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THE SITUATION ROOM
First Lady Contradicts Trump in Latest Break with Pres; Source: "Strong Possibility" of Second Trump-Kim Summit; Interview With Washington Congressman Adam Smith; Evolving Stories on Trump Tower Meeting; Key Witness Testifies in Manafort Trial. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 6, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Face to face. Paul Manafort's former right-hand man Rick Gates takes the stand as the star witness for the prosecution against the former Trump campaign chairman. How damning will his testimony be?
And second summit? CNN has learned that Kim Jong-un and President Trump could meet again this year, despite North Korea's lack of progress on denuclearization and continued weapons building. Did the president and the dictator discuss it in a recent exchange of letters?
We want to welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, CNN has learned that President Trump is being urged to stop tweeting about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his top advisers and group of Russians, including a lawyer directly tied to the Kremlin.
President Trump breathed some new life into the story with a tweet acknowledging the meeting was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, not adoptions, as the president and his son, Donald Trump Jr., first claimed.
We will talk about that and more with the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith, and the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's near the president's New Jersey golf club, where the president is spending the week.
Jim, the president continues to tweet about this Trump Tower meeting, against the wishes of his legal and political advisers.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And the president is steering clear of the media, laying low by his golf club here in New Jersey today, after resurrecting the controversy over his son Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
Now the president is making it all too clear that that meeting was aimed at getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, which is not at all how that meeting was explained by the Trump team to the American people last year.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Keeping out of the public eye while on vacation in New Jersey, President Trump still managed to ignite a firestorm, where else, but on his smartphone, tweeting about that now infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians in 2016, that he's worried about his son Donald Trump Jr. being in legal jeopardy over the matter.
The president tweeted over the weekend: "This was a meeting to get information an opponent. Totally legal and done all the time in politics, and it went nowhere. I did not know about it."
The president's legal team is trying to clean up the mess, privately urging Mr. Trump to stop tweeting and clarifying that the special counsel's office is fully aware of the meeting's purpose.
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.
ACOSTA: The problem for the president, Trump Jr. initially released a misleading statement to "The New York Times" about the meeting, which was also attended by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Trump Jr.'s statement said: "We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children." No mention that it was about getting Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton.
REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: You're sending your son, a family member, to talk with a foreign government that is an active enemy or potential adversary at least of this country to talk about information that you could use against your opponent? The optics of that are absolutely terrifying and very disturbing.
ACOSTA: The president has previously acknowledged the true purpose of the meeting days after that initial misleading statement was issued by his son.
DONALD TRUMP SR., PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting. It is called opposition research or even research into your opponent.
ACOSTA: Even as the White House was offering conflicting explanations, insisting it was about Russian adoptions.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was nothing as far as we know that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act.
ACOSTA: The president's team also misled the public about whether Mr. Trump was involved in drafting that statement to "The New York Times" for his son.
SEKULOW: I do want to be clear, the president was not involved in drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He certainly didn't dictate, but, like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion, like any father would do.
ACOSTA: Now Mr. Trump's team concedes he dictated that statement.
SEKULOW: I had bad information at that time. I made a mistake in my statement. I talked about that before. That happens when you have cases like this.
ACOSTA: A key question that remains, whether the president knew about the meeting's true purpose ahead of time. Trump Jr. insisted his father didn't know about the meeting.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": Did you tell your father anything about that?
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: No. It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell.
ACOSTA: Despite all of those changing stories, the president's top advisers still defend his characterization that the Russia investigation is a hoax.
JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The issue for the president I think is the political argument made by his opponents that somehow he conspired with the Russians and they helped him defeat Hillary Clinton. That's what he thinks is the hoax. That's what I understand it to be.
ACOSTA: Now, as for concerns inside the president's team about his tweeting, it has been an ongoing concern for Mr. Trump's legal advisers.
One of the president's past attorneys on the Russia investigation, Wolf, you will recall, Ty Cobb, stepped down in part from his position because of the president's tweets. Wolf, this is something that they have been talking about since there was a Trump campaign during the election of 2016, getting the president or getting at that time Donald Trump to stop tweeting and getting himself into trouble.
And, of course, now there are real concerns inside the president's legal team that it could actually get him into legal jeopardy if he continues to tweet about this investigation at a very critical time, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he's got more than 50 million followers on Twitter. I suspect he's not going to stop tweeting anytime soon as his favorite vehicle to get his message out.
Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
So let's dig deeper right now.
Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is with us, also our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.
Dana, you have been talking to your sources. What are they telling you?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim was just talking about the fact that it's sort of the biggest, it's not a secret at all that the president tweets and tweets and tweets, despite the fact that his aides have said, please don't do this, because he feels rightly so that on a number of occasions he has had success with the kind of constituencies that he needs.
But in this particular case, in the case of tweeting about Trump Tower, I am told that he was urged to cut it out, to stop, because not so much because it is a potential legal problem for him, but because it gives oxygen to the story.
We are talking so much today, rightly so, understandably so, about the Trump Tower meeting and what happened, what didn't happen, what the reason was, despite the fact that we don't have a lot of new information. We're doing that because the president of the United States tweeted about it and went further and talking about some of the details than he ever has before.
And he did so reacting to a news story. He's such a goliath. He's somebody who is so powerful in his own world that people in around him don't tend to really buck him when it comes to tweeting because he -- it's a it's a blessing and a curse, as somebody had said to me today.
But on this particular issue, they're saying just put the phone down, please.
BLITZER: Calm down a little bit.
You're also getting some new reporting on Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer. I take it they're getting ready to respond to Mueller -- Mueller's latest proposal for a sit-down interview with the president?
BASH: I kind of lost track of the number of proposals and counterproposals there are right now.
But, right, the ball is in the Trump team's court right now. Robert Mueller had sent them a counterproposal last week of what parameters could be in a potential interview with the president. And Giuliani told me that as soon as today, maybe tomorrow, they are going to give another proposal.
Now, this back and forth has been going on for months. And the question really is -- big open question whether there's going to be any resolution, whether at the end of these negotiations, the president is really going to sit down with Robert Mueller in any way, shape, or form, because as we have been hearing and saying repeatedly, his legal team, pretty much everyone around him thinks it is a terrible idea.
It's a perjury trap. It's just a nightmare situation. But he feels that he wants to clear his name. So we will see. Giuliani wouldn't give me any details of the kind of counterproposal. Hopefully, we will get more information once it's actually given to the special counsel's office.
BLITZER: We know last year, Shimon, when "The New York Times" broke the story of that the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, there was a statement there was drafted aboard Air Force One that suggested it was all about adoptions, stuff like that.
But this is something the Mueller team is really looking closely at right now, especially in the aftermath of the president's own tweets.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
And Dana knows this. This is one of the questions that's in the many questions that Mueller has had for the president. And it's probably one of the questions that the president's legal team doesn't really want him talking a lot about.
Their feeling -- I remember one of the lawyers saying, well, it's none of Mueller's business if the president lied to "The New York Times." Well, we're now in the middle of a big investigation. It is Mueller's business if the president lied, because the idea that he perhaps -- someone, whether it's the president or someone else, may have been trying to somehow cover up publicly this meeting and in some ways say, well, why don't we just say it was about adoptions, it goes to also the state of mind of what the president was thinking at the time.
Why did he feel the need to direct, to mislead, to lie in this statement to the public? That's a key issue here in this investigation. And I think, as for yesterday's tweet, again, it goes to the president's state of mind.
You can see investigators at the FBI, prosecutors wanting to ask him, well, why did you tweet that yesterday? Why did you tweet so and so in 2016 regarding the Trump Tower meeting and now you're changing it and saying it was -- you know, yes, it was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton?
So there's a lot of follow-up here that I think it's quite clear that the president's legal team is trying to limit. And if the president just continues to keep tweeting about an investigation, it's only causing him more problems and more harm. BASH: And I would just add, when Shimon talks about state of mind,
that is so key, because one of the most important -- the most important argument that a special counsel or investigator can make when it comes to interviewing the president of the United States is that he and only he can answer the questions.
When you're talking about somebody's state of mind, there's just one person who can answer that, and that's the person who is...
BLITZER: We still don't know if Donald Trump Jr. has spoken to Mueller's team.
PROKUPECZ: That's important. Wolf.
The reason is that he seems to be one of the only people that was in that meeting that Mueller could actually talk to if he wanted to talk to that he has not talked to. We know the translator has been in to see Mueller about this meeting.
We know the music promoter has been in to see Mueller. We know that there have been others, a kind of Washington, D.C., fixer who's been in to see Mueller. But, interestingly enough, Donald Trump Jr. has not.
And I think if we know anything about how Mueller has been doing this investigation, that that is significant, I think.
BLITZER: Kushner has met with Mueller.
PROKUPECZ: That's right.
And Kushner too has met with Mueller about this topic.
BASH: Significant because if somebody is really in trouble, they're the last person you talk to.
PROKUPECZ: That's right.
Manafort, we know, was present for them meeting. He's not been interviewed by Mueller. He has a lawyer and obviously he is...
BLITZER: He's got other issues, as we will get to momentarily.
BLITZER: Guys, thank you very much.
Let's get some more in all of this.
Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington state is joining us. He's the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Let's get right to the questions. Is the president making things worse for himself with all these tweets?
REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: Well, obviously, from a little legal standpoint, he's making things worse. How the public reacts to it, as I think one of your commentators alluded to -- the president thinks that these tweets appeal to his base, and they do.
They fire up his base. And that's what he tries to do. That's how he holds all these rallies.
But in terms of people who aren't part of his solid base, and in terms of the legal strategy behind that, he opened -- the more you talk, the more you open yourself up to exposure legally. And I think the most interesting thing about all of this that I don't think has been emphasized enough is, from the very beginning, the president, Donald Trump Jr., the attorney general, a whole series of people have consistently lied about their interactions with Russians.
They were asked about this repeatedly before all this stuff came out back in November and December, and they all said, never happened. Donald Trump Jr., never had -- said he never had any meetings with any Russian officials.
Why did they lie about it? Why did they so consistently lie about their interactions that have now come to light with a whole series of different people connected to the Russian government?
BLITZER: Do you believe, Congressman, the president's tweets could be used by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team to get at his so-called state of mind, which is so important, of course, to proving obstruction of justice?
Obstruction of justice is the issue here. I mean, there there's two issues. One is conspiracy. Did the Trump campaign conspire with Russian operatives to try and influence the election?
But the other issue is, did the president then try to obstruct the investigation into those charges? So, when he tweets, like he did -- not the one on Saturday, but from a week ago -- that he wants to shut down the entire investigation, I mean, he's made it very, very clear that he wants to stop this investigation.
And that flirts with obstruction of justice. And the more often he says that, the more potential legal jeopardy he is in.
BLITZER: Why do you think the president is apparently coming fully clean now about this meeting, the purpose of the meeting, after all those months of misleading the American people?
SMITH: I don't know.
I mean, it's sort of like with the whole firing of Attorney General -- sorry -- FBI Director Comey. When it first came out, yes, well, we got a memo, blah, blah, blah. And then like within 24 hours after claiming it was a whole series of things, with Lester Holt, he just says, oh, no, I fired him. It was my choice. And it was because of the Russia investigation.
So how President Trump's mind works on this is hard to say. But he's certainly proven over and over again that he will change his story whenever he wants to, and not even along any sort of pattern that seems to be self-interested. It's just sort of what pops into his head in a given moment.
BLITZER: The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, says they will decide within the next day or so on a meeting with Robert Mueller.
This could go all the way, as you know, to the U.S. Supreme Court if the president refuses to grant an interview to the special counsel, special counsel then has to issue a subpoena.
How do you see this fight playing out?
SMITH: Well, it's interesting, because I think, legally, it's clear. You can't ignore a subpoena, even if you're the president of the United States.
If you're subpoenaed by a lawful investigation, you have to testify. Now, you can take the Fifth. There's a whole bunch of things you can do. But nobody has the right to ignore a subpoena.
However, remember the Supreme Court that we have. If this goes all the way up to this Supreme Court -- you can bring it back to Nixon, when the Supreme Court at that time required President Nixon to turn over the tapes, because they were following the law.
But, as I have noted before, this Supreme Court seems to make its decisions based on what Donald Trump and the Republican Party want, as opposed to precedents of the Constitution.
So we're headed towards a very, very difficult situation. And, look, it's really simple. The president simply has to cooperate with this investigation. It's a lawful, legitimate investigation. No serious person questions that the Russians at the highest level were involved to try to influence our election.
They were using cyber-attacks. They were using disinformation campaign. They were hacking e-mails. We need to get to the bottom of what happened. To the extent that the president is trying to stop that, he's not only potentially committing a crime; he is harming the national security interest of the United States of America.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Smith, thanks so much for joining us.
SMITH: Thanks, Wolf. I appreciate it. BLITZER: Just ahead, President Trump comes clean about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians after more than a year of misleading the public. Was any crime, though, committed?
Plus, details of Rick Gates' testimony for the prosecution in the trial of his former boss, Paul Manafort.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, growing concern within the Trump team over the president's continued tweeting about that 2016 meeting between his top campaign officials and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in New York.
CNN is told the president is being urged to stop bringing up the meeting, which he said in a weekend tweet was expected to produce dirt on Hillary Clinton. Previously, the president said the meeting was about adoptions.
Joining us now, the former director of national intelligence, CNN national security analyst, retired General James Clapper.
General, thanks so much for joining us.
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me put up on the screen and read the tweet that the president posted over the weekend.
"Fake news reporting a complete fabrication that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son Donald had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information an opponent. Totally legal and done all the time in politics, and it went nowhere. I did not know about it."
How significant is this tweet from the president after a long, long time of suggesting that whole meeting was about adoptions?
CLAPPER: Well, I think, politically, it's quite significant, just the fact that there's been this long standing practice of deception and obfuscation about this meeting.
And so now, for whatever reason, I suspect it's, to use a military phrase, prepping the battlefield for revelations that may come out later by the Mueller investigation about what the real point of the meeting was, which I think most people understood anyway.
So I think it's quite significant politically. Legally, I don't know.
BLITZER: But do you think a crime -- based on your reading of the law, was a crime committed?
CLAPPER: Well, it's not a crime to lie to the public.
What it does show, though, I think is intent. And that's a major -- as I understand it, a major component or ingredient in a conspiracy or an obstruction investigation, is, what was the real intent?
And so, to me, this is nefarious intent to hide what was really going on in these meetings with the Russians. And just to draw back a little bit, Wolf, again, why meetings with the Russians, our arch- adversary?
And this just to me thickens the plot.
BLITZER: Well, here's his recollection of the meeting today. He was -- did a radio interview with Laura Ingraham earlier this afternoon.
And let me play a little clip.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR.: It was a 20-minute meeting. It end up being about essentially nothing that was relevant to any of these things.
And that's all it is, and that's all they have got. That's not the premise that got them in the room. And then they started -- it was essentially a bait and switch to talk about that. And everyone has basically said that in testimony already.
I mean, so this is -- this is nothing new.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: So that's Donald Trump Jr., his recollection of that meeting. He says it was a bait and switch. It sounds like he was disappointed the Russians didn't deliver the dirt that they had promised to deliver.
CLAPPER: Well, exactly.
And the whole point for his having the meeting was the expectation of dirt on Hillary Clinton. And the fact that the dirt didn't come doesn't change the intent, at least for me, on what his intent was in having the meeting in the first place.
BLITZER: Because the issue is potentially the investigation by Mueller and his team of possible obstruction of justice.
And, as we know, last summer, after "The New York Times" reported about the meeting, the president personally dictated a statement that was totally misleading about the nature of this meeting, suggesting it was about Russian adoptions here in the United States.
CLAPPER: Well, again, this is -- I think goes to -- the important thing here is the intent. And the intent was to deceive.
And I think this had -- is a significant backdrop to a determination about obstruction or conspiracy.
BLITZER: The president and his team, they deflect on this issue by going after Hillary Clinton once again and suggesting that there was collusion that she was engaged in with the Republicans (sic).
Here's from -- a tweet from the president: "Collusion with Russia was very real. Hillary Clinton and her team 100 percent colluded with the Russians. And so did Adam Schiff, who is on tape trying to collude with what he thought was Russians to obtain compromising material on Donald J. Trump. We also know that Hillary Clinton paid through a law firm eventually Kremlin-connected sources to gather info on Donald Trump. Collusion is very real with Russia, but only with Hillary and the Democrats. And we should demand a full investigation."
That was the president tweeting, quoting Dan Bongino on "FOX & Friends" earlier in the day. The president said, "Looking forward to a new I.G. report."
So, he didn't say that. But he was quoting one of his supporters who was on "FOX & Friends" earlier in the day.
CLAPPER: Well, to me, this kind of points up the inconsistency here.
Apparently, it's OK for Trump to go after dirt on Hillary Clinton. But it's not OK for Hillary Clinton to go after dirt on Trump. And to me, it is kind of silly to try to make that assertion, when he's doing the same thing.
BLITZER: But is there any truth to this argument that's made by Trump and his supporters that what Hillary Clinton did by going to pay Fusion GPS, that P.R. firm, for the Christopher Steele dossier, which was based on allegations from Russians, that she did something illegal, indirectly seeking foreign assistance in her campaign to obtain dirt on the -- on her Republican challenger?
CLAPPER: Well, I think this goes to the point to what extent she was knowledgeable about what the ultimate sources of the Christopher Steele dossier were, whereas, with the Trump camp, they knew very well that it was Russians.
So I think there's an ambiguity there that makes it a foggier question.
BLITZER: Final question. Do you still have your security clearances?
CLAPPER: As far as I know, my -- actually, the technical term here is the threat to revoke my eligibility for access to classified information, which I haven't had since about the 20th of January 2017 anyway.
But to answer the question, no, as far as I know, I still have it.
BLITZER: So, in other words, if one of your colleagues, former colleagues who is still in the U.S. intelligence community wanted to seek your advice, your history on some sensitive issue, you could still brief that individual and get the latest information?
CLAPPER: If that person determine that he or she felt I had a need for the access to the information, classified information, they could do that. But, as far as I know now, and the same is true with the others that
were named, we still have our eligibility for access. And, to my knowledge, no action has been taken to change that.
BLITZER: I raise the question because the president specifically said he wanted John Brennan, the former CIA director's security clearances removed.
Then Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, started naming a whole bunch of others, including you. But, as far as you know, right now, they haven't taken action against you yet?
CLAPPER: As far as I know.
BLITZER: General Clapper, thanks so much for joining us.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the trial of the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
His former deputy Rick Gates under a plea bargain has taken the stand right now as star witness for the prosecution.
Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's over at the courthouse in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.
Jim, you were inside the courtroom. Describe what it was like seeing Manafort and Gates together in the same room.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I will tell you, it was a pretty remarkable moment, Wolf.
I have seen some cold stares in my life. But this was a particularly cold stare coming from the former boss, Paul Manafort, sitting in the defendant's chair there with his arms crossed looking about 10 feet away at Rick Gates, his former deputy, longtime deputy, as Rick Gates recited a long list of alleged crimes, confirming to the prosecutor his knowledge of those crimes, and saying through the list that he was doing this at Manafort's direction.
What was on that list? He says that he set up 15 foreign bank accounts that they did not report, for the purposes of hiding income, foreign income, from U.S. -- from the U.S. tax system. He says that they filed false tax returns. He said that they failed to file -- register as a foreign agent as they were doing work for a foreign government, this case the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine.
And all the while there, his former boss Paul Manafort watching and listening as Rick Gates ticked off his account of each of those alleged crimes.
BLITZER: What do we know about the cooperation agreement between Gates and the prosecution, the Mueller team, and how it's playing out now? SCIUTTO: well, it's interesting. The first thing that the prosecutor
asked Gates to do was to look at his cooperation agreement, confirm that his signature was on it, confirm that his initials were each -- on each of the pages, which he said the judge instructed him to do to show that he had read each of the pages of that cooperation agreement, just to sort of reaffirm that he agreed with what he stated at the start of this.
Then the prosecutor went on to reveal that, in his cooperation, Rick Gates revealed other crimes that, to this point, have not been known. I should say alleged crimes. One of them being that Rick Gates admitted to, on the stand, that he stole from Paul Manafort hundreds of thousands of dollars. He did so by following -- by filing, rather, false expense claims.
So you had Rick Gates there, the former deputy -- and I should say former deputy chairman of the Trump campaign in 2016, for those months -- saying not only that he committed crimes at Paul Manafort's direction but that he also stole from Paul Manafort to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So a lot of alleged wrongdoing going on in that courtroom behind me there, and we've got a long -- a number of days to go as the prosecutors make their case, Wolf.
BLITZER: Really pretty gross when you think about that.
All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.
Just ahead, how is Robert Mueller going to treat President Trump's admission that the purpose of the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton?
Plus, the first lady forges her own course and publicly contradicts the president yet again.
[18:36:30] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight: President Trump urged to stop tweeting about that 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his top advisers and several Russians, that according to a source familiar with the discussions.
And that follows a weekend tweet in which the president said the purpose of the meeting was to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. both initially claimed the meeting was designed to discuss Russian adoptions here in the United States.
Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts. And Gloria Borger, why is the president now suddenly admitting to the true purpose of this meeting?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I think it's on his mind. You never know why Donald Trump is tweeting about anything. But I think he's probably worried about his son, as Dana Bash is
reporting, and he wants to sort of say, "Look, everybody does it. Everybody gets opposition research. This is -- this is no big deal. Somebody comes in, wants to give you some dirt on your opponent, so what? So what? Everybody does it."
So it has shifted from, suddenly, a meeting about Russian adoptions --and don't forget the president dictated that statement from Air Force One about this meeting -- to now being, "Well, so? It's not a big deal." And I think that's the point he wants to get across to his supporters is, "Look, Democrats do it, Republicans do it, and my son is not to blame."
BLITZER: Yes. I've been told by some who supposedly know that the first rule of damage control here in Washington, if there's bad news that's about to come out, you release it first --
BLITZER: -- instead of letting your adversaries release it. That may be behind this theory, as well.
Phil Mudd, how's Robert Mueller going to treat this -- this admission from the president?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let's start from the outset here. I mean, going into summer vacation, it's like we have a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, and one piece just fell into place.
One of the difficult things to look at in any investigation is what people are thinking, the why. In this case, the president just did us a small favor. He put in a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. He explained clearly that the why was, yes, they were willing -- that is the Trump people, his son -- willing to engage in an illegal act. That is, potentially acquire information from a foreign power, which would have violated the law.
The center of that jigsaw puzzle, though, is still out there, and we don't have the picture on the box to know what that center is, and that is one question. If they were willing to accept that information, if the president acknowledged that in his tweet, did anybody in this meeting or any other meeting accept anything from a Russian intermediary?
I suspect that the special counsel knows part of the answer to that already. But that's the piece of the puzzle we don't know yet, Wolf. One piece in today, still a lot of pieces missing.
BLITZER: You know, Samantha Vinograd, let me read the exchange just before the meeting to set up the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had with Rob Goldstone, the British intermediary who set up the meeting at Trump Tower with the Russians.
This is Goldstone to Donald Trump Jr.: "This is obviously very high- level and sensitive information but is part of Russian and its government's support for Mr. Trump, helped along by Aras and Emin." Those were the Russians who were involved.
Donald Trump Jr., in that text exchange with Goldstone, said, quote, "If it's what you say, I love it. Especially later in the summer." Later in the summer, presumably, the dirt would be more useful to release closer to the election in November.
How significant, though, Sam, is the phrase "Russia and its government's -- it's government support"?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, from a legal standpoint, it's less significant in the sense that accepting a foreign campaign contribution is illegal, whether it's from a public official or a private individual.
[18:40:08] From a national security perspective, it's incredibly significant, Wolf, because it's just another reminder that this meeting was likely part of a state-sponsored attack on our country.
We know that Vladimir Putin ordered meddling in our election, and that included his reliance on a multi-faceted and very broad network of intermediaries to launder information, to make contacts, and to try to entrap high-ranking officials like Donald Trump Jr.
And finally, from a counterintelligence stand point, it's also quite significant. Donald Trump Jr. knowingly went into a meeting with a foreign hostile power to accept illegal information. And it's just pure logic. You don't have to be a counterintelligence maven to know this. But if a foreign government just happens to call you up and say that they have exactly the information that you need and that you're looking for, they probably have an ulterior motive.
BLITZER: You know, Shawn Turner, you're with us. You used to work for the director of national intelligence.
Since the story broke last year, it's become clear, according to all of the sources, that the Russian lawyer who was there at Trump Tower, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had a much closer relationship with Putin than was initially reported.
So how does the Russian government -- and you used to work in this area -- how does the Russian government use people like Veselnitskaya, often referred to as cutouts?
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. So the use of cutouts is actually a very typical -- part of Russian tradecap [SIC] -- tradecraft.
As a cutout, Veselnitskaya would have been someone who would have been an intermediary between agents and operatives who were involved in espionage. She would have been someone who gathered information and carried information between individuals involved in espionage. She would have been someone who would have taken orders between the two.
One of the interesting things about someone like Veselnitskaya is they're not typically read in on the full scope of whatever the espionage effort is. But I think that the point about her being close to Vladimir Putin is
really interesting, because as we learn more about the relationship between Veselnitskaya and Vladimir Putin and how close they were, we learn more about who she was taking orders from.
And then we look at the fact that she was able to get this meeting in Trump Tower. You know, we get much closer to a direct link between Vladimir Putin and his orders, and the president of the United States. And that's something that really concerns us.
BORGER: Well, and not to mention the question out there. I mean, Donald Trump has said, of course, he knew nothing about this meeting.
I was talking to a source today who said that, you know, Don Jr. always has wanted to please his father and would have gone to him and said either "We just had -- we're about to have this meeting," because we know that Trump gave a speech the next day, talking about information he was going to get on Hillary Clinton, or -- And so I think that all of this needs to be kind of unraveled.
And if I'm Donald Trump's lawyers, I'm telling him to stop talking about this, because they know a lot about this meeting, and he doesn't know what they know. And he -- so it's very, very dangerous and dicey for him to be doing this.
BLITZER: Where is this heading, Phil? Because Mueller presumably knows a lot more about this meeting than any of us even have a clue about.
MUDD: I think there's only a couple of pieces left. We've been talking for the past few minutes about whether people like Don Jr. and, of course, the president of the United States are ever going to sit down for interviews.
I find a great irony here with the White House complaining that the investigation won't shut down, when every other day they come up with some roadblock for why the president can't talk to the investigators. No wonder they can't close the investigation.
That said, I know Mueller. He doesn't want to sit around doing this forever. If he's not done with more indictments by about early September, so he doesn't interfere with the midterms, I'm going to guess that something's going to come out by end of the year. We're not going to be doing this in mid-2019. I'd lay a bet on that one.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stick around. There's more news we're following, including the first lady of the United States contradicting the president of the United States once again. Details of the latest high-profile break between the Trumps.
Plus, a possible second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. We're learning new details. Stand by.
[18:48:55] BLITZER: The NBA superstar LeBron James is the center of First Lady Melania Trump's latest high profile break with her husband.
Our White House reporter Kate Bennett is joining us right now.
Kate, the first lady certainly isn't afraid to forge her own course, even if it counters the president's.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Wolf, this is a first lady who clearly has her own mind, her own opinions and her own spokesperson who's released a statement that sometimes she agrees with the president, and sometimes she doesn't.
BENNETT (voice-over): It could appear that Melania Trump's timing, praising LeBron James and his children's school in Ohio was a swipe at her husband who questioned the NBA star's intelligence less than 24 hours earlier.
The CNN interview with James, quote, made LeBron look smart which isn't easy to do. I like Mike, the president tweeted.
But according to Melania's spokeswoman, the first lady disagrees. Quote: It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation, and just as she always has, the first lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today.
[18:50:05] The stark contrast is just the latest example of East Wing versus West Wing at the White House, as Melania Trump continues to define her own agenda. In recent weeks, the first lady has been quick to correct the record when it comes to her feelings, whether they compliment her husband's or not.
Amid the firestorm surrounding the president's alleged tryst with porn star Stormy Daniels, Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani said this of Melania.
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: She believes in her husband. She knows it's not true.
BENNETT: Her spokeswoman fired back, quote, I don't believe Mrs. Trump has ever discussed her thoughts on anything with Mr. Giuliani. When "The New York Times" reported President Trump didn't like his wife tuning into CNN aboard Air Force One, Melania's office swiftly declared: she watches any channel she wants.
When he husband's family separation policy caused international outrage, Melania Trump went to see detention centers near the U.S.- Mexico border for himself.
MELANIA TRUMP, U.S. FIRST LADY: How I can help for these children to reunite with their families.
BENNETT: Whether it's taking a separate motorcade to the State of the Union, stealing the spotlight with that white hat moment or slapping her husband's hand away in public.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody loves Melania. They love Melania.
BENNETT: The president doesn't appear to mind.
This independent streak could just be part of who this mysterious first lady actually is.
MELANIA TRUMP: I'm very strong. People, they don't really know me. People think and talk about me like, oh, Melania, oh, poor Melania. Don't feel sorry for me. I can handle everything.
BENNETT: Now, of course, Wolf, we remember that some of this messaging gets lost in some of these nonverbal cues. Of course, that jacket that she wore, that infamous jacket, she's still trying to live that down in a way. Certainly, Melania Trump is forging her own path, saying what's on her mind and it's all a matter of getting to know this first lady as she finds her footing and kicks off her Be Best initiative.
Back to you.
BLITZER: The jacket said, I really don't care, do you? All of us remember that jacket.
Kate Bennett, thank you very much for that report.
Just ahead, controversy but no results from their first summit. Is President Trump now prepared to sit down again with Kim Jong-un?
[18:57:10] BLITZER: We could see a second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un this year, despite North Korea's continued development of its nuclear and missile programs, cited in a confidential U.N. report obtained by CNN.
CNN's Will Ripley is joining us right now with the very latest.
Will, critics question whether the first summit accomplished anything. What's the latest you're getting?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESONDENT: Well, a source very close to the North Korean side of things, Wolf, is saying that a second summit could happen, possibly in a matter of months. And President Trump's own advisers are not ruling out the possibility, saying the president is keeping the door wide open for Kim Jong-un.
RIPLEY (voice-over): Almost two months after the Singapore summit with little if any progress on denuclearization, a source telling CNN, get ready for round two. The official who is familiar with the North Korean position on denuclearization says there is a strong possibility of a second summit between Trump and Kim some time later this year. Date and location to be determined.
The president perhaps hinting about a future meeting, tweeting Chairman Kim last week: thank you for your nice letter. I look forward to seeing you soon.
U.S. officials hand-delivering Trump's letter to Kim over the weekend.
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We're waiting for the North Koreans to begin the process of denuclearization, which they committed to in Singapore and which they have not yet done.
RIPLEY: The news comes amid ramped up rhetoric between the two nuclear-armed nations. Speaking at this Asian security summit over the weekend, Secretary of State Pompeo warned countries like Russia and China not to violate U.N. sanctions over North Korea's nuclear program.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Any violation that detracts from the world's goal of finally fully denuclearizing North Korea would be something that America would take very seriously.
RIPLEY: Pompeo had a quick handshake but no meeting this weekend with North Korea's top diplomat, Ri Yong Ho. Instead, Ri met with his top Chinese counterpart and condemned U.S. actions since the June 12 summit as alarming, pointing to sanctions and a lack of a peace treaty as major issues that could derail nuclear talks.
REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA), FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN: We have a maximum pressure campaign on finances, on sanctions that, frankly, make them feel the heat.
RIPLEY: A CNN source calling Pyongyang's latest fiery statements a negotiating tactic to pressure the Trump administration for a better deal ahead of the November midterm elections.
RIPLEY: World leaders will fly to New York next month for the United Nations General Assembly. Will Kim Jong-un be one of them? Could he make a visit to Trump Tower? My source says stay tuned -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We certainly will. Of course we will.
Will Ripley reporting for us from Hong Kong -- thank you very much.
And thanks to all of our viewers for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.