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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Launches Twitter Attack; Trump Team Wages War on Cohen; Giuliani on Cohen's Betrayal; Trump's Shutdown Threat. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 30, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: "INSIDE POLITICS" with Dana Bash starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

President Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani are stepping up their attacks on Robert Mueller and the president's former fixer Michael Cohen. The timing and strategy behind it are curious.

Plus, Republican leaders thought they were on the same page as the president in avoiding another government shutdown, and then the president undercut that with, you guessed it, a tweet.

And 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thinks she's fit enough to go at least five more years on the bench.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I recommend a great workout song? I think you might enjoy this one. This --

MUSICIAN (singing): Everybody dance now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoo.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG, SUPREME COURT: I would never, never exercise to that noise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: She'll stick with the planking.

Here we are waiting for the president and the Italian prime minister. They're going to meet in the Oval Office. We're going to bring that to you live when it happens.

But we begin this hour with President Trump's unprecedented attack on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Now, I know you're probably thinking, wait a minute, the president goes after Mueller all the time in attempt to discredit the Russia investigation. But this time was different. It was the most specific and personal so far. He called out Mueller by name three times on Twitter. He called the probe an illegal scam and demanded that Mueller release his conflicts of interest.

Now, it's worth noting here that the president sent those tweets about the conflict of interest from the Trump national golf course in New Jersey. We'll set that aside for a minute.

But let's get back to the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who says the president has nothing to explain here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: And you put out something like that, you have every right to say, OK, you explain it, Mueller. Stand up and be a man.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Wait a minute, this doesn't make sense. How can the president make this claim and not support it?

GIULIANI: Because he doesn't have to.

CAMEROTA: Why is it up to Robert Mueller to have to support the president's tweet?

GIULIANI: Because he has -- he has the conflict, not the president.

CAMEROTA: What is the conflict?

GIULIANI: I can't tell you. I'm not sure I know exactly what the conflict is. I have a good idea of what it is. It's one that would have kept me out of the investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: OK. Let's go straight to CNN's Jeff Zeleny, live from the White House.

Jeff, I'm not going to ask you to try to unpack that confusion there about the conflict or lack thereof and so forth, but what are you hearing there from your sources about why now, why the president has gone after Robert Mueller with such an unfettered, unfiltered -- in such a way that he has?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, that's a great question. And I think that really the only thing that has changed in all of this, and the president has been largely silent about specifically naming Robert Mueller, you know, for several months as he goes off on everything else, it is timing. Look at what is happening this week. Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman of the Trump campaign, is facing trial tomorrow. It's beginning tomorrow. Of course, that is Robert Mueller's first trial in the special counsel's case here. There's no question the president increasingly consumed by the special counsel and clearly wants to game the refs here a little bit, wants to point out that, you know, he is discredited. He shouldn't be a fair actor in this investigation.

So we heard Rudy Giuliani on "NEW DAY" this morning basically saying the same thing, throwing out a strawman, if you will, you know, saying the onus is on Bob Mueller to essentially come clean and explain some type of relationship with the president.

The reality here is the Department of Justice has ruled that there is no conflict of interest here. This is going forward.

But, Dana, I think timing is the best explanation here for why the president increasingly consumed with Bob Mueller, trying to discredit this case, which seems to be, you know, moving closer to a conclusion. We don't know when that will happen, of course, but a lot of time on the golf course this weekend in New Jersey, a lot of time at his retreat. Bob Mueller was not with him but seemed to be very much in his head, Dana.

BASH: He sure is.

Jeff, thank you so much for that reporting.

And here with me at the table to share their reporting and insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times," Michael Bender with "The Wall Street Journal," Lisa Lerer with "The Associated Press," and our own Manu Raju.

Thank you so much, one and all.

I want to give one potential -- another potential answer to why the freak out factor from the president and the -- and his attorneys have gone up a few notches, and that is the fact that Robert Mueller has the latest in the back and forth negotiation over whether the president will do an interview of any sort, has had the latest counteroffer from team Trump for ten days with no response.

[12:05:04] I spoke to Giuliani just before coming on about that. And here's what he said to me, if we can put it up on the screen about that ten-day lag. He said, that sort of bothers me. He owes us a response.

So there's a lot of unknown. I mean that's the understatement of the year, but particularly with this issue of the interview. There's a lot of unknown about why he's taking so long. Is Mueller just going to write a report without an interview? Is he preparing a subpoena for the president? I mean what do you think? You think that's -- do you -- really that's part of the freak out factor, as I called it?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, I think that's a really good point. I think it feels like a lot of things going on right now.

I do think Trump has been tweeting with more frequency about Mueller lately. You know, it seems like every sort of ten days or so this whips back up. You have -- you have the Manafort trial, as Jeff mentioned.

I also think that he probably doesn't distinguish too much between what Mueller's doing and what prosecutors in New York are looking into with Cohen. You have -- so you have that sort of implied threat from Cohen over the Trump Tower meetings. And all this stuff is rolling together. Also at a time when we know his team wants him to focus on what Mueller is doing as far as election hacking. We know that Trump's team wanted him to try to own this issue, to, you know, to focus on the what we have now, over two dozen Russian nationals and companies that have been targeted by Mueller. It seems like some real work is being done there to sort of unwind what happened during the 2016 elections. But it's hard to -- for this administration to focus on that or do anything about it when you have Trump on Twitter every week, every two weeks discrediting Mueller -- the man and the team that is doing that exact work.

BASH: And he's clearly trying to work the refs, as Jeff Zeleny said from the White House.

On that note about the sort of increase, one of our producers here, David Gellous (ph), sent out this great tweet that caught my eye about the number of times on Twitter President Trump has called the investigation a witch hunt. It was just a few each month. And then it has spiked. Look -- look what we did. We took the tweet that he did and I think we have it. We turned it into a bar graph for your viewing pleasure at home so it's easier to see -- you're welcome -- how much of an increase there was and there has been over the past couple of months.

Now, it's also -- that coincides with him getting a new legal team, changing strategy and so forth.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": There's two -- I think there's two things here. One of them is this ten-day lag, what this represents to the president and to his legal team is a fear factor. What is he actually doing with this proffer -- or this offer that he's got from the president's team? What other information might he have that he's getting ready to try to question the president about and that the White House and Mueller's team are going back and forth over?

But the second thing really I think is a messaging point where the president is very determined to sort of paint this all in a partisan light. This isn't about facts. This isn't about interviews. This isn't about, you know, two dozen Russian nationals having been indicted and charged in an actual conspiracy. This is about a political witch hunt against him. It's an effort against him. And he's trying to get the public to share his outrage essentially about what is going on here. In the interim, before they actually have a legal fight over whether or not he's going to talk to the special counsel.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": And there's another piece on timing here too that's also important, which is that traditionally in Washington you do not -- the Justice Department does not come out with this kind of a big report in the months leading up to an election. So there's this unofficial Labor Day deadline.

Now, we don't know. We're in a time of new rules, of new political rules, all sorts of new Washington rules. So we don't know if Mueller will abide by that traditional thinking. But people who know him say he is a traditionalist. He wants to do this by the book. And so that means, you know, Labor Day is creeping ever closer. We have about a month. And the president's team is certainly aware of that, you know, traditional deadline. So they sense that the clock is ticking down to something -- it could be ticking down to something.

BASH: And I was told this morning that it is what we have talked about so many times around this table and elsewhere, and that is the president, even as he says and is forced to say last week that Russia meddled in America's election, that the minute -- he believes the minute he gives an inch on that, then the conversation shifts to the legitimacy of his presidency and he would rather have the public fight and the dialogue about meddling rather than the legitimacy of his presidency. And so that's what a Trump source said to me just this morning.

Manu, I want to ask you about something else that Rudy Giuliani said on CNN with Alisyn Camerota this morning, and that is the whole question of collusion, which, of course, was the whole reason for the Mueller probe and the -- and the investigations that you cover every day on Capitol Hill. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": So you're saying that Paul Manafort did not have any power in the campaign?

[12:10:02] RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I didn't say that. I said he had a very discreet, important area. What I'm saying is, he was never involved in intimate business relationships with Donald Trump. I mean that's just -- four months, you're not going to be colluding about Russians, which I don't even know if that's a crime, colluding about Russians.

CAMEROTA: OK.

GIULIANI: You start -- you start analyzing the crime. The hacking is the crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: OK. First of all, colluding -- I'm not a lawyer, but I guess I play one on TV. Colluding is not a crime.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BASH: But the idea of collusion leads to criminal activity, like conspiracy.

RAJU: Yes, conspiracy to violate election laws is absolutely a crime. The word collusion, there's no specific statute that says that's a crime if you're simply colluding, but the could -- the action and intent of colluding can lead to all sorts of things, conspiring to defraud the United States, false statements presumably if one of the witnesses said something that wasn't true. So there's a legal side about this. But there's also the political side. I mean look at the explanations

that the Trump team has given about collusion since 2016 and contacts with Russians. I mean Hope Hicks initially said that there was no contact whatsoever between anyone in the campaign and Russians. And then it was, oh, well, no one actually colluded. And now it's, well, collusion is not a crime. So what does it mean? Maybe it means that they understand what Bob Mueller is looking into. They are feeling pressure from the Mueller team. And the president may be moving the goalposts a little bit. But clearly there's a lot more that the Trump team appears to be concerned about.

BASH: Also, just embedded in that statement that Rudy Giuliani just made was a little bit of wiggle room on the notion that maybe collusion is something that could be entertained. I'm guessing that the president heard that and went, what?

RAJU: Yes.

BASH: Did you see my big Sharpie letters? There was no collusion. You can't even entertain that.

RAJU: Even -- Dana, one thing he also said about that Trump Tower meeting, he tried to make clear that Trump was not at that Don Junior Trump Tower meeting with the Russians.

BASH: Right.

RAJU: It was more of a narrow denial than they've done in the past.

BASH: Right.

RAJU: And I wonder if it has anything to do with the report from last week about the fact that Trump may have known about this (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: Yes. And Giuliani has said to me that they've been getting a lot of additional inquiries from reporters about various meetings that may or may not have happened.

But, anyway, we have a lot more to talk about on this subject. Everybody stand by, because up next the president -- the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, we've been talking about him, he is working overtime defending his client. It's already been an exhausting day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Remember when you said that you would stay all day to talk about this?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: OK, I'll stay one more time. But you've got to get me some coffee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:16:42] BASH: Scum bag, unethical, and a horrible person, words President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is using today to describe the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, a man he once called honorable. But Giuliani says everything changed after the revelation that Cohen secretly taped President Trump while he was a client.

In a lengthy interview this morning with our Alisyn Camerota here on CNN, Giuliani also said that tape of Cohen talking about Trump, about hush money, was doctored and he said the claim that Trump authorized the Trump Tower meeting with Russians is wrong. The rest of his argument was that Cohen, under such scrutiny by the feds that they raided his home, his office, and hotel room earlier this year has nothing to lose and everything to gain at this point by hitting the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": What's in it for Michael Cohen to say that the president knew about that meeting? Why is he lying about that? It's not --

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: You've got to be kidding me.

CAMEROTA: No. How does that help his --

GIULIANI: Well, you have to be kidding me.

CAMEROTA: How does that help his --

GIULIANI: He's the big fish. You don't give up -- you -- you -- you -- what is Cohen going to do? You have a couple of taxicab drivers potentially (ph) get him out of jail?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: OK. So let's talk about that. You're a big fish.

RAJU: OK. I'm a huge fish.

Yes, I mean, look, he's obviously very concerned about what Michael Cohen may be saying or may be willing to tell the special counsel, what he may be willing to say to the Southern District of New York, where Cohen is under a lot of pressure, facing a criminal investigation, and the president does not know where this is going.

It is also interesting that, you know, the reports of whether or not the president himself knew about that Trump Tower meeting in advance. If that is the case, then there could -- it could open up other people within the Trump orbit to significant legal pressure, including Donald Trump Jr., who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee of not -- of saying that his father did not know in advance about this meeting and according to our reports from last week he -- Cohen is ready to say that Donald Trump Junior did tell his father about that meeting. So Michael Cohen presents a significant threat to the president if he does go forward with any of this -- these reports. That's probably one reason why Giuliani is saying what he's saying.

BASH: Because you brought up your reporting, I want to skip to the whole question about whether or not Michael Cohen is required to or should go back to Congress. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, says that he should, because he testified, as you said. Maybe he answered questions, rather, for hours and hours and hours. Democrats are saying, well, we tried and we couldn't. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Michael Cohen has already appeared before Congress talking about a lot of things. And this idea that he told Trump about the Russian meeting before it happened is, to us, very much new news. So Mr. Cohen, if you got something new to say, you need to come to Congress and say it under oath.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: But at each time when we asked them, you know, OK, make Don Junior answer, the Republicans would say, well, no, we're here under a voluntary interview scheme. That's a voluntary scheme that they set up because they didn't want to subpoena them and bring them in. So they protected them at every single stop. And since they ended their investigation, we've learned about Cambridge Analytica. We've learned about Roger Stone's extensive contacts. We're now learning more and more about Michael Cohen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:20:00] BASH: OK. As we discuss what we just heard, I want to tell our viewers that we are looking at is the president at the White House waiting for the Italian prime minister, who looks like he just drove up. He's going to greet the prime minister. They're going to go in for a meeting in the Oval Office. And we will hear from them hopefully then, and then more formally later this afternoon.

I don't think we can hear anything. So -- oh, somebody's try to ask a question. Hang on.

OK. So let's -- as we're watching that, discuss the whole question about Michael Cohen and whether or not they tried to ask the questions that --

LERER: I mean --

BASH: About Trump Tower on Capitol Hill.

LERER: Frankly, I think Rudy Giuliani and Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen's lawyer, are trying to confuse the American public about what is going on. And they have a really good political reason to do that. Of course, they -- this is this whole investigation could end up being a political process if it goes to impeachment after the (INAUDIBLE). So they are doing exactly politically what makes sense.

But I think that Congress has a responsibility to have these guys come up, have them testify in an open way, where the public can hear, like was done in Watergate, so the American people can actually cut through some of this spin and hear what's happening. And I wonder if there will be an increasing amount of pressure on Congress to do just that. Because it's really hard for anyone, certainly for voters with midterms coming up, to understand what exactly is going on here and what is true and what isn't.

BASH: Well, that's -- no, that's a great point. I'm guessing that ship sailed a while ago.

LERER: Right. Yes.

BASH: (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: Real quick, Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman, would not say this morning whether or not Michael Cohen should come before his committee.

BASH: You know, that's interesting.

OK, before we go to break, though, I want to talk about the human drama here because we're talking, understandably, about the legal aspects, the political aspects. But this guy, Michael Cohen, was the person who famously infamously said that he would take a bullet for the president and now he is turning them metaphorically on the president.

Listen to what Rudy Giuliani said. We don't hear a lot of allusions to history or literature, but we did this morning on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: He turned out to have a close friend betray him, like Iago betrayed Othello and Brutus put the last knife into Caesar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Julie, take me into the president's sort of emotional and mental state on the notion of this guy who was so loyal to him that he did his dirty work, frankly, and now he's in a public spat with him and a legal spat.

DAVIS: I mean there are few things that infuriate Donald Trump more than somebody who is, he believes, is supposed to protect him, who does not have his back. And you heard him for weeks and weeks say, you know, Michael Cohen's a good guy, he's going to do the right thing. He was outraged when the prosecutors broke into his office and said that this was beyond the pale. And now that he realizes that he actually -- he knows he has the information. He's known that for a long time that he has whatever he might need to possibly potentially damage the president in a very profound way. Now that he realizes that he's willing to do that and that he, Michael Cohen, feels that he has a big enough legal problem that he is entertaining that possibility, he is just -- he couldn't be more infuriated with him. And I do think that this is part of the larger public relations effort that Giuliani is trying to paint him in the eyes of the public as a desperate person who's willing to lie to bring down the president.

BASH: The public and the prosecutors. And those are two key things. And he admitted it this morning.

OK, everybody stand by.

Coming up, what a difference a few days makes, especially when it comes to negotiating with the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're not worried about a government shutdown because --

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, that's not going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:27] BASH: A GOP congressional candidate told me recently he lives in fear that his campaign will be one presidential tweet away from chaos at any moment. Well, that just happened with the Republican leadership's entire government funding strategy for the fall. Republican lawmakers are still scratching their heads after the president threatened another government shutdown, something GOP leaders thought they'd all agreed that they would take off the table ahead of the midterm elections. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm told, based on people who were briefed on the meeting, the president was amenable to the suggestion, agreed he would be patient on things like wall funding, and agreed that he didn't want to step on the cabinet nomination. Now, everything can change based on a tweet, based on how the president feels. Things are kind of on a good path at the moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Oh, he was so right to be skeptical and use every kind of condition in that sentence as possible. Someone maybe should have even knocked on wood.

Twenty minutes later, the president tweeted. And here's what he said. I would be willing to shut down government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for border security, which includes the wall.

You can sum up the Republican sentiment this way. One senior GOP aide tells CNN, the president was, quote, just letting off some steam at our expense, per usual.

Talk about expenses. Phil Mattingly joins me live from The Hill.

I have to say, Phil, I'm starting to think maybe the president was trolling you.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, look, to say that on live television and then 20 minutes later have the president try and undercut the entire point and all of your reporting, it hurt a little bit, to be completely honest with you. But, as you noted, the evergreen caveat of there could be a tweet. Look, I think the issue, though, Dana -- [12:30:11] BASH: So smart.

MATTINGLY: The issue here, Dana, is that this is kind of one of the