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NYT: Trump Thinks He Can Show Mueller He's On A "Witch Hunt"; White House Threatens 25 Percent Tariffs On $200B Of Chinese Goods; Schumer: GOP Concealing Records About Kavanaugh; Judge Discusses Whether Manafort Himself Will Testify. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 2, 2018 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. The dance continues over President Trump and will he or won't he be interviewed by the special counsel. When it comes to the dance, is it a waltz, tango, samba perhaps, whatever it is at this point, it isn't pretty.

CNN has learned the special counsel has now offered to cut back the number of obstruction of justice related questions that they would ask the president. But -- and it's a big one -- they want those questions answered in person. So, where is the president's legal team on this? Here is Rudy Giuliani.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: We're still negotiating. We haven't stopped negotiating with them. The most recent letter, they sent us a proposal. We responded to their proposal. They took about ten days. Yesterday, we got a letter back. We're in the process of responding to their proposal.


BOLDUAN: "The New York Times" reports that the president has been actually pushing his team to strike a deal because, as "The New York Times" puts it, in effect, he believes he can convince the investigators of his belief that their own inquiry is a witch hunt.

At the same time, his lawyers and the White House are still mopping up the mess from this tweet about 24 hours ago where President Trump said, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions should end the Mueller probe all together. How can you desire to sit down with the same investigators that you want your ag to put out of business at the very same time?"

Of course, we do not know the answer to that. Regardless, was the tweet itself obstruction of justice? Trump's team says, nothing to see here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GIULIANI: It is the medium that he uses for opinions. One of the good things about using that is he established a clear sort of practice now that he expresses his opinions on Twitter. He used the word should. He didn't use the word must. There was no presidential directive.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is not obstructing. He is fighting back.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us. So, Kaitlan, these negotiations over a possible interview have been going on for months. Where do they stand now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They have been going on for eight months now, Kate. It seems that they are still going on. It's not new that the special counsel wants to ask the president about obstruction. We knew that, but now it's getting down to how he is going to ask the president about it. Will it be in person or will it be on paper?

Now this latest proposal from the special counsel's team says that he will limit the number of questions about obstruction. But he still wants to do it in an in-person interview with the president.

Now the president's legal team, their latest proposal had included letting him ask about obstruction but doing so in written answers only and then limiting his in-person questions to questions that dealt with things that events that happened before President Trump was inaugurated.

So, those would likely focus only on those potential collusion questions and nothing about obstruction of justice. All of these debates over whether or not they are actually going to sit down are going on while Giuliani is still saying that President Trump does want to sit down with him, he is still expressing interest in it.

But it's the legal team that has the reservations about that. But all of this is happening while the president is continuing to lash out at the special counsel. Kate, that's because the president believes he can sway public opinion to agree with him that this is a witch hunt and be on board this investigation has gone on for too long, that it's a witch hunt.

Whether or not that pans out is up to the president's Twitter feed and whether he can convince his supporters of it.

BOLDUAN: So, stand by to stand by. Great to see you, Kaitlan. Thank you so much.

Joining me right now for much to discuss, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. Senator, thanks for coming in.

SENATOR ROB PORTMAN (R-OH), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: You bet. Thanks for having me on. BOLDUAN: Do you think President Trump should sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller's team?

PORTMAN: That's up to him and his lawyers. I do think we ought to let the Mueller investigation go forward and let the facts go where they might, you know, follow the facts. I also think that the Mueller investigation ought to wrap up. I think it has been a long time.

I think the American people deserve to know what the Russians did in our election in 2016. That will inform us for 2018, which is one reason I hoped this could be wrapped up by now. We have to remember, that's really what this investigation is about. It's about the Russians, their meddling and why they did it, how they did it, and how to avoid it from happening in the future.

BOLDUAN: With the understanding that Attorney General Jeff Sessions can't end the investigation because he recused himself, when you see the statement from the president, when he says Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this investigation right now, is that an opinion or is that a direction?

PORTMAN: You know, I don't know. He did use the word should. It wasn't a surprise to me. I don't know if that's the first time he said it. It seems like he said before.

BOLDUAN: Not as explicitly is the point people are making.

PORTMAN: It wasn't surprising.

BOLDUAN: I want to talk to you about trade. It's a very big deal for your state. It's a very big deal for you.

[11:05:06] The president is considering raising the stakes in the trade war with China even further. Here is what he said this week about that during a rally. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: China had others -- remember this -- have targeted our farmers. Not good. Not nice. You know what our farmers are saying? It's OK. We can take it. These are incredible people. We can take it.


BOLDUAN: He is essentially saying that farmers -- I don't know -- don't think it's a big deal, farmers say they can take it. That's not what I'm hearing from farmers that we have interviewed. Do you agree with him?

PORTMAN: Well, I think the ag community is split. I will be at the Annual Ag Breakfast tomorrow morning at the Ohio State Fair. I will hear from farmers. I think based on what I heard in the last several weeks -- I go home every weekend and spend a lot of time talking to folks who are in the ag sector. I think it was split. There are people who understand, as all of us do, that China is not playing by the rules, that they have cheated, they continue to. We need to hold them to account.

On the other hand, we need to be careful how we do it. If we're doing it in a way that invites retaliation against our farmers and our service providers and our workers and manufacturing in Ohio, it does have a negative impact.

BOLDUAN: Isn't that what is happening?

PORTMAN: Well, my concern, which I've expressed as recently as last night in the Senate floor is that we have so many balls in the air right now in terms of trade. I get it on China. I agree with the president. I commend him for going after China on their unfair trade practices.

But we need to bring some of this to a close, because we aren't having -- it's my understanding -- serious negotiations at this point. With China, for example, I honestly don't think the Chinese government knows what our objectives are.

We said two things. One, we have said we would like to increase exports in the United States to affect the trade balance. Second, we want to go after some of their structural issues that they have, not allowing U.S. companies to have a majority ownership in many sectors in China or the way they take our intellectual property and leap frog us on technology.

So, I think we need to do both with but be very clear with them what our objectives are, what our goals are, and then try to lower the temperature a little bit so that we are not impacting our farmers as much.

BOLDUAN: So, then I take that --

PORTMAN: China is a big market for soybeans.

BOLDUAN: Yes, soybeans, it's a huge market for Ohio. Should I take that that you think raising the tariffs on China even further is a bad idea?

PORTMAN: Well, let's talk first. Let's see where we are. I mean, we are talking about going up to 25 percent from 10 percent on some of these tariffs. China is responding in kind, of course. The big issue I have focused on frankly is to say, China is one issue. We do need to hold them to account.

Again, I commend the administration for doing that. We need to change the dynamic there. But with regard to the rest of the world, we're doing something under what's called 232, which is a national security waiver to the trade laws that I have really focused on more, which is to say -- our legislation yesterday we introduced tightens that up so that we're not taking on these other countries without any justification because that's a real problem. Then they do the same to us. So, we're doing it on steel and aluminum. They're doing it on agriculture products, on manufactured products, on services. That begins an escalation of tariffs that could lead to a trade war without any justification.

In other words, no justification on unfair trade. No rationale with regard to a domestic industry being injured under this national security waiver, you can just raise tariffs without a reason other than national security. Well, I think it's being misused. Other countries are responding as you would expect in kind by raising tariffs on us.

So, we need to get back to talking, negotiating, working out these trade agreements. My hope is we can do that with regard to Mexico and Canada in particular, because they are huge trading partners. Our two biggest trading partners in Ohio.

The 232 tariffs that I've talked about a moment ago are causing us, in my view, to have even a more difficult time, not just with the tariffs being raised on our products and our consumers being hit by higher prices, but also not being able to get to an agreement on NAFTA to keep this North American free trade agreement together.

It should be updated, but we need to come to a resolution on some of these issues. The uncertainty this is causing, Kate, is I think a headwind in an economy that is otherwise very strong. I would want to keep this momentum going on the economy and resolve some of these trade issues.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about the Supreme Court nominee, Judge Kavanaugh. Chuck Schumer is saying that Republicans are concealing records about his past, about his record. They want to see more documents before anything happens with his confirmation process. Why is more information a bad thing when it comes to a lifetime tenure, such an important confirmation?

PORTMAN: Yes, well, relevant information is a very good thing. It's my understanding that Chairman Grassley, who is running the process here is the has offered up more documents by far than any other supreme court nominee has ever had, because he did serve in the administration as associate counsel of the president.

good thing. It's my understanding that chairman gas rassley, has offered up more documents by far than any other Supreme Court nominee has ever had, because he did serve in the administration as associate counsel of the president.

[11:10:10] He also has a long record as a judge issuing over 200 opinions. I think anything that is relevant to his legal thinking, how he goes about looking at some of the issues is appropriate. That will all be there. The question is --

BOLDUAN: What's Schumer doing?

PORTMAN: What senator Schumer is saying is that with regard to his role as staff secretary, which is basically you are the person -- the traffic cop for all information to the president, all information out, that, Kate, is literally millions of documents. It's not a substantive document for Brett Kavanaugh.

It's him saying, OK, I got this from the secretary of interior. I will send this to you, Mr. President, and then take out whatever the president writes on that. A lot would be subject to executive privilege. I think it's a fishing expedition. I think it goes too far.

But yes, if it's a document that he authored or a document that he was involved with as associate counsel, certainly, or certainly as a judge, that's totally appropriate. Again, more documents are being offered than any time in history.

So, I think there will be plenty of documents. I don't think that frankly that's the issue that many Democrats have with Brett Kavanaugh. They've already said they're no. Senator Schumer said he's no already.

So, the issue is not the number of documents they will look at. They decided they will be against him. By the way, I think he would be a terrific justice. He is a good person. He is humble. He is a good listener. He is compassionate.

My hope is he will have the opportunity to have his hearing soon. I think the American people will see that in him. Plenty of documents will be out there. We will have the opportunity to see what I think will be a nice performance by him and the opportunity for us to move together to a vote that I think will be bipartisan. I think he will be confirmed.

BOLDUAN: Senator, finally, it just came out yesterday that Urban Meyer, the head football coach, of course, of Iowa state, one of the top coaches in all of college football right now, he is on paid administrative leave as the school is investigating whether he was aware or turned a blind eye to domestic violence allegations against an assistant coach. I just wanted to ask you, because it's rocking the college football world, what's your reaction?

PORTMAN: Well, Urban Meyer is a friend. As you said, he is a legend, not just at Ohio state, but Florida and other places, just an incredible coach. I know him and his wife. They are good people, good character. We will see what happens. I don't know any of the details, Kate.

I'm learning as you are from the media. Ohio state takes these things seriously, as they should. We will see what happens. I have a lot of confidence in him, not just his football skills, but also him and his character.

BOLDUAN: Senator Portman, thanks for coming on. I appreciate it.

PORTMAN: Thanks, Kate. Take care.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Coming up for us, the battle over Paul Manafort's luxury closet. What prosecutors want to show these images of a python vest, a python jacket, I'm confused by all the flashy items. It's why -- how they were paid for and also today, what the judge is now saying about who can and will testify.

Plus, why on earth is the TSA considering removing screening for passengers at over 150 airports, when experts are blasting the idea as stupid? Details on that CNN exclusive coming up.



BOLDUAN: It's become a trial that has all the trappings of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, million-dollar homes, cars, a $15,000 jacket made from ostrich, an $18,000 python jacket as well. Those are some of the flashy details coming out of the trial of Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman.

His luxury style is not necessarily a crime. How he paid for it all is what is a big question here. Also, a very big question as they begin day three of these high stakes case brought by the special counsel Robert Mueller, who will the star witnesses be, who will take the stand?

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is following all of this for us. So, Shimon, what are you hearing about Rick Gates and Paul Manafort and the stars of the show? Will they testify?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, stars of the show, certainly. As you mentioned, the clothing here taking center -- Manafort's purchase of what appears to be 1980s style, somewhat tacky purchases, really the prosecutors here are using this to show how Manafort hid money overseas, the money he used to pay for this came from overseas accounts.

It was wired to these various vendors, this one suit company. The other thing that we are learning today is that Rick Gates is going to testify. Prosecutors making it clear this morning, first thing when they came into court to say, yes, we do plan on calling Rick Gates.

There was some confusion over that yesterday because one of the prosecutors had mentioned the possibility that Rick Gates wouldn't testify. So, the prosecutors felt the need to clarify that. We could see that happening tomorrow. That would be a big day.

He is going to be a key witness. He was man Manafort's deputy. He is now cooperating with prosecutors. So, that could happen tomorrow. The other thing that came up today is whether or not the defense could ask witnesses if Paul Manafort had been audited by the IRS.

Then there was this question of whether or not Paul Manafort is going to take the stand. The judge said that he is not going to ask that of the defense team right now. He will wait until next week. But clearly, the defense here wants to say that there was all these issues with Manafort, then why wasn't he audited by the IRS? The other thing here quickly is that this case is moving quickly.


PROKUPECZ: We can see this wrapped up by the end of next week. Prosecutors say they intend to rest their case. We will see if the defense puts Manafort up. If there are witnesses, who are going to testify on behalf of Manafort.

[11:20:08] BOLDUAN: It is moving really fast. Shimon, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

Let's talk about this right now with CNN legal analyst, defense attorney, who represented Rick Gates for a time and a former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu, and Michael Sherer, a national political reporter for "The Washington Post." Great to see you both.

So, Shan, you worked with Gates for a while. If you were working with Manafort right now, would you put him on the stand?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's always the million-dollar question for defense counsel. I am reluctant to put a client on the stand. It's an enormous amount of pressure for any witness, much less a criminal defendant. I would really have to kind of vet him to see how he comes across that way.

It may be though the only chance they have to humanize him to the jury. Right now, actually, it's very early in the trial. I think things are going well for the defense at the moment.

BOLDUAN: I can't tell if it's early or towards the end it. It's moving so fast. What do you think of the fact there was a question if Gates was going to testify and they say they are going to bring Rick Gates to testify. What's this about?

WU: I think that was actually the judge's pressure affecting the prosecutor. Under pressure, Ellis was trying to rush him on a particular document relevant to Gates, why don't you just ask gates about this. The prosecutor is saying maybe won't testify. I think he misspoke. I think it would be devastating for the government if Gates did not testify. It would allow Manafort to say, there's the person to blame and they are afraid to put him on.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Michael, let me bring you in. Trump clearly -- President Trump is clearly bothered by how things are going with the trial so far. Look no further than his Twitter feed. What do you think Manafort testifying would then do?

MICHAEL SHERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Trump sees both sides of the Manafort coin. He wants everyone to know that what Manafort is under trial for right now has nothing to do with the 2016 campaign and his relationship with Trump, which is true.

On the other side, he wants to use the Manafort case as a way of further discrediting -- which has been a campaign for a while now -- the broader Mueller investigation, which brought these indictments. There are stakes here for the president.

If Manafort gets off of these charges or if there's a hung jury, you can look to President Trump's Twitter feed to say, you know, look, the whole game that Robert Mueller has been pushing here has been nothing from the beginning and this is proof of it.

On the flip side, if Manafort is convicted, I think Trump is going to try again to minimize this and basically say, he is just convicted for tax and bank claims. You saw the tweet yesterday about Al Capone.

He was trying to make the case that Paul Manafort is not a hardened criminal or these allegations do not involve the sort of criminal activity of some of the country's most notorious gangsters.

BOLDUAN: Jeff not compared to Al Capone, sure. Michael, also, there's reporting in your paper that the Mueller team is now open to limiting questions when it comes to a Trump interview, allowing some answers from Trump to come in the form of writing, reporting in The New York Times that Trump is pushing his team to actually reach a deal because he thinks he can convince investigators of his belief that their investigation is a witch hunt. Does it seem to you like this is becoming more of a reality?

SHERER: The likelihood of an interview? You know, it's hard to tell. There's two legal strategies going on here. One is the actual legal strategy to protect the president. The other is a public relations strategy to protect the president politically.

On that latter one, the president is clearly making the case publicly that this report that he wants to give an interview. We've heard that before for many months. He has done nothing wrong, he feels like he is an innocent man.

There's a lot of -- on the actual legal case against the president, lawyers for a long time have been advising him not to sit down because very often in these cases, the crime that comes out is misleading the FBI or misleading investigators in an interview.

A number of the indictments so far we've had from Mueller have been along these lines. There is real legal jeopardy in submitting to those interviews. You know, what we know about President Trump is he has a hard time sticking to a script or sticking to the truth when he speaks. There's a real danger.

BOLDUAN: As I said earlier, the dance continues at least for now. Michael, great to see you. Shan, thanks so much.

All right. Coming up, do you want to get on a plane if you knew that fellow passengers and their bags had not gone through any security screening? That may be the future at some U.S. airports. Why? That's coming up.



BOLDUAN: A stunning proposal, confoundedly stupid, that's how some terrorism experts are describing a plan being considered by the Transportation Safety Administration, which would do away with passenger screenings at more than 150 small airports. That means no TSA security checks, carry-on luggage screenings, nothing.

CNN's Rene Marsh broke this story. She's joining me now with the details. Rene, this would be a huge change in the post 9/11 world. What is this all about?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: It certainly would be and I can tell you the reaction has been swift.