Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Calls for End to Russia Probe; Passengers Survive Aeromexico Plane Crash; Paul Manafort Trial Continues. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 1, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:04]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's a reason that the president is angry. And, frankly, most of America is angry as well. And there's no reason he shouldn't be able to voice that opinion.

Once again, as I said earlier, the president is stating his opinion. It's not an order. But he's been, I think, crystal clear about how he feels about this investigation from the beginning.

QUESTION: You said a moment ago that the investigation itself is corrupt, the Mueller investigation. Then you mentioned Comey and McCabe and Strzok.

They're not -- Strzok certainly isn't any part -- he was for a time.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The entire investigation based off a dirty, discredited dossier that was paid for by an opposing campaign and had a lot of corruption within the entity which was overseeing it, was Peter Strzok, James Comey, Andrew McCabe.

We have laid this out a number of times. I don't think that we have to go through it every single time we're in here.

QUESTION: If it's corrupt, why doesn't the president just end it or use the powers he has to end it?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once the president has allowed this.

QUESTION: If he believes that, why doesn't he follow through on that?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, the president has allowed this process to play out, but he thinks it's time for it to come to an end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, quick fact-check.

The fact that this entire investigation is based off a dossier is false. Just needed to get that out of the way before I bring in Kaitlan Collins, our CNN White House correspondent. And Jeff Zeleny was in the briefing, our CNN senior White House correspondent.

So, Jeff Zeleny, I mean, why is she standing up there speaking categorically falsely about this -- the genesis of this investigation based on a dossier, which is just wrong?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, they are trying clearly to explain and clean up after the fact the president's tweet this morning.

Really, this is not a new line of defense from this White House. But the question there that Major Garrett of CBS News was asking, why doesn't the president do something about it, that indeed is a central question hanging over all of this.

The president of the United States, of course, has the ability to -- he mentioned Jeff Sessions. That, of course, would not do anything to the Mueller investigation, because he's recused himself, which is one of the reasons the president's angry. But he has never taken the step of also firing Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who's overseeing this.

The president clearly believes that that is a bridge too far, that is a step too far. So they continue to really try and obfuscate and confuse and blend all these situations here.

But, Brooke, it has one goal in mind. And there is a strategy to this. The strategy is to discredit this investigation. So once the Mueller investigation, if it has some type of finding, the president and his allies hope it is discredited and no one believes it.

But I went on to ask Sarah Sanders there if the president realizes that Jeff Sessions is not the one to sort of end the probe. And she said, yes, he's aware of the process. So he was blowing off steam, but the reality here is, her defense of this, the White House's official defense of this on that and many other fronts today just simply were not aligned with the facts, Brooke.

BALDWIN: I also thought your other question was the money question on asking Sarah Sanders how she even differentiates, right, between if she's saying that this wasn't an order, but an opinion, how she differentiates the two, when she's even talking to the president.

ZELENY: Right.

BALDWIN: So, Kaitlan, let me put that question to you.

How does one tell the difference between -- I know, Rudy Giuliani is saying, well, he said should instead of must. How do you know opinion vs. order?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question here, Brooke.

And it's interesting to see the White House take Rudy Giuliani's defense here, which is that it was just the president's opinion, not a directive for the attorney general on that tweet this morning, because in the past they have tried to do everything they can to distance themselves from Rudy Giuliani, saying that he doesn't speak for the White House, that they don't coordinate their message with him.

But then today, Sarah went in line with exactly what Rudy Giuliani had said in the previous hours before her briefing, that the president was simply airing his opinions. But, Brooke, what we do know is that the White House has said these tweets are official White House statements from the president.

We have seen him use this Twitter feed to hire people, to fire people, to announce new policies. So the idea that the president is making his opinion very clear here also seems as if he is directing his attorney general to do something to end the investigation.

Now, of course, Jeff Sessions can't end that investigation. It's not entirely clear that the president understands that, because we know that since Jeff Sessions excused himself from overseeing this investigation, in private, the president has tried to change that multiple times, including he's attempted to get Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal and go back to being in charge of the Mueller investigation.

Now, that also contradicts what the president himself has said, which is that he has the power to fire Mueller if he wanted to, which raises the question, if he truly does, and he truly believes that, then why would he need to direct his attorney general to do so anyway?

Brooke, all of this comes down to we're on day two of Paul Manafort's trial. The president is clearly expressing his frustration as you're seeing this play out. It is reminding him of that recusal.

[15:05:01]

And likely going to see him continue to express these opinions on Twitter over the next few days.

BALDWIN: And before I let the two of you go, just lastly, Sarah Sanders was asked about what happened last night in Tampa with our chief White House correspondent, who was there covering this Trump rally, who faced head on a lot of middle fingers and four-letter words and ratcheted-up rhetoric against him.

So watch this, and then we will talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: CNN sucks! CNN sucks! CNN sucks! CNN sucks! CNN sucks!

QUESTION: Trying to do stand-ups at a public rally, and you have people trying to yell over them, preventing them from doing their jobs, and yelling that their network sucks on live TV.

Does the White House support that or not?

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: While we certainly support freedom of the press, we also support freedom of speech.

And we think that those things go hand in hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: What is she saying there, Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Well, she also took an interesting tactic, Brooke, by blaming the media for -- saying that they report too much on national security interests and that they reveal too much of intelligence sometimes, which was an interesting approach that had nothing to do with what was happening at that rally last night.

But I also think the reason that the White House was asked this question is not simply because the crowd at the president's rally was chanting this. This has happened before. It even happened when the president was still a candidate. And, of course, Sarah is right. They do have free speech to say whatever they want.

But the point of this that the president himself retweeted a video of those supporters of his chanting that at Jim Acosta, saying that. So that is why the White House is getting these questions. It's not simply just that it happened, but the president retweeted it and seemed to endorse the fact that it happened on his own Twitter feed, where the White House has been saying he expresses his opinions.

BALDWIN: Jeff, you were in the Briefing Room went when that exchange happened. What was the reaction in the room?

ZELENY: Well, the reaction in the room was Sarah Sanders said on one hand, Brooke, that, yes, the White House that does not endorse any of this.

But, as Kaitlan said, that's not actually true. But actually the defense of this going back to how she says the press needs to act responsibly, and no question that that is accurate, but then she brought out a debunked, absolutely false statement really from more than a decade ago about a cell phone conversation of Osama bin Laden being reported on.

It was reported at the time. That was debunked literally a decade ago. Sarah Sanders from the podium was reading that as it was fact, using it as an example of how she says the press is not responsible with national security measures.

So that was their prepared response to something that happened last night, going back into the way-back machine a decade ago saying something that simply has been debunked. So the reality here is, the White House has done very little to push back on the violence at rallies in these conversations at rallies.

And we should point out though, Brooke, we have covered a lot of these. Kaitlan has. I have as well. I think the majority of the people at these rallies are interesting, kind and courteous, but there is always a number of people who are chanting slogans like this.

And that certainly gets attention. But the White House drew itself into this, as Kaitlan said, because the president endorsed it, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jeff and Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Back to the president's tweet this morning on Sessions and questions of obstruction.

So with me, Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney and former deputy assistant attorney general, and Asha Rangappa, CNN legal and national security analyst and former FBI special agent.

So, great to have both of you all on.

And, Harry, let me start with you. You got it on this tweet where you essentially have the president ordering his own attorney general to end this ongoing investigation into himself and his campaign and Russian interference that has already clearly produced dozens of concrete results, not to mention "The New York Times" end of last week broke the story that the special counsel is looking into Trump's tweets in their wide-ranging obstruction inquiry.

Do you think, sir, on the face of it, is the tweet obstruction of justice?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: On the face is one thing, but the basic question about whether it's strong evidence of obstruction IS, is it a command or just A kind of suggestion?

And, man, it's a mighty thin distinction. He uses the word should, but he says right now it is staining our country, it's a rigged witch- hunt.

I think if I were in the Oval Office and hearing the president of the United States use these words, I would take it as an order.

And, by the way, order or not, it's still solid evidence of obstruction. The big question is going to be, is he trying to shut down the probe and why? So, yes, it certainly doesn't help him, and "The Times" does report, but he should have known this from his lawyers months ago.

[15:10:03]

Each and every one of these tweets is totally admissible. And it's not simply the individual ones. But as you put them all up against one another and follow the sequence, it really spells out someone who's ordering this probe to be shut down.

BALDWIN: Asha, you heard Sarah Sanders saying, no, no, no, this wasn't an order. This was Trump's opinion. He is simply expressing his frustration. You have the president's attorney then soon after, Rudy Giuliani, saying, no, this was his First Amendment right of free speech and the whole -- to Harry's point, it was -- he said should. He didn't say must.

But aren't these tweets official statements from the White House? How do you read this? ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, they

have been construed as official tweets.

We know that, for example, in the travel ban litigation, his tweets were used as evidence of what could have been his intent in promulgating that.

Brooke, I just want to point out the irony that when he's saying these things, it's just his opinion and freedom of speech, but I think it was only a week ago that he started to strip high national security officials of their security clearances for expressing their opinions.

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

RANGAPPA: I think -- one thing I just want to -- what I see in this, in addition to what Harry said about the pattern of obstruction, it is clearly feeling some heat.

And it could be from the Manafort trial and what he's afraid of will come out. But let's remember that Mueller has now indicted 25 Russian nationals and three Russian companies. And that cannot make Putin very happy. This is starting to uncover, embarrass and expose their operations here.

And I have to wonder whether, in that private meeting one-on-one, whether he has pressure coming from another direction that we don't know about to try to get rid of this investigation.

BALDWIN: Harry, if -- just going along with this tweet -- then I want to move on to Manafort -- but if Trump made this request in private, right, this order or whatever you want to call it in private, wouldn't Mueller event then be green light, interview witnesses, who was in the room, just as he has for Comey and the conversations around Mike Flynn?

Wouldn't that be similar?

LITMAN: Completely.

So, that's right. You would go through it and you would ask, what's -- how would a reasonable person have construed this kind of eruption from the president? And especially the Giuliani statement, it's just First Amendment, is a real non sequitur. It is speech, but, of course, the question is whether the speech is telling people to shut the probe down.

And, yes, that's how you would figure it out. You would talk to other people, how would you take it, et cetera. But it's right flat out in front of us. I don't think it takes much of a strong inference to say Trump is trying to issue an order here, although the point you make is very good.

Sessions is recused, so it's a bizarre kind of order, since he knows it can't be carried out.

BALDWIN: Since it would be Rod Rosenstein, who's overseeing the investigation, and leads you would wonder, does he understand that?

The other piece that you didn't hear from Sarah Sanders today was that not only did Russia attack, interfere in the U.S. elections in 2016, they are still doing so into the midterms this November.

And so, Asha, even if this wasn't an order, why would this president, why would the White House wanting this whole investigation to be shut down because of Russia currently?

RANGAPPA: Well, that's the question once again. These are going -- Mueller is equally going after Russians as much as links potentially between the campaign.

And if the president was being sincere when he stood -- when he walked back his walk -- I can't remember where we are in the walk-back to the walk-back -- but that he believes the intelligence community assessment that Russia interfered in our election. Then this cannot be a witch-hunt.

This is actually finding the people responsible for that election interference and that cyber-attack. So, it is just trying to have it both ways, and very puzzling.

BALDWIN: Asha and Harry, thank you so much.

LITMAN: Great point.

BALDWIN: Great, great point.

LITMAN: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you both so much on that.

Coming up next year, we want to get to Paul Manafort and this trial on federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. It is day two for this former Trump campaign chairman. Details on why one of the star witnesses now may not testify.

And gut-wrenching video of that Aeromexico plane crash and its aftermath. Amazingly, every single person on board that planes survived. In just a couple minutes, we will talk to the teenager who shot this video.

And, later, members of a conspiracy theory group show up at the president's rally last evening in Tampa. We will explain who they are and why they were there.

Stay with me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:19:19]

BALDWIN: All right, we're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Day two of the Paul Manafort trial now under way. President Trump's

former campaign chairman is accused of illegally hiding millions of dollars to fund his -- what's referred to as his extravagant lifestyle.

This trial a crucial test for special counsel Robert Mueller's team, facing a jury for the first time in the Russia investigation. Prosecutors allege that Manafort committed bank and tax fraud to conceal his secret income, millions of dollars earned lobbying for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine.

They say he spent it on lavish luxury items, such as a custom $15,000 ostrich jacket, a $21,000 watch. And court documents show that Manafort spent nearly $850,000 at one men's clothing store in New York City over the course of six years.

[15:20:07]

On the flip side, the defense team is starting to lead their strategy show. And they're shifting the blame to Rick Gates, Manafort longtime associate.

So, Sarah Coyne is with me, a former federal prosecutor and white- collar criminal defense expert.

So, you are perfect on this.

First and foremost, there was rumblings out of this federal courthouse that perhaps, despite what they laid out in the opening statements, that Rick Gates, the prosecution's star witness, would not testify. And you're saying, I don't know if I'm buying that.

SARAH COYNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I would be surprised if he doesn't testify.

I think there could be a couple of reasons why they took that position in court. One is, prosecutors don't like to promise anything. Even though they mentioned what they might hear about Rick Gates, maybe they didn't want to promise that he will actually take the stand, because, if they don't deliver, the defense attorney will hold them to having failed to keep a promise.

The second reason I think, though, is more -- it seemed like they were having a little trouble getting some of the testimony through with this FBI agent. The judge was getting frustrated and wanted them to move the documents in through Mr. Gates.

The prosecutor does not want to wait to put in evidence. And you never know what's going to happen in a trial. So the prosecutor would try hard to say, no, Your Honor, let's let this witness move these documents. Then they're in evidence, and they can do whatever they want with them.

So it may have been more a little bit of gamesmanship, and to try to throw the defense off, who has been saying this is all Mr. Gates' doing. BALDWIN: OK. The other development today, and I just ran through the fancy ostrich jacket and the watch and the clothes, apparently, the prosecution wanted to show these photos of these lavish items to the jurors. And the judge said, no.

The judge said specifically, "Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle."

Why would the judge make that call?

COYNE: Well, first, the prosecutors are trying to paint the details and tell their story, right? They want to get out the narrative that this guy was funding his lifestyle with money that he didn't declare income tax for.

And to do that, they want to show the jurors that this wasn't an accident, it wasn't some little amount of money. This is serious amounts of money used to buy big things, big apartments, fancy clothes, clothes that most people on the jury don't buy, and fancy cars.

BALDWIN: Which would have potentially resonated with the jurors, and the prosecutors really wanted that.

COYNE: Exactly.

The government -- the judge, I think, is trying to say, hey, we're not going to convict someone simply because they were wealthy and how they choose to spend their wealth. It has to be that they lied to the IRS and lied to the bank. That's the only crime here. So he's trying to cabin them in.

Each side is fighting to tell their narrative right now. And prosecutors want -- they want to say ostrich jacket every time, every day until closing, because that says, hey, that's a person who knows how much money they have, he's not being duped by his assistant, Rick Gates.

BALDWIN: Apparently, they're also not allowed to say the word oligarch.

COYNE: Yes, it's a hard one to pronounce. So, maybe...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Rich, rich Russians.

Last question. Do you think, in the end, Paul Manafort will testify? Will he take the stand?

COYNE: Very unlikely.

I mean, most defense attorneys caution against that at every turn. It's very risky. It's very hard not to get caught in some type of inconsistency, and really not necessarily sure there is much upside.

BALDWIN: OK. Sarah Coyne, thank you so much.

COYNE: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Coming up next, we will talk to the 17-year-old girl who survived this plane crash and actually pulled out her phone and started rolling. This is her video of the aftermath. So we will talk to her, and we will talk to an expert about what went wrong, but also how 103 people survived it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:28:23]

BALDWIN: Breaking news out of Texas, Houston police announcing a break in the shooting death of a Houston cardiologist who treated President George H.W. Bush.

Moments ago, police received a tip that has led to an arrest warrant for a suspect in the shooting. The tip was that the suspect's mother died 20 years ago during surgery that was performed by this doctor.

The suspect in this case is Joseph Pappas. Police are actively looking for him and believe he may be suicidal. The doctor was shot while cycling to work on July 20.

And now to this story here out of Mexico, where it's being called a kind of miracle. An Aeromexico jet crashes and burns near the airport. Somehow -- I mean, when you look at these pictures, somehow, all 103 people on board managed to survive.

Watch as a passenger records the moment this strong wind gust brought down this twin-engine jet moments after takeoff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SCREAMING)

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so scared. (INAUDIBLE) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) right now. (INAUDIBLE) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (INAUDIBLE) (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

Oh, my God. Oh, my God.