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Rick Gates Testifies Against Manafort, Admits to Lying; Voters Head to Polls in Crucial Ohio Special Election; Trump Endorsement of Kobach Could Cost GOP in Kansas; Mendocino Complex Fire Becomes Largest Fire in California's History . Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 7, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": It's a lot harder than having an algorithm decide what to do.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And what is the policy going to be moving forward.

STELTER: That's still unclear.

HARLOW: Thank you. Appreciate it, Brian.

Thank you all for being with me. I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York. I'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Here is a question for. Do you believe an admitted liar or an accused one? That's exactly what jurors are facing today in a Virginia courtroom as Robert Mueller's star witness is back on the stand in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. So far, Manafort's former deputy, Rick Gates, has been telling the court a riveting tail of betrayal, theft, and years of financial fraud.

And while there's nothing here about what either man did for the Trump campaign, this is the first trial to come out of the special counsel's Russia investigation, and they're back at it now.

CNN's Joe Johns is outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. He's joining me right now.

Joe, what has been happening in the courtroom? Testimony continuing, what are you hearing?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: It's really fascinating the way Rick Gates lays out how they did it, how he and Paul Manafort moved millions of dollars that they got paid from Ukraine through bank accounts in Cypress so that Manafort could have access to the money. And they're laying it out by presenting the witness, Rick Gates, the star witness, by the way, with emails and other documents, including some that are damaging, presumably, to Manafort. One in particular which clearly indicates that what this Gates would do is get a list of wire transfers that were being requested from Manafort in e-mail and then he would fulfill the requests.

There's also been testimony this morning from Rick Gates that there was -- we've heard a bit about this -- a mysterious Dr. K., who essentially helped these men set up shell companies and shell bank accounts. The companies did not bear the name of either Manafort nor Gates. But a few of the bank accounts apparently did, which was at one time or another a problem.

So they continue with the testimony as they go bit by bit, piece by piece, to show -- and this is important -- how you had this money flowing through to Paul Manafort, that he was not disclosing on banking accounts to the federal government, the tax collectors. That's where we are.

Back to you -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And more to come.

Joe, thank you very much. Court, it continues.

Joining me right now, CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, and Jennifer Rodgers and Renato Mariotti. They're both CNN legal analysts and former federal prosecutors.

Thanks all for being here.

Renato, first to you.

How is the Gates testimony going so far? Like how would you -- how would you grade this?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's going very well for the prosecution. I think, at this point, if we're grading on a curve, we'd give him an "A." They have -- obviously, Gates has problems. You alluded to that earlier in the show. Whenever you have a flipper, cooperator, they're going to have problems. They're somebody who's committed a crime. Here Gates is, you know, admitted to lying under oath. He admitted to lying to the FBI. So that is something that jurors are going to have to consider. But the -- that has been fronted by the prosecutors. In other words, they have put that out there for the jury so it takes the sting out of the cross-examination. And what they have done, as was pointed out a moment ago, is walk through in detail how Rick Gates committed crimes along with Paul Manafort. And that is the power of a witness like him, a cooperator. He can say, I committed crimes along with that man, and here is how we did it.

BOLDUAN: Jennifer, the "Washington Post," who put it this way first, which is the jury has to now decide who they're going to believe, as I said it top, an admitted liar, an accused one. How is the jury supposed to decide that?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There are a few ways that the prosecution will ask the jurors to decide that Rick Gates is telling the truth here. One is just the structure of his cooperation agreement. He has to tell the truth. That's in the agreement. If he doesn't, he doesn't get the benefit of cooperation, and he doesn't get his guilty plea back either. He'll be facing time. The judge won't be able to give him leniency.

But the most important way is that he's corroborated by all the other evidence in the case. That's what was being discussed earlier. They're taking him through not just his own oral testimony about what happened, but emails, other documents. I'm sure there are wire transfer records, as well. So in addition to what he says, the jury will also be relying on the other evidence in the case. That's what prosecutors will use to say, yes, he lied to us when he first came in, yes, he was stealing from Paul Manafort, yes, he lied to the IRS, but he's telling you the truth here today, and here's how you know. This evidence backs him up, that, of course, he couldn't have anything to do with fabricating.

[11:05:22] BOLDUAN: Shimon, put this in perspective for folks. Who is Rick Gates in the grand scheme of the investigation?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: When you listen to the testimony and what you're hearing is a guy who is directly involved in almost every part the Paul Manafort's business. That's clear in this testimony. He's revealing emails, messages sent to him, messages he sent to Paul Manafort, to the Ukrainians. It is going to be hard for the defense in this case to refute the documents. You can go after witnesses all you want. It seems like the prosecution, at least to this point, have a lot of other evidence, documents certainly that are going to bolster their case.

You know, in the grand scheme of things, also when you think about Rick Gates and what he was to the presidential campaign, right, he was involved in that. So he knows almost every aspect probably of Paul Manafort's professional life, his political life. And again, you know, what was revealed yesterday was that he has met with prosecutors some 20 times. So we really don't know exactly everything that Rick Gates has told them about Paul Manafort's life. We know that investigators, the FBI, the special counsel, has been very interested in Paul Manafort outside of this case and what he knew about communications with Russians and perhaps others during the campaign. We really have only a little bit of -- of a look inside of what Rick Gates knows concerning Paul Manafort.

BOLDUAN: And with all of this kind of setting up as we have, Renato, I really wonder what is cross-examination going to look like?

MARIOTTI: It is going to be brutal, Kate. The defense absolutely has to take down Rick Gates if they want any chance of victory. Even if they do take down Gates, there's a lot of other evidence, they still might lose. If they don't take down Gates, it's all over. Gates essentially lays out the prosecution's case, goes through the evidence. He is telling the jury, I worked with that man, we were criminals, we worked together, here's how we did it. So you can expect a lot of fireworks today. This is going to be the most dramatic part of the trial.

In the defense opening, they said, the opening statement, that -- that Rick Gates is the real bad guy, he's the real wrongdoer. And you can expect that a lot of fireworks here, particularly focusing on the fact that he embezzled money from Manafort. The defense will argue that he fooled Manafort then, and it goes to show that he fooled Manafort as to this other stuff.

BOLDUAN: Part of what one of the big things that's come out, Jennifer, is that Rick Gates says that -- admitted that he basically stole money from Paul Manafort over the years, like in the process of all of this nefarious stuff that Rick Gates is admitting to. Why did he admit that?

RODGERS: He had to admit that. You have to tell the truth about everything that you've done. I mean, even if he stole car parts when he was a kid, he's going to admit that. This especially, because keep in mind, the prosecutors have all of this documentary evidence. They have all of the financial accounts and probably could see, even if Rick Gates didn't tell them, that money was going out that couldn't be accounted for through the salaries and so on. He had to come clean. He did come clean. Renato's right, that's going to be a tough part of the cross, for sure.

BOLDUAN: Jennifer, does this testimony make it less likely that Manafort takes the stand?

RODGERS: You know, it's hard to tell about a defendant testifying.


RODGERS: In my experience, defendants only take the stand when they're desperate, when it looks really bad for them and they think they have no chance of winning. I think that's probably the case here. But keep in mind, that his testimony then opens him up to cross on a whole variety of topics, including things that he doesn't testify about on direct as long as they go to his credibility. He may not be willing to open that pandora's box given what the government knows about him. So it will be interesting to see. I still am guessing that he doesn't testify, though, given the risks.


Shimon, this case, as we've mentioned, is not about the president's campaign or possible collusion with Russia. These are very clearly financial crimes that happened -- that he's accused of and charged with, that happened before Manafort joined the Trump campaign, years before in some cases. How important is really today for the Mueller investigation when you talk about this star witness, this testimony, this cross-examination, that will be coming? This moment?

[11:10:01] PROKUPECZ: So here's what I think it's important because Rick Gates is a cooperator. If the defense or anyone, say, in this case, brings him down, whatever else he may be cooperating on could be in jeopardy. If they break his credibility here, certainly, if this jury finds that he's not believable, you can be assured that the prosecution, that these investigators are going to look at this as an issue. It's not necessarily going to affect the plea deal that Rick Gates has worked out and the cooperation agreement. They would be devastated. It would hurt their chances of using him in any other criminal trial. They can continue to use him in their investigation and gather information and get information from him. But to put him out there publicly would certainly -- if his credibility is found to be bad, in jeopardy, putting him out there in public again would probably limit it.

BOLDUAN: Guys, great to see you. Thank you very much. Let's see what happens today.

Ahead for us, the final test for President Trump before the midterm elections. Can Republicans hang on to a very long-held, very strongly held, reliably red seat in Ohio? Or will Democrats be making history tonight? What to expect. What it means. That's coming up next.

And one of the greatest athletes of all time, tennis star, Serena Williams, opening up again about a very personal struggle. What she is saying today that has so many people talking.


[11:15:51] BOLDUAN: Ohio, Ohio, Ohio has long been the bellwether of presidential politics. Once again, all eyes are on Ohio. It's not a presidential race, of course, but the president is a factor for sure. Right now, voters in Ohio's 12th congressional district are heading to the polls in a critical special election. The seat has been held by Republicans for more than 30 years. Trump won the district by 11 points. So why then is the race a virtual tie between Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O'Connor? Why, oh, why? It seems everyone has their own answer. And the president thinks he is the solution, campaigning there over the weekend. But not surprisingly, the candidates themselves disagree on what impact he will have.


TROY BALDERSON, (R), OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Has brought so much enthusiasm out, to have both the vice president of the United States and the president of the United States here within six days of each other is just -- huge.

DANNY O'CONNOR, (D), OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: The most important thing we can do is have one-on-one conversations with our volunteers, with me, with my family, knocking on doors. Because that's more valuable than when people come in from Washington, D.C. They spend a couple of hours here and they leave. They're not invested in the community like I am.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Ohio for us.

Ryan, what are you seeing there? You're at the polling place where the voters are. What are they telling you?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, it's been a steady stream of voters here in Westerville, one of the key towns in this district. There's no doubt that President Trump looms large in this race. National politics certainly a part of the focus here. We were reminded last night that this is still very much a local race. That's because of something the Republican candidate, Troy Balderson, said last night. Take a listen.


BALDERSON: My opponent is from Franklin County. And Franklin County has been challenging. We don't want someone from Franklin County representing us.


NOBLES: If you caught that, Balderson said, "We don't want someone from Franklin County representing us." We happen to be in Franklin County now, Kate. This makes up one-third of this important congressional district, and it is where Danny O'Connor, the Democrat, hails from. O'Connor responded to Balderson last night. He put out a tweet saying, "Our district represents someone who's going to represent all of us. Troy Balderson made it crystal clear that's not him."

And Democrats are really trying to seize on these comments, targeted Facebook ads that are going out to voters here in Frederick County to try and drive them to the polls. Certainly, this would be the more moderate end of the district that includes parts of Columbus. As you get further away from Columbus, the district gets more red.

But, Kate, for all the talk about Donald Trump's influence in this race, it could come down, especially something -- a race that is so close at this point, to a very big gaffe at the very 11th hour that could decide who wins or loses tonight. We'll have to see what happens -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Great to have you there, Ryan. Thank you very much.

For more on the race and what the results could mean, who else am I going to go to? CNN's chief national correspondent, John King, anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS."

John, what are you watching tonight.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Part of it is what Ryan just got to, Kate. Number one, how well does the Democrat do in Franklin County in the close-in suburbs. This has been a problem for the Republican Party during the Trump presidency. Close-in suburbs, moderate Republicans, college-educated women fleeing the Republican Party because they don't like President Trump. Do they stay home, do they vote Republican or Democrat? That's one thing. Then you move to the northern part of the district, where the hook is on the map. That's more of the rural, white, blue-collar workers who used to be Democrats who, in good numbers, supported President Trump in 2016. Do they come out for the Republican candidate because the president visited, because the president tweeted? The Republican Party is sort of a shotgun wedding, if you will between the traditional Republican Party, which was strong in the suburbs, and the Trump Republican Party, which is these white, rural blue-collar areas. Where is the turnout? In a special election, people will say, it's just one special election. This will give Republicans a big sense, is November going to be difficult, or disastrous?

BOLDUAN: This is the only election. It's not like there's more coming in terms of Ohio. This is what folks are voting on if they're turning out in Ohio. What does it change in terms of the map and the path if the Democrat wins?

[11:20:04] KING: If Republicans cannot hold this seat -- Ronald Reagan was president the last time a Democrat won this seat. If the Republicans cannot hold it tonight, it is a better-than-safe bet the Democrats will take back the House. Better than a safe bet. If they cannot hold a seat like this, you cannot expect them to hold the more competitive races that would give the Democrats the 23 or 24 they need. If this seat falls tonight, you can bet the Democrats will take back the House. If it doesn't and it's just close, Republicans will try to turn the lessons in the battlegrounds states. This one matters. It's not just a special election, because we're inside 100 days, we're close to November. Republicans are nervous about the message out of this district tonight.

BOLDUAN: Yes. The momentum is real on this one.

Trump came out with a new endorsement yesterday. I want to ask about another race. There are other people voting --

KING: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- tonight. A controversial polarizing, if you will. Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, he is running for governor. He's in a primary fight with the current Republican governor. What does it mean for Republicans' chances of keeping the governor's mansion there, if we're talking about Kris Kobach and an endorsement that, by all accounts, that I'm seeing, folks didn't want Donald Trump to weigh in on this.

KING: No, they did not. They wanted him to stay silent. Think about what you said. The sitting Republican president just opposed a sitting Republican governor. Donald Trump loves his sway in the Republican Party. He thinks he can turn out the voters. He loves being the leader of the Republican Party in that way, rally Trump, if you will. Base Trump, if you will. He doesn't understand, many Republicans will tell you, his responsibility as the leader of the party, they think by endorsing Kris Kobach who, like the president, says that millions of people came out of the woodwork and voted illegally in the presidential election, among other things. The Republican Party in Kansas is apoplectic today because they think the president might have hurt their chances of keeping the governor's office.

BOLDUAN: Surprised a lot of people when he did.

Great to see you, John.

KING: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.

John will have more on this race, all these races, on "INSIDE POLITICS" at the top of the hour and through the night at results are coming in. Be sure to stay with CNN for that.

Coming up, out-of-control and burning an area nearly the size of Los Angeles. It's now the largest wildfire in California's history. We'll take you there live.


[11:26:02] BOLDUAN: So 14,000 firefighters across California are battling 16 major fires. The largest is the Mendocino Complex Fire. It's two fires combined into one. Now it's doubled in size over the last three days. And now it's the largest fire in California's history. It's burned more than 290,000 acres, an area about the size of Los Angeles, if you can believe it. So far, there are no reports of deaths or injuries related to that fire. We know from other fires there have been fatalities.

Joining me now, live from Lakeport, California, CNN correspondent, Dan Simon, with more.

Dan, it really seems like these fires, you take all 16, they will not quit. What are you seeing there?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. Yes, the California wildfires keep getting bigger and bigger. This one is massive. We're not seeing any abatement. This is one of the homes that's been destroyed, 75 homes in total. And you have about 34 percent containment, and thousands of people who have been evacuated. At this point, about 11,000 homes still being talented. We have some of the structures, like I said, destroyed. For the most part, you see what the fire has done. It has charred a tremendous amount of landscape. We're talking about fire that is in a steep area, very rugged terrain. So that is the place where the helicopters really need to focus their efforts to try to get those flames under control. For the most part, again, the fire is burning away from populated communities. With the weather, wind, heat, and bone-dry brush, there's a concern that the fire could push into the populated areas -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: We know, as we've seen, it can shift, it can change directions so quickly without really any warning.

I have to ask you, Dan, President Trump is weighing in on the fires. He's tweeted out, in part, that the fires are being, in his words, "magnified and made so much worse by the bad environmental laws, which aren't allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized," he said in a tweet.

Do you know what he's talking about here? What are officials in California saying?

SIMON: Kate, the experts here have no idea what he is saying. There's absolutely no problem when it comes to getting water to battle these wildfires. In the past -- really for the past few decades, there has been friction between environmental groups and farmers and commercial fishermen when it comes to water diversion. The notion that firefighters would have challenges getting water to put out the fires, it's not rooted in fact whatsoever. And really, everyone seems to be puzzled.

BOLDUAN: And, Dan, this was also handed to me. It seems the White House doesn't know, as well. From CNN's Kevin Liptak, the White House is not offering any clarity to the president's claim. Kevin Liptak reporting, officials admit to being perplexed as to where Trump may have gotten the notion that California's long-running water crisis is related somehow to the out-of-control fires. Perplexed in California. Perplexed in Washington, D.C., as well, even at the White House.

Dan Simon, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Ahead for us, a towering figure in sports gets candid about a real- life issue. Tennis superstar, Serena Williams, sparking an important conversation across the country.