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Trump To AG Sessions: End Russia Probe Right Now; Trump Rages Against Mueller On Day Two Of Manafort Trial; Day Two Of Manafort Trial Kicks Off After Fiery First Day; Facebook Removes 30 Plus Suspected Russian-Linked Accounts. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 1, 2018 - 11:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: There you go. Andy, thanks.

Thank you all for being with me today. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan begins right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Just 24 hours ago, literally yesterday's show, we wondered aloud, one big test of the Paul Manafort trial is -- could the president of the United States restrain himself from getting involved. Survey says -- you at this point likely know the answer.

Unprovoked today. President Trump clearly decided one day of the trial of his former campaign chief was one day long enough. Day two of Manafort's trial is now under way and the president is firing off. Talking about Manafort specifically.

And then this about the Russia investigation, in general, "This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch hunt right now."

OK. Let's get started. CNN's Abby Philip is at the White House. Abby, is the White House offering any explanation or -- I don't know -- context maybe for this tweet from the president? It seems pretty clear though.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does seem pretty clear. I think it is pretty significant. So far, the White House hasn't had anything to say about this, but this is really a moment where President Trump is making explicit something that he has implied in many other tweets in the past.

He has attack Jeff Sessions for recusing himself saying that if he had known he would do that, he would have put someone else in the job. That's because he wants Sessions to end the Mueller probe.

He is now saying that in as clear a fashion as we've ever heard from him. But it is significant because of the timing and it comes at a time when Robert Mueller's team is going to trial, in its second day today, taking Paul Manafort to trial over some unrelated issues regarding his finances and his business dealings.

But the president is clearly reacting to that. We already know that the president has been watching this trial, has been getting counseled by his advisors. Now we know that he was not willing to hold back. He's asking his attorney general to do this.

The question is, will Jeff Sessions listen and what will Sarah Sanders say at 1:00 p.m. today when she has a press briefing? Will she explain it or down play it? It seems hard to downplay something that's so clear -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. So far, no comment from the Justice Department. I guess understandably so. Abby, thank you so much. A lot to discuss right now.

Joining me CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti, CNN political director, David Chalian, and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, CNN political analyst as well, White House correspondent for the "New York Times."

David, does everyone assume the president wants the investigation to go away? Of course. But explicitly calling for it, this is a major step. Why now, I wonder?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. This is the most explicit request of sessions that he has made in terms of ending this probe. I don't think we'll know the answer of exactly why now, but it is the right question to ask.

I mean, he's clearly, we know, watching this Manafort trial and this is on his mind. Of course, Kate, what I find so interesting is, his team is out there publicly saying, the Manafort thing's totally separate, he was such a small player in the campaign. Remember, he was the chairman of that campaign.

But it has nothing to do with the Russia collusion stuff. Well, why is the president connecting the two this morning within two tweets and 10 minutes of each other on Twitter? He is watching this.

Jeff Zeleny reporting that he's getting briefings on it and he is clearly expressing some real concern about the pressure that's ratcheting up here.

BOLDUAN: Julie, what's your thinking on this?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, my colleagues have already reported he's long since wanted Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself from this entire Russia investigation. That's what he wanted from the very beginning, and so we're hearing the president say publicly what he has said privately many times, that he really wishes that Jeff Sessions hadn't recused himself and would just step back in, if that were a thing -- which it is not in our system of government.

But he would really like for Jeff Sessions to be able to step back in and take control of this thing and steer it away from the president or in a way that's more favorable to the president.

I think David is right, the White House has taken great pains to separate the Manafort trial from the broader question of Russia's interference in the election and potential collusion by the Trump campaign.

But let's also not forget that this is all unfolding as his legal team is working behind the scenes with Mueller to figure out whether or not there's going to be an interview and what the terms for that interview would be and what questions the president might be facing on issues that are more directly related to him and his campaign. I can't help but think that this is, in part, driven by that, as well.

BOLDUAN: Renato, the question whenever the president has spoken out or tweeted out anything about the special counsel, it's been all along. Where is the line of obstruction of justice?

[11:05:03] We know, of course, as Julie is talking about where "The New York Times" has reported that Mueller is looking at Trump's tweets. They see this, meaning Mueller's team, and they think what now?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They think this is more evidence of corrupt intent. I think that the Mueller team is adding more tabs to their exhibit binder. Really, we heard in recent days and here on CNN on "NEW DAY" just the other day, Rudy Giuliani making fun of the idea that tweets could have anything to do with obstruction of justice.

But what these tweets are is, they are presidential statements. You have the president of the United States not just suggesting that the Mueller investigation should end, but he's the boss of the attorney general and he's saying that he believes that the Russia investigation should be terminated by the attorney general.

Now I don't think that Mueller would use this as the basis for "this is the obstructive act." in other words, this is what the president did that is the obstruction of justice.

Whenever you do any act -- whether firing Comey, pressuring your attorney general to un-recuse himself -- those are actions that the president supposedly took in the latter case, and the question is, did he do it with an intent to obstruct and impede the investigation.

And if I was Robert Mueller I would use all of the president's words and actions, including his tweets, to prove that and today's tweet is a very, very strong indicator that the president is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that he and his friends are protected from the investigation.

BOLDUAN: David, Republicans have said over and over again that the special counsel should be able to finish his work. Not all Republicans but many --

CHALIAN: I was going to say, not all Republicans. BOLDUAN: Many Republicans. Should we assume at all that we will see action to stop the president from doing what he would like to see done now or to protect Robert Mueller?

CHALIAN: I think -- I think we would be hard-pressed to see action just based on this tweet this morning from the president. I do think you are right though, Kate, many republicans are on the record saying that if they saw movement from the DOJ to bring that investigation to a close in some way prematurely, that perhaps they would jump in at that point.

But we have heard the president's desire for this investigation to end and threaten -- we've had months of speculation whether Rosenstein would be fired, would there be a Saturday night massacre kind of scenario.

All of that didn't lead to congressional action about passing some sort of protective law for the special counsel here. So, I doubt this one tweet will do it, too. But I think if ever saw any movement on the Rosenstein side of this in response to the president's suggestion, I would imagine you would see some Republicans hurry up there.

BOLDUAN: Julie, the president and Jeff Sessions, I mean, that relationship, depending on the hour, it is on the rocks or back in good graces. I mean, I have no idea. It is such a roller coaster, it is kind of bananas. But no matter what the president says, all along sessions hasn't done anything, right?

I mean, he just continued to do his job. Could this just be -- is this just a new chapter in the "what the heck is going on with this relationship" and this is just a bunch of nothing?

DAVIS: I would say that this relationship has been pretty toxic for a long time, ever since the president made it known publicly that he was angry at Jeff Sessions for having recused himself. And you are right, there have been peaks and valleys.

At some point, we've heard Jeff Sessions kind of actively push back against the president, making some of these suggestions when he's threatened the investigation in the past. It will be interesting to see how he deals with this tweet given that it is actually a pretty clear directive by the president.

This is the president of the United States telling his attorney general to shut down an ongoing investigation. Now he is recused from that investigation, so you could say that it really is a big nothing in the end. But it is a direct order and he's part of the president's cabinet, so it is going to be really fascinating to see how he reacts and how the Justice Department reacts.

BOLDUAN: You have a great point. Because words here matter because the words of a conversation behind closed doors, between James Comey and the president, those matter. Was it a directive? Can you see your way to letting him go? Was that a direct order, was that not? This one is pretty clear, Renato, what the president is saying. I don't know another way to see it. MARIOTTI: Absolutely. And really, it is going to make it a lot harder for the president's allies to say that he didn't make those statements in private, right? We've heard in the past that James Comey is a liar, he made it all up.

The president of the United States is saying basically the exact same thing to all of us in public on tweet, via tweet. So, it is very hard to see an argument that he was saying something different in private.

One thing I've got to say, too, is, we've talked a lot this morning about the president's anger with Jeff Sessions for recusing himself. Just so the viewers understand, that is a normal process that prosecutors have.

[11:10:11] It is something that's recommended by people who aren't political, who are career employees there. It is based on making sure you don't have a conflict of interest. So, Jeff Sessions was doing his job and the president's angry at him for doing his job. That in itself suggests the president has an improper purpose because it is that unusual for being that angry at someone for recusing themselves.

CHALIAN: Whether it is a directive or not, we were just talking about that language, I just -- think about for a second. When is the last time your boss told you, you should do something, and you thought that was a mere suggestion, right? That is just now how you read language like that from your superior.

BOLDUAN: That's not how the world works. That's just not how it goes if you want to stay employed. David, Julie, Renato, thanks, guys. I really appreciate it.

All right. Coming up, we now know what the president is saying about his former campaign chairman today, but what's actually going on in court. Day two of Paul Manafort's high-stakes trial is underway. The witnesses, the allegations, the defense, that's next.

Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Google in the hot seat once again. Congress calling on top executives to testify on how they plan to help protect the midterm elections from foreign influence. Is anything different this time as the clock ticks down and the midterm is right around the corner?



BOLDUAN: Shrewd lies, millions in unreported income, multiple overseas bank accounts and even a $15,000 jacket made from an ostrich. Just some of the details and accusations coming out of the day one of the Manafort's trial, the first criminal trial and first big court test to come from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

So, day two is under way. The former Trump campaign chairman is facing a laundry list of charges of financial crimes. One person who is keeping a close eye on all of this includes President Trump. His tweets this morning pretty much bearing out what White House officials have told CNN earlier that he's asked his staff to keep him updated on what's happening in that courtroom.

So, let's find out what's happening in that courtroom. Joining me right now, CNN's crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. So, Shimon, what has been happening in court today. Seen some pretty significant testimony.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, certainly. It is our second witness of the day. The court in a short recess at the moment, but we expect to continue to hear from an FBI agent, who was at Manafort's home executing a search warrant last year and that FBI agent is describing how they went about conducting that search warrant.

They went to his home in Alexandria, Virginia. They knocked on his door three times. It was about 6:00 a.m. or so, this agent says. When no one came to the door, they had a key and they used that key to enter the home.

They saw Manafort in there. Now the FBI agent spent this morning describing some of the documents that he found in it the home having to do with loans, some banking transactions with Manafort's name on it, wire transfers with Manafort's name on it.

Obviously, that is sort of the meat, sort of the heavy stuff of this trial of the evidence that the FBI gathered. There was some question about whether or not certainly people on the Manafort side have raised issue with how the FBI went about conducting this search warrant on Manafort's home.

They had said that no one had ever knocked, that they had just entered. But clearly the FBI agent here this morning testifying quite differently, that they did knock, and when no one answered, they went into the home.

BOLDUAN: It's fascinating. All right. So, much more to come on this one. This is just getting back under way in just a few minutes. Shimon, thank you. I really appreciate it.

So, let's get some perspective on what we've learned from day one what we just heard about what the FBI agent is testifying about. Renato Mariotti is back with me. Renato, what do you think is key coming from this FBI agent?

Not just about the raid, but it kind of the fact that it seems the prosecutors may be getting into the meat of their argument that Manafort knowingly signed several kinds of false financial documents.

MARIOTTI: Well, those documents, the documents that they found in the search warrant, are going to be the basis of this prosecution. We can -- we talk a lot about -- you mentioned the lavish spending and so on. And that is very interesting, and it catches attention.

But what is going to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt will be that evidence. That's what prosecutors are relying on. In a case like this, it is usually hundreds and hundreds of pages of financial documents.

BOLDUAN: As they said, follow the money. It seems that's what they're starting with right now. The prosecutor's legal strategy is, as we heard from yesterday, Manafort is a liar, he opened 30-plus bank accounts to hide his money. For the defense the strategy seems to be blame the other guy. Blame Manafort's long-time aide, Rick Gates. What do you think of that?

MARIOTTI: I think it is very common defense strategy. We have to grade on a curve here because the defense doesn't have a lot to work with. On the defense side you are usually trying to either say no crime was committed, that's hard to do in this case.

So, you usually try to offer up somebody else. It makes sense for them to choose Gates because Gates is the government's witness. He is a star witness for them. He is the flipper. You have to take down the flipper if you're on the defense side. If the government's relying on that cooperator, you have to undercut his credibility and that's a great way to do it.

BOLDUAN: So, what are you listening for today as the FBI agent's going to be testifying again. A known Democratic strategist has been testifying as well.

MARIOTTI: So, the government's strategy is going to be very clear and straightforward. I'm going to pay attention to what the defense is doing on cross examination because what the defense is going to do is try to plant the seeds for the jury of what their arguments are going to be at closing against the government case.

[11:20:11] So, I'm going to be watching their cross examinations very closely.

BOLDUAN: We'll be listening for that, as well. Renato, great to see you. Thanks so much for sticking around. I really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, was Russia behind a new attempt to disrupt the midterm elections? Facebook says it's possible. Facebook is flagging some accounts and taking them down and taking action. What are they learning about it though? That's next.



BOLDUAN: Facebook, Twitter and Google, you are on notice. The top Democrat of the Senate Intelligence Committee announcing today the top executives from these top tech firms are going to be call up to testify before Congress once again next month. Why?

Well, to face questions, enduring questions, about what they are doing to protect against foreign influence as the midterm elections fast approach. This all comes as Facebook just announced that it has removed more than 30 suspected Russian-linked accounts and pages that were organizing political influence campaigns to disrupt the midterm elections.

The tech giant briefed lawmakers about all this and says that they can't say for sure who's behind it all but say the signs are there that it could be Russia.

CNN's senior reporter, Dylan Byers is following all this for us. So, Dylan, this is, with regard to what Facebook is doing and saying, this is a really big deal. What exactly did Facebook do?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA AND POLITICS: This is a really big deal for a few reasons, Kate. One reason is it is a reminder that meddling, foreign meddling, Russian meddling is going to be a reality for Facebook in perpetuity. This is not a problem that they can ever fully prevent.

The best that they can do is monitor the situation and bring it to the attention of Congress, which is what they have done. At least they got ahead of it this time. At least they reported before the 2018 midterms, not after the 2018 midterms, which is what we saw in 2016.

A key detail there though is, well, they are not publicly acknowledging that this was linked to Russia. They have told lawmakers all signs point to Russia, and that's significant because what they're doing is they are effectively putting the ball in Congress' court.

They are saying, look, we put in the time, the money, the resources, we have 20,000 people working to combat misinformation on our platform. At the end of the day, if this is an issue you guys are serious about, ball's in your court.

What Congress will inevitably say is, in order to do that, we need to get the president of the United States behind it. As you and I both know, the president of the United States, at present, doesn't really have any interest in addressing the issue of Russian meddling.

BOLDUAN: If you follow -- just one final note. If you follow Congress at all, there is a real disconnect of an understanding of tech firms and social media and the pace with which it changes and the understanding of members of Congress and what they're actually dealing with. It is apparent. I think that's one of the problems.

BYERS: I mean, Kate, that is huge issue. Even senators like Mark Warner will acknowledge that they are constantly going to be behind on this issue. He told me once -- while they're dealing with 2016 problems, foreign meddlers are preparing not just for 2018, but for 2020.

And again, Facebook's COO, Sheryl Sandberg, has said that this is an arms race that you can never completely win. Again, it is a game of whack a mole. At the end of the day, every election cycle, we are going to see this issue. The silver lining is that Facebook is finally getting ahead of the problem as opposed to being behind the problem.

BOLDUAN: What's next? Let's see. Dylan, great to see you. Thanks so much.

BYERS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Joining me now is Graham Brookie, director for the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Group, a group that recently partnered with Facebook to monitor disinformation campaigns, another vulnerability in elections around the world He also was a top aide to President Obama on cyber security. Graham, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: You studied these accounts. You've studied these ads. You know what Facebook's talking about here. Do you think Russia is the one behind this, this time?

BROOKIE: I think that based on looking at some of the pages that Facebook took action against yesterday, what we can tell is that the content, the tactics, the language, was very similar to that that we saw coming from the Internet Research Agency or the infamous St. Petersburg Russia troll farm from 2014 through 2017. So, I would say the behavior correlates very highly with what we've seen previously.

BOLDUAN: Do you think it is wrong or premature for some top Democrats to say that they think it is Russia?

BROOKIE: So, I think that attribution is very different than correlation. What we can say right now with a high degree of confidence is that there is a very high correlation. But can we say right now today that it was 100 percent Russia? That's going to be a lot more difficult.

BOLDUAN: How do you definitively find out eventually who is behind it?

BROOKIE: Anything in this scenario, there's no silver bullet to say it was 100% Russia. What you can do is say, OK, well, there's 12 different factors that we look at and this very specific case exhibited eight of them, so we can say with a high-degree of confidence that it was Russia, or it was not Russia.