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Paul Manafort Trial Continues; U.S. Officials Sound Alarm on Russian Election Interference; Mueller Wants to Interview Pop Star & Dad Who Helped Set Up the 2016 Trump Tower Meeting. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The homeland security secretary just said our democracy itself is in the crosshairs. Is President Trump aware of this?

THE LEAD starts right now.

The nation's intelligence and security chiefs all come out in a show of force to warn, America is under attack and Russia is interfering in the 2018 midterms. How do they square that with the president calling interference a hoax?

Manafort's millions. Prosecutors trying to paint a picture with more gaudy details of the Manafort lifestyle, including a $10,000 karaoke machine. Wonder if his go-to was "Back in the USSR."

Plus, critics suggests it's Trump vs. planet Earth -- the administration launching its latest attack on environmental policies from President Obama. The latest has to do with cars. How might this affect your wheels and/or your wheezing?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead today.

Stung by criticism from even Republican officials that President Trump seems AWOL on a compelling national cohesive strategy to fend off Russian election attacks, the White House today turned the White House briefing into a show of force of top national security and intelligence officials, insisting there are plans to fight foreign election interference in the upcoming 2018 and 2020 elections and attempting to assure Americans that President Trump himself has specifically directed them to protect the integrity of our democracy.

With the president's national security adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, even saying that President Trump personally cares deeply about election interference, despite the unfortunate fact that the president has repeatedly called election interference a hoax.

And top White House officials have echoed the president's attack on the law enforcement investigation into 2016 election interference as a witch-hunt. And while his Cabinet secretaries definitely put on a good show today, the president himself still, critics point out, has not forcefully and consistently made his position on this clear and consistent.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where the president is about to hold a rally.

Jeff, over and over this afternoon, reporters tried to square the president calling election interference a hoax with the administration officials claiming that the president cares deeply about this threat.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, you're right. No one in the world, besides the president of the United States, has as big of a megaphone to talk about any issue, but when it comes to Russian election hacking, he's either equivocated or stayed silent.

So stung by the fallout from the Helsinki summit, the president, on his own, we're told, dispatched his team of national security officials to make the case for him.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump's full national security team stepping forward today to say something he has not: American democracy is under attack.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The intelligence community continues to be concerned about the threats of upcoming U.S. elections, both the midterms and the presidential elections of 2020.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Make no mistake. The scope of this foreign influence threat is both broad and deep.

ZELENY: At an afternoon briefing, the comments from the director of national intelligence, the secretary of homeland security, and the FBI director standing in stark contrast to the president's tepid assessment of Russian election interference.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds. OK?

ZELENY: It was a show of force clearly intended to change the subject and perhaps to make up for lost time.

COATS: The president has specifically directed us to make the matter of the election meddling and securing our election process a top priority.

ZELENY: If the president has done so, it's not been in public. Standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, Mr. Trump said this:

TRUMP: He just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be.

ZELENY: Ever since that moment at the Helsinki summit, which even some of the president's staunchest supporters called a debacle, the White House has been trying to clean up his words.

National Security Adviser John Bolton trying to do so again today.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: When the two leaders got together with their -- their senior advisers, President Putin said the first issue that President Trump raised was election meddling.

ZELENY: But the comments from all officials were a far cry from what the president has repeatedly said about Russian election meddling and what he recently told reporters.

QUESTION: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you very much. No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. Make your way out.

QUESTION: No, you don't believe that to be the case?

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.


ZELENY: So, the question of course, is will the president make this own declaration in his own voice, use his bully pulpit to call out Russian election hacking and saying it is indeed a problem?

Jake, we have been to rally after rally where the president has called this a hoax. We will see if he changes his tune tonight here in Pennsylvania -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right, the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

My experts are here with me.

Let's be honest here. My guess is that the White House did this because they were being attacked and criticized by Republican officials, not just Democrats, including Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, very conservative on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Take a listen to him talking to CNN's Manu Raju about how the president has not focused enough on this threat.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: While the president has been inconsistent with his tweets and some of the messaging that he's put out on it, he's been the only one in the government that hasn't been paying attention to this.


TAPPER: The point being that everyone else is paying attention to it. So we should be not as concerned as people are.

What do you make of this?


Republicans widely do recognize the threat in a way that Donald Trump hasn't publicly done. But also if you take the threat seriously, you have to wonder what would happen to Republicans if there was an attack on the election in the midterms, a state office hacked into?

If anything happens in the midterms, it would blow back so severely...

TAPPER: You mean on Election Day itself?



TAPPER: There have been attacks.


CARPENTER: If there wasn't a display of force from the administration at the press briefing today. And Donald Trump will have to make a statement like that at some time.


CARPENTER: Nobody wants the responsibility for that later.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about this, because the argument is that President Trump is saying something completely different from his Cabinet, which actually happens quite a bit. But is that not important for President Trump himself to give a statement about this is serious, and I'm taking it seriously and it's real?

BRYAN LANZA, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I mean, he obviously thought it was serious enough to mention to Putin when they first met. He said it throughout the past year-and-a-half.

He instructed his -- he had a Cabinet meeting on this just recently to discuss it. He has his Cabinet there in a show force of what he believes. There's no ambiguity if -- I mean, if you're looking for a little nuance, sure, I'm sure you can find it. He hasn't issued a declarative statement.

But his actions...


LANZA: You're conflating multiple things. He's calling the investigation into collusion a witch-hunt.


TAPPER: He has called election interference a hoax.


LANZA: When he's referring to the hoax, them saying like any votes have been changed.


LANZA: Absolutely not false. He acknowledged that an attack took place. I think that took place in March of 2017. He said they attempted to interfere in our election.

That is a much different term than saying they actually interfered in our election. I think we're nuancing it just so we can provide some space and have some commentary, but his positions have been clear for the past year-and-a-half.


TAPPER: You disagree, Karine.


And can I just say, one, it's great to hear Republican senators speak against this, but Republicans in the House just last week, they stalled -- they stalled money that was supposed to go into states to help fight election interference.

And they stalled that. So they need to catch up with where the secretaries are today, and especially clearly our intelligence community.

But with Donald Trump, he uses his Twitter to attack Robert Mueller. What is Robert Mueller supposed to be doing as a whole? No, but he's also supposed to get to the bottom of why we were cyber-attacked in 2016.


JEAN-PIERRE: How are we not, when he says -- he says Jeff Sessions needs to end, end the investigation? How are we supposed to take that?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: And one point I would say about this is, a year-and-a-half ago, a year-and-a-half ago, the intelligence community said that the Russians worked to interfere with our elections and worked to interfere with the elections to help Donald Trump.

And I'm sorry, he has not accepted that statement multiple times when he was given the opportunity to do so. And, in fact, I think the whole world, not just our country, the whole world saw him basically cower to Putin, instead of say to Putin, don't interfere with our elections. What you did was wrong.

He had a press conference with Vladimir Putin, which was -- I mean, he seemed subservient to me, instead of defending American interests. And I think all of those things are why they may be playing cleanup.

But, at the end of the day, the issue with this administration is that you have a Cabinet that does one thing and a president who continuously...


LANZA: At the end of the day, it's been this administration that has actually done something against Russia interference, where the Obama administration did nothing.


TAPPER: I just want to play this sound of Director of National Intelligence Coats talking about the nature of Russia's meddling, when specifically asked whether there's a particular party benefiting from the current efforts by Russia.


WRAY: What we see is the Russians are looking for every opportunity, regardless of party, regardless of whether or not it applies to the election, to continue their pervasive efforts to undermine our fundamental values.


TAPPER: Coats is saying what they're all saying, which is that the Russians in this instance -- in these instances and also in 2016 trying to sow discord.

Especially, you saw those Facebook ads earlier this week. They were on the left. They were on the right. They were all over the place just trying to get people agitated.


Last week, however, President Trump tweeted -- quote -- "I'm very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming election. Based on the fact that no president's been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don't want Trump."

Now, that's not what DNI Coats says. DNI Coats says they're going to be pushing for everybody.

LANZA: There's a little bit of space.

Obviously, the president's using your language that makes some people uncomfortable. He's having fun with it. But also you have to understand from his perspective he sees himself as one of the toughest presidents on Russia, if you compare it to President Obama. And he says, of course they're not going to want me to continue.

I'm going to have a difference of opinion on how that plays out, but he certainly feels that his aggressiveness against Russia is...


TANDEN: Barack Obama implemented sanctions.


TANDEN: And only was overwhelmed by Congress in implementing the sanctions.


LANZA: When did President Obama step in and actually do something?

CARPENTER: December 29, on his way out the door.


LANZA: Exactly.


LANZA: So, Obama is not president? It's McConnell that's actually running the government?

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, but, remember, there was an election happening at the time.

And it would have been nice for both sides to come...


TAPPER: Hold on. Let's listen to Neera for a second.

TANDEN: Vladimir Putin himself said in Helsinki he wanted Donald Trump to win.

It's not that we don't know what happened. He himself said he wanted Donald Trump to win. And we have the intelligence community's findings. So it may well be the case that in the upcoming elections, we do not know how Russia will sow discord.

And I'm glad the intelligence communities are addressing it. But we do know what happened in 2016, despite Donald Trumps' statements to the contrary. And that is that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government worked to elect him using counterintelligence forces.


TAPPER: Go ahead.

CARPENTER: one part that's confusing about the Trump administration's argument that he's tough on Russia is that they continually take credit for sanctions that the president himself has never signaled support for.

TANDEN: Or opposed. He actually -- the State Department opposed these sanctions when Congress was trying to pass them.


TAPPER: So, DNI Coats said something else very interesting today when he was asked about the Helsinki summit and what exactly President Trump talked about with Vladimir Putin. Take a listen.


QUESTION: You're saying today that the president has directed you to make the issue of election meddling a priority. How do you explain the disconnect between what you are saying, his advisers, and what the president has said about this issue?

COATS: I'm not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki.


TAPPER: "I'm not in a position to understand fully what happened in Helsinki or talk about it?"

I understand talking about it, but understand fully?

CARPENTER: A stunning, but honest reaction, I would say.


TANDEN: I mean, we should be deeply disturbed as a country that the director of national intelligence, the DNI, does not actually know what transpired between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Would you admit that that's a little odd?

LANZA: I would prefer him to know more information.


LANZA: Transparency is important in this process. We need all the agencies working together.

The president's going to -- he makes this decision for himself. He's -- he was elected to do these sort of diplomatic conversations, whether he wants to include other people or not. It is his discretion.


CARPENTER: I don't think he campaigned on holding meetings on Vladimir Putin during the campaign.


JEAN-PIERRE: Two hours. More than two hours.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

Breaking news -- why Robert Mueller wants to talk to a Russian pop star.

Then a family divided -- Ivanka Trump saying the news of family separations at the border was one of her worst moments during her time in the White House. Did she mention this to her father? We will talk about that next.


[16:17:46] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's a breaking news in our politics lead. Special counsel Robert Mueller wants to talk to this man.


TAPPER: The dulcet tones of Emin Agalarov -- the Azerbaijani Russian pop star who along with his father helped set up that now infamous Trump Tower meeting where the president's son was expecting Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Let's discuss with our experts. We also have Glenn Kirschner with us.

Glenn, you're a former federal prosecutor. What do you think Mueller is looking for from Agalarov?

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think, Jake, more information about the circumstances leading up to the Trump Tower meeting is more information. I can tell you, as a career prosecutor, the more relevant, accurate information we can get, the more we can kind of fill in gaps and the more we can detect when perhaps other people are being less than fully forthcoming with us.

TAPPER: If you were advising Agalarov, would you tell him to cooperate?

BRYAN LANZA, FORMER DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Absolutely. I mean, without hesitation. Cooperate, get the facts out there as fast, as clear as possible and move on.

TAPPER: What do you make of this all?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think we're going to learn a lot more about Trump's relationships with Russians before his presidential campaign.

TAPPER: Right. This dates back to the --

CARPENTER: This dates back to at least to the 2013 beauty pageant and then performed at that beauty pageant and they have a longtime relationship. Reportedly, Eric Trump was texting with this pop star after the election. They were good friends and this is what provided the inroad to the Trump Tower meeting. They were friends with these people.

And so, when Rob Goldstone, who is this pop star's producer, says Eric Trump, do you want to set up a meeting, the infamous words "I love it if that's what you have" --


CARPENTER: -- that's how this all happened. And so, he's a very important player and, you know, I would love for him to talk to Robert Mueller, but I doubt it's in his interest.

TAPPER: I guess you don't really have to, right? I mean, if you're -- if you're not an American, you don't have to talk to the special counsel.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes, I mean, I think the odd thing about all of this is how few people are talking to the special prosecutor when you people claim to be innocent. And I think the big question today is why the president United States hasn't talked to Robert Mueller? I mean, this has been a big back-and-forth dance for a very long time. If everyone's innocent, then just talk to prosecutor.

But we are in a situation where maybe that Mueller has to subpoena the president of the United States because they can't come to a certain agreement.

I think the president's take on whether he actually talked to anyone post this meeting or before this meeting took place is a really important question around collusion.

[16:20:05] TAPPER: And we're -- let's talk about that. You worked under Mueller. "The New York Times" is reporting that the president really actually does want to talk to Mueller and his lawyers are not letting him. There's this back-and-forth about what questions can be asked.

As somebody who worked with Mueller, do you think the president should talk to him?

KIRSCHNER: Well, I'll tell you, if I were the president's lawyers, I would say no and --


KIRSCHNER: Well, because I think the president has only a passing acquaintance with the truth. So, I think if he sits down with Bob Mueller, it can only end badly for the president.

And let me tell you, Jake, we have seen the one sided negotiation by Rudy Giuliani for months and months and months. We don't even know if Bob Mueller has been on the other side of that negotiation or not. So -- but I was intrigued when I saw recently reporting that seems to be confirmed that Bob Mueller is contemplating either narrowing the scope of the investigation or providing written questions for the president to answer.

At first, I didn't -- I didn't really buy into Bob Mueller kind of bending like that, but the more I thought about it, here's what I think might be going on -- let's assume that the question he asks in written form of the president is, listen, did you tell Director Comey to lay off Michael Flynn.? There are only two answers to that question. If the president says, no, well guess what? Bob Mueller may be able to call his bluff and prove him to be a liar, if he says yes, what has he done? He has now arguably admitted to obstruction of justice.

I think these written questions are a real danger zone. I suspect if they are given to the defense, the defense will push him right back and say, you know what, we're going to pass.

TAPPER: This is why, Bryan, the president's lawyers don't want him to do this. They don't want him -- maybe you would phrase it more charitably or diplomatically, but the president whether you call it embellishment, he does not necessarily stick to the facts.

LANZA: You know, I mean, he -- what he does is he paints the picture as he sees it. I think, you know, we both look at a glass it's either half-empty or half-full. I've had that this experience with the media before --

TAPPER: I told you he would be charitable about it, yes.

LANZA: You know, I see things differently than CNN and MSNBC, just like Fox sees things differently. That's the issue you're going to have. It's going to be open for interpretation.

TANDEN: Can I just turn this back to (INAUDIBLE)? I mean, this whole like what is the truth and what -- did you expect it?

LANZA: Well, truth is pretty clear.

TANDEN: Did you say this to Comey?

LANZA: The truth is there's no collusion.


TAPPER: We don't know whether there is or is not.


LANZA: Adam Schiff would leak a collusion conversation by now.

TAPPER: We don't know if there is or isn't.

TANDEN: Regardless of whether it's good for the president or bad for his lawyer, I think the question here is, do the American people deserve an answer to the prosecutors' questions here? If the president is innocent, give your answer. If he's not innocent, give your answer. This isn't about the president's ability to survive, getting through

or him not remembering. This is -- the American people deserve to know whether the president committed a crime and he deserves to tell us. We would demand this of any common criminal. The president needs to answer the questions.

CARPENTER: One other thing I -- most interesting about this debate that's emerging is how prosecutors -- and maybe you can answer this -- to examine the president's Twitter statements, particularly when it comes to obstruction of justice. It seems to me people are trying to draw a line between opinion and official statements, but I don't know that criminals are allowed to draw any distinction like that when they go to court, if a prosecutor has like a text messages and said, I was just joking.

TAPPER: Yes. So, the president this week said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop the Mueller investigation. Some people say that's clear obstruction of justice, Rudy Giuliani says that's just this opinion, he's just spouting off.

KIRSCHNER: Well, there's a little bit of wiggle room because he said -- the president's tweet said he should stop. They say it's not a directive, sounds pretty direct to me. But let me -- to answer your question, tweets equal admissible evidence. Here's how -- the federal rules of evidence say a statement of a party opponent, which means the defendant, are admissible and they're admissible without regard to the form they take, whether they're spoken, whether they're written, whether they're tweeting.

And the other problematic thing for the president is walk-backs are not admissible, not from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, not from Rudy Giuliani. So, let me tell you, those tweets are valuable evidence.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone's stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Paul Manafort decided not to sing to the special counsel and now we know about his $10,000 karaoke machine. New details coming out of court about his lifestyle funded by his allegedly dirty money.

Stay with us.


[16:29:16] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Prosecutors in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort say they do plan to call his former number two on the campaign Rick Gates to the stand. The government's star witness who took a plea deal was a protege of Manafort and worked with him for more than a decade. The prosecution has focused on how they say Manafort illegally funded his extravagant lifestyle which includes nearly half a million dollars on landscaping.

We have the story covered for all angles but let's begin with CNN's Jessica Schneider outside federal court in Virginia. And, Jessica, apparently, Manafort had a real affinity for karaoke.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, a $10,000 affinity. That's how much he spent on a karaoke system for his Hamptons home, and really that wasn't all. Prosecutors have brought up vendors and retailers to document just how much Paul Manafort spent.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Prosecutors are going to great lengths to prove Paul Manafort lived a life of extravagant luxury.