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THE SITUATION ROOM

Catastrophic Wildfires; Cohen Says President Trump Knew About Trump Tower Meeting; Interview With Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly; Putin" Ready" to Visit White House, Invites Trump to Moscow; "The New Yorker" Publishes Women's Sexual Harassment Allegations CBS Chairman & CEO Les Moonves; Deadly Wildfire Threatening 5,000 Homes; Police Investigating Suspicious Packages at Trump Tower; List of Witnesses Released for Manafort Trial; Sources: Trump Angry at Report of Cohen Saying Trump Knew about 2016 Trump Tower Meeting with Russians. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:01:23]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Cohen's contradiction. The president's former lawyer willing to testify that Mr. Trump did know in advance about the infamous Trump Tower meeting. We have new reaction this hour to CNN's reporting, as Mr. Trump stands by his denial and rails against Michael Cohen.

Putin's proposal.

The Kremlin boss reveals that he invited President Trump to visit Moscow during their secret summit talks in Helsinki. Why did we hear about it from Vladimir Putin, and not Donald Trump?

Deadly inferno. Walls of flames are ravaging a Northern California city, forcing thousands to evacuate. CNN is on the scene of this now- out-of control disaster.

And awkward. It's a picture worth 1,000 words, as special counsel Robert Mueller spotted at the D.C. Airport just a few feet away from Donald Trump Jr.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, tonight, President Trump and his longtime fixer at war over the truth about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians.

The president disputing Michael Cohen's claim that he knew in advance about that meeting with a Russian lawyer and the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton, but sources tell me and my colleague Carl Bernstein that Cohen says he was in the room when Donald Trump Jr. shared the information about that meeting with his father, and that Cohen is willing to tell all of this to the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

If true, it means the president has repeatedly lied about an event at the very center of the probe and possible collusion with Russia. I'm going to get reaction from Kremlin critic Bill Browder and Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly. Our correspondent and analysts also standing.

But first to CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip.

Abby, the president's only response to the story has been his favorite venue, Twitter.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Jim, the president not saying a whole lot with his own mouth about the controversies swirling around him and his administration.

He left just a few minutes ago to go to Bedminster, where his golf resort is, and refused to take questions once again from reporters. But the ruptured relationship with his personal attorney Michael Cohen is becoming a growing problem for him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): For a third day, President Trump avoiding questions from reporters.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you have any response to Cohen's allegations?

PHILLIP: Instead keeping the press back and holding a carefully staged event touting economic numbers.

DONALD TRUMP SR., PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am thrilled to announce that in the second quarter of this year, the United States economy grew at the amazing rate of 4.1 percent.

PHILLIP: Changing the conversation and refusing to talk about his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Privately, a White House official tells CNN the president is fuming about a CNN report that Cohen may testify that Trump did know in advance about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The president tweeting: "And so the fake news doesn't waste my time with dumb questions, no, I did not know of the meeting with my son Don Jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam."

And angry that Cohen released a secretly recorded tape of Trump discussing a payoff to an alleged mistress.

DONALD TRUMP SR.: What financing?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: Well, I will have to pay him something.

[18:05:03]

PHILLIP: In public, though, his aides insist that the president is not angry.

Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani sitting down with CNN's Chris Cuomo.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I showed the president when the president first found out that he had been taped. And the president was completely shocked.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I believe that.

GIULIANI: And not only -- he wasn't angry.

QUESTION: What's his mood like at the end of such a week like this?

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Upbeat.

PHILLIP: Meantime, President Trump meeting with his National Security Council behind closed doors to discuss election interference a week after appearing to doubt that Russia would meddle in this year's midterms.

QUESTION: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

DONALD TRUMP SR.: Thank you very much. No.

PHILLIP: And after the White House pushed off an invitation for Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Washington, Putin today offering his own conditional invitation.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We are ready to invite President Trump to Moscow to be my guest. He has such an invitation. I told him that. And I'm ready to go to Washington, I repeat, once again, with the right conditions for work are created.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders expressed an openness to that invitation, saying President Trump would consider it once the formal invitation has been sent from the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, President Trump this afternoon in an interview with Sean Hannity, a friend and adviser of his, said that he's pretty eager to get back on the campaign trail. Those economic numbers this morning giving him a boost. He says he'd like to go on the trail six or seven days a week by the fall -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip, thanks very much.

By CNN's count, we should mention there have been at least 19 times when the president and his allies have denied that he knew in real time or in advance about that Trump Tower meeting.

Michael Cohen now saying he will contradict that for the special counsel.

Let's bring in CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. But, Manu, we know that the Trump Tower meeting is a major focus of

the special counsel's investigation on a number of possible lines of inquiry.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's also been a stunning public fallout, Jim, between the president and one of his closest confidants, of course, who is facing his own criminal investigation.

The tension between these two men has been escalating, beginning this week with CNN's report of an audio recording of Trump and Cohen discussing a payoff to a model to silence her account of her alleged affair with Trump, and now this, the willingness to testify to the special counsel and contradict the president about a meeting central to the Russia investigation.

And that has major ramifications for both Trump and his son.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied knowing about a meeting his son had with Russians in the heat of the 2016 campaign.

But his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen now prepared to contradict the president under oath.

Sources tell CNN that Cohen is ready to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump knew in advance about the now infamous Trump Tower meeting in which Donald Trump Jr. was expecting he would get dirt from the Russians on the Clinton campaign.

Cohen has privately asserted that he and others were present when Donald Trump Jr. informed Trump of the Russian offer and that Trump gave the go-ahead to have the meeting. The bombshell claim directly contradicts what Trump Jr. told congressional investigators last year.

Asked by the Senate Judiciary Committee, "Did you inform your father about the meeting or the underlying offer prior to the meeting?" Trump Jr. responded, "No, I did not." He also said he did not know the identity of the person he called three times before and after the meeting and whose number was blocked.

The news also calls into question Cohen's own testimony before Congress and his past public statements. A source tells CNN that Cohen did not tell the House Intelligence Committee last year that Trump had advance knowledge of the meeting.

After Trump Jr. said he did not tell his father about the meeting...

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There was nothing to tell.

RAJU: Cohen tweeted: A"So proud of Donald Trump Jr. for being open, honest and transparent to the American people." Today, Trump also took to Twitter to push back on his longtime personal fixer: "I did not know of the meeting with my son Don Jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam."

Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani also denied Cohen's claims and accused him of lying.

GIULIANI: I expected something like this from Cohen. He's been lying all week, I mean, or -- he's been lying for years.

RAJU: But that is not how Giuliani characterized Cohen just weeks ago on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

GIULIANI: I do not expect it Michael Cohen is going to lie. I think he's going to tell the truth. And if he does that, we're home-free.

RAJU: Democrats said this opens a new front in the Russia probe.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: It effectively brings the issue of collusion or conspiracy right to the president's feet.

[18:10:03]

RAJU: This claim wrapping up a week that saw a stunning public fallout between the president and one of his closest confidants, starting with the recording revealed by CNN of Trump and Cohen discussing paying off a model who alleged affair with Trump.

DONALD TRUMP SR.: (INAUDIBLE) pay with cash.

COHEN: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I got it.

RAJU: Then Thursday's revelation in "The Wall Street Journal" that the chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, has been subpoenaed to testify in the criminal investigation involving Cohen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: And now capping this very turbulent week for the president is this bit of remarkable news.

This afternoon, Politico's Playbook reported a photo of Robert Mueller waiting to board a flight at Reagan National Airport in D.C. And look who is waiting in line at the same gate, Donald Trump Jr. wearing that green shirt and baseball cap.

Mueller's office asked -- in response to this photo, says the other person the photo was indeed Trump Jr., if it was him -- quote -- "Mr. Mueller was not aware of him and had no interaction with him."

And, Jim, now the question is, what will Trump Jr. say to the special counsel if and when he does talk to him? And will he say to Mueller the same thing that he said to Congress, that his father didn't know about that 2016 meeting with Russians, Jim? SCIUTTO: That's right. People are going to jail for lying.

Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Congressman Gerry Connolly. He is a Democrat who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee, represents a district in Virginia.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

(CROSSTALK)

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Great to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Essentially, here, you have the president's word against his longtime former lawyer and fixer.

Simply, who do you believe?

CONNOLLY: Well, I think -- I think we have to back up a little bit.

Cohen is not a heroic figure, but he does have credibility. He released a tape that completely demolished both Trump's denial of having an affair and having anything to do with hush payments.

We hear him actually say on the tape, pay him in cash, the president of the United States.

And so I think Cohen has every reason at this point to actually be telling the truth. And assuming he is, and knowing that, frankly, President Trump has lied about every aspect of this on the record, he lied about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting, he lied about the purpose of the meeting, he dictated the letter that lied about the purpose of the meeting and made up a story about it being about adoptions, so why would we put any credibility in any denial from this president?

And I think, if you posit that, this development is the missing piece in the collusion and obstruction story with respect to Russia.

SCIUTTO: So -- and, again, I imagine folks at home, they have heard a lot of developments in this case through time.

Why is this one particularly troubling for the president, legally and politically?

CONNOLLY: Because he's -- he has, God only knows how many times, tweeted there was no collusion in caps.

Well, it assuming Cohen is telling the truth, and there are other witnesses, he claims, who were in that meeting, the president, in advance of the meeting, knew what the purpose was and approved it.

SCIUTTO: Right.

CONNOLLY: And it's like dominoes. So then Donald Jr. claiming, I never went to my father and told him after the meeting what happened is absurd, ridiculous. Obviously, he did. And, again, President Trump is lying.

SCIUTTO: Now, Donald Trump Jr. has already testified under oath to the contrary of what Michael Cohen is willing to testify himself, this during his testimony on the Hill.

Is it possible that he perjured himself in that testimony? And if so, do you believe that Congress should call him back to ask him these questions again?

CONNOLLY: Yes, and yes.

I mean, I wish I -- I wish I could say otherwise. But the whole style of operation of this family is pathological lying, if it suits your purposes, and repeat it, and get louder about it, so that people might actually have doubts or believe you, even when you are blatantly telling a lie.

SCIUTTO: In the midst of this, you have plans, it appears, for another face-to-face summit between Putin and Trump after a summit little more than a week ago widely panned by Democrats, but also Republicans.

Some alarm expressed, in fact, by Republicans about how that summit went down. Is this a good time, is there a good reason for Trump to meet Putin again?

CONNOLLY: No.

I think no good can come of that. And, frankly, from President Trump's point of view, I don't think any good can come from that. He looked like a patsy -- and that's being charitable -- at Helsinki.

[18:15:02]

Others have accused him of treason and appeasement. And why do you want to repeat that on your home turf? Why do you want to risk making it all worse?

And, frankly, the one person in all of this who is really enjoying every day of the week is Vladimir Putin.

SCIUTTO: Well, of course, one of the reasons President Trump was criticized was that he did not confront Putin on 2016 election interference, in fact, took his word over U.S. intelligence agencies.

We now have proof that Russia is interfering in these elections, Claire McCaskill confirming an attempted attack on her.

Are the 2018 elections safe from Russian interference, in your view?

CONNOLLY: They are at risk. They are risk. We know that from Trump's own appointees in the intelligence community and the FBI.

Dan Coats, the director of intelligence, said the red light is blinking on the 2018 elections. The big question, though, is what in the world would possess a United States president to question his own intelligence community and accept the word of a Russian dictator?

What in the world would make the American president accept an offer or seem to accept an offer from a Russian thug like Vladimir Putin to actually put at risk American diplomats and ship them to Moscow to be interrogated by Russian officials?

And this leads us back to the Cohen question you began with, I think, Jim, which is, there is something there that's ugly and that Trump obviously does not want us to see.

SCIUTTO: We're going to be speaking one of those people, Bill Browder, who Russia wants to be brought back for these charges.

Congressman Gerry Connolly, thanks very much for taking the time.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Enjoy the weekend.

Coming up just ahead, more on that Trump Tower meeting, who knew what and when and why it matters if the president lied.

I will speak with a vocal critic of the Putin regime who championed sanctions on the Kremlin that a Russian lawyer discussed in that meeting with the Trump camp. Bill Browder, he joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:21:42]

SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Tonight, we're told that the president is privately fuming after CNN's as report that Michael Cohen now claims that Mr. Trump knew in advance about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians. That's when Donald Trump Jr. thought he was going to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer we now know has ties to the Kremlin.

We're joined now by Bill Browder. He's a financier who's a leading critic of Vladimir Put and has campaigned for sanctions against Russia.

Bill Browder, thanks very much for joining us.

BILL BROWDER, CEO, HERMITAGE CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: Great to be here.

SCIUTTO: You have an enormous amount of experience with the Putin regime. What do you make of Michael Cohen's claim that President Trump knew in advance about this offer and this meeting, the Russians offering to give dirt on Hillary Clinton?

BROWDER: Well, it just connects up one more set of dots.

And I can actually draw now the dots from that conversation that Michael Cohen is claiming to have happened all the way to the Putin Helsinki summit, in which basically it's all been about the Magnitsky Act, and it's all been about me.

And, effectively, the Russians, the Russian lawyer, who now apparently or allegedly Donald Trump knew about coming in, was coming in very specifically to have the Magnitsky Act repealed, and very specifically to try to get Donald Trump to investigate me.

That conversation was then repeated in exactly the same form by President Putin in Helsinki a week-and-a-half ago. And so it's all -- it's all part of the same -- part and parcel of the same Russian attempt to get rid of something that Vladimir Putin hates most, which are these sanctions that I was responsible for initiating.

SCIUTTO: And that's a great point, because, oftentimes, when people hear Magnitsky Act, and they say, oh, it's just Magnitsky Act, it's not the dirt.

But it's still relevant because, as you say, these sanctions under that act really punish people very close to Vladimir Putin for crimes at home. They want the Trump administration to get rid of them.

BROWDER: And it's very important to understand what happened in that meeting.

In that meeting, the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who is effectively an agent for Vladimir Putin, went in with an ask. The ask was to repeal the sanctions. She -- now, the Russians are not stupid. They don't go and ask for something unless they have something to offer.

And what -- we don't know exactly what she was offering. There are some allegations that she was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. She might have been offering some other stuff. What we don't know is what she was offering and if that was accepted. And that's the subject of the Mueller investigation.

SCIUTTO: Exactly.

And there is an e-mail documentation of that. Donald Trump Jr. believed that she was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

In the midst of this, as you know, President Trump seems very willing to have yet another summit with Vladimir Putin a little more than a week after a summit that even Republicans panned as disastrous.

What is Putin trying to do here by being open to another summit with President Trump? What advantage is he seeking?

BROWDER: Well, let's just put this in very simple perspective.

Vladimir Putin has got an economy the size of the state of New York. He's got a military budget which is 10 percent of the United States. And here he is sitting at the top table with the most powerful man in the free world.

[18:25:00] Just having that meeting is an enormous credibility boost for Vladimir Putin. I don't think that meeting should have ever taken place in the first place, because of all the bad stuff he's done and how unimportant he is on an objective basis.

But to add insult to injury, Vladimir Putin showed up an hour late to a meeting with the most powerful man in the free world. He's turned down Donald Trump's invitation to Washington. And he's now saying, well, yes, you can come to Moscow if you want.

From Putin's perspective, he's licking his chops. He's loving it. It's humiliating for the U.S. president.

SCIUTTO: Michael McFaul, of course, you know former U.S. ambassador to Russia, he's calling on the Trump administration to protect him and others from something that you face, which is being placed on an Interpol watch list by Putin.

You have had this experience yourself. It's called a red notice, of course, the title of your book as well.

What are the options to protect a Michael McFaul or others who are in Putin's crosshairs?

BROWDER: Well, so there's there's two different issues for Mike McFaul and the 10 other U.S. government officials.

One is that the U.S., of course, should never put them into the hands of the Russians. And I don't think that the U.S. government would do that, and has pretty much concluded it won't.

But, as you say, the second option for Vladimir Putin is to use this organization called Interpol. And Interpol is an international organization that effectively operates on its own rules.

And Russia can, without any approval from the U.S., put me and put those 11 other people on the Interpol list. And they have -- and the Russians have done this to me seven times. And there's nothing that will prevent them from doing it to Mike McFaul and those other U.S. officials.

And there's really nothing that the U.S. can do, other than being a major contributor to the Interpol budget, to reform the way in which Interpol operates.

And I have been a strong advocate, after Russia has been abusing Interpol so often in my case, of effectively asking for Russia to be unplugged from Interpol, because they're not -- they're abusing the system, not using it for law enforcement.

That's an argument that I have made and I will continue to make. And I believe that Mike and others will make it as well. You can't have this non-accountable organization being able to be used by dictators to chase their enemies.

SCIUTTO: As a political weapon, it seems. Bill Browder, thanks very much for taking the time.

BROWDER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up: the potential legal implications of Michael Cohen's new claim that the president knew about that Trump meeting after all -- Trump Tower meeting after all. Our analysts are standing by.

And we're getting new information from the special counsel about who's ready to testify against Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The breaking news on that is just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[18:32:24] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Police have been called to Trump Tower in New York City after reports of multiple -- multiple -- suspicious package -- packages found outside Trump Tower.

CNN's Brynn Gingras, she joins us now from New York. Tell us, Brynn, what the police are saying about this.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, actually, Jim, what we're hearing is those packages are inside Trump Tower. What I've hearing from a source -- and again, this is preliminary information as it comes into the NYPD, Secret Service, other authorities -- is that there were three suspicious packages in three separate locations inside Trump Tower.

I want to get out of the way so you guys can get a quick look at the street. This is Fifth Avenue right here where Trump Tower is. And you can see it is shut down for cars on the scene here as bomb squad. We also have the emergency service units. And there's just a number of streets closed around this area.

I was actually walking toward Trump Tower for something separate when I saw the bomb squad race by me, along with other emergency vehicles.

So, at this point we know there's a lot of officials inside Trump Tower, heavily armed people, standing guard, trying to figure out exactly what those packages are, where they are. This is obviously a much-heightened response since it's inside Trump Tower. But certainly, we're going to stay on this and see what this is all about -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: We should note that the president is not now at Trump Tower in New York. I believe he's on his way to Bedminster.

But Brynn, this is a highly secured site. The White House North, as it's sometimes called. Tremendous security there. How rare would it be to get something inside the building, as opposed to outside the building?

GINGRAS: Well, there are stores inside the building. There's a Starbucks. There's a Gucci store on the ground level. So there are tourists that are often going inside Trump Tower. So it's possible that the device -- rather, the packages were found in those communal areas where people often are.

I'm not sure yet if those packages are in the residential area, in offices. We're still trying to find out that information.

But it wouldn't be too difficult. It could be something where someone spotted something that didn't look right. And then investigators found that there was multiple of those, and that's why it's causing even more alarm.

I can tell you that, while I was standing guard, waiting to see how this unfolds, people who live inside Trump Tower can't even get to their homes right now. I mean, it is completely shut down at the moment. And as you can see is, obviously, the streets around here quickly getting cleared by the police that are around, really, a one- block radius all around Trump Tower at this point.

SCIUTTO: Abundance of caution. Brynn Gingras, thanks very much.

[18:35:06] And if you're just joining us now, as Brynn was updating us there, the NYPD looking into reports of three suspicious packages inside, it appears, Trump Tower in New York. The White House North, as it's known.

We should note that the president not currently at Trump Tower, but certainly, a serious question there about security. And we're going to stay with this story throughout this hour.

Meanwhile, prosecutors from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office have just released a list of potential witnesses in the upcoming trial of former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez has been following the details.

Evan, this list, it's long, almost three dozen people.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. This is a list of 35 names that the special counsel has now released. These are the people who are going to be testifying or who potentially will be called to testify against Paul Manafort in his trial that begins next Tuesday.

And look, it really is -- offers a little bit of a road map for the government's case, which is focused on tax and bank fraud, financial fraud charges against Paul Manafort.

There is also, obviously, his business partners. Rick Gates, who was his business partner and has pleaded guilty and has turned against Paul Manafort. There's Tad Devine, who's a Democratic strategist who worked with -- alongside Paul Manafort in his business in Ukraine, the Ukrainian government, the former Ukrainian regime there that Paul Manafort did business with.

And then there's a long list of accountants and bankers and realtors, people who helped Paul Manafort accumulate a lot of property and essentially hide some of his money, according to the government.

There's also a bit of a road map of how, according to the government, Paul Manafort laundered millions of dollars over the years, Jim. There's a number of people, including people who sold him his tickets to the New York Yankees, tis season tickets to the New York Yankees. There's the guy who helped sell him his Mercedes, $60,000 Mercedes. There's a person who runs a landscaping company in Long Island. This is allegedly, according to the government, where Paul Manafort spent $820,000 landscaping his mansion in the Hamptons.

And then there's his purchases from men's clothing stores. There's one man who works for a New York clothing store, where, according to prosecutors, Paul Manafort spent $849,215, which -- which the government says was essentially used for money laundering. I think at that price, Jim, you'd call it a haberdashery. It's not just a men's clothing store anymore.

SCIUTTO: I did not expect to hear that word on our broadcast, but you got it in. CNN's Evan Perez, thanks very much.

A White House official is telling CNN that President Trump is fuming over our report here at CNN that his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, claims that Mr. Trump knew in advance about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives. The president and his team have repeatedly denied that in public.

Let's dig in deeper with our correspondents and analysis -- analysts.

Susan Hennessey, put this in the pantheon of discoveries in this investigation now. How significant is this?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think the problem is we have two not particularly credible actors. Both Michael Cohen and the president have repeatedly, demonstrably lied to the public. So, if it was just sort of he said/he said, I don't know that that would advance this particularly significantly, but it's not.

All of the available evidence here would suggest that President Trump would have been likely to have known about this meeting in advance. He was intimately involved in all aspects of his campaign. He made contemporaneous public statements that suggested that he might have known. And so this is -- there really is sort of a lot of additional context here that would suggest that, you know, that Trump is likely lying.

And I do think it's a little bit of a window into why the Trump legal team is so incredibly afraid of him sitting down and having this interview with Robert Mueller. You know, they really do appear to be afraid that Trump is going to lie, and that Robert Mueller is going to be able to prove it.

SCIUTTO: And folks who lie to these investigators have faced jail time.

Joey Jackson, you've been involved in a lot of legal proceedings here. And it is not uncommon to have witnesses that aren't Boy Scouts, right? I mean, or who have -- who have problems in their past or problems with credibility. Does that take away the value of their testimony in a case like this?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not necessarily. And piggybacking off of and turning in another direction to what Susan was saying, you certainly have to look at everything in context, but it happens every day and twice on Sunday.

We have to let viewers know that, in cases across the country, every day there rarely is a smoking gun. That very rarely is there a smoking gun.

So actually, what judges do is they give a jury a charge, and they charge juries -- we're not there yet, but I'm giving you some perspective on how you evaluate credibility.

And one of the things they talk about is motivation to lie. Who would have a motivation to lie here? Now, this might, you know, go to the benefit of President Trump. You have, of course, Cohen here, who is in a bit of a pickle. And obviously, as a result of that, he is going to be prone to jump out of it.

[18:40:09] But it's more than motivation to lie. It goes to opportunity to observe.

What person would have an opportunity to observe what the president did, his actions, the meeting, than a person who's around him, like this fixer, Michael Cohen? And so, to the extent that he's around the president, he would know what the president said, who the president said it to and who said what to the president.

Now, quickly, Jim, on that particular point and looking at what he knew, you know, that is the president and, you know, Michael Cohen and whether he was there, the fact is, is it begs a question. If Michael Cohen's such a liar, he's a bad guy, he doesn't know what's going on, why did you keep him around in such a long time?

And so even in the absence of a corroboration, a smoking gun that would go to show this, I mean, clearly you can look and say Michael Cohen did know this.

The final point is, of course, is that the president, you know, look, he has -- he has a reputation for being a serial liar himself. So if you measure one against the other, I would have to -- it would have to inure to the benefit of Michael Cohen.

SCIUTTO: A lot of lies going around.

Samantha, let's walk through the timeline on this meetings. Because something Susan referenced here, there are a lot of signals that make it very plausible the president might have known this in advance. June 3, 2016, Don Jr. first gets word of this Russian offer of

information on Hillary Clinton. Three days later, he calls Emin Agalarov -- this is a Russian contact of his who helped arrange the meeting. Then he calls a blocked number. We know that the president's number is blocked. It at least raises that question there.

The next day Trump says, "There's interesting information on the Clintons coming soon."

June 9, that meeting takes place and, again, Donald Jr. makes a call to a blocked number.

What do you make of all that?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Jim, I don't know what to make about -- about all that, but the good news is that Bob Mueller is probably looking at all of this and going to find the answers and adjudicate the question which Joey and Susan rightfully raised. Who's the biggest liar? We just don't know.

But what we do know is that this Trump Tower meeting has been a gift to the Russians since it happened. The campaign irresponsibly took a meeting. They didn't report it. The -- the White House misdescribed the meeting, which also helps the Russians.

And now at this point, as fingers are being pointed over who's a liar, who knew what when, the Russians are probably sitting back and thinking, "Wow, this is really great." The entire White House is looking incredibly less credible, and they're spending so much of this time chasing their tails and trying to make the other side look bad that yet again, we're not talking about Russia's ongoing election interference.

I'm going to guess that the White House spent more time today thinking about this Michael Cohen tape than they spent in the situation room actually having a meeting on Russian election interference.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca Berg, you've covered this administration, the White House. We know it was, and it seems today, operates like a small business, right? I mean, it's a pretty tight group, particularly during the campaign. Very few trusted advisers around this president. Among them, Michael Cohen.

The idea that, in a meeting like this that Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. took time out of their day to go meet and sit down with them, what are the chances that did not filter to the president in an operation that small?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it's just totally outside of the realm of possibility, in my opinion, Jim. It strains credulity that the president could not have known about this.

And it's exactly, as you've said, because of the unique nature of the Donald Trump campaign. This was not a normal, organized presidential campaign where you had people delegated to certain tasks. This was a campaign that was run in almost every respect by Donald Trump from the top down. And he had his hands in everything.

That's what made it kind of not only an unusual campaign but really a disorganized campaign in many respects, obviously. It succeeded in spite of that. But it just -- it's completely unbelievable to me, as one who covered this campaign and was very familiar with that hierarchy, that Donald Trump would not have been aware, especially when you consider that his own son was one of those people involved in this meeting and in the room.

SCIUTTO: Incredible. Thanks very much. We have a lot more to talk about.

Just ahead, Vladimir Putin now says that he is ready to come to Washington and that he also invited Trump to Moscow. What is Putin's game plan?

Plus, breaking news. Two people dead, thousands of homes threatened. Just look at those pictures. We'll have a live update on what is becoming a fast-moving wildfire burning out of control tonight in California.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:49:25] JIM SCIUTTO CNN HOST: Another twist tonight, a potential second summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Back with our panel now.

Susan Hennessey, what's the reason to meet with the Russian president right now? You just had a disastrous summit, questions about what was even discussed in that summit. Why meet again?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: I think it's a little baffling, right? This is an area in which Donald Trump really is entirely on his own. Congressional Republicans, congressional Democrats, his own staff, his own administration officials, all are either pushing him to get tougher on Putin or to sort of ratchet back this level of engagement.

[18:50:00] And so, I really do think we have to ask ourselves why Donald Trump is over the objections of his own party, so insistent on having this, you know, very affectionate relationship with Vladimir Putin.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca Berg, is there any political motivation for Trump to do that? I mean, is Trump's base driving him to meet more with Vladimir Putin? I mean, does he see political benefit in the midterms to do this?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I would argue, Jim, that there's a political motivation for almost everything Donald Trump says and does and in this case he thinks, I believe, based on, you know, his transactions and statements that he looks strong when he meets with these world leaders. He looks like the president of the United States. If gives him that air of importance, of diplomacy. And for most Americans, they're not tuned into every incremental development like we are, and so they just see President Trump interacting with someone like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, and they think potentially, this is his bet, I believe, that they will believe he is a great diplomat, a great strong leader. And that's the persona he wants people to see.

SCIUTTO: Right, he's making some sort of deal here, right? You know, a great deal --

BERG: The great negotiator as well.

SCIUTTO: Sam Vinograd, I mean, one reason that this has surprised many is that it's happening in the midst of new proof that Russia continues to meddle in the U.S. political process. We had a U.S. senator confirmed yesterday that she and her office were the target, Claire McCaskill, of a Russian hacker attack, thankfully unsuccessful here.

What does that say about this administration's efforts to prevent the U.S. attack on the U.S. election?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Jim, that's a great question because this administration has liked to tout all the things that it's done to be tough on Russia, but it's somewhat of a red herring when we are aware of the fact that we're still under a live attack. So, everything that they may or may have done hasn't proven successful, and we also don't know what Russia is doing via social media, via information warfare to actually help candidates in the 2018 election that they have a preference for, like when they have a preference for Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

And so, the question is, why does President Trump want to meet with Vladimir Putin? Historically, successive presidents have successfully summited with their Russian counterparts, but it was for a specific purpose. It was for an arms control agreement or to sign a chemical weapons accord.

We're now seeing a cycle where President Trump is saying he wants to meet Putin again, but with no actual objective that's been outlined. .

SCIUTTO: Joey Jackson, there's an ongoing special counsel investigation which involves Russian influence in U.S. politics, including the president's campaign. Does Robert Mueller look and notice President Trump's cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin, is that relevant?

JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, it has to be relevant. I think everything is relevant. Remember when you look at law, you look at actions, you look at intent, you know, you look at what a person is actually doing, what they're saying, their movements, et cetera. So, I think Robert Mueller, as quiets as he is, as cued in on everything.

At the end of the day, though, Jim, you know, you have to base any actions, you know, if any, that come forward on specific evidence and not just, you know, things and speculation, et cetera. But you had better believe that Robert Mueller is tuned into this and everything else, and I think that in due course, we will learn exactly where that investigation is going.

SCIUTTO: I mean, that's part of the surprise here because in a normal world which we no longer occupy clearly, you as an American politician with this kind of spotlight on you and your interactions with Russian, you might decide that you would be careful about your interaction with the Russian leader who ordered that interference in the election. But we're not in a normal world.

HENNESSEY: No. I think that goes to sort of the strangeness of all of the political calculations would seem to benefit Trump not wanting to have this engagement with Putin, right? It puts Russia right back in the front page. You know, the witch hunt, the story that his administration has been desperate to get passed. So, really, I think that people are left of kind of scratching their heads as to, you know, as Rebecca said, Trump often has some political reason for doing all of this, but I don't know anyone who can identify what exactly it is.

BERG: Right, but it's so much about the image for the president, right? I mean, Sam raised the point that the president doesn't have any clear policy outcome that he could really get from this. He didn't have any policy outcome to tout from the first Russian summit, from his meeting with Kim Jong-un, but it's really not about outcomes for Donald Trump. It's all about the image and that image of strength.

SCIUTTO: And even just on a daily basis.

All right. Thanks very much to the panel.

We have some breaking news now just, in "New Yorker Magazine" publishing sexual harassment allegations, new allegations against Les Moonves, who is the chairman and CEO of CBS Corporation, allegations we should note that he denies in this "New Yorker" story.

Let's get the details on this from CNNMoney senior reporter Dylan Byers.

Dylan, what are we learning in this article?

DYLAN BYERS, CNNMONEY SENIOR REPORTER: Well, what we have here, Jim, is allegations from at least six women against the chief executive of CBS, Les Moonves, and it is hard to think of a more sort of well known and influential figure in Hollywood. In fact, one media executive here likening it to a nuclear bomb ripping through L.A. These are really substantial accusations against a very powerful figure.

Now, the six allegations from six women detailed in this lengthy "New Yorker" piece from Ronan Farrow, both Les Moonves and CBS have responded. I want to read you a portion of those statements. The first one is from Moonves himself. He says: I recognize that there were times decades ago when I may have

made some women uncomfortable by making advances. Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely. But I always understood and respected and abided by the principle that no means no, and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone's career.

Second statement from CBS: CBS is very mindful of all workplace issues and takes each reported misconduct very seriously. We do not believe, however, that the picture of our company created in "The New Yorker" represents a larger organization that does its best to treat its tens of thousands of employees with dignity and respect.

So, what you have there, Jim, is you have a mixed of both acknowledging, Les Moonves acknowledging that he did make advances on women in the past, in his office, during private meetings with these women. They allege that he used his power as retribution when they rebuffed those advances. He is saying that is not the case.

Obviously, CBS is trying to defend the larger nature of the culture. Now what's happening, the board much directors at CBS has said that they are going to look into these issues. They take these allegations very seriously. We'll see what they come back with and go from there.

SCIUTTO: Dylan, it's impossible to summarize these in a short time frame, but just to be clear from reading this, there are allegations both of physical force, is that right, as well as career pressure?

BYERS: That's right. That's right, Jim. The word -- the phrase that Ronan Farrow, the journalist, often returns to is forcibly kissed, the idea that he would invite these young women who had aspirations of acting, writing, directing, into his office and effectively make advances on them. They would rebuff those advances, and he would then use his power to basically jettison their career.

There's one actress, Illeana Douglas, who claims that after she rebuffed his advances, he effectively had her fired from a comedy project that they were working on in the mid-'90s. Now, I should also add these allegations go back several decades. We have allegations here from the '90s, from the '80s.

You know, there's this question here, sort of, of going back over the entirety of this man's career, and you really have to think about the immense influence that he has had over so many people's careers in Hollywood, and, again, CBS board of directors are going to look into this and we'll be back with their results when they have them.

SCIUTTO: Dylan Byers, thanks very much. I should note that Ronan Farrow, he's the author of this "New Yorker" article. He is going to be on "ERIN BURNETT OUFRONT" on CNN. That's in the next hour.

Breaking news tonight, 5,000 homes threatened by a giant, fast-moving wildfire. It's now killed two people.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Redding, California.

Paul, tell us what the scene looks like there. PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we'll show you. You

mentioned these homes that were threatened, well, they lost, at least destroyed, they say, 65. Another 55 damaged. But that number should have to be ratcheted up.

We're at ground zero right here in Redding. Look over here. You can get the nature of this fire coming, roaring out of the hillsides, burning more than 44,000 acres. You can see the carcass of a car that's been burned up, an SUV. There's a horse trailer there.

People getting out with their lives and thrilled to do so, and many of them now feeling a sense of relief that they're alive, but the devastation here in this city of Redding is tremendous. So many wildfires burning the West, Jim, right now. We understand there's 89 large fires and something like almost 900,000 acres have burned. So, firefighters battling on many, many fronts and that spreads resources very thin, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And you can see behind you, these are houses that disappeared, went up in flames.

VERCAMMEN: Completely. Completely burned down to the ground. Just look behind me.

There's the remnants of what was the laundry room, and this is as far as the eye can see from where we're standing.

Back to you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It is devastating. Those were people's homes there, all that had he had lost.

CNN's Paul Vercammen, thanks very much for being on the scene there for us.

I'm Jim Sciutto. Thanks very much for watching tonight.

My colleague is coming up next. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.