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Rudy Giuliani Sets New Limits for Possible Trump-Mueller Interview; Judge in Paul Manafort's Trial Tells Jury He was Wrong for Scolding Prosecutors; Puerto Rican Government Concedes Hurricane Deaths Top 1,400. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired August 9, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- going for nine months. The hurricanes may be stirring this sort of thing up. And many here are worried that this is the new normal.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Bill, if it weren't for you being there telling these stories, I wouldn't -- I mean, you know, the first time I even read about this, heard about this, was this morning because of your reporting.
For average Americans watching, thinking, oh, my god, I didn't know this was happening, what can they do?
WEIR: My pleasure, thanks for having me on.
HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.
No deal, says the president -- says the president's legal team, I should say, to the latest offer from the special counsel on the terms of a presidential interview. But this morning, yet another counteroffer sitting on Robert Mueller's desk with a brand-new warning to wrap things up, well ahead of the midterms. And if things are not wrapped up, well, what happens?
My colleague, Dana Bash, joins me with her reporting. And Manu, as well.
Manu, good -- you don't look like Dana. You know, I don't know where the blonde hair went, but things are getting a little -- a little jumbled here. So let's get back on track.
Manu, I'm glad you're here. Dana is walking on set. If only people could see, to join me. So let me begin with you, Manu. You know, this back and forth, eight months of back and forth and back and forth and back and forth between the president's lawyers and Bob Mueller's team on whether he will sit for an interview now. I mean, what's your read at this point?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the ultimate question is exactly when Bob Mueller's team decided that enough is enough, and that they want to bring the president in for an interview and it's time to issue a subpoena to bring the president forward for the interview. And that could provoke a rather unprecedented legal fight and something that's unclear exactly how the courts would ultimately rule, how the Supreme Court will ultimately rule.
That is a big question going forward because this latest counteroffer from the president's team likely is not going to satisfy the Mueller team if they do want to get into those questions about obstruction of justice part of a significant -- part of that investigation.
Last night on FOX News, Rudy Giuliani made clear he does not want the president to answer questions about obstruction, does not want to have him answer questions about whether or not he, the president, asked James Comey to back off, to ease from that Michael Flynn investigation, which James Comey has testified under oath to Congress that the president had told him to do. And the president has said, not under oath, but to reporters, that he did not urge Comey to back off the Flynn investigation.
Giuliani does not want the president to answer that under oath. So there's a big question going forward. Whether or not the Mueller team decides that enough is enough and it's time to issue that subpoena -- Poppy.
HARLOW: Manu, thank you. Stay with me. Dana is here with blonde hair and all.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I like to make an entrance.
HARLOW: I said to -- I thought I was turning to you. Manu is there, I said, where's the blonde hair? I'm glad you're here in person.
So a lot of great reporting from your interview over the phone with Rudy Giuliani. It's odd, because he is sort of threatening Mueller's team. You have to wrap this up by September 1st, but at the same -- in the same breath, saying, well, it could actually be good for the president and for Republicans if this thing carries out through the midterms.
BASH: Right. Look, and I think this speaks to the fact that they're planning for lots of different scenarios because the president's legal team is in the dark. I mean, they are negotiating because they don't have a choice. Their client continues to say that he wants to have an interview to sit down with Robert Mueller and his team against the pretty explicit wishes of everybody around him.
BASH: So they're doing this. But more importantly, they just don't really have a sense of where Robert Mueller is, where he's willing to go. Meaning, is he going to say OK if they don't come to an agreement on an interview? I'll just write a report without it. Is he going to launch a subpoena fight, which will take months and months and months, and go to the Supreme Court.
HARLOW: And go to the Supreme Court.
BASH: Exactly. And there -- and it's risky for Robert Mueller to do that because he might not win. And it just really depends on what he has and what he thinks he needs to ask the president. So it's so unknown that the Trump legal team is -- and particularly on the political side of it, they're doing what they have to do. And Giuliani, along with the president, and Jay Sekulow, to a lesser extent, they have realized that what they have control over right now is the court of public opinion.
BASH: And so they're going to continue to push that. And they also realize, especially Giuliani, when I talked to him about this particular issue, that the Democrats are really, really energized. And Republicans are more complacent. And that's been obvious in all the special elections. And they think, well, maybe if there is a threat of impeachment of the president.
BASH: That could get Republicans energized.
HARLOW: Which is what Devin Nunes was trying to do at that fundraiser.
BASH: It is.
HARLOW: Where we now have the audio. I'll play that in a moment. But first I do want to play and get your reaction to the FOX News sound from last night.
[10:05:01] Rudy Giuliani went on for this interview on FOX last night, and then he made an argument that there would be a violation of DOJ rules by Mueller if he doesn't wrap it up. Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Well, I think if it isn't over by September, then we have a very, very serious violation of the Justice Department rules. The reality is, the real story here is not that this case isn't going to fizzle, it's going to blow up on them. The real question is what we were talking about before. There's a lot more to what they did that nobody knows about yet. A lot more to the obstruction of justice, to the collusion, to the fake dossier.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: OK. There are two questions about that answer. Let me ask you the first and that is a 60-day rule?
BASH: So what he's talking about is not a hard and fast rule. It's a custom and tradition. And what the custom and tradition is -- inside the Justice Department is to avoid taking explicit public investigative steps, or returning indictments against a candidate for office within 60 days of an election.
Now the president of the United States is obviously not up for re- election. However -- I mean, it's a unique situation. He effectively is on the ballot.
BASH: So --
HARLOW: And Comey did it.
BASH: And Comey did it when Hillary Clinton really was on the ballot.
BASH: And that was -- and that's a big part of the criticism of Comey for doing that.
BASH: He broke that custom. So this is what -- why Giuliani is making the argument. And that's why when we talk about this dragging into the midterms, it's -- it's a question of whether or not Mueller is going to continue his investigation, but assuming he will follow these guidelines, but do it quietly.
BASH: Not do anything, meaning, not say I'm going to interview the president between Labor Day and Election Day.
BASH: Or return indictments in that window.
BASH: He could continue to work, and then pick it up in a public way after the election.
HARLOW: I mean, it's pretty clear that Rudy Giuliani is capitalizing on Mueller's silence here. Mueller hasn't said nor will he say anything publicly about this. He's not giving any interviews, et cetera. And when you heard Giuliani at the end of that sound bite say there is a lot more to what they did that nobody knows about yet. Do you know what he's talking about?
BASH: No. No. No. I mean, I -- assume it's just the same trying to paint the Mueller investigation, the Mueller team, as partisan, as, you know, the witch hunt is the term that they like to use. Beyond that, I don't know that they have any specifics. But it is noteworthy that Giuliani continues to really throw as much out there as he can. And he's pretty obvious about it. It's not like a big mystery what their strategy is to try to stir things up. Use as bold language as they possibly can in a very Donald Trump way because for Donald Trump, in various venues, it's been successful. It works.
HARLOW: Dana, stay with me. So -- and Manu is with us, as well. Let's all talk about what I mentioned with Devin Nunes, the Republican congressman of California, huge Trump supporter on the Intel Committee, he gave this very expensive, you know, private fundraiser as politicians do. And someone was in there recording. And he was talking about the Mueller probe and, you know, the importance that he sees for Republicans to, of course, he argues, stay in the majority in November because of the Mueller probe. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: So therein lies, so it's like your classic Catch-22 situation where we were at a -- this puts us in such a tough spot. If Sessions won't unrecuse and if 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Manu, why is that significant?
RAJU: Well, this is the first time we are hearing Devin Nunes say so bluntly that the House Republican majority is necessary to help the president, protect the president, from Robert Mueller. That is a pretty stark assessment from the House Intelligence Committee's chairman, who has been accused for months and months and months by Democrats for doing exactly that. Using his committee encouraged to try to protect the president from the Mueller investigation.
You'll recall, Poppy, last year he came under enormous controversy when he went to the White House to greet the president about something that he thought was improper. He later was forced to step aside from that investigation.
RAJU: The Democrats try to push for a number of witnesses and subpoenas. Nunes continually squashed those efforts, and he tried to move forward with his own investigation that is now moving at a rapid pace to look after what the Justice Department and how the FBI conducted the Russia probe, all to try to paint the picture that this was a very nefarious act that was taking place by the FBI and launching the investigation in the first place.
[10:10:05] And now we are hearing, perhaps his real motivation behind this, is that he believes it's necessary to protect the president from the Mueller investigation. So it's a pretty remarkable assessment. And also standing beside a Republican leader, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, someone who --
RAJU: -- House Republican leadership at her fundraiser on this very issue, it's pretty remarkable to hear him say that in private.
HARLOW: Who struggled a lot on Tuesday. She particularly. Yes, Dana. BASH: Poppy, can I just add -- to echo what David Chalian was saying
around here internally this morning. It's not his job to protect the president. It's actually constitutionally the job of Congress to check the executive branch. It's explicitly the opposite of what he was just saying. Now politically, I get it. And it happens on the Republican side, it happens on the Democratic side. But to hear him say that, as Manu was saying, so brazenly after it's been obvious, based on his pretty wild actions, is really, really remarkable. And it's very, very telling. And it is important to note that politically, he might feel it's his responsibility. But technically, it's certainly not his job.
HARLOW: And it's not what we pay members of Congress for.
BASH: No, it's not what they're elected to do.
HARLOW: Before you go, my former TV husband, John Berman, had a great interview this morning with Michigan's Democratic candidate, who could be the first Muslim woman in congress, Rashida Tlaib. And there was this exchange that was fascinating to me. I want your take on it. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Will you vote for Nancy Pelosi?
RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Probably not.
BERMAN: Probably not.
TLAIB: That's my answer. No, probably not.
BERMAN: Is she one of the people you're referring to as the Democratic sellout?
TLAIB: Look, I don't know. All I can tell you is she doesn't speak about the issues that are important to the families of the 13th congressional district.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: From her to Danny O'Connor in Ohio 12 to Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez in New York 14, this is big, right?
BASH: There are about 25 candidates for office. It's not including the people -- the incumbents. 25 Democratic candidates who are making that promise that they're not going to vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker. And they're doing it in a very intentional way because they understand, A, the Republicans once again, as they have for umpteen election cycles straight, made Nancy Pelosi the boogie person. But more importantly, it's a lesson learned from 2016 from Donald Trump in that people still are annoyed, angry, fed up, frustrated with Washington leaders.
And Nancy Pelosi is a Washington leader. It's the Washington leader in their party. And so that separating themselves of the leadership is a very important tool, Democrats believe, on a national level to getting elected on a local level. And we're really seeing that across the board.
BASH: If those Democrats do get elected --
BASH: Nancy Pelosi could be in serious jeopardy if they keep those promises.
HARLOW: And this is someone, Manu, who has raised so much money for the party. I mean, you can be very critical of her, but she is good at fundraising.
RAJU: No question about it. That's one reason why a lot of Democrats want to keep her. But to echo Dana's point, she has a real math problem. If the Democrats take the majority in the fall. If the Democrats keep the majority, but let's say they have maybe 10 to 20 seat majority, she probably will not have the votes on the floor to become the speaker. So a huge problem for her, which is why a lot of Pelosi critics say why not step aside now, take away that issue that Republicans are seizing on in the campaign trail because it's going to be very difficult to become speaker again, given all the opposition from the left flank of the party -- Poppy.
HARLOW: All right. Dana Bash, with the blonde hair, Manu Raju --
BASH: Not blonde hair.
HARLOW: With great hair, too.
BASH: He does have a good head of hair.
RAJU: Gray hair.
HARLOW: Thank you both. Thank you both very, very much.
Still to come, a lot for us this hour. Paul Manafort's trial back under way this morning. The prosecution is preparing to rest its case this week. The defense takes its last shot at the government's star witness, Rick Gates.
Also, New York Congressman Chris Collins remains defiant after being indicted for securities fraud. We will speak to one of his Republican colleagues.
Also ahead, it has been nearly one year since the tragic events in Charlottesville that killed this woman, Heather Heyer. We take a look at the lives lost and we will also remember her speaking with one of her closest friends.
[10:18:58] HARLOW: Welcome back. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York, and the trial for former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, begins again today, with the judge admitting he made a mistake. That is rare and significant.
Joe Johns outside the courthouse again with me this morning. So what did Judge Ellis say?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this goes back to really the very beginning of the trial, frankly, when the judge said he would allow in an expert from the IRS to sit in the trial and listen to the testimony. Then yesterday when that very same witness, Michael Welch, was to take the stand and took the stand, the judge interrupted and said, I didn't allow witnesses. I didn't allow experts in the trial and I never allow experts in the trial.
The government was worried that it -- an inference of impropriety by the government might have been suggested to the jury. So they filed a motion overnight, asking the judge to correct the record and give the jury an instruction, saying, the judge was in error when he scolded the prosecution for allowing an expert witness to sit in and listen to previous testimony.
[10:20:09] And this morning, the judge apparently agreed, he did that. And this is the quote. This is what he told the jury at the start this morning. He said, "Put aside any criticism. I was probably wrong in that. This robe does not make me anything other than human."
The background to it is, this is a very smart judge, often smarter than the attorneys, and he also has a very sharp tongue and a biting wit. And he's used it quite frequently during the government's case. There have been many, many sparring matches between the judge and the attorneys for the government and obviously he's won virtually every one because it's his court.
Poppy, back to you.
HARLOW: That it is. Joe Johns, thanks so much. Let us know what happens as this gets under way again this morning.
Still to come, it has been nearly a year since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Well, now the Puerto Rican government is acknowledging the number of people who died as a result they say is 20 times higher than the original official death toll.
Our Leyla Santiago, who's been all over this story, joins me next.
[10:25:57] HARLOW: A very important development in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The Puerto Rican government this morning is now acknowledging that more than 1400 people -- more than 1400 American citizens died, likely died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria as a result of it. That figure is 20 times more than the official death toll that we originally were given of 64 people.
The government has been heavily criticized for allegedly downplaying the number of those who died as a result. And this comes as the government submitted a report to Congress asking for billions of dollars in recovery funds.
Our correspondent, Leyla Santiago, who has been extensively covering this since right before the hurricane hit and been pressing and pressing for answers joins me now.
So what are the details here?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I continue to press for answers, Poppy. Just got off the phone with a spokesperson from the government of Puerto Rico, and they are saying, look, this is not new information. And in a way, what they're saying makes a little bit of sense here. These numbers actually came out in June.
What happened in June? Well, we sued, and after we sued, the judge ordered the release of information from the Registry of Demographics in Puerto Rico that really highlights the statistics when it comes to deaths after Hurricane Maria. But this was now made even more public in a report that they submitted last night to Congress in which they continue to say that the official death toll remains at 64 but acknowledge that in the statistics, when you look at the number of deaths after Hurricane Maria, there is that increase of 1,427.
But just now, when I was speaking to the government, they still continue to say, even though we're seeing this increase, we are not prepared to say that all of those were related to Hurricane Maria.
So why is that? Well, they commissioned a study back in late January, early February, from George Washington University to look into the deaths, and the government has said publicly that until that study is complete, they don't plan to make any changes to the official death toll. Despite our investigation that found the number could be nine times higher. Despite Harvard University's study that found that it could be anywhere from 800 to 8,000 deaths related to Hurricane Maria.
Given the conditions that came after the hurricane, right? Because they're direct at, those that happened right during the hurricane. And then there were all the deaths that came because of lack of power, because of lack of water, because of the condition of daily life after Hurricane Maria.
So when do we expect this study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government to come out? Well, I again just talked to them on the phone and they tell me they expect more information from that study this month. But once again, another acknowledgement from the government that the number, 64, is not correct. But they're not willing to change it just yet.
HARLOW: And to be clear, Leyla, this updated number, that is astonishingly higher, 20 times higher, over 1400 American citizens, that came out the day after you, CNN, filed this lawsuit to get answer?
SANTIAGO: Right. It actually came out the day the judge ruled in our favor. The day after the judge ruled in our favor, saying, listen, Puerto Rico, you have to release these numbers for public records so that we can get to the bottom of this. The next day was when the government put out this number that you're now seeing once again in the report that went to Congress last night as they asked for more funding for recovery efforts.
HARLOW: You just wonder why it would have to take a judge ruling that way to get straight answers.
Leyla, thank you.
Under indictment. This morning, New York Republican Congressman Collins -- Congressman Chris Collins, out on bail, still on the ballot in November, vowing to fight and to beat insider trading charges.