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Manafort Judge Apologizes in Court; Mueller and Trump; Pence Pushes Space Force; Judge Admits He Was "Probably Wrong" to Scold Prosecutors; Nunes: "We Have to Keep the Majority" to Protect Trump. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 9, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did the president just hit send on a threat to Bob Mueller?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Trump v. Mueller, the president sending out a cryptic tweet, as his legal team is in a tug of war with the special counsel, prompting speculation the president might make a move and trigger a crisis.

A budge from the judge in the Paul Manafort case, acknowledging that his behavior has been less Judge Wapner and more Judge Dredd. Could his behavior sway the jury and set Manafort free?

Plus, caught on tape. The head of the House Intelligence Committee confirming what many Democrats already saw as obvious, that he's all about protecting Trump.

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

We begin with the politics lead.

President Trump today seemingly signaling he could be taking some sort of move like against the special counsel investigation, tweeting out today a series of debunked claims about the probe, before writing -- quote -- "Stay tuned."

Now, what exactly that means, we do not know. But it is worth noting it was just eight days ago that the president tweeted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop the Mueller investigation.

And, of course, keep in mind this president did fire the then FBI director with the Russia probe foremost on his mind. Any minute, we could hear directly from the president's, as he's hosting a roundtable event in New Jersey.

Also possibly factoring into the president's mind-set today, the standoff between him and Mueller on whether the president will ever sit for an interview.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani saying that the president will not answer Mueller's questions about his decision to fire Comey or any requests that Comey lay off Michael Flynn, two issues that Mueller clearly wants to ask about.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in New Jersey, near where the president is taking a working vacation.

And, Jeff, is the White House offering any clarity on what the president meant when he said, stay tuned? So many people here in D.C. worried he will order an end to the Mueller probe. But then again, as Speaker Ryan told "The New York Times" the president likes to troll us.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, perhaps no surprise, the White House is not explaining what the president meant by saying stay tuned. But it is one more sign this is simply a long, rolling show of the summer.

Now, on one hand, the president is saying that Mueller is dragging his feet on this, but at the same time they have not agreed to that interview, of course.

But the man at the center of the strategy, Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, he's coming to Bedminster to the golf club for dinner tonight. It's a safe bet that Mueller is on the agenda.


ZELENY (voice-over): Never mind the legal arguments for President Trump. Today's chapter of the will he or won't he sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller is also a political one.

The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, now bluntly saying the Russia investigation could be a lifeline for Trump in the midterm elections, Giuliani telling CNN: "The continuance of the investigation would actually help because people are getting tired of it. And the president needs something to energize his voters. Nothing would energize Republicans more than let's save the president."


ZELENY: The president repeating his rallying cry today on Twitter, saying: "This is an illegally brought rigged witch-hunt run by people who are totally corrupt and/or conflicted."

Yet his lawyers still insist they're open to having the president sit down with the special counsel if obstruction of justice questions are set aside.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: The reality is, he doesn't need to ask a single question on obstruction. He has all the answers. They're not going to change. The president's not going to change his testimony, so stop the nonsense.

ZELENY: Mueller is not commenting on the negotiations. Giuliani is this and seems to be inviting a midterm election showdown.

GIULIANI: Well, I think, if it isn't over by September, then we have a very, very serious violation of the Justice Department rules that you shouldn't be conducting one of these investigations in the 60-day period.

ZELENY: He's talking about 60 days before the November elections, a Justice Department guideline for candidates on the ballot. Trump, of course, is not on the fall ballot, even if his prestige is.


ZELENY: But it's important to keep in mind the timing of all of this is up to Bob Mueller and the special counsel's office.

Also important to keep in mind he has not said anything throughout all of this process. Now, if this plays out in the next coming weeks before Labor Day, and then on to the midterm elections, if Bob Mueller decides to subpoena the president, that, of course, in Giuliani's thinking, would energize his base.

But there's no sign or sense that he's going to do that. Jake, the only thing that's clear, the Giuliani side of this, the president side of this, clearly trying to make a political argument in the middle of a legal one -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny with the president in New Jersey.

Let's talk about this all with my experts.

What do you think the president means when he says stay tuned? Do you think he's -- we know that he has contemplated firing Mueller before, ordering the firing of Mueller. Do you think that's what he means?


This is what he does. I mean, he puts this in the minds of people. It really is about doubt. He's a magician, or he likes to think of himself as a magician. So only God knows.


And part of the segment, when you talked about how his staff, his team doesn't know, they really don't know. They often find out on the back end what the president is actually doing.

But he wants to seed in the minds of the American people doubt, and he's very good at that.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I will one thing that Trump does a lot, he will say stay tuned when he wants to buy himself time.

This is a way of creating suspense, suggesting to his followers that more information is forthcoming that will clear him. But one thing that is really funny about his refusal to speak with Mueller, he will pound out tweets every day of the week on this subject.

He will talk Lester Holt. He will talk to Sean Hannity, but he won't talk to somebody when he's accountable for it. And so I think that's a political answer, because he wants to make this thing all political to try to win that argument. But I think people who want to see this investigation come to a close have to put the pressure on that question of why he will talk to journalists, but not Mueller.

TAPPER: Well, I don't know if everybody you mentioned there was a journalist, but OK. Certainly, Lester Holt is.


MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's a crime, by the way.

If you lie to the press, there's no crime.


TAPPER: That's an argument point has made about his excuse for the Trump Tower meeting.

But I want to ask you about Rudy Giuliani saying that the president will not answer the questions, what did you say about Flynn and why did you fire Comey, suggesting that it's a perjury trap.

Obviously, Comey has a different recollection, let's say, than President Trump. But would that necessarily resulting in perjury, if it's just a he said/he said?

ROGERS: Well, it could and here's why.

So this is why any lawyer -- I mean, I hope that he sits down and goes through -- with the counsel. Here's why it's a bad idea, looking at it from a lawyer. It's not just that you say it and then the prosecutor says it.

If there's another witness that says, no, no, no, that's not what happened, now you get a he said/she said, but you get it in court. You get charged with a crime. And I think that's why his lawyers are saying, hey, we don't know who's cooperating, who's saying what, we don't know if they're making it up, not making it up.

That's why we can't have you go in and kind of wing it with really a important investigation. Again, it's not just that he would lie. There might be a witness -- and he could -- but it might be a witness that comes in and says I remember something completely different.

And if they find another witness that says that, now he's got a problem. They could charge him with perjury.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's the question of whether it's a he said/she said vs. -- or he said/he said vs. he said/he said/he said/he said, and then you have the president on the other side.


TAPPER: But those meetings with Comey -- his decision to fire Comey was only in his head. The meeting with Comey in which he allegedly brought up Flynn was just the two of them. I mean, I guess there's other meetings in terms of when he talked to

Sessions and Rosenstein about coming up with the excuse for firing Comey.

DIAMOND: What's so interesting is there's this constant concern among the president's legal team, among the president's advisers of all of these people around the president flipping on him, right?

There's this fear that all these people are suddenly going to flip on him, but the question never gets back to, well, what are they flipping on him for? Clearly, there is this fear there.

And the question that Bob Mueller is trying to figure out is, what is this fear of other people flipping and is there indeed valuable information that they can turn over?

CARPENTER: Yes, but one more point.

Why do we think that Donald Trump would actually be interested in bringing this investigation to a close? I know Rudy Giuliani argues that, but they want to push this past the midterms. They need to keep this going.

And if Trump refuses to speak with Mueller, he puts Mueller in a position of saying, well, am I going to subpoena the president? And why would you subpoena the president if you're not going to indict him?

And so Mueller very well may just write his report. And we know that Donald Trump is going to write his report. And the thing gets shoved towards everybody at the end of the year.


ROGERS: The only problem there, though, is that his son could get wrapped up into this.


CARPENTER: All the more reason to delay it.

ROGERS: Well, I'm not sure I would agree with that. I think they want it done soon, so that there isn't this charges pressed, that they just come up with a report, and there's no -- somebody doesn't get dragged in front of a grand jury.


TAPPER: Nina, listen to this.

Rudy Giuliani spoke the Dana Bash, saying that he thinks the Republicans might benefit from this if it drags on. He said -- quote -- "Now I'm thinking the continuance of the investigation would actually help, because people are getting tired of it. And the president needs something to energize his voters because the Democrats look like they're energized. And nothing would energize Republicans more than let's save the president."

So, I mean, there's Rudy once again, reading his stage directions out loud, which is, oh, we want to keep this going because it's going to energize our base.

TURNER: I think a part of that is true.

And just the latch on to something Amanda was saying, he really is about the theater of it all, both of them. That's why Giuliani and the president are such a good match, because they have a flair for the theatrics of it, the theater of it all.

In terms of this energizing the base, I mean, certainly one snapshot of that happened in my home state of Ohio in the 12th district in the southern part of Ohio, where's it's neck and neck right now with Senator Balderson and O'Connor.

So in a district where he won 11 percent of the vote, he being the president, it is still too close to call. So I'm not so sure this will necessarily energize the base in a way that gets them the political calculus that they're looking for.


TAPPER: Except support for the Mueller investigation keeps dropping as the president keeps waging his campaign against it.

In June, 41 percent of those polled said they approved how Mueller was handling the investigation. That's down from 44 percent in May, 48 percent in March.

The demonizing of Robert Mueller is working.

DIAMOND: It's been incredibly effective.

And that's why when you look at what Giuliani has said, you have to view it not only through a legal lens, but a political lens, because Rudy Giuliani, the reason why he's the president's chief personal attorney is because he also has that political experience, that political lens through which he views the world.

And so when he's talking about the midterm elections and the value of drawing this out, you have to take him seriously at that. You have to take the possibility seriously that the president is happy to go back and forth with Robert Mueller exchanging these letters about a potential interview all the way into the midterms.

And that's why when you see the president having dinner with Rudy Giuliani tonight, you have to keep in mind that they're not just going to be talking about that letter, but how many more letters are going to...


TAPPER: And, Chairman, Mr. Chairman, the Rudy Giuliani said something just completely untrue yesterday, last night on FOX News about the investigation and how the investigation can't even continue through the midterms.

I want you to take a listen to this, because, as a former FBI agent, you know these facts.


GIULIANI: Well, I think if it isn't over by September, then we have a very, very serious violation of the Justice Department rules. You shouldn't be conducting one of these investigations in the 60-day period.


TAPPER: That's not right.

ROGERS: There was an old precedent in the FBI that if you had an investigation that didn't look like it was going to come to any decision within 60 days of an election of an elected official, then you pause for the election to happen. You didn't want to influence it.

TAPPER: Right, you don't make any announcements during it. Right?

ROGERS: Right. You can still continue the investigation. You can do all of that. You don't stop the investigation.

TAPPER: But that's what he said.

ROGERS: It doesn't mean the clock runs out and you're out of your...


TAPPER: Rudy said, you shouldn't be conducting one of these investigations with 60 days. That's not accurate.



TAPPER: You're not supposed to say something publicly.

ROGERS: Right. They can't come out 60 days and say, well, guess what, we're going to serve a warrant on your house this week as a part of this investigation.

And, by the way, it's a rule that isn't really hard-pressed either.

TAPPER: As James Comey showed us in 2016.

ROGERS: Exactly. And we have seen it in other places.

If you look in public corruption cases around the country, they have dipped into that 60-day rule for whatever extenuating circumstances in the investigation.

DIAMOND: And the Trump legal team doesn't view Bob Mueller in the same way as James Comey. They don't think that he's going to make the same kind of mistake that James Comey made as far as they see it as far as making an announcement too close to the election.

They think that he's going to try and respect that.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

We got a lot more to talk about.

Coming up next: trial and error. The feisty judge in the Manafort trial is calling out his own behavior in court. He did that today.

Plus, the ambitious plans laid out today to create the United States Space Force. The Trump administration is all in. What about Congress? What about the Pentagon?


[16:17:22] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Today, we saw something of an apology from the judge overseeing the trial for Paul Manafort. That's the president's former campaign chairman facing bank and tax fraud charges.

Judge T.J. Ellis admitted he was probably wrong in scolding the prosecution. I'm sorry, T.S. Ellis. And it's not the first time that this judge has come down hard on attorneys working for Robert Mueller. But the bigger question, of course, could the judge's style sway the jury away from the prosecution? Away from a conviction?

CNN's Kara Scannell has been inside the courtroom watching all this unfolding.

And, Kara, some of these exchanges have been quite testy as I understand it.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that's right. Yesterday, the judge admonished the prosecutors for reminding them, reminding the judge of his own ruling from the day before. So, this morning, he came into court after prosecutors asked to address this to the jury, to kind of remove any sort of stain that might exist, the judge called the jury in.

And here's what he said, we had a couple of words we can put up. He said, put aside any criticism, I was probably wrong in that. This robe doesn't make me anything other than human.

So, the judge -- this is now the tenth day of the trial. And the judge, even from the outset has been tough on the prosecutors. When they began bringing in their case, they had several vendors who were the people who sold Paul Manafort, his Mercedes-Benz, his ostrich jacket, and the judge criticized prosecutors then when they wanted to show pictures of the evidence.

At the time, here's what the judge said. The judge said, look at me -- Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle. Now, all the criticism of the prosecutors -- this is something that

does happen in courts. Judge Ellis is a judge who likes to command his courtroom and move it along. There was an exchange that took place on a side bar that was out of the place of the jury where he was giving prosecutors again another hard time. This is where they were just having a discussion, the judge said to one of the prosecutors, look at me when you are talking to me. The prosecutor responded, these are not tears in my eyes, judge. The judge said, well, they are watery.

So, the defense has really been leaning on the prosecutors in this case. The defense hasn't yet begun their case in chief. So, we'll wait to see if the judge does take a hard line on them. But it doesn't necessarily mean he is putting a thumb on the scale.

Judges often like to command their courtroom and this is a case with a lot of documentary evidence. It looks like he is trying to move it along especially when he sees evidence that he might be seeing repetitive, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Thank you so much.

Kim Wehle joins me now. She was an assistant U.S. attorney. And the concern here is obviously that the judge in reprimanding the prosecution or the defense he's reprimanding them as well, might influence the jurors in how they think about this.

[16:20:03] KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Sure, I clerked for a somewhat curmudgeonly judge like this. And he did the same thing.

I do think that the jury can see through and focus on the facts and the law. And there is an argument to be made for this kind of tight courtroom actually producing a better result and a better outcome for both sides. It's harder to get away with stuff. And in addition, I think this judge is mindful of a possible appeal. If there is a conviction, he wants to make sure it doesn't look like the prosecution had any favors along the way by him that could be reverse on appeal.

TAPPER: But couldn't it -- that's only if there's a conviction, of course.

WEHLE: Right.

TAPPER: But if there is not a conviction, the government can't appeal it, that's it. So, it doesn't matter. So, is it always better to lean on the prosecution to be tougher with them than with the defense?

WEHLE: Well, it -- you know, judges handle it different ways, I think. I mean, some of us are old enough to remember the O.J. trial where things are kind of out of control. And that is actually not a good outcome.

But that being said, you know, judges command a tremendous amount of authority and there might be people in the jury who say, listen, this judge doesn't like this prosecutor. Maybe I shouldn't trust the prosecutor. So, that is something I think to be mindful of.

It's certainly not something I think prosecutors are happy about. But is it reversible error? Probably not.

TAPPER: How common are these kinds of reprimands and how unusual is an apology from a judge?

WEHLE: Now, again, the reprimands really defend on the reputation of that judge and how he or she runs the courtroom. Some judges are extremely cordial and gentle and kind and don't get into that all.

Now, I'm sorry, what was your second question?

TAPPER: The second question is how unusual is an apology? Because that's -- it strikes me that that is not something that a guy like this does easily.

WEHLE: Yes, that is -- that's somewhat unusual. I mean, normally, if something like that happens, there could be a request in the jury instructions before the jury goes back to deliberate to say maybe this will be included. Listen, jury, what comes out from the court -- from behind the bench is not evidence.

But, you know, frankly I think it was refreshing to see someone in that kind of position of power in this polarized society admit that he made a mistake and that he's only human. And I think we should all kind of take a page -- take a note from that page.

TAPPER: It's true. We don't see a lot of that in today's society.

Kim Wehle, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Secret tape revealed the House Intelligence Committee chairman suggesting what many Democrats have suspected for months. Hear the recording for yourself coming up next.

Thanks so much.


[16:26:58] TAPPER: The controversial chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Devin Nunes of California, is once again under fire. In a secret recording first made public by MSNBC, Nunes, a strong ally of President Trump, says that Republicans must retain their majority in order to protect president Trump from the Mueller investigation.

The comment signaling the Democrats that Nunes has corrupted the committee he chairs, which has historically pride to rise above the political fray of Washington. Their remark was made during a closed door fundraiser for Republican Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington state.

CNN's Manu Raju joins me now.

And, Manu, Republicans today are suggesting that Nunes is merely stating what many of them believe and said publicly that if Democrats win the House, they're going to begin impeachment proceedings which they think is inappropriate. And so, Republicans need to keep the majority.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And Republicans are saying that, but some are not commenting, including the House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has not said anything about this so far. Neither is Cathy McMorris-Rodgers who is in part of the House Republican leadership team. She's in a tough reelection fight of her own, and, of course, this recording taken at a fundraiser with Nunes and her.

And this is all just the latest flap surrounding the very controversial chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.


RAJU (voice-over): House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes in private confirming Democrats' longstanding suspicion that he believes House Republicans must protect President Trump from Robert Mueller.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: So, therein lies, so it's like your classic catch-22 situation where we're at a -- it puts us in such a tough spot.

RAJU: Speaking at a private fundraiser for House Republican leader Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Nunes was secretly recorded, saying the House GOP must retain the majority this fall for one reason.

NUNES: If Sessions won't un-recuse and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones -- which is really the danger.

That's why I keep, and thank you for saying it, by the way, I mean, we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.

RAJU: It's the latest controversy in Nunes' tenure atop the powerful committee. Last year, he rushed to brief the president about his concern in secret intelligence reports.

NUNES: The president needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there and I have a duty to tell him that.

RAJU: Despite later stepping aside from running the Russia probe, he continued to exert his influence, quashing Democratic attempts to call witnesses and subpoena records. Privately, he mounted his own investigation into the Justice Department to sow doubt over the Mueller probe, all earning praise from Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's courageous. Congressman Devin Nunes.

RAJU: It culminated in the February release of the so-called Nunes memo, where the GOP contended that the FBI improperly obtained a warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a conclusion Democrats reject. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: It's appalling. It's a


RAJU: Yet, Nunes soldiered on, this time threatening to impeach Rod Rosenstein, the man who oversees the Mueller investigation for not providing enough records to Congress.

At the fundraiser, Nunes said impeachment should wait until after the Senate confirms Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.