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Trump Doesn't Rule Out Manafort Pardon: He's a "Good Person"; Cohen Reversed Course On Stormy Daniels Payment After Access Hollywood Tape Surfaced; Pentagon: China Likely Training Pilots For Strikes on U.S. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 17, 2018 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Now, imagine that the jury is in the middle of deliberations. It's an un-sequestered jury. And then imagine that the president, the leader of the free world, publicly calls the case unfair and a sad day for the nation, praises the defendant and leaves wide open the possibility of a pardon.

[16:30:06] I know many of us have become numb to it but there was a time when that kind of thing was considered inappropriate.

Try to remember that as you listen to President Trump responding to the question of whether he'll pardon Paul Manafort from earlier today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't talk about that. I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad when you look at when's going on there. I think it's a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time but you know what? He happens to be a very good person. And I think it's very sad what they have done to Paul Manafort.


TAPPER: The president's comments as the Manafort jury's in the middle of deliberating for a second day.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me now.

Jessica, Manafort's lawyers responded to the president today.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did, Jake. And this really is the second day that Paul Manafort's lawyers walked out of this courthouse for a break with really a seeming skip in the step. It was yesterday that they were happy with the fact that the jurors had asked the judge four questions, including what is reasonable doubt?

Well, it was today, just a little while ago that Paul Manafort's lawyer Kevin Downing, he was -- really embraced the fact that the president was seeming to show his support.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KEVIN DOWNING, MANAFORT ATTORNEY: Really appreciate the support of President Trump.


SCHNEIDER: So quick words there from Kevin Downing, but he also said that he believes the longer this jury deliberation goes on, the better it is for his client, Paul Manafort. The jury deliberated seven hours of pretty much uninterrupted deliberations yesterday and, Jake, right now, they're on hour six and a half. So, the defense feeling pretty good about this.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

We're on day two of deliberations and the jury wanted to leave by 5:00 p.m. today. Manafort's lawyers said that's a good sign for his client.

Is it?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is in part that they're trying to comb through everything with great detail, which says to you perhaps the case although dry may not be as cut and dry for all of the 18 counts. Some of the questions, reasonable doubt question, not putting a lot of stock in it. It's always hard and even Justice Brennan used to say infamously it's hard to measure human belief. How much do you believe something or how much little do you believe something?

But the other questions are really to the heart of the issue. It was about nuance, about what was required about having to file your taxes. On the issues, there's reservation I think on their part but you have 18 separate counts here. Eighteen times they have to agree on the same thing painstakingly. They're doing their due diligence at this point in time. I think a conviction at least on the majority of the charges is pending.

TAPPER: How bad for Mueller, for his investigation, for the credibility of this investigation if they find Manafort not guilty?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: See, I don't actually feel like it would be that bad but I know people say that because I think that Mueller is probably depending more on other things than just Paul Manafort. I mean, this trial isn't about Russia, you know, per se. And it's about his finances.

And so, it's not necessarily, you know, I think people say if he gets of that, oh well, the whole thing is over but there's so much other stuff Mueller is doing. I mean --

TAPPER: What do you think?

ALFONSO AGUILAR, PRESIDENT, LATINO PARTNERSHIP FOR CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES: Well, I think the question is that it would be a hit for Mueller. I mean, if they cannot find him guilty on some of the charges, with some of the evidence, concrete evidence we have seen of tax and bank fraud, I mean, it would show a poor job in terms of the prosecution.

So, it would make you think -- it makes you wonder if they're going to have good evidence and good case if in terms of the Russia investigation.

TAPPER: There is another case, Neera, in D.C. That's more about foreign lobbying and money laundering. And Mueller's team, CNN has learned, has almost three times more evidence. But it is considered to be a not as strong case as this one.

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Yes. I mean, we obviously -- there are 18 counts. You could look and say there's a lot of evidence they have to get through and doing their due diligence. You obviously have a judge who's been a little unorthodox. And so, it's important that they're doing that. I don't read anything into this.

You know, I think we tend to look at these things through a political lens. Mueller is going through this in a legal lens. And he had the testimony of Rick Gates which is very damaging. Not to just Paul Manafort but I imagine Rick Gates has a lot of information about a whole lot of other people.

At the end of the day, it's a situation where the president of the United States seems to creating an argument for him not to talk to a prosecutor, and I think normal, like most Americans find that very unusual. In fact, 70 percent of Americans think he should talk to Mueller. He's creating every excuse not to. Most people will say, if you don't talk to a prosecutor it looks like you're guilty of something.

TAPPER: Laura, I want to ask you as a former federal prosecutor, how crazy is it that the president of the United States is commenting while the jury is deliberating about this Manafort case in which he obviously has a vested interest?

[16:35:07] I mean, I can't imagine anyone doing that in any other circumstance.

COATES: We left crazy about 18 months ago at this point, Jake. The fact that you have the president when's also by the way the head of the executive branch, under which is the Department of Justice, under which you have the FBI and all of the prosecutions in the country --

TAPPER: And the prosecution, right.

COATES: And the actual prosecution that he would not be more in tune with the idea of trying to influence an ongoing investigation or an ongoing trial is unfathomable to me. It's if he missed the basic eighth grade civics on this point alone. It's also the idea there that -- this is not, not at all the litmus test for the entire Russia probe.

This is being advertised as that by those who want to say that Mueller can hang his credibility on this. But people think to themselves, you would lead with the strongest case. When you're a prosecutor, you lead with the case you can easily dispense and focus on the more important matters.

Here's a document heavy case related by testimony of accountants and other people in the testimony. This is in many ways his easiest case in terms of the rest about intent. So, it's not a litmus test but it will be a bellwether.

TANDEN: Just one thing. It is not that he is crazy. He is trying to influence an investigation to I think you could say protect himself.

TAPPER: Right, crazy like a fox.

Everyone, stick around.

Could Omarosa really drop bombshells for the next 200 days?

Plus, how the "Access Hollywood" tape is coming into play and the president's saga with adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Stay with us.


[16:41:05] TAPPER: In our politics lead now, just how many tapes are there?

"The New York Times" is reporting that Omarosa may have up to 200 secret recordings of her interactions with the Trump team and few things have rattled the White House more than the Omarosa tapes "The Times" reports except the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Let's talk about wit the experts.

Two hundred tapes? I mean --

AGUILAR: Yes, it's incredible. Normally, when you don't like your job you leave. You don't tape your colleagues.


POWERS: Exactly.

AGUILAR: But if it's 200 tapes, it means that she's going to be milking this for a long time. It's not 200 days. It is the Omarosa show every week.

CARPENTER: Three seasons --

AGUILAR: I think people in the White House scared for their own job. What if they said something embarrassing about the president or they criticized the president? They could be fired.

TANDEN: Can't imagine anyone in the White House criticizing the president on background to anybody.

TAPPER: That's sarcastic, obviously. For future generations.

AGUILAR: Look at the distraction for the press office to have to deal with this continuously.

TAPPER: And you, we should point out, because you are a big skeptic of Omarosa. You don't -- CNN has not interviewed her, but you don't think the people who are interviewing her should be doing it?

POWERS: No, I think it's good that CNN is not interviewing her unless she really -- it's fine to have an interview but this Omarosa back to back coverage giving her all of this time when I don't feel like she's delivered enough to justify this sort of 24/7 blanketing of her. Now, there are a couple of things that were worth covering. I think it's out of control. This isn't a person that's credible.

I mean, does anybody really believe --

TANDEN: Donald Trump isn't credible and we cover him all the time.

POWERS: It's not about covering her. It is about treating her as a reliable witness. And reliable --

TANDEN: I take that -- I totally take that point and if it were just her words I would hear you but the issue is she has tapes and we have learned important things. We have learned that she was a difficult person, that she -- they wanted to fire her and yet they were willing to use Republican donors to pay her off $15,000 a month. That's new information.


AGUILAR: We don't learn that from the tapes.

TANDEN: You do, actually.

AGUILAR: You can't reach that conclusion that it was a payoff.

TANDEN: The fact that the tape existed proved that it happened.

TAPPER: How would you feel as a Republican? You're a Republican. I don't know if you've given money to the RNC.

But there are people out there, millions of them, who have given money to the Republican National Committee, who have given money to the Trump campaign. If you found out you had given your hard earned $25 or whatever, you're factory worker in Michigan and gave $25 to the Trump campaign and you found out that that money was being offered for a campaign job, not a payoff necessarily but a campaign job in which her silence was necessary. Would that be objectionable?

CARPENTER: Yes. I mean, I think the tape of her and Lara Trump is damaging because she is essentially offering a no-work job. $180,000 a year --


CARPENTER: Hold on. Let me finish my point. That's insulting. If you're someone sending five bucks at a time. More than that, she is a huge problem to the campaign just by reading Lara Trump's response. That response that came from the Trump campaign, listen not a

professional rebuttal, is essentially Lara saying, you are my best friend. I can't believe you did this, you did nothing to stop the story and showed how much Omarosa can manipulate the campaign.

AGUILAR: But at the time, she had the conversation with Omarosa, Omarosa hadn't turned. So, this is happening in other White House, people leaving the White House, in previous administrations, as well, and going do work with advocacy groups that support the agenda of the president. So, I don't see anything strange with this.

TAPPER: And this administration is once again learning the problems that one tape can cause. CNN has learned that Michael Cohen, the president's former fixer, initially scoffed at the idea of buying porn star Stormy Daniels' silence about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. But just days after that infamous "Access Hollywood" tape was released, well, then Michael Cohen reportedly changed course and suddenly, he wanted to make a deal.

CNN's Sara Sidner now takes a closer look.



SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Was Michael Cohen trying to squash negative information that could have been damaging to Donald Trump's chances in a 2016 presidential election? For federal prosecutors looking into possible violations of campaign finance laws, the timeline of the Stormy Daniels deal is crucial. Daniel's attorney Michael Avenatti says he has little that's what happened.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER OF STORMY DANIELS: Michael Cohen made it clear in October of 2016 that this was all about keeping this information from the public prior to the election. There were considerable communications about the timing of the payment and the need for this deal to be done prior to the November 2016 Presidential Election.

SIDNER: But Cohen has said the deal had nothing to do with the election and campaign laws were not violated. In an exclusive interview with CNN Keith Davidson, Daniels' former attorney who brokered the hush agreement says Cohen reached out to him to ask him to handle Stormy Daniels.

Michael Cohen calls you up and says what about Stormy Daniels?

KEITH DAVIDSON, FORMER LAWYER OF STORMY DANIELS: He says I'm hearing rumblings out there that you know, the press is poking around about Stormy Daniels, if you have any information on that.

SIDNER: Davidson says that conversation with Cohen happened in September or early October. That's before the notorious Access Hollywood tape came out.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Grab them by the (BLEEP). I can do any of that.

SIDNER: The audio of President Trump was released October 7th setting off a firestorm of criticism and apparently triggering a deal on October 10th, a hush agreement between Cohen and Stormy was signed but still no money changed hands. Cohen hesitated according to sources.

It wasn't until more than three weeks later October 28th when the election was just 11 days away that a final deal was signed and paid for.


SIDNER: Now, Cohen's Attorney Lanny Davis declined to comment citing the ongoing investigation and there is an ongoing investigation everyone wondering if it's going to end in an indictment. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Sarah Sidner, thanks so much. So one thing that's so odd about the Stormy Daniel saga is it seems pretty clear to me that ultimately President Trump could have weathered it. I mean, I don't think -- and no pun intended with Stormy as her name but I mean, the idea that like this would have been damaging to President Trump, I mean his base just adores him and forgives him all his sins.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But obviously the campaign thought it was going to be damaging and this is where Michael Cohen gets in trouble. The president has a lot of secrets they tell a lot -- a lot of lies to cover it up that gets them into trouble. That's just who they are. And Michael Cohen's lying through the whole time has been that lie to protect Mr. Trump.

He didn't know anything about it, lie, lie, lie. Then they came out and the Wall Street Journal approached them. After he won the election that never happened, lie, lie, lie, and so there's a lawsuit and Michael Cohen's apartment got raided. They're going to find out all the lies that he told. And if this was directly related to the election and they took legal actions to suppress information from voters, that's a bigger deal politically.

TAPPER: Do you think so? I mean, do you think that this ultimately could do damage to President Trump more than the fact of the -- or the allegation of the affair has already done or not done?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, because like you said, I don't think the allegation of the affair actually would have done that much damage. That's all these problems that they've created in the way that they dealt with that. Now, I guess another argument you can make for why he might want to keep it quiet and I may be mixing McDougal and Stormy up but I think it happened when he was married to Melania right?

TAPPER: They both did. I think they both did and she just had their son.

POWERS: And so that would be another reason for wanting to hide it beyond the -- NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: But that

doesn't explain the timing. The timing is unusual because that it happens after the Access Hollywood videotape. To protect his wife, it's really any time that you would care. Obviously, these data points make it more connected to the election than just any other rationale.

ALFONSO AGUILAR, PRESIDENT, LATINO PARTNERSHIP FOR CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES: It's all about Trump and wanting to avoid any criticism of the candidate, of the President. Now, if this is true, this could be an illegal contribution. What are the legal consequences, I'm not clear. And does it affect Trump directly you know, we would have to see.

CARPENTER: I will raise one point is that Stormy's lawyer Michael Avenatti makes continued references to threats of physical intimidation. He's never produced the tapes, he's never shown evidence of that but if that played a role in this, then Trump really does have problem.

TAPPER: Well, there's that situation where she says and this is years ago the allegation that she was in some garage I think in somebody that she did she did a sketch of, but the police sketch artist told her and you know to be quiet. I find that that credible but again we haven't heard any developments about that. That was like a big story a few months ago and then it kind of vanish.

TANDEN: That's true. I think -- I think the broader point that you're making is a really important one which is the fact is that Mueller has a lot of information about Michael Cohen and I think that is going to be a very fruitful area of inquiry and all of this is really a lot of legal jeopardy for the President. And again, we can talk about the politics of issues that legal jeopardy is a very different issue and the closer he gets to legal jeopardy the more difficult it is.

[16:50:12] TAPPER: Do you think this will make Michael Cohen, is this why all of a sudden he seems more willing if not eager to make a deal with the U.S. Attorney in New York?

AGUILAR: Sure. They went into his office. They got a lot of his files, his computer data, he's concerned obviously and he's willing to make a deal. But look, going to you to your point this is what happens with we have counsel investigation. It starts with collusion but you know, you don't know where this is going to end. And apparently, Mueller found this information then referred it to the FBI in New York and this is where we end. Perhaps they end up filing something against the President or identifying some sort of illegal behavior but not related to the initial charge of collusion.

POWERS: I think what's interesting is he has so many people around him who record things.

TANDEN: That's right?

POWERS: I mean, what's that about? Like I don't -- I've never known anybody to have people who have all these recordings of their boss, right? I mean, that Michael Cohen was doing this with -- why did why do they feel like they need to do that?

TAPPER: I mean I could posit a theory that he -- that they know that Mr. Trump says a lot of things that aren't true and they want to preserve the record as to what actually happened.

TANDEN: Or you know, there's shady things going on and if you think it's going to come too light, you want to be clear that you're not part of it. I mean, the whole thing is it's very I've never been part of the White House when people are tape recording as far as I know or any exercise like that and it seems very odd that Omarosa and Michael Cohen are taping a lot of conversations with the President of the United States. That just goes to show that there's a broad distrust.

AGUILAR: And that Michael Cohen was --

POWERS: Michael Cohen was one of the people that's the closest to him. That's the point. And so it's if you have one of the people that's the closest to you recording you because of all the reasons we just discussed, I just think it's a real indictment of that person.

AGUILAR: Right, but the Michael Cohen recording doesn't help Michael Cohen so --

TANDEN: We don't know. We don't know --

TAPPER: So you talked about how upset Lara Trump seemed at Omarosa betraying her. And her husband Eric Trump put out a tweet saying something along the lines if there's nothing he hates more than disloyalty. Did you see that tweet? I don't know if you saw that tweet.

CARPENTER: I did see it and I just happen to wonder if it's because his father is disloyal to people and cause those so many problems.

TAPPER: Interesting. All right, everyone stick around. Our Chinese fighter pilots taking aim at Americans, the Pentagon's new reason to worry. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Our "WORLD LEAD" now. A new Pentagon report says China is not only ramping up its fleet of long-range bombers, there's also a good chance that the Pacific Power is training its pilots to specifically target the United States. And that CNN's Barbara Starr now reports China's just in case strategy has the Pentagon worried.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: China is aiming to boost its nuclear weapons capabilities through its long-range bombers. The Chinese military likely training for strikes against U.S. and Allied targets according to the latest Pentagon report. One of the CIA's leading experts on China says China is trying to send a message.

MIKE COLLINS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CIA EAST ASIA MISSION CENTER: The Chinese do not want conflict, they didn't want war, they do not want conflagration. But at the end of the day they want every country around the world when it's deciding its interests its decisions on policy issues. The first and foremost side with China not the United States.

STARR: China's goal --

COLLINS: The Chinese fundamentally seek to replace the United States as the leading power in the world.

STARR: President Xi making clear Chinese military power is to be reckoned with. The Chinese have some military advantages. Vice President Mike Pence revealing a U.S. military shortfall.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hypersonic missiles designed to fly up to five miles per second at such low altitudes that they could potentially evade detection by our missile defense radars. In fact, China claimed to have made its first successful test of a hypersonic vehicle.

STARR: And the key Chinese advance.

PENCE: China launched a missile that tracked and destroyed one of its own satellites, a highly provocative demonstration of China's growing capability to militarized space.

STARR: But it is here in the South China Sea in a well-known feud the U.S. already finds itself facing off against China. Man-made islands now with airstrips and radar towers, islands capable of housing troops and weapons. It was clear when CNN's Ivan Watson joined a U.S. Navy patrol aircraft that Chinese forces warned the Americans were not welcome. The U.S. crew responded with a carefully crafted message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: United States Naval Aircraft conducting lawful military activity beyond the national airspace of any coastal state and exercising these rights guaranteed by international law.


STARR: China clearly trying to reshape itself into a global military power. It already has a base in East Africa and working to beef up its relationships with Pakistan. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much. Tune in Sunday morning. I'll be joined by two former intelligence officials on President Trump security clearance hit list Retired Generals Michael Hayden and James Clapper, also joining me former Homeland Security Adviser to President Obama Lisa Monaco. That's the Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9:00 a.m. and noon. Our coverage now continues with Jim Acosta in for Wolf in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great weekend. See you Sunday morning.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, breaking news, supporting Manafort.