of course, good.
Mark Preston, what do you make of that?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, nothing surprises me anymore about this president, Wolf. This is, again, just you know, added to the list of things that you wouldn't or haven't seen from our past presidents, our past commanders in chief.
What I think is remarkable about what we saw today is that the president just continued to lie. And he just continued to say things that were not truthful.
He continued to take the I.G. report, as we have seen from his surrogates and himself over the last 24 hours, and he's gone out and he has twisted it in a way to make it sound as if he is being exonerated.
We should put on the table here that Michael Cohen, his lawyer right now, is under a lot of trouble. He is in a lot of trouble in New York. Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, has now been put in jail awaiting trial. There's a lot of bad things going on right now, Wolf. And I think the president thought he could go out and clean them up. I think he just exacerbated it, worse.
BLITZER: What about that, Ron Brownstein? How do you think Republicans -- his fellow Republicans are feeling about all those comments?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And that really is, you know, the key question. I mean, you know, I think as you look at the way the president has approached the I.G. report, it is consistent with the way he's approached every aspect of this investigation. And I would argue every aspect, policy and rhetoric-wise of the presidency.
I mean, the arguments are not really intended to persuade. They're intended to mobilize. They're not about reaching kind of independent or less partisan voters. They are about creating talking points for the base.
And, you know, I think you see the same kind of pattern in the governing, where he has very much positioned himself almost entirely as the president of red America solely.
And I think that, you know, Republicans by and large, most of them from safer seats, are OK with this. And they have -- they have lost, over the 18 months, whatever will they started to kind of resist -- resist his approaches where they disagree.
Even, for example, in the last week, just think about, you know, what happened with the moderate rebellion on the deferred action, which they dropped. Bob Corker being stymied at offering a different view on trade, where there are substantial, obviously, Republican coalition.
So they are basically in for this. The problem they've got is that the members at kind of the edge of their majority in the House in the swing districts are facing places, in many cases white-collar suburban areas that the president is underwater, where there's a great deal of anxiety about this belligerent approach to governing, this loose relationship with the truth, and those members are the ones out on the limb as the party essentially abandons any kind of constraint on the president.
BLITZER: As you know, Jeffrey Toobin, the president says he was simply joking about praising Kim Jong-un and the way the North Koreans show their admiration for him, suggesting he'd like to see that from Americans for him. Says it was all just a joke. Do you buy it?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I actually do. I thought that seemed like a joke to me.
You know what I wish was a joke was Rudy Giuliani saying that James Comey should be locked up. I mean, think about what that means. You know, in this country, we have a tradition that political opponents don't threaten each other with criminal prosecution.
But one of the touchstones of the Trump administration has been the president and his surrogates saying that Hillary Clinton, that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, that Debbie Wasserman Schultz's assistants, that James Comey -- not that they're wrong, not that they're unethical, not that they're bad people but that they should go to prison. And that is un-American. That is something that does not happen in this country. And it is an absolute disgrace that Rudy Giuliani, who used to work in the Justice Department, is talking that way.
BLITZER: He was once the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. And at the time, he was pretty -- pretty much respected. What do you think has happened?
TOOBIN: That's a great question. I don't know. I mean, I think this guy is just -- you know, he has become indoctrinated, or indoctrinated himself in the Trump approach. And he is just disgracing himself over and over again.
[18:40:09] Putting aside the whole issue of just the stuff he gets wrong. But the unethical use of -- or suggested use of the criminal justice system is something that will tarnish his legacy forever.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. Everybody stick around, because we're will continue this conversation. There's more breaking news we're following.
The president's former campaign chairman sent to jail. So what does that mean for Mr. Trump? And is Rudy Giuliani sending a signal to Paul Manafort and others about his reported comments about presidential pardons?
[18:45:22] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort sent to jail after being accused of witness tampering as he awaits trial in the Russia investigation.
Let's get back to our panel.
Abby, watch what President Trump said earlier today about Paul Manafort.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I feel badly about a lot of it because I think a lot of it is very unfair. I mean, I look at some of it where they go back 12 years.
Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. 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.
He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for John McCain, his firm did. He worked for many other Republicans.
He worked for me 49 days or something. A very short period of time. I feel badly for some people, because they have gone back 12 years to find things about somebody. I don't think it's right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He actually worked for five months for the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Three of those months as campaign chairman.
Abby, what do you make of that?
PHILLIP: I think it's just a long pattern of the president trying to diminish the role of people who have worked for him and played actually pretty key roles in his campaign and in his administration when they are getting into trouble. I mean, this is what the president typically does.
And no one should believe it, although I suspect some will, the president is trying to distance himself from Paul Manafort while defending him and suggesting that he is being unfairly prosecuted. You know, the president has done this with other people, including Michael Flynn. I think it all goes back to this idea that if he gives any ground on this, implies any of the people that have gotten wrapped up in this Russia investigation are being justifiably prosecuted by the law, then he opens himself up to those same kinds of criticisms.
This is the president trying to protect himself and less so about Paul Manafort.
TOOBIN: And, Wolf, for those scoring at home, that's another false statement that this was just somehow 12 years old. The criminal conspiracy charge began 12 years ago, because it took a long time. He was engaged in criminal activity, according to the grand jury, for years. That's actually worse than when you just commit a crime once.
So, the idea that it's somehow, well, terrible that the prosecutors went back 12 years, well, maybe Paul Manafort shouldn't have been committing crimes for 12 years, then the prosecutors wouldn't bother him.
BLITZER: Yes, and the alleged witness tampering occurred in recent weeks. Mark Preston, the president is spinning the inspector general's report released at the Justice Department in his favor. Paul Manafort is now in custody. Michael Cohen is considering cooperating with federal investigators.
How worrying do you believe, Mark, these developments are for the president?
PRESTON: Extremely worrying. I mean, there's no question it's on his mind. It has to affect every decision that he makes. I don't know how as a human, Wolf, as a human being that you can face that kind of pressure.
Now, one thing we should note about the I.G. report, they did single out some misbehavior by FBI agents or FBI officials. Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, yes, that is acknowledged. The attorney general said -- the inspector general said there was no political malfeasance. That didn't taint the investigation.
What the president is trying to do right now is to try to take the inspector general's words and twist them so that as we heard others say here on this panel, to reach out to his base and rile up support.
BLITZER: I'm anxious to get your thoughts, Ron.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, I'm struck. I mean, obviously, as Mark is saying, the conversation back and forth, the texting back and forth between the FBI agents that the president and his defenders have seized on was inappropriate and was wrong and, you know, is deserving of sanctions, some of which has been meted out.
But the bottom line conclusion of the IG was that it was not operationalized in any way. It was not -- it did not affect the outcome or the -- the outcome of the Clinton investigation. And nor, as a former FBI agent noted to one of my colleagues, if they really wanted to sink Trump, they might have leaked something about the existence of the Russia investigation when we were told the opposite in October, you know, through leaks that there was no progress on that front.
So, there's kind of nothing in which this translates into anything like what the president is asserting.
[18:50:07] And it does go back to this point. I mean, these are not really arguments designed not for a court of law or the court of public opinion. They're really designed for kind of Fox and conservative talk radio as a way of mobilizing the base and they are having success at doing that and discrediting the Mueller investigation in the eyes of many Republicans. But I think in the process, they are raising the anxieties among voters who are uneasy about Trump, about whether there is any meaningful constraint on this unprecedented kind of behavior even commenting on an existing criminal investigation as the president involving one of your former aides who might testify against you. That you just lose sight of how extraordinary that is.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point.
Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: But let's remember about that IG report. The real victim of the FBI, the real victim of James Comey, was Hillary Clinton. It was not, it was not Donald Trump.
You know, there is a very good case to be made that James Comey cost Hillary Clinton that election with his now widely reviled and harshly criticized press statement ten days before the election. So, in this crazy backward world in which we live, the idea that this report shows the FBI was conspiring against Donald Trump is actually 180 degrees wrong. The person who was the target and the victim of the FBI was Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: Abby, does the White House when the president makes a false statement, does the White House just remain silent or do they ever come forward and say let's fix this?
PHILLIP: Rarely. Frankly, you pointed out this morning, I was at that press conference on the lawn and there were so many things that the president said that morning that simply weren't true. The rare exception is when he essentially upended the compromise that Republicans had been trying to work out on the Hill on immigration that forced the White House over the course of nine hours to figure out how to walk that back.
But frankly, Wolf, the president going back to this IG report, is not basing any of his statements on what the IG report actually says. He's giving his interpretation of what he wants everyone to take away from it and most of that has no bearing on what the IG report actually concluded about FBI's handling of those issues.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.
There's more news we're following, including more information about Rudy Giuliani already talking about pardons in the Russia investigation. He'll be on CNN later tonight, on "CUOMO PRIME TIME".
And guess what? Chris Cuomo is standing by live. There you see him. He'll join us with a preview.
[18:57:35] BLITZER: President Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, raising eyebrows with talk of presidential pardons.
Let's get some more with the host of "CUOMO PRIME TIME", CNN's Chris Cuomo.
Chris, Giuliani is calling for Robert Mueller to be suspended. He says FBI agent Peter Strzok should be in jail and in an on the record statement to "The New York Daily News", he said this, when the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.
He's going to be your guest live later tonight.
What do you make of all these comments from Giuliani?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Politics, Wolf. I was listening to Professor Brownstein earlier on the show and he has it exactly right. This isn't about winning in court. Rudy Giuliani is flexing different muscles than we see with a typical counsel. He believes that this is going to come down to public sentiment, this is going to come down to political resolve.
So, he is doing exactly what it seems like he is doing. He is trying to undermine the legitimacy of probe, which he believes is legitimate. He does not believe it is gratuitous and that he's just doing this to help his client. He believes this probe should have never been birthed.
But these are political arguments and I think you're going to see him at his best tonight.
BLITZER: Tell us why. Why will he be at his best?
CUOMO: Because this is the moment, wolf. They're coming down to crunch time in terms of f whether or not he's going to sit with Mueller. If he doesn't, he's got to have a really compelling case because I don't believe they want to go the legal route.
I don't believe they'll win. I don't think he wants that drama and expectation of outcome, so you're getting into a period, as you get through this summer, decisions are have to be made. And when you're in Rudy's position, you want time on your side. And that means he needs to get things going in his way right now.
Otherwise, you wouldn't have heard him say these things today, Wolf. I know there's a lot of smack talk out there about Rudy Giuliani and how he's functioning. The president is very happy with him. He has changed the dialogue several different times and he put this stuff out today as bait and the media is chomping on it and rightly so.
We'll put him to the test on it tonight and see if he can make the case to the audience.
BLITZER: And as a member of the media, we're always happy when these guys make themselves available. Certainly, Rudy Giuliani is making himself available. In the recent days, the president has been making himself available as well.
Chris, thank you very, very much.
And important note to our viewers, "CUOMO PRIME TIME" airs later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
I'll be back in one hour filling in for Anderson Cooper later tonight.
In the meantime, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.