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Jonathan Winer Talks Steele Dossier; Trump: "Inconceivable" That Cohen Recorded Conversations; Can Moving Left Be a Winning Strategy for Democrats. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired July 23, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:00] SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA: They laid out all the information. There was a lot of reasons unrelated to the dossier for why they wanted to look at Carter Page.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now is Jonathan Winer, a former senior official at the State Department. He has known Christopher Steele for years. He was responsible for writing a two-page summary of the dossier contents, sharing it with State Department officials, including former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Jonathan, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: You heard Lindsey Graham. Let's start there. Lindsey Graham calls the substance of the dossier garbage. What do you say?

WINER: I would say an awful lot of material in the dossier has been corroborated by events and information that we have come to see since. Other parts are still unknown whether they're going to be corroborated or not. Major elements of the dossier -- I don't know any that have been disproven.

BOLDUAN: You have known Christopher Steele for years. You wrote very publicly in an op-ed, the relationship, how you came about the information in the dossier, and so on and so forth. Do you trust his information over the years?

WINER: Well, while I was at the State Department, he provided me some 120 documents about Russia and Ukraine, entirely unrelated to the U.S. political system. It wasn't about Democrats or Republicans or anything partisan. It was about Russia -- about what Russia was doing in the national security area that was relevant to the United States. These documents were well received by the people doing Russia full- time within the Department of State. That's why I continue to provide them. He did it because he felt it was information the United States government should have. Similarly, when he developed the information relating to 2016 and Russia's assault on our democracy, interference in our elections, he felt it was important the U.S. government be aware of it. I did, too.

BOLDUAN: Has anything that's happened between 2016 and 2018 changed your view?

WINER: I think what we have seen from 2016 to 2018 is a lot of facts that have tended to further corroborate the concerns I had when I was first exposed to the material that was included later on in the dossier. We have just seen an awful lot, and we need to understand more. For example, when President Trump said, "Russia, are you listening," I think we will be rewarded if we can get Hillary's 30,000 e-mails he said, rewarded. Was that signaling? Was that Candidate Trump saying, I'm Trump and I approve this message? Some communication from the Trump campaign to Putin and the Kremlin. We don't know the answer. It's important we get the answers to these questions.

BOLDUAN: Jonathan, when it comes to the dossier, its role in the warrant application, and its role in the partisan fight that has played out since its existence became known, do you -- do you question its accuracy?

WINER: The accuracy of what, please?

BOLDUAN: Of the dossier.

WINER: The core of the dossier, which is that the Russians planned to interfere with American elections in 2016, has been borne out by lots of information. They've been doing it in other countries as well. They did it in Brexit. They have done it in Germany, France. They did it in Barcelona. This is what the Russians, under President Putin, are doing in elections in other countries. I'm confident it took place in the United States.

BOLDUAN: One of the arguments that I hear from folks who don't trust the document, don't trust the dossier, is that some of the information got to the FBI, came from a Clinton associate that you talked to, Sid Blumenthal. What do you say?

WINER: It's not true.

BOLDUAN: Explain, please.

WINER: Christopher Steele wrote the elements of the dossier independent of any information received from material that I sent him after having read the dossier. The materials that are in the dossier were created before I shared the information, except for one memo that came in November or December. Already had been written before he ever saw it. The chronology is wrong. It's just a crazy idea. It's conspiracy theory stuff. It's an effort to muddy up the record. It's untrue. It didn't happen.

BOLDUAN: On the simple fact, Jonathan, that this marks the first time that a FISA request has been released publicly, what impact do you think that has?

WINER: It will further encourage U.S. law enforcement agencies to make sure they have -- the Justice Department to make sure that FISA applications are very strong, and that when judges decide to authorize listening in on an American because of concerns that he's a foreign spy, that the documentation is very robust. It seems to me that the documentation here is likely very robust. But it's hard to know what's in back of it because so much of it is properly blacked out. We don't want, in general, a lot of public discussion, I would think, of exceptions to our wiretap laws for listening in to people who are believed to be recruited or in the process of being recruited by a foreign government. That's not something you really want to have play out in public. You don't want the foreign governments getting lots of information about what we know about it.

[11:35:37] BOLDUAN: Separately, related but, however, quite separately, you are actually on Vladimir Putin's list of people he would like to interrogate if given the opportunity, if there was this deal that was much discussed, obviously, last week, that he would be able to interrogate Americans if Mueller would be able to go over and interrogate Russians with regard to his Russia investigation about the election hack. The White House now says it disagrees with Putin's request. They're not going to go along with it after leaving the door open last week. Does that bring you comfort?

WINER: I was never worried. Our laws wouldn't have allowed it in the first place. We don't have an extradition agreement with Russia. Mutual legal assistant agreements create an exception for political cases. When a president is asked by a foreign buddy, will you interview people for me, these are people I want to go after, that's not the way the system is supposed to work, that's not the way it does work, it's not the way it can work.

BOLDUAN: Jonathan Winer, thanks for coming in.

WINER: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Appreciate it.

Coming up for us --

WINER: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: -- the tale of the tapes. Michael Cohen's secret recordings, the target of a blistering attack by President Trump. Are there any legal questions in regard to the tapes now? What could it mean -- what do the tapes mean for the president? That's next.


[11:41:30] BOLDUAN: "Inconceivable," that's what President Trump has to say now about his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, taping their conversations. He did not stop there. "Inconceivable," he wrote, "that the government would break into a lawyer's office early in the morning, almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client. Totally unheard of and perhaps illegal. The good is that your favorite president did nothing wrong."

This requires a couple of notes. The FBI did not break into Michael Cohen's office. They were executing a search warrant. And Michael Cohen has said a couple of times that agents who executed the search warrant were professional, courteous and respectful. Those are his words. There's no suggestion that Cohen's recording of his client, Donald Trump, was illegal to this point. So beyond the tweets, what does this mean for the president?

Joining me right now, former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, Larry Noble, is here.

Great to see you, Larry.


BOLDUAN: Now that there are tapes, how much does it alter the picture, if you will, for the president when it comes to a question of potential campaign finance violations?

NOBLE: I think it adds to his problems contrary to what Rudy Giuliani said. Now we know he did know that there was a payment to keep the discussion of the affair private. He did know that AMI paid Karen McDougal to buy the discussion of the affair. It comes back down to the question of whether or not this was done for election purposes. I think the evidence is getting stronger that this was done for election purposes. It may implicate AMI in this. If AMI bought the story to stop it from going public before the election and they talked to either Cohen or Trump about it, they may be involved now in election law violations. This is not exculpatory in any way. It just adds to the problems.

It also shows that when Hope Hicks said right before Trump became president that Trump did not know anything about AMI or about Karen McDougal, she either did not -- had not talked to the president or she was lying or he lied to her. This fits the scenario we have seen about this, that they lie about whether or not these payments were made and they were more involved -- he had knowledge the payments were made.

BOLDUAN: AMI -- this is the tabloid company that bought the rights to Karen McDougal's story. That presents a very interesting, if you will, element to all of this. It clearly now is part of the conversation. What level of scrutiny is there, do you think, should there be of AMI's role here or could there be?

NOBLE: It's tricky. Normally, there's the what is called the media or press exemption. They can talk to candidates, do interviews, and that's all legal. That's not a campaign violation. As one court said, the media has to be acting in the traditional role of the media in doing that. If AMI bought her story, the catch-and-kill scenario where they bought it to kill it, but they had not talked to the Trump campaign about it, they did it for whatever reasons, there would not be a campaign violation. If they did it because they talked to the campaign about it and they were coordinating with the campaign, that's outside normally what the media does. The media exemption probably should not apply in that situation. That's where they can get in trouble. That problem exists if they bought it without talking to Trump but later said, you don't need to buy it from us. The tape supposedly is Trump and Cohen talking about whether they should buy the story -- the rights from AMI. If AMI said to them, you don't need to buy the story, we have this covered, we're going to keep it secret, then they still have problems. It gets to the question of what is the proper role of the media? The proper role is not to hide things at the request or on behalf of a president.

[11:45:32] BOLDUAN: To say the least.

I appreciate it, Larry. Much more to come. I really appreciate it.

I need to get over to breaking news. Breaking moments ago, the Coast Guard is recovering -- the Coast Guard has recovered the sunken duck boat after it sank in the storm in Branson, Missouri, killing 17 people. Got new information coming out of Missouri. What answers this boat, having it up to the surface, will it provide for family members, what they're looking for right now. We will take you like to Missouri. We'll be right back.


[11:50:28] BOLDUAN: You have a 28-year-old kind of out-of-the-blue Democratic congressional candidate and a 76-year-old former presidential candidate hitting the road together in Kansas to stump in red states. How is this the future of the Democratic Party? Well, let's find out. How left can and should left be going right now?

Let's find out from the reporters tracking the internal debate within the Democratic Party. Joining me right now, CNN's senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson, and CNN political analyst and "New York Times" national political reporter, Alex Burns.

Great to see you guys.

Alex, you've been traveling the country, taking a measure of this generational revolt within the Democratic Party. What are you finding?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, you're seeing the rally with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders is a great example of what you're seeing in primary elections across the country. You have this newer generation of voters and activists who may not have voted in the past, may have voted once in the past, may have volunteered not that often in the past, who have been politically activated maybe by the Sanders campaign, mostly by backlash against the president, who are getting involved in politics with a new intensity and who are basically rejecting conventional mainstream Democratic consumptions about the kinds of things that win elections and the kinds of candidates that win elections. I was just in Detroit last week with the candidate for governor who's a 33-year-old single payer advocate, who's attracted a level of support in a campaign for governor that you simply would not have seen in past cycles for a candidate with that platform, his profile, his total political inexperience.

BOLDUAN: But, real quick, what is it? Is it a response to Donald Trump, or is it a response to a long-time, simmering fight between the left and the more progressive left?

BURNS: I think it's both those things. What you have seen in the aftermath of the 2016 election is this mood in the Democratic Party. They said, look, we tried it the normal way. We're not going to do it that way again. You couple that with the reality that on so many different issues, whether it is social issues, whether it's something like marijuana legalization, health care, on immigration, there truly are enormous generational gaps in how people who are a few years younger than me see the world and people who are, you know, over 50 or over 60 or have voted three or four, five times in the past.

BOLDUAN: So, Nia, and I've heard this asked before, but if this is -- is this the Tea Party of the left? If it is, what does it mean?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: It is the Tea Party of the left in the sense that this is where the energy is in the party and the way that we saw energy in the Tea Party in 2010, in 2014, and in some ways finally culminating in Donald Trump. He is a bit of a Tea Party candidate in terms of finding the energy of the party. So I think that's true. But I think what's in a little ways different than the Tea Party is the Tea Party didn't have enormous success early on. They had some underfunded candidates. They were certainly going up against the establishment, and it didn't work out in a lot of ways. Now you have I think in Bernie Sanders, somebody who's a real figure who can engage with this Tea Party of the left, the progressive grassroots, and he's targeting certain states, Kansas being one of them. Then you have the combination of Ocasio-Cortez, who in some ways brings in brown voters, right, black and brown voters. She obviously did very well in her own district with those voters and younger voters. Really doing well with different kinds of voters in a way that Bernie Sanders wasn't able to in his run for the presidency in 2016.

It will be fascinating to see if they can take this on the road to other states, red states, in particular, because you did see Bernie Sanders not being really welcome in other red states, particularly some places like Alabama. But we'll see where this goes and what it means for 2018 in November, if they're able to topple some of these establishment figures.

BOLDUAN: And, Alex, to Nia's point, where do you see this really working when you look out at 2018? I don't know what kind of pressure this puts on 2020 candidates as well.

BURNS: In some ways, it is a bigger 2019, 2020 story than 2018. Because to go with the Tea Party comparison, the moment of ignition for the Tea Party in 2010 was that primary in May of that year when Rand Paul got nominated in Kentucky, and that was like rocket fuel for all the other primaries that year. The New York primary, the Joe Crowley upset in New York, came six weeks later, not that much time left on the clock for folks to breakthrough now. Next year could be different.

[11:55:17] BOLDUAN: Stand by to stand by.

Great to see you, Alex. Great to see you, Nia. Thanks so much.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I love renaming you every day.

Breaking news for us we are following. We have new video of the Coast Guard pulling the duck boat close to the surface in Branson, Missouri. It's happening days after that duck boat sank to the bottom of the Missouri River, killing 17 people. The Coast Guard is offering new details of what they have, what they see. More on that coming up.