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Prosecution Wraps Closing Arguments in Manafort Trial; Threats of More Omarosa Revelations; Democrats Hold Lead in Polls. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired August 15, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: For joining me AT THIS HOUR. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Closing arguments underway in the Paul Manafort trial. The prosecution just wrapped, telling jurors the former Trump campaign chairman lived a life of lies, fraud and greed.

Plus, brand-new CNN poll numbers releasing this hour show Democrats with a growing advantage when voters are asked which party they want to control Congress. Retaking the House, clearly within the Democrats' reach.

And Democrats celebrate diversity after another big primary night, including the first transgender nominee for governor. A Republican looking to make a big comeback loses and learns a big lesson.


TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: People are going to ask you, what do you see in this result. I think, you know, the circumstances we live in, in the era of a difference kind of leadership in terms of President Trump and the like and I just don't fit well into that era, into that picture.


KING: Back to politics in a moment.

But we begin today with a defining day in the Paul Manafort trial. One last chance for the lawyers to make their case. The government just finished its turn, its closing argument after top prosecutor Greg Andres spent 90-plus minutes making his closing case to jurors. Andres boiled down ten days of testimony from witnesses to a single line, this is a case about lies, he said. The government framing its argument this way, Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it and he lied to get more money when he didn't.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins me now and has been tracking this trial from the beginning.

Shimon, tell us, 90 minutes or so, what's your biggest takeaway from the prosecution's last case to the jurors?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, certainly the lies, right, and how they detailed the lies and the documents that Paul Manafort, that they allege he lied on, the tax forms and the bank forms.

But I think more interestingly and some of the more color that came from this closing argument was how they addressed the whole Rick Gates issue. One point calling Rick Gates a guy who was Paul Manafort's the -- Paul Manafort was his mentor, they're saying. Mr. Manafort is a mentor to Mr. Gates, particularly to his own criminal activity. That's what the prosecutor said to the jury. He then said that Manafort didn't choose a Boy Scout to be his partner in crime. Obviously, prosecutors anticipating that Rick Gates is going to be a big part of the defense attorney's closing arguments.

The other thing that was interesting here is, you know, we have all made a lot about Rick Gates, calling him the star witness in this case, while the prosecutors to the jury said the star witness in this case is the documents. This has been a case that has heavily been -- the evidence has heavily relied on documents. E-mails in Paul Manafort's own words. Tax documents that were put together by accountants for Paul Manafort. So prosecutors really urging the jury to look at that. Don't believe -- let's say if you don't even believe what Rick Gates came in here and said, but look at the documents. See if those documents back up what Rick Gates was saying.

And just to give our viewers and idea of what's going to go on the rest of the day. The jury is on break. They come back about 1:30. And that's when the defense will give their closing argument. And then prosecutors will have one last chance to make an argument to the jury for why they should convict Paul Manafort. And then we'll get charges that will be read to the jury and then we could see this case go to the jury this afternoon when they can start deliberating.

KING: We'll keep in touch, Shimon, as that plays out this afternoon. Appreciate the reporting there.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post," Lisa Lerer with "The Associated Press," and CNN's Sara Murray.

So here it is, the jury -- the prosecution makes its case, it's about lies. What do we make of the significance here in this first big test for the special counsel in court. The idea, to Shimon's point, that this isn't really about Rick Gates, it's about the paper, the documents, the financial crimes we detained to you. The prosecution may be a tad nervous that the defense did a pretty good job undermining Rick Gates?

SARAH MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, you know, that was the whole strategy the defense had. They didn't actually present a defense of Paul Manafort at all. They just decided to bloody up the guy who they believe to be the prosecution's star witness, Rick Gates. And I think what we're seeing from prosecutor here saying, you know, look, we know Rick Gates is a criminal. We're not trying to hide that. We're acknowledging that you may not like this guy, that you may think he engaged in plenty of unsavory activities. But look at how his story lines up with everything else we've shown you. It lines up with the documents that were falsified. It lines up with the bookkeepers, with the accountants that you've heard from.

And this is a big test for the special counsel. In part because this is just Paul Manafort's first trial. He's also facing a second trial in another jurisdiction. So if they're unable to get a conviction here, that's going to be a huge blow to them.

But I think they're also trying to see whether jurors do look at Rick Gates as any kind of a credible witness. We know he's a witness in this case. We know he could be a witness yet again in Manafort's next case. But we don't know what other information he has been sharing with Mueller's team. We don't know if he's someone that they could potentially be calling down the line in other cases. So I think it's a test of whether jurors can look at him at all credibly.

[12:05:13] KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's also, in a way, a test of whether jurors can -- are going to be able to see through the person to the actual stuff that's written. I mean Manafort's own words are part of this document trail. And certainly there's a lot of other potential smoking guns there. That can all be undermined by the weakness of a witness, I guess, which, again, is not that surprising given the type of trial that it is. And, in general, when you're dealing with high -- high white collar crime or other types of like, you know, more unsavory things, none of your witnesses are going to be Boy Scouts, otherwise they wouldn't have been involved in the first place.

But if Rick Gates can undermine what is otherwise what they felt was a very strong case to bring this as the opening gambit of the Paul Mueller probe, then that -- I don't know if that causes a recalibration of how they approach things going forward. Who they decide to -- I mean there's already several indictments up (ph), but do they decide to pursue versus maybe -- mount their cases a different way.

KING: Right, you have -- you have Rick Gates, who, obviously, has admitted crimes. He's testifying to a jury saying, believe me, even though one of the crimes is that he lied to the prosecutors. That's one thing.

I just want to lay out, if people haven't been tracking this trial, Paul Manafort does, as Sara noted, faces two trials. In this one in Virginia, five counts of tax fraud, four counts of hiding foreign bank accounts, nine counts of bank fraud. If he is convicted of these 18 criminal charges, you had 27 witnesses called by prosecutors, zero called by the defense, faces -- he's obviously not going to get this, but the charges carry up to 300 years in prison. So Paul Manafort is facing the prospect of spending the rest of his adult life in jail.

And if you're watching, you see right there, the charges laid out here. And if you're the president watching this, or the president's legal team watching this, you're trying to see, to the points just made by Sara and Karoun, is the special counsel's office able to detail these cases? Do jurors believe these witnesses? Does the meticulous work of the special counsel's office carry the day, right?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's also about just -- beyond the details of this case, it's about making a public argument about the credibility of the special counsel to the general public.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: Which doesn't care much about the counts against Paul Manafort, but does care about whether or not the special counsel perhaps was overreaching, was being overzealous in pursuing Paul Manafort for things that they've already -- the Trump folks have already pointed out do not directly relate to the president himself. So I think if Mueller is unsuccessful -- if the Mueller probe is unsuccessful in dealing with this case, frankly, pretty thoroughly what you're going to see from Trump's allies is that they're going to find every little crack they can find and use that to exploit a broader case that the probe is beyond the gates, that it's just gone too far here.

KING: And -- go ahead.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": And then there's another risk, of course, here for Trump, which -- for the president, which is that if he does get a heavy conviction, the special counsel can argue for leniency with the court in the sentencing. So that gives them another opportunity to try to get Manafort to cooperate.

KING: Right.

LERER: They have the second trial, as you point out. That's another opportunity to try to get Manafort to cooperate. We don't know how much he knows that's useful to what Mueller's doing, but it gives them another shot at this guy who so far has been pretty unwilling to play ball with them.

KING: Right. And you also know, if you're on team Trump, that at one point they stopped the defense from questioning Rick Gates about his work in the Trump campaign. The prosecution got the judge to stop that because they said it would disclose sensitive information. And these charges have nothing to do with 2016, nothing to do with the Trump campaign, except they did bring in testimony in the end. They were saying Paul Manafort, every time he takes a move -- or he moves around and his greed goes with him. They're saying, while he was chairman of the Trump campaign, he was trying to get a loan from a bank and telling the guy, I guess after he left the Trump campaign, hey, I can get you a job in the Trump administration. Give me that loan.

LERER: And, on top of it, if he does gets convicted and if it is 300 years or let's just say 100 years, you know, whatever, the rest of his life, however many years the man has, that sends a really chilling message to other people who may have been resistant. That they see that the punishment can be real and that they can take you to court and have a trial on other criminal stuff you're doing. But if you play ball with Mueller, then maybe you can get a lighter sentence. And so I think that could have an impact beyond just Manafort's cooperation.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: And if you look at the -- sort of the landscape, this is coming as the special counsel's office sort of circling around Roger Stone, talking to everyone he's ever known, hasn't approached Roger Stone directly yet. But, sure, if they get a conviction for Paul Manafort and say this is what happens if you don't cooperate with us --

LERER: Right.

MURRAY: This is what happens if you don't play ball, that could send a message to people like Roger Stone.

DEMIRJIAN: And it's coming in advance of the 2018 midterms. And I know that's the oldest broken record in the book, but this is the one thing that we're sure about that will actually be, you know, decided one way or another before then. And everybody is speculating about how far Mueller will go and when the next things will drop. But we know this will be determined one way or another.

If it's bad for Manafort, that then puts the credibility of the entire Trump circle kind of on trial. And there is this, you know, shadow question behind the 2018 midterms of, are the Democrats going to take the House? Will they start impeachment proceedings? That's the political, you know, the political jury is that really in terms of what the upshot of the whole Mueller investigation is. And this may make a difference coming, you know, in advance of the last push to November.

[12:10:07] KING: Twelve weeks out. Again, the case could -- the jurors could actually start deliberating this evening. If not, by early tomorrow. We'll keep an eye on that one. Stay with CNN throughout the day. Lunch right now, then the defense makes its closing statement to the Manafort jury.

Up next for us here, hell hath no fury like a former White House staffer scorned. What's Omarosa's next move?


KING: Welcome back.

High anxiety at the Trump White House today. The threats from a spurned ex-employee looming large over the entire White House staff. Omarosa Manigault Newman, fired from the White House back in December, is on what you can easily call a scorched earth media blitz peddling her new tell-all book. It's called "Unhinged." It's a good title, isn't it.

She claims to have heard an audio recording of then businessman Donald Trump using the "n" word during "The Apprentice" television show. The White House, and you might say it involves a bit of couching.

[12:15:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Can you stand at the podium and guarantee the American people they'll never hear Donald Trump utter the "n" word on a recording in any context?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can't guarantee anything, but I can tell you that the president addressed this question directly. I can tell you that I've never heard it.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, you can't guarantee it?

SANDERS: Look, I haven't been in every single room.


KING: A few days ago, Trump loyalists adamantly denied that tape existed. But after Omarosa released a recording in which she and two others discussed the possibility that Trump was caught on mike using that hateful slur, they're now being a little bit more careful in choosing their words.


KATRINA PIERSON, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: I've never heard him say the word. I only judge people by the way that they treat me.

LYNNE PATTON, TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Obviously the president, I can't speak for him. I know that he's told me that he has never said this word, that it's not in his vocabulary. I take him at his word.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I feel comfortable telling you what I know, which is that I have never heard him speak about anybody like that whatsoever.


KING: The president has yet to comment or tweet about Omarosa today, which is a retreat from the previous couple of days. It seems the White House now trying as hard as possible to avoid the topic as much as it can, if not altogether, in hopes it will just fizzle out on its own.

But Omarosa has not so subtly hinted she has more conversations on tape. And that has White House aides more than anxious wondering if their voice might soon pop up in places like this, on cable television.

What is the attitude? What -- inside the White House they're trashing her. They say this is disloyal. They say this is horrible. They say she can't be trusted. And they also all have to worry that she has them, right?

PHILLIP: No question. I mean she was there for quite some time. It starts with the people in the White House not really being huge

fans of Omarosa, but not being able to do anything about it for a really long time and now this is sort of adding insult to injury for them. But there is a sense that this culture of back stabbing and lack of trustworthiness and lies is so deep that Omarosa really epitomizes it right now. She is the person who really shows just what a snake pit the White House can feel like sometimes.

I think the people who work there know that better than anyone else and the tapes add insult to injury. They go back, not just through the White House, but, obviously, she has some tapes from her time on the campaign and she's not respecting any NDA that she might have signed in that time. It's problematic for a whole host of people around Trump.

KING: It's problematic. And I just -- this is Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman told this to "The Washington Post" as we watch this play out. Omarosa doing a lot of television. Omarosa driving a lot of social media conversation. She's doing Trump as well or better than he is. This is his mini me. He created Omarosa. He gave her license and invited her into the sacred space of the Oval Office. Now, after having created this monster that's coming back on him, what's he going to do?

LERER: I know, I have to say, there's something so deeply poetic about this story. Like, we are now in day five of Omarosa fest, or whatever we want to call it, and she is just stealing the Trump playbook. Like, the student has surpassed the teacher. It's, I don't know, maybe it's Frankenstein is the better analogy. But like she's dribbling out the information. She's blanketing the air waves. She's giving us nugget after nugget. Of course there are tapes and everybody wants to hear those tapes. So she basically watched how Trump taught her how you do -- ho you do publicity, how you do reality TV, how do you capture a news cycle. And she is now implementing those lessons and burning him and everybody around her in the White House. It's pretty remarkable to watch.

DEMIRJIAN: The question is, well, the first question is, she -- after all of this blows up, there better be tapes there, otherwise it's just going to have really --

LERER: Yes, a brilliant point.

DEMIRJIAN: Well, it's just going to have a really big distraction that actually will probably play to Trump's advantage if like at the end of all of this that there's nothing there. So that's number one.

But also, every scandal before this that has involved some sort of like personal failing of the president's hasn't really stuck to him that well. And so I guess that's my other question just watching this. I mean this is bad. Like, if he's uttered this particular word. And I think that would make -- create a backlash in places where we haven't seen it before.

But you remember, you know, in the "Access Hollywood" tape, any number of things since then and everybody gets really worried and it kind of comes out of it and his poll numbers are ahead. Hopefully that would not happen this time, because that's like very troubling for the state of the country if that's the case. But, yes.

LERER: For sure. Open question.

PHILLIP: One of the interesting things about the tape of that conference call that she did release was that in that conversation they were discussing the potential existence of this tape as if it did exist. And they were saying, we need to figure out how to spin it. So it just goes to show, even back in the campaign, around that time, they were thinking, we can survive this. I think there are a lot of people around Trump who actually do think he can survive it. And perhaps he can.

KING: For -- go ahead.

MURRAY: I'm not sure why they would think any differently at this point given the things that he has said and done and given the way the Republican Party has given him cover. I mean we sort of know exactly what would happen if there were a tape of him saying this. I mean Paul Ryan would trot out there. Mitch McConnell would trot out there. Everyone would go out and say, this is not the kind of language we should be using. Slap on the wrist. We need to focus on the issues that the American voters really care about. And this would be a crisis for a week and then we would move on.

[12:20:12] There is good reason for anyone in the White House to think that even if a tape exists, we should just wait and see and deal with it when it comes out because they've survived everything like this, every moment the president has acted intolerant or bigoted up until this point.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, except for one thing, which is that up until this point it's mostly been dog whistles. Charlottesville, kind of a dog whistle, not really overt. "Access Hollywood," pretty overt, but, again, we've just -- in the Me Too year for the first time, so a lot of people are probably thinking, well, I wonder if this, you know -- I have something in my past that might be equivalent or if I've said something equivalent. This is so blatant. Like, this is something that we are supposed to be so far passed, decades worth, that it's a little bit more difficult to kind of brush it away for the independent voter, not for Trump's base.

LERER: But they're also saying --

KING: Yes, there's election (INAUDIBLE).

LERER: They're going to question of the voracity of the tap.

KING: Right. Right.

LERER: They're going to do -- they're going to throw other things out there.

DEMIRJIAN: Oh, yes. LERER: They're going to create a whole alternative narrative that will be at -- if this tape exists, right, this is all theoretical. They will create a whole alternative narrative that will be repeated in various corners of the Internet and that will give Republicans cover to do exactly the kind of thing you're (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Right. Here's just one priceless moment I want to get in. This is Omarosa on "The Daily Show," I believe. Imagine, just imagine, this is Omarosa now, she's talking about President Trump. You might say, look in the mirror.


OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: There's one way to shut Donald Trump down, and that is to just don't give him the oxygen. And the oxygen comes from the clicks, the likes, the shock, the discussions. If you ignore him, then you starve him of the thing that he loves the most, and that is controversy and attention.


DEMIRJIAN: He's not really doing that.

PHILLIP: Student/teacher, teacher/student.

KING: Teacher --

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean the reality is that Trump made her famous for being a villain.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: Being someone who was so ruthless, who needed attention so much that it rivaled probably only one person, which is him. So that's why we are where we are.

KING: And then he gave her a job at $170,000 a year of taxpayer money in the West Wing and he says he knew all along that she was unreliable and trustworthy, crazy, wacky, all the words he uses about her. Then why did he give her a job in the West Wing? We'll just leave that for another day.

Up next, the president tweeting this morning, he sees a big red wave coming. When we come back, brand-new CNN poll numbers that show you the public's mood is actually turning more and more blue.


[12:27:07] KING: Welcome back.

New CNN polling releasing right now shows a growing Democratic advantage when voters are asked which party they want to control Congress. The edge now in double digits, which means seizing control of the House is more than within the Democratic Party's reach just 12 weeks now until the midterm vote. Let's take a look at the new numbers. This is it. Which party do you

want to control Congress? Fifty-two percent of registered voters say Democrats, 41 percent say Republicans. A double-digit lead now for the Democrats. That is very significant. They need 23 seats to take control of the House. If it stays like that on Election Day, that's almost guaranteed.

Look at how it's played out over the years. Democrats started the midterm election year with a double-digit lead. Then, as we got into the springtime, we had a statistical tie, essentially 47-44, it narrowed, but now as we get closer to Election Day, this is not what the White House wants, not what the speaker of the House or the Senate majority leader wants, starting to stretch out in favor of the Democrats as we get closer to Election Day.

In this poll we didn't just ask, who do you want to vote for, who will you vote for, we asked voters what's on their mind. This is Republicans. The president, the economy, taxes, followed by immigration, gun control, gun policy, health care and trade. When you say what's extremely important or very important to you as you decide your vote in November, notice the president, the economy, taxes at the front for Republican voters. Democrats, a little bit of a different perspective here, health care, immigration, gun policy, the economy, taxes, Trump and trade.

Immigration coming in so high for the Democrats is interesting. Normally an issue that animates Republicans. But in this election year, if you think back on the Trump presidency, you think about family separation policy in recent days, if you're in a place with a competitive House race, health care, immigration, you're likely to hear that in a Democratic ad on television.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Southern Arizonans deserve affordable health care. But in Congress, Anne Kirkpatrick joined Republicans to weaken Obamacare and supported plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Anne Kirkpatrick, not from here, not progressive.

Doug Chin, as attorney general, challenging Trump's divisive travel ban, even at the Supreme Court, and suing to protect immigrant dreamers from Trump's discrimination.


KING: Eleven points, 52 to 41. If you're the Republican Party and you're worried about holding on to the House, a double-digit Democratic lead as we get closer and closer to Election Day, that is very bad news for the president and for his party.

PHILLIP: Yes, and I think what's also really bad for Republicans is what they already know, which is that what they thought they wanted to run on, tax cuts, the economy, is not working for them. It's not working for their base. And Democrats, on the other hand, have found that issue-based campaigning, specifically as you make it more local on issues like health care, does work for their base. It works almost as well as them being upset about Trump. But on an issue to issue basis, it is not really a fair fight. Republicans are not being mobilized quite as much by taxes as Republicans had hoped. That's going to be a huge problem for them as they go forward.

[12:30:01] LERER: Right. It's really interesting. I've been in a number of these congressional districts and what you see is that Democrats almost don't even need to talk about the president. It's so in the ether. It's so motivating their voters and he's -- the president is constantly reinforcing