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Largest Fire in California History Now Near 300,000 Acres; Interview With New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler; Rick Gates Testifying in Paul Manafort Case; Election Day. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 7, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news tonight, Rick Gates, longtime deputy to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is cross- examined in his former boss' money laundering and tax evasion trial, with his credibility under attack by Manafort's lawyer.
We will talk about that and more with the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and the former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, Lisa Monaco.
And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief national security, Jim Sciutto. He's outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.
Jim, the trial just ended, at least for this day.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
And really the focus today by Paul Manafort's attorneys is to attack the credibility of Rick Gates as the primary witness against Paul Manafort, repeatedly asking the question why the jury should trust Rick Gates, since he has lied before, specifically, in fact, pleading guilty to lying to the special counsel's office?
Rick Gates replying to that saying, listen, I'm taking responsibility now. I'm trying to make a change. But the defense attorney pressing and pressing repeatedly.
During that exchange, Rick Gates confirmed that he has spoken, interacted with a special counsel's office some 20 times, by his count. You wonder what else the special counsel may have been asking him about. But the focus today really from Gates, his accounting for providing details on the criminal scheme that he says he and Paul Manafort developed together.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, star witness Rick Gates back on the stand, admitting during a harsh cross-examination to having an extramarital affair a decade ago, but denying accusations by Paul Manafort's lawyer that he was embezzling money from Manafort in order to fund his affair and what the defense attorney referred to as a secret life in London and elsewhere.
Gates also testified today that two weeks after Donald Trump's election, Paul Manafort recommended that his banker, Stephen Calk, become secretary of the army. Calk allegedly loaned Manafort money under false pretenses.
Gates detailed how broke Manafort was when he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 working at the time for no salary. Gates said that Manafort's consulting firm had no clients then and that they were at the time trying to secure another political consulting contract in Ukraine, but had not yet been able to.
In a 2015 e-mail exchange, Manafort was clearly frustrated. "WTF," Manafort wrote to Gates. "How could I be blindsided like this?" Manafort said, this after learning that taxes were much higher than he had anticipated.
Gates admitted that he also supplied false information to banks in order to help Manafort secure bank loans. Until then, according to Gates, Manafort had been making more than $5 million up until 2012 for consulting work for a Ukrainian billionaire.
Gates went into detail about how shell companies were used to move money into hidden accounts in Cyprus. In one instance, according to Gates, a payment supported lobbying in the United States.
Gates stated that Manafort reported some of the payments to U.S. tax officials as loans, though they were in fact income, adding that Manafort was -- quote -- "trying to decrease his taxable income."
Prosecutors demonstrated that Manafort directed these activities through e-mails. There were hundreds of these, Gates said in court, adding -- quote -- "Typical practice was Mr. Manafort would send me a list of wire requests."
Gates admitted that he used information provided by Manafort to create invoices for fake amounts of money for wire transfers, but the money never actually went to the vendors. Instead, it went to the banks.
The purpose of this, according to Gates, so that the wire transfers would not be recorded on U.S. business records. Nonetheless, on Monday, the prosecutors elicited testimony from Mr. Gates and from one of Mr. Manafort's accountants that tied Manafort more closely to Russia.
The accountant, Cindy LaPorta, testified that, in 2006, Mr. Manafort received a $10 million loan from Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin. Ms. LaPorta said she saw no evidence the loan was ever repaid.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: The cross-examination today getting very personal, at times Gates forced to admit that, more than a decade ago, he had an affair, that he financed this affair, first-class travel to London, an apartment in London.
But he insisted he did not use stolen money to finance that affair, the defense attorney pressing him to know about this secret life, as the defense attorney described it, whether his wife knew about it. Gates said he did.
And throughout, Wolf, Gates saying that now he is doing his best to take responsibility for all these things. That, in a sense, in essence is his argument to the jury as to why he should be believed now as he accounts what he says are Paul Manafort's alleged crimes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Another important day in this trial.
Jim Sciutto, thanks so much for that report.
President Trump, meanwhile, is hosting a group of CEOs at his New Jersey golf club later tonight, while his lawyers weigh whether he should talk to the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's in New Jersey for us.
Jim, "The Washington Post" now reporting that Giuliani is -- Rudy Giuliani, his lawyer, is reluctant to let the president be questioned about obstruction of justice.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, a lot of concerns inside the president's legal team about what kind of questions could be asked.
And we should point out that the president is expected to address those CEOs at that dinner at his golf club within the next hour or so.
Wolf, that event has just been opened up to the cameras, so we may get to see a bit of what the president has to say. We can expect him to talk up the economy, of course, but, Wolf, the president has not been talking to reporters over the last few days as he's been holed up in his golf course in New Jersey, while much of Washington waits to see if he will actually sit down with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, in the Russia investigation.
The president, though, is tweeting his support to some of his favorite candidates on the ballot in elections across the country today, an early test of whether he will help or hurt Republicans in the upcoming midterms.
ACOSTA (voice-over): As President Trump is taking shelter inside his New Jersey golf course, away from the press, an unmistakable message from the man overseeing the Russia investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who told a group of law enforcement officials their job is to uphold the law regardless of politics.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's our duty to enforce the law and to follow the facts wherever they may lead, and we need to ensure that our decisions are never influenced by political considerations.
ACOSTA: The president's legal team says it's nearing a decision of on whether Mr. Trump will sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller.
But Senator Lindsey Graham, who just played golf with the president, advised Mr. Trump to try to ride out the probe.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Did Trump ask that question?
GRAHAM: He must have mentioned that about 20 times. I want to win in November. If we stop the Mueller probe tomorrow, you wouldn't be able to talk about anything else.
ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS: I would basically say, Mr. President, we're not going to let you anywhere near Bob Mueller. He knows a lot more about this case. He's interviewed a lot more witnesses.
ACOSTA: Andrew Napolitano, a conservative judge who appears on FOX News, was hardly reading from White House talking points when he suggested Donald Trump Jr's meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower in 2016 could amount to a criminal conspiracy, a meeting the president admits was aimed at obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton.
NAPOLITANO: There are federal statutes that prohibit receiving something of value from a foreign national, foreign entity or foreign government. So was the purpose of this meeting to receive something of value? That's something Bob Mueller is going to have to look at.
ACOSTA: As conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham tried to ask Trump Jr. about the meeting, the call appeared to be cut off.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: Do you want any comments on that, Donny? Because they're hitting you on that for contradictions. I mean, they're calling it worse than contradictions, obviously.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: Hello?
INGRAHAM: Yes, Donny, what is your reaction to all that? We're going to see if we can reconnect with Donald Trump Jr. on this, because we can't seem to hear him. Donny, you hear that?
ACOSTA: Then Trump Jr. was back on the line to say his Russian encounter didn't amount to much.
DONALD TRUMP JR.: It was a 20-minute meeting. It ended 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.
ACOSTA: If that's the case, other Trump allies argue there is no need to worry.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: What has them riled up is that they feel cornered, and it's not clear to me that they're necessarily cornered, as much as there's a fact-finding expedition.
ACOSTA: The president has turned his attention to special elections across the country, in Kansas, where a fellow hard-liner on immigration, Kris Kobach, is running for governor, to Ohio, where the GOP candidate appears vulnerable in a district Mr. Trump himself won by 11 points.
DONALD TRUMP SR., PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must elect more Republicans, and we must elect Troy Balderson. We have to elect Troy.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
DONALD TRUMP SR.: So, get your friends. Get your neighbors. Get your family and get out and vote for Troy on Tuesday.
ACOSTA: Democrat smell an upset, so former Vice President Joe Biden has entered the fray with a last-minute robo-call.
JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Electing Danny to Congress puts us one step closer to taking back the House and making sure we have leaders in Washington who will fight for our values, Ohio values.
ACOSTA: Now, so disappointing results for the president on this election night could begin to change the calculus back in Washington for some Republicans that Mr. Trump's negatives are beginning to weigh down their chances to maintain control in Congress.
That dynamic obviously could be magnified further if the Mueller probe moves closer to the Oval Office. But, Wolf, given what Lindsey Graham said earlier today, that the president appears to be sounding out people as he talks to them over at his golf course here in New Jersey about what he should do about the Mueller investigation, it'll be interesting to see if he does indeed do more of that later on this evening when he meets with those CEOs at his golf course -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta in New Jersey.
Let's get some more in all of this.
Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York is joining us. He's the top Democrat, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Thank you.
BLITZER: Do you believe Robert Mueller should agree to an interview with the president without questions, specific questions being asked about obstruction of justice?
NADLER: I think Mueller should insist on asking the president any questions that he thinks relevant to his investigation.
Only he knows where the investigation is leading. Only he knows what the evidence he already has is, and only he can make that decision. And the president, I think, is duty-bound to answer any questions that the special prosecutor -- special counsel, I should say, may ask.
BLITZER: As you know, the president could drag this all out past the midterm elections in November. There's a good chance, as you know, that Democrats, they could win back the majority in the House of Representatives, which would make you the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
As chairman, what actions would you take if the president refuses to comply with Mueller's request for an interview?
NADLER: Well, if the president refuses to comply with Mueller's requests for an interview, I presume Mueller would issue a subpoena.
There's well-defined case law from the Nixon case, the Paula Jones case with Clinton that he would get the subpoena, and he would answer.
Now, it's beyond imagination that the president would defy a subpoena from the court. He could appeal it, but if the court makes a final decision that he must comply with a subpoena, he would -- he would have to.
BLITZER: But that could go all the way to the Supreme Court for a decision, right?
NADLER: It could.
It could, although I think it's a fairly open-and-shut case. It would go very rapidly, I would think.
BLITZER: Your colleague Adam Smith from Washington state told me yesterday he fears that the makeup, the current makeup, the likely makeup of the Supreme Court could bode well for the president.
NADLER: That's speculation. It might.
But the fact is, the Nixon case was an 8-0 decision, with four Republican appointee. The case with Bill Clinton with Paula Jones was also a pretty unanimous decision, as I recall.
Unless the court has really changed where it wants to be, and wants to say the president is really above the law, I don't see that as likely that they wouldn't grant the subpoena. BLITZER: As you know, some members of your party, the Democratic Party, they want impeachment to be on the table. Would you consider that if you were the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee?
NADLER: Well, I think that it's too early to say.
We have to see what the special counsel comes up with, what evidence he has, and what high crimes and misdemeanors seem provable against the president, if any. It is very irresponsible to start an impeachment if you don't really have the material. It's probably irresponsible not to do it if you do.
BLITZER: What I hear you saying is you really want to wait until Mueller finishes the investigation, then make a decision.
NADLER: Oh, I think that's clear.
BLITZER: According to "The Wall Street Journal," Congressman, the president's longtime former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, is being investigated right now for potential tax fraud.
If charged, that could push him to cooperate with Mueller's Russia probe. Do you think he could be a key witness?
NADLER: He might.
I mean, one thing we have to realize is that what the public knows, what you and I know about this investigation is probably a fraction of what Mueller knows at this point. We don't know a lot of the testimony, et cetera.
It's certainly conceivable that Cohen, who was very close to the president in many ways for a long time, could be a key witness.
In particular, for example, as I recall, there is a -- there was a statement or evidence or tape or something that Cohen said that he was present, along with others, unnamed others, when the president agreed to that June 16 meeting in Trump Tower. And that would be key testimony, if that's the case.
BLITZER: As far as we know, Mueller hasn't yet interviewed Michael Cohen.
Do you think Mueller needs Cohen's testimony?
NADLER: That, I don't know, because we don't know what he has already.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask you a final question while I have you.
The election tonight, the special election in Ohio, how do you think the Democrats are going to do?
NADLER: Well, I think this is a -- I think it's a district that Trump carried by, what, 13 or 14 points. It's a district that has been Republican since 1982, and heavily so. And the very fact that the Danny O'Connor, the Democratic candidate, is, depending on the poll, one point up or one point down, is extraordinary. It shows that the Democrats are way overperforming. And if he wins, that will be a tremendous victory.
If he comes close, that will be a tremendous victory and indication that we're likely to carry the House.
BLITZER: Yes, the president carried that district by 11 points. But it's been about 30 years since a Democrat represented that congressional district.
NADLER: But if we -- if the Democratic candidate comes close or wins, that shows a massive shift in a Republican district toward the Democrats.
And it will be right in line with what we have seen in other special elections, some of which we have lost, some of which we have won, but in all of which we have way overperformed prior years. And if we were way overperform prior years in the same percentages in November, we will win a great victory.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens. The polls close at 7:30 p.m. Eastern in Ohio.
Congressman Nadler, thanks for joining us.
NADLER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on a possible Trump-Mueller interview. If negotiations were to fall apart, though, could it wind up before the Supreme Court?
And we will have more on the president's former lawyer and fixer. "The Wall Street Journal" now reporting that Michael Cohen is being investigated for tax fraud.
BLITZER: "The Washington Post" is now reporting that President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani is reluctant to allow questions about obstruction of justice should the president be interviewed by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
The president's legal team says it will have a decision on a possible interviews soon.
Let's get some more from Lisa Monaco. She's the former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Obama.
Lisa, thanks very much for coming in. You're now a CNN national security analyst. If they can't ask the president questions about obstruction of justice, should there still be an interview? Should Mueller agree to that?
LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, look, I think what you're seeing on the president's lawyers part is some posturing about these negotiations.
They have now been going on, if reports are accurate, for months. And what you're seeing, I think, from Director Mueller, former Director Mueller and his team, is an effort to proceed in good faith to try and get information about the events that took place both before and during the initial part of the president's term.
So I think both sides are engaging in this. I think Director Mueller's looking to try and do this in good faith and trying to get as full a picture and set of facts as he can.
BLITZER: But if the interview negotiations fall apart, this could potentially, if there is a subpoena, rejects the subpoena, wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court. And what happens then?
MONACO: It could.
And, look, that's the $50,000 question, right? And there's a number of variables, one of which is the confirmation of the nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to go up to the Supreme Court. I think Congressman Nadler had it right. There's some pretty clear precedent here, notably with President Clinton, a sitting president, having to honor a subpoena.
Now, that was in a civil case, where the government's interests are actually less significant than in a criminal case. So, I think -- I think what you will see here is this play out, and Bob Mueller and his team are going to proceed in good faith to try and assemble all the facts.
BLITZER: What if the Supreme Court were to rule in the president's favor? How would that impact the endgame for the Mueller investigation?
MONACO: I think it's too soon to speculate on that. I think Bob Mueller and his team are going to put together certainly a report. That's what the special counsel regulations call for.
Then it will be up to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, acting attorney general in this matter because of Jeff Sessions' recusal. And it would be up to him to determine how much of that report to make public.
BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts on current U.S. efforts to make sure there's no Russian meddling in the midterm elections coming up in November.
We saw a big show of force over at the White House the other day. The president wasn't there, but he authorized it. He gave the green light.
Is enough being done right now
MONACO: Well, look, I think that show of force last week was necessary. It was important. And it was overdue.
And I think it's also notable, Wolf, that you saw included in that assembly in the Situation -- in the Briefing Room, I should say, was FBI Director Chris Wray. And it is exceptionally rare for an FBI director to appear in the Briefing Room and to do anything in front of a podium that says anything other than the Department of Justice or the FBI.
So that was, I think, quite notable. And it was a real show of force, and I think it was important.
Is the administration doing enough? In my view, no. I think there needs to be a unified voice. The president needs to lend his voice to this, to make sure that there is no schism between him and his team. There should be a cyber-security coordinator. They should restore that position in the White House, so there's somebody in the White House who is coordinating all of this, a whole-of-government effort.
There needs to be more funding for the states to shore up their election security and their electoral systems. And, frankly, there needs to be a unified view and more work and information exchange with the social media companies.
BLITZER: We heard the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, say at that -- at that briefing that he wasn't in the position to -- quote -- "understand fully" what happened at the summit in Helsinki between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Shouldn't the top intelligence officer in the U.S. government be fully aware of everything that happened during that meeting?
Well, this a real head-snapper. This -- the statement from Dan Coats last week that he did not understand, was not in a position to know what transpired in that nearly-two-hour meeting between President Trump and our main adversary, Vladimir Putin, is really astonishing.
And, frankly, what it also says to me is, it was a real missed opportunity. Normally, what you would see is, first of all, there would be other officials in that room, people who can record what's going on, who can take notes, who can feed that back to our intelligence community, to our Russia analysts, and incorporate that in our plans and our thinking going forward.
And, here, we have clearly miss that opportunity.
BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts on the Manafort trial that's under way right now in Alexandria, Virginia. You worked at one point in your life as a federal prosecutor. You have also worked with Robert Mueller.
What do you make of the testimony of this star witness that's been there for the last couple days, Rick Gates, Manafort's former deputy?
MONACO: So, as you mentioned, Wolf, I was a federal prosecutor. And I have put big, high-stakes cooperators on the stand. And that's what we're seeing now from Mueller's team.
And these prosecutors are people who have done this before. They have put cooperating witnesses on the stand. I think what you're seeing them do is, one, use Rick Gates' testimony to corroborate other evidence that's already been put in, and, two, very importantly, to bring the jury inside the scheme that he, by his own admission, Rick Gates, has done with Paul Manafort, and really describe the crimes they committed together.
A lot has been talked about, about the defense now trying to sully Rick Gates' testimony and his credibility. As a prosecutor, I didn't care if a jury liked my cooperating witness. I only cared that they believed him.
And he has every incentive to tell the truth here, because he gets no benefit of any deal with the prosecutors unless he tells the complete truth.
BLITZER: If he lies, he's in deep, deep trouble.
MONACO: That's right.
BLITZER: That plea agreement goes out the window.
MONACO: That's exactly right.
BLITZER: Lisa, thank you very much for coming in.
BLITZER: Lisa Monaco.
Just ahead: Federal investigators ramp up pressure on President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. What does it mean for him and for the president?
Plus, we will get a live update on what's now the largest fire in California history, and what President Trump gets wrong about the state's ongoing fire disaster.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, sources are telling CNN that federal prosecutors investigating President Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, have subpoenaed his former accountant and are examining whether financial institutions improperly granted loans to Cohen. And "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that Cohen is under investigation for tax fraud.
[18:32:18] Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and our analysts. Dana Bash, what do you make of these latest legal developments?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it -- it goes without saying that, for the federal government to get a warrant, a judge to say yes to a warrant to raid somebody's home, somebody -- well, or the hotel they're living right now, somebody's office and take the amount of documents and recordings that the feds did with Michael Cohen, it means that they really had a tip that there was something bad going on.
So the fact of the matter is that CNN's reporting, as you mentioned that his former accountant is being investigated and "The Wall Street Journal" saying that he is being investigated for tax evasion -- tax fraud, I should say, probably shouldn't be surprising, in that these are broad angles that we've known that the feds were looking into.
I think if you kind of take it up maybe to a higher level here, what is interesting is this reporting with the Manafort/Gates trial or Manafort trial, with Gates testifying as the backdrop, it's kind of a reminder that these are all people who probably would, if they -- now they're allegations, but if they end up getting convicted for things, maybe would have gone under the radar, had they not ended up being involved with the now-president of the United States, who has a special counsel looking into him. I mean, Manafort, the feds were looking into him for a long time, apparently, and never could get anything, and now they do.
BLITZER: I suspect there's a lot of people who will regret being involved with the president of the United States, and they're paying a price for that right now.
Don Lemon you're here in Washington today. Welcome. You're normally in New York.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be here.
BLITZER: What do you make of what's going on with Michael Cohen? I know you've met Michael Cohen. You know Michael Cohen. What do you make of the pressure that's being put on him right now? What does it mean for him and what does it mean for the president?
LEMON: Well, I know Michael Cohen, and I know that it's tough on his family and him. But I mean, just think about it. It's been, I think, about 15, maybe 16 weeks since this raid on his home. Michael Cohen still has not been charged. I don't know if he's guilty of anything. He says to me that he's not; in the end, it will all be proven to be above board. But it has been 15 to 16 weeks.
What this says to me, when you look at both the CNN reporting and "The Wall Street Journal" -- by the way, "The Wall Street Journal" said being investigated for possible tax fraud, right, possible tax fraud. That's a big word. I don't think we should underestimate that and discount that word, the possibility of. But I think it means that Michael Cohen is a treasure trove. And you
know, he's a treasure trove of information from the president. And if you read into the reporting where it says that they're looking at whether the banks or people who were in charge of doing loans, whether they did everything that they were supposed to do as they were giving Michael Cohen loans, I don't know if that says anything more about -- people who --
BLITZER: I think you make --
LEMON: -- who are the people who are giving him loans.
[18:3511] BLITZER: I think you make an excellent point. What -- my assessment is, what worries the president a lot right now is not only what Michael Cohen knows and if he flips and were to, you know, tell all but Allen Weisselberg, the longtime financial -- chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, who's been involved for 40 years. He's been subpoenaed, apparently, to testify before a grand jury.
LEMON: Yes. So it all comes back to the president. So they want information on the president. They figured that Weisselberg and Michael Cohen are the two best sources for that information.
But I just find it interesting that Michael Cohen has not been charged with anything yet, and it's been quite a long time. I don't know what they're holding out for. Maybe something. But it's been a while.
BLITZER: Shawn Turner is with us, as well. What does it say to you that the -- that Robert Mueller handed over the whole Michael Cohen case from his portfolio over to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York?
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, you'll recall that the reason that the special counsel did that is because, in the course of their investigation, what Robert Mueller's team found was that Michael Cohen potentially engaged in activities that would have been a violation of law under the Southern District of New York's jurisdiction.
So when he turned it over, that was because that was something that was outside of Robert Mueller's scope.
Now, for the Southern District of New York, as they investigate this, if they were to find that there is evidence or information that could relate back to the special counsel's scope, then it is theoretically possible that this could end up back in front of Robert Mueller and his team at some point down the line.
BLITZER: Yes, that would be a significant development. Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Cohen clearly is upset. He doesn't feel that he was getting the support, the backing of the president during these initial months of the investigation, that he was effectively being mistreated.
What do you think, because I know you've done a lot of reporting on this? How worried should the president be about what Michael Cohen might say? SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, I think it's clear that
prosecutors are trying to squeeze Michael Cohen with the hopes that he might flip, and we've seen increasing signs that Cohen might be willing to cooperate.
I think the reason this is so concerning for President Trump is that for years, Cohen acted not just as Trump's personal attorney but his self-confessed fix-it guy. He has been intimately involved in overseeing both the president's personal and professional dealings and he keeps -- has kept a lot of the president's secrets.
I think that -- although this is separate from the investigation to Russian interference in the election, it is worth pointing out, as Shawn did, that any documents that were seized by the FBI in that raid that are relevant to Mueller's investigation could be turned back to the special counsel.
And if Cohen were to flip and he were to cooperate, any information that he provides to the Southern District of New York, the U.S. attorney's office there, that could also be shared back with Robert Mueller and his team. And we've seen the president tweet about Cohen, certainly, that his signal that he is very worried about what information he might have to offer.
BLITZER: We've also seen the president tweet about you, Don Lemon.
We're going to take a quick break. We're going to discuss that. There are enormous implications of what's going on right now, the president of the United States. Stick around guys. Much more right after this.
[18:42:48] BLITZER: We're back with our correspondents and our analysts.
Don Lemon, you're here in Washington. I've got to ask you. The president had that disgusting tweet the other day attacking you and LeBron James. Just walk us through how you reacted when you saw that and what has happened since?
LEMON: I didn't really -- I don't follow the president anymore on Twitter, because it's too much. And I find his tweets to be outrageous, and I find them to be, most of the time, beneath the dignity of the office.
I think that it's tough to sit here on television now and criticize the president. I think that we have more respect for the office than he does.
So I didn't really know that he tweeted about me until my phone -- until people started saying, "Are you OK? Oh, my gosh. I can't believe he's doing that."
And my response was, "What are you talking about?" And then they sent me, you know, a copy of what the president said
about me. And so I just thought about it for a little while, and I woke up the next morning and tweeted out what I said. Who is -- who's the real dummy? Is it someone who puts kids in classrooms, as LeBron James is doing, or is it someone who puts kids in cages who are -- and separates their families at the border? And I stand by that.
So I think it's awful. I think it's disgusting. As I said here on CNN before, I think this president traffics in racism. I do believe that his president is a racist. And I don't -- I don't say that lightly. I think the evidence points to it.
And I did that on my program last night. I showed some of the evidence, not even all of the evidence. What he says about people of color, what he says about women. He's also a misogynist. What he says about women and what he says about other people. He does, you know -- he's an equal opportunity offender, but he also tramples over racial norms and insensitivity -- sensitivities.
And I think what he is playing on with this, with me and with LeBron James, is an old racist trope about black and African-Americans and people of color being of inferior intelligence.
BLITZER: It started with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, though.
LEMON: "Low I.Q."
BLITZER: Before you, before LeBron, he was going after her. She was critical, very critical of him. He was going after her, saying she's low I.Q., Maxine Waters. And he would ridicule her saying her I.Q. was, what, in the 60s.
LEMON: Yes. Well, Maxine Waters has been in political life a lot longer than this president and will probably still be around when this president is out of office.
[18:45:05] So, I think to call Maxine Waters a low I.Q. individual again I think is beneath the dignity of the office. We have to remember the president is supposed to be a statesman and statesman don't speak that way, they don't write that way, they don't conduct themselves that way.
So, I think it would be -- it is incumbent upon the president to learn from his past mistakes and to try to correct them and to become a better person, a better statesman, a better leader of all people, not just the people who voted for him. And I think it's incumbent upon the people in his own party to hold him to account because it's not up to me to hold him to account.
I am not a lawmaker. I'm neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I'm not political. I simply give the facts.
I did an interview with LeBron James. He shared his story. I think its incumbent upon the people, especially the people in Washington to hold him to account. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can I just add? It is
up to us I think to hold -- not I think, I know -- to hold our elected officials to account on the facts as you mentioned --
LEMON: On the air, I'm talking about here in Washington politically.
BASH: No, I totally agree, and I think the way that we can hold them to account in this particular discussion is LeBron James did something and is doing something pretty remarkable --
BASH: -- that we would want all of the athletes that our children look up to to do, which is to give back to their community in a pretty amazing way, use their big fat salaries to do that and what Don Lemon did was bring that to the country and the world in the interview. And, yes, LeBron James made a statement not even using the president's name -- you know, specifically talking about the way that he's acting, but obviously about what the president has done with the NFL and that's his prerogative.
And that's called discourse and when you have anybody to respond to that with an ad hominem attack, much less the president of the United States, it is important to call it out.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Go ahead, Sabrina.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: I think that whenever the president makes incendiary comments, we often spend a lot of time talking about the politics, but it's also important to note that Donald Trump's views on race predate his political career. First of all, he launched his political career by questioning whether or not President Obama, the first black president in the history of this country, was actually born in the United States.
But you think back to his time in New York in the early '70s, of course, Trump and his father, their company was sued in a racial discrimination lawsuit for a discriminating against African-American tenants at their rental properties. He took out the full page ad calling for the death penalty in the Central Park five case which, of course, those men were exonerated and yet Trump continue today push the notion that they were somehow guilty. And even on the campaign trail, he tried to incite violence against Black Lives Matter protesters and also suggested that inner cities were war zones.
So, we've seen enough evidence I think to support the notion that this is not just politics. Perhaps this is what the president really thinks and believes.
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: And, you know, I think, you know, Don used a very important word. He talked about racial norms and how the president is trampling on racial norms. There are people who harbor these kinds of views. It was really interesting, is that prior to the president coming to office, you know, we -- our experience was that generally speaking, people kept those views to themselves. And what I think I want people to know is that as people of color can walk around and kind of live their life, we are having a different experience as a result of the president setting a very different tone with regard to this sort of rhetoric. So, I think it's just important for people to know that this new tone, this new norm is having an impact on people that is unfair to a large portion of this country.
BLITZER: You know, when I saw what the president said about you, I remembered some of the interviews you've actually done with Donald Trump. He's been on your show when he was a candidate earlier and I always thought that there was a mutually respectful relationship that you had with Donald Trump.
LEMON: Yes, let me go back before that. The last time I interviewed Donald Trump before he ran for office was the night that Osama bin Laden killed, and it was before he was killed and we had a pretty riled about the birther issue. And it didn't get much pickup because we know what happened with Osama bin Laden.
But he had vowed that he would never come back and do an interview with me because he said I was racist, because I challenged him on an infactual statement that he made, a lie about --
BASH: That you're a racist?
LEMON: That I am -- I was racist because the way I challenged him much in the way that he thought maybe, you know, I -- that I can't somehow be unbiased about an issue concerning race like Judge Curiel, because I'm African-American. So he accused me of being racist.
So, finally, he decided he would do an interview with me and my producers intervened and we talked and whatever. I did an interview and he said, oh, my gosh, you're really good. I really respect --
BLITZER: I remember that.
LEMON: You're a great interviewer, it's really fair. And then he kept doing interviews with me, you know, subsequently after that, eight or nine of them.
[18:50:01] And then once he became president of the United States and you have to hold his feet to the fire, all of a sudden, he doesn't like what I'm doing because I have to call out the lies or the misstatements or when he gets something wrong or when he does something crazy or when he says something crazy -- or tweets something that's just beyond the pale. All of a sudden, he doesn't like me.
During the campaign I was told that people, the only people that the campaign wanted to come on my show were the paid CNN contributors because they were afraid that the other people who were possibly going to be in the administration, work for Donald Trump, would be embarrassed because I challenged them in interviews. Well, if you don't want to be challenged in interviews, then you need not be running for political office or to work for someone who's going to be president of the United States. So, that's the long and short of it. So, I think that he started out by calling me a racist and then what
it ends up is that again, the conversation I've been having on the air with Chris Cuomo and others is that it is complete projection. If you look at this president, whatever he says, he is projecting. It's what he believes about himself.
BLITZER: I was happy, though, that Melania Trump came out with a statement in support of what LeBron James is doing in Akron, Ohio.
LEMON: I think that's great that Melania Trump did that. I give her credit for it. I don't know if we should read too much into it because we also have to remember she was a birther, too.
BLITZER: We'll see you later tonight.
BLITZER: Ten p.m. Eastern. Maybe we'll get the final results in Ohio and some of the other key races that we're going to be watching. CNN's special coverage throughout the night on all of that.
Much more news right after this.
[18:56:10] BLITZER: We're following breaking news in northern California. Right now, a record-breaking wildfire, now around 300,000 acres, the largest in the state's history. The previous record- setting blaze was only eight months ago.
CNN's Stephanie Elam is on the scene for us tonight.
Stephanie, this fire is burning in some rough, very dry terrain. Update our viewers.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's very true, Wolf. This is what we're looking at.
We are standing here in the midst of the Mendocino Complex Fire. And really, it's two fires that started at almost the same time very close to each other that they are now dealing with here. And if you think about how large this is, you're talking about an area larger than all of New York City's five boroughs put together. It's a massive amount of land but it is very, very remote, very rural.
But all along when you take a look at just this fire and you look through the state, there are 17 fires that are burning. One just cropping up yesterday afternoon in Orange and Riverside Counties, the Holy Fire. This is what they're dealing with across the state.
Now, as far as this fire is concerned, you can see behind me some of that devastation. This fire here they say they have plenty of water to fight this fire despite what the president tweeted about there not being enough water resources. They say they don't know what they're talking about since the Shasta Lake which is a reservoir here is 2/3 full and that's what they're using, Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Stephanie, thanks very much.
Chief Ken Pimlott is the director of Cal Fire and he joins us on the phone right now.
Thanks so much for joining us.
Give us an update on the progress you're making. What are the biggest challenges right now, you and the men and women are facing?
CHIEF KEN PIMLOTT, DIRECTOR, CAL FIRE (via telephone): So, we have over 14,000 firefighters on the fire lines throughout California. That's over half of the nearly 27,000 firefighters that are fighting fires across the western United States. Over 585,000 acres have burned since this siege began several weeks ago.
You know, we're certainly making progress. Many of the fires we're able to bring closer to containment including the Carr Fire that Stephanie was just talking about there earlier, but we're a long way from being done. The challenges we're facing are certainly very high temperatures, low humidities, and these onshore coastal winds that will pick up.
And as you know, there's a heat wave in southern California right now and for the next several days.
BLITZER: Are you getting the help you need from the federal government, Ken?
PIMLOTT: We absolutely are. The coordination that's going on every day, not just here in California but throughout the western United States. We are working very closely with all of our partners, federal, state, and local, as well interagency coordination center in Boise where all the resources are coordinated for the country in terms of wild land firefighting. We are constantly sharing and updating and ensuring that we all have the ability to share critical resources.
BLITZER: The president, President Trump, says the situation is being made worse because environmental laws out in California are preventing readily available water from being used to fight the wildfires. Is that true?
PIMLOTT: We have plenty of water, as Stephanie said, to fight fires. We have many lakes that they're directly accessing from helicopters to drop that water on the fires and our fire engines have access to water on the ground.
And water is, of course, just one of the many tools we use to fight fire. We drop retardants from air tankers. We have bulldozers and hand crews that get fire line. We have access to all of that and are readily deploying that on all of these fires.
BLITZER: I know you've been a firefighter for 30 years. Is climate change making these fires worse?
PIMLOTT: Absolutely. The changing climate is impacting. As a career firefighter and having so many other career firefighters on the front lines, we are all seeing the change. The kinds of fires we're having right now, these 100,000, 200,000-acre fires, those were the exception to the rules decades ago. Now, these are happening in multiple times every year.
BLITZER: It's an awful situation. Good luck to all the men and women at Cal Fire. All the men and women in California.
Ken, thank you so much. Ken Pimlott, for what you are doing.
That's it. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.