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Trump on Trump Tower Meeting; Trump's Attorney Admits Mistake; Gates Expected to Testify; Sanctions on Iran. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 6, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:26] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The president changes his story about that Trump Tower meeting with Russians again. He's defending his campaign and his son, making the legal mess better or worse?

Plus, the special counsel does his talking in court. So this week is huge. The star witness in the Paul Manafort trial is his former deputy and a Trump campaign insider.

And the next big test of the midterm mood is tomorrow as Republicans scramble to hold an Ohio House seat Democrats last won when Ronald Reagan was president. The current Republican president is a big issue.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I said, Troy, why -- did you invite Trump in here, the president? He said, no, I didn't. So, you know, I think Donald Trump decides where he wants to go. And I think they think they're firing up the base. But I have to tell you, at the same time he comes in here, I was with some women last night who said, hey, you know what, I'm not voting. And they're Republicans.


KING: Back to that race in a moment.

But we begin the hour with the president and his new direct admission that his son arranged a meeting with Russians expecting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. This new version is a 180-degree flip from the president's initial story about that now-infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting attended by the president's son, his son-in-law, several other top campaign officials, and with Russians who had ties to the Kremlin.

On Sunday, this tweet describing in the clearest terms yet what this meeting was about. This was a meeting, the president tweeted, to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics, and it went nowhere. Adding lastly, I did not know about it.

Now, remember, when "The New York Times" was first breaking news of this meeting, the president helped Don Junior draft a statement that claimed it was about adoption policy. After that was proven to be a lie, the president's story began evolving, to use a polite term. This is a year ago in Paris.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think, from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research or even research into your opponent. I've had many people -- I have only been in politics for two years, but I've had many people call up, oh, gee, we have information on this factor or this person or, frankly, Hillary. That's very standard in politics.


KING: So not the first time, as you see there, the president has talked about this as a meeting to get opposition research.

But why the more direct admission now? Sources close to the White House telling CNN the president is concerned about his son's fate, possible jeopardy in the special counsel investigation. The president denies that. He's not in Washington. He's up at his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, a working vacation of sorts, likely to wake up maybe to this headline if he's reading the hometown papers, "lies and more lies." Unflattering headline in "The Daily News." That is not uncommon.

Why is this significant and how significant is it? Again, a year ago the president did concede, yes, this was for opposition research purposes, but now he is directly saying in a presidential statement, a tweet is an official statement from the president of the United States, it was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, which, in a campaign, if you take information from a foreign national, that is illegal, correct?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Correct. I think it is significant. He's the president of the United States. This is a meeting that we know is being scrutinized by Bob Mueller. We know that also the drafting of the statement about the meeting is being scrutinized by Mueller.

The fact that the president keeps changing what happened here, I think, speaks to the larger concern that his legal team has about his involvement, his potential interview with Bob Mueller, that he doesn't stick with one story. I think it will be most significant what he says to Mueller directly if he does go forward with an interview. But the fact that he has so many public statements out there, he's answering questions for Bob Mueller without even having to sit down for this interview.

KING: And to that point, is he -- we are told repeatedly, I think everyone at the table gets the same information, the president wants to talk to Bob Mueller. His lawyers keep telling him, please, don't talk to Bob Mueller. The president is certainly making the case that Bob Mueller has reason

to talk to the president, isn't he/ The idea of being that you would only interview a president if he had unique knowledge that you can't get somewhere else. And this is the president, a, changing his story repeatedly, evolving, again, to be polite, or when he gets caught he changes his story, and, b, making clear that if I'm Bob Mueller, I want to know, when did you know about the meeting? What did you know about the meeting? How did you -- what happened on that Air Force One call?

JULIE BYKOWICZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I think that the most interesting part of that latest tweet was the fact that he said I did not know, exclamation point. And why that's relevant now -- and, again, it's something he's said all along, but the timing now is that, you know, we've reported at "The Journal" and others have reported that Michael Cohen has information that he'd like to share with the Mueller team about the president actually knowing about the meeting when it occurred. So the timing issue is really interesting and it is going to be key, I think.

[12:05:17] KING: And to that point, someone else who would know popped up after being missing for months, after leaving the White House. The communications director, Hope Hicks, suddenly pops up. We have pictures of her. She is a central player in all this. By all accounts, was on Air Force One when they were drafting the original statement that said this was about adoption policy. Hope Hicks was the middle person between the president of the United States and his son Don Junior.

There she is getting on the plane, Air Force One. Since she left the White House, we have not seen her publicly. There have been a number of reports that the president has wanted to talk to her and that she has been told not to talk to him by her lawyers. There she is there. And then the president, in the same weekend -- she's a central player here. We know the special counsel wants to talk to her about this. Likely has talked to her about this. And then this tweet comes. Huh?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. Well, I -- I do think -- I believe it's public that she's already talked to the independent counsel.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: So, you know, it's not as if she and the president could be sort of getting their stories straight before she talked to them. They've already got from her what they are going to get.

I think one of the interesting things, yes, the independent counsel wants to talk to the president in person and wants to question the president in person. But we also know, over the last couple of weeks, that the independent counsel is scrutinizing the president's Twitter feed in a way that I think we all assumed probably was the case, you know, even before the revelation. But the fact is, these tweets matter and that the independent counsel is looking at these tweets as an accurate reflection of what the president is saying both kind of to the public at large but also how he communicates to the other people involved in the case, how he communicates to Jeff Sessions over at the attorney general. And so I don't think we can look at these tweets and sort of write them off or shrug off that, oh, this is just a, you know, a kind of president tapping out on his phone. It's important. And it's going to be important as this case progresses.

KING: And a critical piece of it is that Mueller has all the documentation too. We presume he has texts, he has e-mails, he has meeting schedules, he has correspondence back and forth, which is important because the key players involved keep changing their stories publicly.

If you go back and look at this, July 8th, the Trump Junior statement, the meeting was primarily about adoption. We now know the president was involved in that, even though they denied it at the time.

July 9th, "The New York Times" writes, no, the meeting was about opposition research on Clinton. Trump Junior releases e-mails that show, yes, actually Clinton dirt was discussed.

Lawyer Jay Sekulow, the president denies the president had anything to do with the statement. Then Sarah Sanders evolves that a couple weeks later, says the president weighed in on the statement.

Then, in September, Trump Junior says he doesn't recall White House involvement in this statement. "The New York Times" personal lawyer tells Mueller Trump dictated the statement. You get where we're going here. This is -- every time they get caught, they change their story essentially. And then Michael Cohen, as you report, ready to tell Mueller he -- Trump knew about the meeting in advance. And then Trump tweeting, meeting was about opposition research.

So if you're Bob Mueller, you know -- a, you know a hell of a lot more than we do about this. You have all the documentation and the like. And, again, I -- beating a broken record, but the president keeps making the case that he should sit down with Mueller.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": And the big legal question here is not collusion. That's not really in statute here unless you're talking about anti-trust law. The question is conspiracy to commit a crime. And the crime in this case is obtaining help from a foreign power, which could be construed as an in-kind campaign contribution. This tug of war with the president, potentially sitting down with Mueller, is fascinating to me because of the prospect that a subpoena could come in.

Now, yesterday, Jay Sekulow, the president's lawyer, was on ABC and mentioned that if a subpoena comes in, they're going to file a motion to quash. That is going to go up almost certainly to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is 4-4 right now in terms of appointees from either party. The ninth vote, the potentially decisive vote, could be Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee. He could have a pivotal say in the president's, you know, legal fate. And he has expressed very expansive views of executive power in 1999. He suggested that the 8-0 Supreme Court decision forcing Nixon to hand over the Nixon tapes was potentially wrong. KING: And to your point about Jay Sekulow, he did say that in that

interview, He also had to clean up his own past statements because he's the one who went on television and said it's ridiculous the president had nothing to do with it. Now he says, oh, well.


JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I had bad information at that point. I made a mistake in my statement. I talked about that before. That happens when you have cases like this.

I think it's very important to point out that in a situation like this you have, over time, facts develop. That's what investigations do. I agreed to go on your network and others days within being retained on this and had a lot of information to process. I got that one wrong.


KING: Facts develop in a lot of things over time, but facts about something that's already happened and who knew what when or who was in the room or who was involved in drafting a statement, those don't change, they don't develop. The president either did or did not help draft a statement. There were plenty of people who could have given Jay Sekulow that information. So he either went on to be a political lawyer and didn't do any homework before he lied on television or said something that turned out to be not true, or, again, he's just like them and every time you get caught, you're going to change your story.

[12:10:02] PACE: I think this is less a reflection of this case and more a reflection of the clients that they have here. I mean Trump is known in a political setting and in a business setting for changing what he says depending on who he's talking to. He's done it for years. So the fact that he's doing it now in some ways isn't that much of a surprise, but the stakes are just so much higher, and he's putting people, his own attorneys and his own advisers, in terrible positions to go out and defend things that he himself later comes out and admits are different.

SHEAR: It's also absolutely emblematic of the lack of discipline in the president's team that has -- it's shifted. Different people have been in and out of that team, but they've all been characterized practically by a lack of any discipline that you normally see, especially in lawyers who are normally very careful about these things.

KAPUR: It's not the facts that are changing, it's the client's story that, you know, that seems to be changing. And the president does have this tendency to -- when information is going to come out, he has a tendency to try to get ahead of it. Tweeted publicly, it seems less nefarious to the eye. But, you know, it does that. Of course, tweets are public statements that can be used in court.

KING: Right. And to that point, that's why I'm so curious about the president over this weekend, a, after seeing Hope Hicks, knowing that she's a central player in all of this, and, b, knowing a lot more than any of us at the table know about where Mueller is and what he's doing, from his son's lawyers and everyone else's lawyers. That's why you get curious, what does the president know? What is he worried about when he does this?

And, meanwhile, related, separate but related, the Paul Manafort trial resumes next hour. This is a huge week for prosecutors. Expected on the stand soon, Manafort's long-time right-hand man Rick Gates. Gates handled all of Manafort's day-to-day business then joined him at a Trump campaign position. He's not cooperating as part of a plea agreement with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. His testimony is a key test for prosecutors and the credibility of their big cooperating witnesses.

Our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, following this trial, joins us now live here in Washington. Is today the day, Shimon? Do we get Rick Gates? And when he takes the stand, what are we looking for?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, quite honestly, we don't know. We know that the witness who was testifying on Friday, the accountant, one of the accountants, she's going to continue testifying this afternoon when Manafort's lawyers are going to get to question her.

That is the big question now is when does Rick Gates take the stand? And some of what we're going to see and learn from for the first time, perhaps, is just the extent of his cooperation. Jurors will likely get that. There will be documents that will be submitted into evidence. We'll get to learn how much he's been cooperating. We may not learn the full extent in terms of where it goes out into the campaign or perhaps the collusion investigation, but certainly parts of his cooperation are going to become known at this trial. It'll no doubt be challenged by the defense. His credibility is a key issue, John, for them. There, you know, arguing that he was sort of the mastermind behind this entire thing, blaming him for a lot of Manafort's behavior.

So it's going to be interesting. It will be most fascinating to hear from him, to see what his life has been like these last few months as he's been cooperating.

KING: It is fascinating. A big test for Rick Gates, whether he stands up to the cross-examination and for the special counsel, a signal, not just this trial, but as they go forward, how these -- the credibility of these cooperating witnesses.

Shimon, appreciate that. Keep in touch as we learn more this afternoon.

Up next for us here, just hours to go now, the Trump administration imposing -- re-imposing sanctions on Iran. The White House says Iran has no one to blame but itself.


[12:17:22] KING: Welcome back. President Trump today following through on one of the many

controversial threats and promises he's made when it comes to foreign policy. Starting tomorrow, midnight tonight, his administration will re-impose sanctions on Iran. The first phase excludes oil but targets coal, steel, aluminum, and precious metal. The sanctions also go after Iran's automobile sector and aim to cut off the country's access to the U.S. dollar.

National Security Adviser John Bolton says getting tough with Tehran is the only thing that will change its behavior.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It is certainly 180-degree reversal from the failed Obama administration. Our policy is not regime change, but we want to put unprecedented pressure on the government of Iran to change its behavior. And so far they've shown no indication they're prepared to do that.


KING: CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us now live to take us inside this decision by the White House.

Kaitlan, how did this -- how did all of this unfold today? We see the ambassador out talking about it, but what about the president?

Oh, a little communications -- a little communications issue there with Kaitlan. We go --

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is standard operating procedure. The White House would allow a small group of reporters to come in, watch the president sign something like this, but today that did not happen. Instead, this was not on the president's schedule, this signing of this executive order, re- imposing these sanction. Though we did know that the sanctions were coming since the president withdrew from the Iran deal back in May.

Instead, the White House had already established a photo -- travel photo lid, which essentially means that we're not expecting to see the president any longer today by the time they sent out and alerted reporters that the president had indeed signed this executive order today. Now, typically, during that executive order, the reporters would come in. There would be some camera coverage rolling on what the president was doing, and there would be an opportunity for reporters to ask questions.

Now, today, those questions likely would have been about the president's tweet over the weekend saying that that meeting -- very clearly and explicitly that that meeting between his son and Russian officials at Trump Tower last summer was not about Russian adoptions but instead about obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton. Of course, those questions weren't asked today because there was no coverage of this event, which we've asked the White House, John, why there wasn't any coverage of it. They haven't gotten back to us yet.

KING: Haven't gotten back to us yet. Kaitlan Collins, appreciate that. She's traveling with the president up in New Jersey.

It is unusual, especially because this has been a signature issue for the president. You heard John Bolton, Ambassador Bolton, now the national security adviser, this is an issue where a lot of the world thinks they're wrong, but they think they're right. That they view the Obama deal negotiated during the Obama administration with a lot of global allies as part of it was weak, wasn't tough enough on Iran. You would think normally, would you not, that the president -- and this is an issue where he is -- you know, the Republican base doesn't like his trade policy, but this is an issue where the Republican establishment is with him. You would think that this would be the perfect moment for more of a big event, right?

[12:20:12] PACE: Yes, you would. I mean, and, in the past, the president actually has been pretty forward leaning and public in his statements on Iran. He's had events at the White House about this. I mean Kaitlan is probably right that he's probably trying to avoid some of the questions that are not related to Iran.

But as a policy matter, it is quite significant to be re-imposing these sanctions. It is a promise fulfilled for the president. He has promised that he was going to be taking a tougher line, putting sanctions back in place. It will be really interesting, I think, to watch the reaction from the Europeans. They're not only unhappy with the president in terms of his policy on Iran, but also on trade right now. He's putting a lot of American allies in a really difficult position. You saw some statements this morning already condemning this action. But for the president, he looks at Republicans and he looks at his base, which fully support what he's doing as it relates to Tehran.

KING: And to that point, let's just put them up here, these are courtesy of Reuters, the Reuters news agency. The German foreign minister and the spokeswoman for the chancellor, Angela Merkel, making clear that they don't view this as the right way to go about this. And they also think that it's -- you know, that the president's now trying to punish essentially, you know, German companies, French companies, other European companies doing business with Iran. And we'll get some pushback from that.

But, again, this is one in which the president has been fairly consistent, even though there's a lot of blowback.

KAPUR: Yes, this is where I think John Bolton using the word unprecedented pressure on Iran is interesting because, on the one hand, they can hurt the Iranian currency. They already have. They can limit their access to American dollars and make it harder for them to maintain bank accounts across the world.

But the real teeth comes in when the United States trading partners, who do a lot of business with Iran, support that. This is a sanctions regime that the Obama administration built up over the years. Iran's biggest trading partners, not the United States, we don't do much trade with them. It's Italy, France and Germany. And those countries are not going along with this. So how much teeth is it going to have if those European allies are not with the Trump administration (INAUDIBLE). KING: And in selling this today, again, John Bolton, the national security adviser, going out there and saying, look, the president said I'll meet with you. I'll meet with the Iranians. I'll have a conversation with you.

He says the Iranians didn't say, let's do it, and that's why this is happening.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: They flatly turned him down. And I think that's an indication they're not serious about stopping their maligned behavior. I think this regime is dedicated to getting deliverable nuclear weapons. They have been for 25 years. And I don't think the Iran nuclear deal slowed them down at all.


KING: The other signatories to the deal say, yes, it did, and significantly so. But that's where we are.

SHEAR: Well, and, you know, the real test may not be what the other governments of Europe do but what the companies do. And there's already some evidence that even though the other countries haven't imposed the same kind of -- re-imposed the same kind of sanctions, there's already companies fleeing Iran just because we're the -- you know, sort of the big, you know, player, especially in the banking system. And so, you know, I think that's -- that will be one of the tests.

And what is the Trump administration trying to achieve? The imposition of sanctions is usually a means to an end. In the Obama administration, it was a means to get them to the table so that you could negotiate the deal. There's little indication that the Trump administration has sort of indicated what they think their kind of realistic end goal is.

KING: So maximum pressure with a big question mark for now at least.

Up next for us here, tomorrow's big test in Ohio and the president's late effort to help in a contest that should be, emphasis on should be, a Republican slam dunk.


TRUMP: But it's time that we rebuild our own country now, OK. And Troy Balderson is going to help me do that. Right, Troy? Troy? Yes. OK, he said yes. If he said no, I'm out of here, OK.


[12:28:27] KING: Welcome back.

Ohio, and specifically the Columbus suburbs, the big test tomorrow of the midterm mood. A House special election, as you can see, the Republican who holds this seat now got 66 percent of the vote when he won re-election in 2016. This is a big Republican district, but there's a special election for the district tomorrow and Republicans are nervous. And if they're nervous, that tells you not only about this district, but about the midterm mood and about the chances of Democrats to take back the House come November.

Let's take a closer look at this district. Let me stretch this out a bit. Number one, the last Democrat to win this district was in 1980. That tells you everything you need to know. This is a solid Republican district in the conservative suburbs of Columbus. It should be held by Republicans.

Pat Tiberi, as I just showed you, won by 37 points just two years ago. The president carried it by 11.5. Mitt Romney won it by 10.5. So you see, even at the presidential level, solid Republican territory.

But the Republicans are pouring money in here now because they're worried. Again, in a big Republican district where the president carried in the presidential election, the last Republican congressman carried it by all of that, why are the Democrats competitive here? Well, listen to Ohio's Governor John Kasich. He's more of a moderate. He says, yes. The president coming out there this weekend, as he did, will help with Trump supporters especially in the more rural parts of the district. What he's worried about is a Trump backlash, though, among Republicans who live closer in, in the suburbs.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: The chaos that seems to surround Donald Trump has unnerved a lot of people. So suburban women in particular here are the ones that are really turned off. And you add to that the, you know, millennials, you have it very close.

I asked him the other day, why are you bringing Trump in? He said, well, I don't have anything to do with it. So, look, I think he's trying to thread this needle.


[12:30:13] KING: If Republicans lose the