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Trump Calls on Jeff Sessions to End Russia Probe; Day 2 of Manafort Trial Kicks Off; Facebook Uncovers Disinformation Campaign Ahead of Midterms. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired August 1, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And also this morning the president seems to be calling on the Justice Department to be loyal to him above all others, asking why the department did not tell his -- tell him that his former campaign chair was under investigation. That's Paul Manafort.
Despite Paul Manafort having that key role running the campaign for five months, the president is continuing this morning to distance himself from him, all of this as Manafort's trial enters day two.
We are on top of all of it. Let's go to the White House first with Abby Philip.
Abby, this morning a lot from the president including a direct call to the attorney general to end the Russia probe. What do you know?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. This is a significant moment for President Trump making the subtext of all of his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions crystal clear saying that this is a terrible situation and, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch hunt right now before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted and his 12 angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to the USA."
Now this is a moment where President Trump appears to be giving what is as close to a direct order to his attorney general as we've ever heard him say. And doing it while he knows that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already recused himself from matters related to Bob Mueller. This is happening on the second day of this Manafort trial, the first big case brought by the special counsel against people associated with the Trump campaign.
And Poppy, I think this one is certainly going to be a topic of discussion. There is going to be a White House press briefing this afternoon, an opportunity for all of us to ask what this is all about. But we also know that Bob Mueller is looking at President Trump's tweets and this is clearly going to be added to the roster.
HARLOW: That's a very good point, Abby. You know, in the middle of all of this, this morning, there is a concerted effort from the president, as we just have seen what he wrote and from your reporting at the White House, to distance himself from Paul Manafort. But the facts are the facts and this is a guy who ran his campaign for five months.
PHILLIP: Absolutely. And we were just talking about whether President Trump would weigh in and he clearly decided to do that this morning. He's watching this behind the scenes. We know that based on our sources, watching it as he traveled to Florida yesterday, and now tweeting this morning, blaming the special counsel for not telling him more about Manafort. He says, "Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time." That would be five months, as you just pointed out, Poppy. "Why didn't the government tell me he was under investigation? These old charges have nothing to do with collusion," which he is calling a hoax.
But, you know, Paul Manafort was his campaign chairman not just for five months but for a key period in his campaign when he was the Republican nominee for president. President Trump is clearly trying to distance himself from someone who was a key part of his campaign.
This hearing -- the president is right in one respect, the charges against Manafort not directly related to the Russia part of the investigation. That is, the collusion investigation. But it clearly is putting one of his top former officials on the stand right now for very serious charges and it is just a first in what we know will be more coming from Robert Mueller in the coming months -- Poppy.
HARLOW: Abby Philip, great reporting, as always, from the White House. Thank you very much.
Let's talk about the legal aspects of this. Our legal analyst Susan Hennessey is here. Also former federal prosecutor Seth Waxman.
Nice to have you both here. And Susan, just beginning with the first of the two extraordinary statements that we just got from the president, and that is a direct call from the president to his attorney general to end the Russia probe. Your take.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so I think the first thing is we don't know exactly what the binding effects of Trump's tweets have been, right? He's said these things in the past so is it really an actual order? You know, Trump does appear to be testing the boundaries here. He's had -- he's used this rhetoric in the past. What he hasn't done is actually taken action. And so it does appear that he continues to recognize that this kind of is a third rail that if he actually took action against Attorney General Sessions, who's, of course, recused, or Rod Rosenstein or Robert Mueller himself that we might finally see that kind of congressional Republican pushback that we haven't seen in the past.
So I do think that this is an escalation but it really is about testing boundaries to see whether or not they're finally going to draw the line.
HARLOW: Right. Well, there has been this bipartisan, you know, effort. You've seen multiple bills proposed to protect Mueller, to protect special counsel should they need to be protected. Let's take part two, Seth, of all of this, and that is the -- you
know, questioning of the Justice Department when he writes, "Why didn't the government," meaning the DOJ, "tell me that he," Manafort, "was under investigation." I mean --
HARLOW: Is there any reason why the Justice Department should be more loyal to the president than to the American people and to justice itself?
SETH WAXMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No, absolutely not. And that's an easy answer for Mr. Trump. When he is a subject or maybe even a target of investigation, the Justice Department doesn't talk to those people and let them in on that. They run their investigation and reach the conclusions they reach. And I agree entirely with Susan that this is a potentially third rail. Maybe this is the beginning of a new Saturday night massacre. And one has to wonder whether Mr. Trump is feeling the pressure of the Manafort trial.
You know, it's always been my opinion that Mr. Manafort is kind of playing with house money right now, that he's going to he will take a shot at this trial, if he were to win he'd go on and fight the case in D.C. but if he were to lose, he could still walk into the prosecutor's office and get a deal.
HARLOW: Right. So --
WAXMAN: And maybe Mr. Trump knows that and is feeling that pressure.
Guys, stand by. Let's go to the courthouse. Our Joe Johns is outside and this is where day two of this trial against Paul Manafort is kicking off.
What do you know, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, probably the headline at this point is, out of the earshot of the jury this morning, Judge T.S. Ellis who is a veteran of these sometimes complex and controversial criminal cases here in the eastern district of Virginia advised attorneys on both sides in an attempt obviously to avoid any prejudicial inferences being drawn by the jury, told attorneys on both sides to avoid, if they can, the use of the word oligarch.
And that's important because some of the bosses and people in power in Ukraine have been referred to as oligarchs. And obviously the vanilla meaning of oligarch is a member of a power structure in which the power rests with the few, as opposed to suggestion or inference that an oligarch might be a criminal.
And Judge Ellis, by the way, also took a bipartisan approach to describing what might be considered oligarchs here in the United States, describing the Democratic mega donor George Soros as an oligarch, and on the Republican side, the Koch brothers, all billionaires. The judge clearly very concerned about prejudicial inferences being drawn by words used by the lawyers.
Now we are going to hear more about Ukraine in all likelihood during this trial. The person we are told who will testify, besides an FBI agent, is Daniel Rabin, he is a Democratic consultant who worked in Ukraine as this trial of Paul Manafort continues here in Alexandria, Virginia.
Back to you, Poppy.
HARLOW: Thank you, Joe.
Let's go back to our attorneys. And Susan, the -- I think the most critical thing we've learned so far in this case is the defense strategy and the defense strategy here, Susan, is my client, Paul Manafort, knew nothing, did nothing wrong, hands are clean. It was all his deputy, Rick Gates. That's a bold move, especially when you think about the fact that Rick Gates could be a key witness in other -- the other trial and other charges against Manafort tied to Russia.
What do you make of it?
HENNESSEY: Well, that pretty plainly is the strategy. I think one thing to keep in mind, though, is this isn't going to be Gates' word against Manafort's. In these types of financial crimes, these types of financial investigations, there is a huge amount of documentary evidence -- bank records, wire transfers, tax forms. And so the notion here that this is really going to come down just to Gates' word against Manafort, you know, there really is going to be a lot of evidence -- a lot of documented evidence.
And so I think sort of anyone who's looking at -- at least what we know in public, you know, really has to be baffled that Paul Manafort would choose such a risky strategy, you know, to go to trial in the first place.
HENNESSEY: Once he's made that choice, maybe this is the strongest sort of tack to take.
HARLOW: Well, let's talk about that choice. I mean, Seth, he did make a clear choice and is the only one so far to make the choice of the Americans charged not to cooperate with Mueller. And we know from "The New York Times" reporting yesterday he's told friends he thinks he's innocent, he thinks he'll be acquitted as prosecutors look at this. Many of them thinks he faces a huge uphill battle toward acquittal and that this is a big, big challenge for him.
Our Shimon Prokupecz was on last hour saying, you know, he could be concerned about other things. He has a lot of information on a lot of people and if he flips, you know, could he be in jeopardy? Why do you think Manafort has not cooperated?
WAXMAN: Well, as I said just a moment or two ago, I think he feels like he's playing with house money. You know, he can go through this trial and if he loses, the prosecutors will still take him in. And I was a federal prosecutor --
HARLOW: But not as good a deal. You're not going to get as good a deal.
WAXMAN: Correct, I do agree with that. But, you know, the thing he's facing is a significant jail time either way. I mean, even if he were to cooperate, the prosecutors are going to make him eat a charge or two that carry a jail term. So he's kind of rolling the dice, seeing if he can do the haymaker, you know, win on this trial, win in the fall in D.C. And if not, he still feels like he can walk in and get a deal from the prosecutors and I believe that's the case, as well.
[10:10:06] HARLOW: OK. Thank you, guys, for being with us on the breaking news and also the latest beats on the Manafort trial. We appreciate it.
We are continuing to follow the breaking news this morning, the president directly calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Russia probe. The politics behind that and the potential fallout are ahead.
Also, Facebook is calling it the most extensive effort yet to interfere in American politics. It has uncovered this just ahead of the midterms. The social media giant removes a network of suspected Russian-linked accounts. We'll have the details ahead for you.
And a federal judge overnight blocks the blueprints for 3-D printed guns from being posted online. The legal fight, though, far from over.
Ahead, CNN's own interview with the man at the center of the controversy.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe that access information is ever tremendously negative or a bad thing.
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[10:15:18] HARLOW: And President Trump is calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Russia investigation. He did it just moments ago on Twitter.
Keep in mind, though, Sessions has already recused himself from all Russia-related matters. We did reach out to the Justice Department for reaction, they declined to comment.
With me now, Robby Mook, CNN political commentator, former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton. And Doug Heye, CNN political commentator and former RNC communications director. So, Doug, is this anything that the American people should be
surprised about this morning even though it is a direct order, it appears, to his AG or just more of the same?
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is more of the same, it's just hyped up a little more, amped up a little more. This is what Donald Trump does. I can tell you the reaction that I've heard from so many Republicans, whether on the House or Senate side, is disappointment that this is the latest step that the president has gone.
And here's why, Poppy. We just had great GDP numbers that came out on Friday. We'll have the jobs numbers that come out this Friday. These are opportunities for the president to hype up what he's doing for the economy. He should proclaiming these numbers with bagpipes, they're so good for Republicans. This is what they want to talk about in November. The Mueller investigation is not what they want to talk about and firing Mueller or firing Jeff Sessions is not a good road for Republicans to go down politically or obviously if you're talking about the principles in governing.
HARLOW: So, Robby, our Dana Bash has some interesting reporting and that is that the president is really concerned that the Mueller probe, you've got the Manafort trial just going on right now, getting a lot of attention, that that will just fuel opponents and critics of his. The polling numbers, though, from CNN show the opposite. I mean, they show at least Americans' confidence in Bob Mueller and the Russia probe is waning. Right? 48 percent in March, 41 percent now.
Do you think the president's fears are real or imagined?
ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the president should be concerned that he's in deep trouble because it looks like he is and it looks like a lot of people around him are. We learned this weekend it looks like he may very well have obstructed justice in this particular case. That's why I find it particularly ironic that he seems to be, you know, continuing to try to obstruct and end this case so publicly.
I'm not so worried about those polling numbers. I think, first of all, the president's just driving a strategy here to make this another partisan fight. And so that's why you see the separation in those numbers. But the bigger issue here is we just need to get the truth. And we need to let Mueller do his work and come out with the report. And I think that report is going to be quite damning and I think the American people are going to have to, you know, face that evidence.
I'm also -- I have a similar concern to Doug, actually, that I think real issues are being obscured by this food fight that the president's creating. We just learned yesterday the president's administration is trying to go around the Congress to cut taxes even more for millionaires. That Congress should be apoplectic about that but the Republicans just seem be taking that lying down, and, you know, conceding their power and the Constitution to the president here. It's just incredible. And we're not talking about it. HARLOW: So let's -- let's talk about that. We had a whole segment in
the last hour. And I -- my fault, I went long with Senator Ed Markey in my interview. We didn't get that in. But, I mean, it is, Doug, you know, the administration and Treasury Department has said that it is looking at ways to change indexing. It's very complicated but basically how investment would be taxed when it's sold. This would disproportionately help the wealthy.
The Bush administration looked into doing it and said, no, you need Congress to get behind us on this one if we actually wanted to do it. What's your read on what this would look like for Republicans and at least the administration looking into it?
HEYE: Yes, it's a bit schizophrenic because there is no Republican who would tell you that they don't like tax cuts however we can get them. At the same time Republicans typically at least before Donald Trump was president have talked about wanting a strong Congress versus a strong executive. If you look at the Obama years quite often Democrats would cede power to the presidency as well.
The presidency is ascending in power regardless of Donald Trump's talk or his tweets. And Congress is receding in power. Somebody who puts the privacy of Congress first, that's troubling to me regardless of what party or what administration is doing it. Regardless of what I think about the tax cuts which I think have had a great impact on the economy so far.
HARLOW: Robby, let me ask you about Hillary Clinton. She is getting out there more, she is speaking out more, she is putting her money where her mouth is, donating to these 19 different candidates.
As someone who ran her campaign and as someone who looks at the party right now that is sort of identifying who do we stand more with? Are we more the party of Nancy Pelosi or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Is Hillary Clinton and more of Hillary Clinton what the party needs right now, do you think?
MOOK: Well, I think what Hillary is doing is trying to support these candidates out there. Look, the future of our party and our success is in these candidates in districts who are running for office. So I think she's doing the exact right thing which is to get behind these people and help them win.
[10:20:06] I think we create these, you know, sort of false battle so to speak in Washington, D.C. about, is the party about this person or that person. The party right now is about winning these individual House districts and the candidates in these House districts are very different because our party is very different regionally. At the point that we're in a presidential primary, yes, we're going to pick somebody to lead our party and we can have that.
MOOK: But I think she's doing the exact right thing, get in there and help these people win in these individual races. HARLOW: That's an interesting point. You're saying look, the tank
can be big now heading into the midterms. But we've got to get it more defined as we head in to 2020.
I want you both to listen to what the president said last night. He was talking about voter IDs. And then it went a bit odd. Listen.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe that only American citizens should vote in American elections, which is why the time has come for voter ID, like everything else. Voter ID You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need I.D.
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HARLOW: That's not true, Doug. But putting that aside for a moment, what's he trying to say?
HEYE: Well, having been to a grocery store as recently as yesterday I know that that's not true for that gallon of milk that I had to buy. Look, I'm not sure what the president is trying to say here. I'm somebody who supports voter I.D. laws but also knows that too often Republican state legislatures then make it harder for people to get I.D.s, predominantly in African-American or minority neighborhoods, which is a real problem when you are trying to demonstrate that you're not doing this in any kind of ham-handed way. It's not clear to me what the president is trying to say here which, unfortunately, is often the case.
HARLOW: Thank you both, Robby, Doug, appreciate you being here on all of this and pivoting on the breaking news for us a little bit.
Less than 100 days until the midterms. Facebook this morning is sounding the alarm. The social media giant says it is pulling suspected Russian-linked accounts trying to influence the elections. Are you one of them? Ahead.
[10:26:47] HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And this morning Facebook has shut down a network of accounts that it says are possibly Russian-linked and were organizing political events across the country. This raises a lot of concern that Russia is still actively trying to interfere in U.S. elections. And on a conference call just yesterday, Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said, quote, "Security is an arms race. It is never done."
Let's go to Dylan Byers who joins me now from Los Angeles.
You know, this is scary and it is still happening and Facebook saw it and is trying to do what it can about it. Do we know for sure that this is linked to Russia, these accounts?
DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, we don't. Facebook did -- has not publicly acknowledged that it's linked to Russia but in private, in conversations with lawmakers, they said that it very much appears to be linked to Russia. But that is ultimately a responsibility that Facebook wants to put on Congress and reasonably so.
Look, since 2016, it's become harder for Facebook to clearly identify ties to Russia. And part of the reason for that is that the efforts of the people behind these misinformation campaigns, they've grown much more sophisticated. And so when Sheryl Sandberg says, this is an arms race, this is something that isn't going to end, it's for that very reason. So Facebook pours time, money, manpower into this issue. 20,000 staffers dedicated to this issue, to combating misinformation.
Even then, it's a game of whack-a-mole. They can only monitor problems like this and bring them to the attention of lawmakers, and then effectively put the ball in their court. If there's a victory here for Facebook this week, it's that they got ahead of this problem and notified Congress about it ahead of the 2018 midterms as opposed to the last election cycle when they didn't really take the problem seriously until after the fact.
HARLOW: Right. I mean, so seriously that they saw their stock drop a lot last week because they say we're putting, you know, privacy above profitability right now to try to correct course on this.
Dylan, thanks for the reporting.
Let's talk more about this now with Michael Daniel, he's a former cybersecurity coordinator and special assistant to President Obama.
Nice to have you.
MICHAEL DANIEL, FORMER CYBERSECURITY AND SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you for having me.
So, you said, look, it's not surprising that Facebook found this kind of activity and we know from all our U.S. intelligence agencies that they were going to do it again. But the -- when you look at what Facebook is saying, and this is the head of cyber security policy at Facebook, let me read you what he says. Quote, "These bad actors have been more careful to cover their tracks, in part due to the actions we've taken to prevent abuse over the years." So they're saying it's even harder to detect this time around. Why?
DANIEL: Well, the actors in this case would be doing exactly what Nathaniel, the head of Facebook's cyber security policy, said there, which is they are taking steps to make sure that it is difficult to do forensics. They are masking their activity where they're coming from, how they are doing it, how they're setting up the accounts. They're taking steps to make sure that it's more and more difficult to conduct the kinds of forensics that would tie this activity back to malicious actor.
HARLOW: So won't they just keep adjusting and won't they just keep changing and making it more difficult as, you know, Facebook and Google and Twitter work to keep up with them and eliminate the threat? DANIEL: Sure. I mean that's how it's always been in cybersecurity
field as the malicious --