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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump's Military Parade Postponed; Security Clearance Firestorm Grows; Manafort Jury Deliberates; Interview With Texas Congressman Marc Veasey; Pentagon: China Likely Training Pilots to Target U.S.; CNN Exclusive: Bomb That Killed 40 Children in Yemen was Supplied by the United States; Ex-CIA Members Condemn Trump For Revoking Brennan's Security Clearance; Trump Praises Manafort During Jury Deliberations. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 17, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ACOSTA: We're following breaking news on President Trump's apparent quest for revenge against people he blames for the Russia investigation.
Mr. Trump is warning that he's likely to strip a Justice Department official of his security clearance soon, opening a new front in his battle against Robert Mueller. Also tonight, the president is not ruling out a part of the first defendant Mueller has put on trial, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
But the jury's still out. Manafort's lawyer is publicly expressing appreciation for the president's support.
I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing.
First to CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, the president had a lot he wanted to say today. Isn't that right?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jim, that's right.
The president clearly had a lot on his mind today. And not surprisingly, much of it was about Bob Mueller, the special counsel, who he described as highly conflicted. He also talked about his decision to strip the security clearance of the former CIA director.
The president said he had gotten a terrific response from that. Now, that is true, but not all of it has been positive. So much of it has been negative, including a new letter tonight from 60 CIA officials who say the president is trying to silence them.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump further closing the door tonight to the idea of sitting down for an interview with Robert Mueller.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let him write his report. We did nothing. There's no collusion.
But if he was doing an honest report, he'd write it on the other side.
ZELENY: After saying for months he wants to testify, the president essentially daring Mueller to move without him.
Leaving the White House for a fund-raising trip to New York, the president talking for the first time in days about the Russia investigation and mincing no words about the special counsel.
TRUMP: Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. In fact, Comey is like his best friend. I could go into conflict after conflict. But, sadly, Mr. Mueller is conflicted.
ZELENY: Airing old grievances over the Russia probe, the president is also defending his new actions to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance.
He denied suggestions he was trying to silence his critics.
TRUMP: There's no silence. If anything, I'm giving him a bigger voice. Many people don't even know who he is. And now he has a bigger voice. And that's OK with me because I like taking on voices like that.
ZELENY: Speaking about his decision for the first time, the president insisted he was getting high praise for his move to retaliate on Brennan and review the security credentials of nine others.
TRUMP: I've gotten tremendous response from having done that, because security clearances are very important to me. Very, very important.
ZELENY: But that overlooked one key fact, that some of the nation's most decorated intelligence officials serving in Republican and Democratic administrations admonished the president in a joint statement, saying: "The president's action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials have nothing to do with who should who should not hold security clearances and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech. Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views."
The president said he is poised to strip more security clearances in the coming days. CNN has learned that one of his next targets is Bruce Ohr, a current Justice Department official.
TRUMP: I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect I will be taking it away very quickly.
ZELENY: Ohr has been in the president's sights because of his association with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled a dossier investigating Trump's ties to Russia.
The Justice Department says Ohr is not involved with the special counsel's investigation.
TRUMP: For him to be in the Justice Department and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace. That is disqualifying for Mueller.
ZELENY: Meanwhile, the president also keeping a close eye on the fraud trial of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, but declining to say whether he would consider parking him if convicted.
TRUMP: He happens to be a very good person. And I think it's very sad what they've done to Paul Manafort.
ZELENY: Now, this is the first time the president has spoken out about that case since it started a couple weeks ago.
Now, when asked directly if he has any plans to pardon Manafort, he said, "I don't want to talk about that right now." But, of course, with the jury going home for the weekend without reaching a verdict, the president also has plenty of time to think about that.
He will be at his Bedminster golf course. And he will be back here at the White House on Sunday evening. But you can bet, Jim, the White House watching that trial very, very carefully -- Jim.
ACOSTA: And watching the president's Twitter feed.
ACOSTA: Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Breaking tonight, a new move in the Senate to prevent the president from revoking security clearances to punish his critics.
Let's bring in CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.
Manu, the Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman, Mark Warner, a Democrat, says he's going to introduce new legislation. Can this go anywhere, do you think?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's got a very slim chance of passing.
Warner, one of the Democrats who has spoken out and raising significant concerns about what happened, he raised concerns that perhaps this could set a precedent where maybe the president tries to revoke security clearances for prosecutors who are involved in the Mueller investigation.
But those are mostly Democratic concerns at this point, tweeting earlier today, "I will be introducing an amendment next week to block the President from punishing and intimidating his critics by arbitrarily revoking security clearances."
Now, Jim, Wednesday, when he came and he spoke to us about his concerns about this move, he said he wanted to talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr, the Republican, about this as well, when I asked him, what are you going to do next?
But Burr has since raise concerns about Brennan, saying that if Brennan had -- just making political statements here, the president was well within his rights to revoke the security clearance. So it's uncertain whether or not Warner will be able to get more than a handful of support on the Republican side of the aisle in the Senate.
And now we're not even talking about the House and let alone getting the president to sign it. So it seems very unlikely, but a political statement by the Democrats tonight.
ACOSTA: And in the curious case of Rand Paul traveling to Russia now advocating for something quite unusual. Tell us about that.
RAJU: Yes, that's right. He went to Moscow earlier this month after the Helsinki summit. He had planned to go before the president had that very controversial meeting with Vladimir Putin.
But when he went there, he met with Russian officials. He actually invited some Russian lawmakers to come to Washington to meet with officials here in Washington and including members of the Upper House of the assembly there, which would be the first time that members of the Upper House have come to Washington for official meetings in three years.
Now, there's a problem. Some of these people are on the banned list. They have been sanctioned by the United States government, including two key officials who Rand Paul wants to attend. That is Leonid Slutsky and Konstantin Kosachev.
Now, Slutsky was sanctioned in 2014 by the Obama administration because of his support for the annexation of Crimea. And Kosachev was sanctioned in 2018, this past year, because of the Russian interference in the U.S. elections.
Now, what Rand Paul wants to do, I'm told, is to encourage all U.S. filmmakers to go to Russia, Russia to -- and have all Russia lawmakers to come to the U.S. He's going to bring this up to the president this weekend. We will see if they do it over a game of golf, this -- his office would not confirm how he's going to convey that to the president.
But he wants to make his case very clear to the White House, the State Department, the Treasury Department to allow this to happen, but coming at a obviously very tense time between the two countries.
ACOSTA: They used to be fierce rivals, President Trump and Rand Paul. Now they're somewhat aligned on this issue of Russia.
Manu Raju, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Joining me now, Representative Marc Veasey, a Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
Do you view the president's security clearance threat, getting back to that, as possible obstruction of justice or witness intimidation? What do you think?
REP. MARC VEASEY (D), TEXAS: Oh, I think that the president was obviously wrong in him revoking Brennan's security clearance.
And I just think that it's a distraction, obviously. I that he's trying to distract from what's going on with Omarosa and all of these tapes.
But as far as an obstruction of justice is concerned, I would definitely need to see more of that. But I think that there's obviously a lot of evidence out there, whether it's the -- trying to get rid of Rod Rosenstein, or -- and the other way that he's handled the Justice Department, that there's obviously -- it's clear to me that there's been some obstruction of justice that's taken place.
And hopefully Mueller thing get down to the bottom of it quickly.
ACOSTA: And what does it tell you that all of these former intelligence and national security officials have signed onto this letter condemning the president's action?
We have them up on screen right now, Congressman. They're not just Democrats. The president likes to say that he's being attacked by Democrats. They're Republicans and Democrats from the intelligence community who have signed on to this. What does that say to you?
VEASEY: Oh, that to me, that says that it's clear that he was wrong and what he did.
I mean, you think about Admiral McRaven, who was just our chancellor of the University of Texas, just someone that's served in the Navy with distinction. And for him to pin that letter to "The Washington Post" saying, hey, revoke my security clearance also, I mean, that says a lot.
You're talking about someone that's very apolitical and someone that had very strong words for the president. It's clear that he was wrong, that he doesn't have the temperament to be president of the United States. And I wish that we could revoke the president and the rest of his term.
Obviously, it's too premature for that right now, but I hope that, in 2020, when we have another election, that the American public just gets sick and tired of this, and that we're ready to move on, because, I mean, this gentleman, this man that's in the White House right now, he does not have the temperament, he lacks the leadership qualities and the skills to be president.
And what happened in Helsinki, to him using the N-word with Omarosa -- of course, that rumor has been out for a long time now -- that he's just not fit to serve. And if someone needs to be just honorably discharged, it needs to be the president.
ACOSTA: And President Trump says he's going to be revoking more security clearances.
Congressman, what impact do you think that could have on national security? Is that a worry to you?
VEASEY: I'm confident that, whatever the president does, that the national security of this country is going to be fine with the people that work at the Pentagon.
But, again, it just shows me that the president, again, just he lacks the temperament. I mean, why go and revoke all of these security clearances, just so you can distract from something that you said that was very embarrassing?
I mean, Jim, I'm not sure if you have read about some of the outtakes on "The Apprentice." I mean, they're saying that he may have used the N-word maybe 20, 30 times, that he was very, very mean towards his -- the way he described intelligence of his children in some of these outtakes, and that this video was an absolute disgrace.
And so he's going to continue to try to use his office, to try to use his platform, hi billy pulpit, to distract the American public. But I don't think that is going to work. I think that if you look at the polls, and you look at how Democrats are doing around the around the country and seats that we thought that we were never going to be competitive in, quite frankly, I think that it just shows that the American public is just sick and tired of this and that they want a backstop against the remainder of his presidency.
ACOSTA: But, Congressman, you would agree that that has not been verified yet, that there are these tapes that exists of the president using that language? Isn't that right? We haven't proven that yet. That is that is something that has been speculated upon for sometime now, but until Omarosa produces some evidence of this, or Mark Burnett, for example, the executive producer of "The Apprentice," we don't know for sure that the president did that.
You're convinced that he did, but...
ACOSTA: ... we don't have that proof, is what you're saying.
VEASEY: I'm convinced that he did.
But if you -- if you think about how long this rumor has been out, and you think about what Sarah Sanders said at the press conference, that she could not guarantee the American public that the president did not use the N-word 20 or 30 times on some of these outtakes, to me, that's proof that there were things said on that tape that were absolutely reprehensible and not becoming of a United States president.
And, again, it is just...
ACOSTA: Would you call on Mark Burnett to release those tapes? Would you call on that show producer to release those tapes? If anybody has tapes, would you call on them to release those tapes?
VEASEY: I absolutely call him to release the tapes.
I know that what I have read in the past, that there are some confidentiality agreements that don't allow the producers of the show to release the tapes, but they own the tapes. They can release them to the American public. And I absolutely think that they should.
I mean, it's, again, just an embarrassment. And if he wants to put it to rest, he should call on the tapes to be released. If he's never said these words, he should go ahead and call on these outtakes from "The Apprentice" to be released.
VEASEY: He can do that right now.
ACOSTA: And, Congressman, I want to talk about the Paul Manafort trial, because that obviously is a critical part of the Mueller investigation.
The jury did not reach a verdict today. But what do you think the verdict will say about the Russia investigation when it comes down?
VEASEY: Well, obviously, there's a lot that's going on in the Ukraine, even right now.
I mean, there were -- I know that when I was in the Ukraine a couple of years ago, that there was -- we were told there was Soviet agent -- I'm sorry -- Russian agents that were crawling all over the place, and that we needed to be very careful as we moved around the country.
And I think getting to the bottom of who he communicated with while he was in the Ukraine, and if there is the conviction, I think it will just be -- again, just more smoke and a lot of evidence that the president and his team, his campaign team, colluded with the Russians on the 2016 campaign.
In my opinion, based on what I have been seeing and reading in the news and the things that I'm hearing on Capitol Hill, there's no doubt in my mind that that's happened. I think that for the American public that there -- that we need to obviously wait for Mueller to complete his investigation.
But I think that one of the reasons why the president is trying to say that Jeff Sessions needs to fire the assistant attorney general and that he needs to end this investigation, I think it's clear that he knows that something illegal took place in 2016.
ACOSTA: OK. And we will have to wait for the end of that investigation to find that out.
Congressman Marc Veasey, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.
Just ahead, we will have the latest on deliberations in Paul Manafort's trial and his lawyer's surprising thank you to the president for his support.
And as Mr. Trump threatens to revoke more security clearances, will the protests of former intelligence officials ever matter?
ACOSTA: And we're following breaking news on Paul Manafort's trial.
After a second day of deliberations, Manafort's lawyer making a very surprising statement about the president's tonight, after Mr. Trump had good things to say about his former campaign.
CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the courthouse in Virginia.
Kara, what's the latest?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the jury is in its second day of deliberations.
After eight hours, it's been very quiet here. There's no notes to the judge today. Most of the activity was outside of the courtroom, where President Trump was asked earlier today if he would pardon Paul Manafort.
And the president offered his words of support.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. When you look at what'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've done to Paul Manafort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCANNELL: When Kevin Downing, Paul Manafort's attorney, left the courthouse for the final time today, he thanked the president for his support.
Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. Downey, what was your reaction to the president today?
KEVIN DOWNING, ATTORNEY FOR PAUL MANAFORT: I was very happy to hear from the president and that he's supporting Mr. Manafort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCANNELL: Now, Downing also said that he was taking some confidence and thought that the length of the jury deliberations was in his favor.
It's a high-stakes trial. And we're expecting the jury to return 9:30 on Monday morning, resulting in their third day of deliberations -- Jim.
ACOSTA: Kara, we're in some unchartered waters here, the president praising Paul Manafort while he's on trial, somebody who worked for the president as his campaign chairman.
Could the prosecution complain about the president's public support for this defendant and calling his prosecution sad?
SCANNELL: Well, Jim, I have asked the special counsel's office tonight if they have any response to the comments from the president today.
They declined to comment, as they usually do. Now, none of this has come up in the courtroom today. They did not raise it during the proceedings. They could if they felt that they wanted to, but the judge has been very clear to the jury to ignore any outside noise, conversations, not to investigate, not to read about this case, not to Google anything.
So -- and the jury has said that they're following that direction. So assuming that that is the case over the weekend, things will continue as normal. At this point, the special counsel's office is not making any indications that they're going to make it an issue inside the courtroom.
And the judge will very likely ask the jury on Monday morning to make sure that they did not hear anything, have any outside influence, or discuss the case with anyone -- Jim.
ACOSTA: OK, Kara Scannell, thank you very much.
Just ahead: Fifteen former intelligence please sign a letter slamming the president for revoking the security clearance of a former CIA director.
Now 60 former CIA officers are weighing in. Will the president take the hint?
And admitting it's too pricey, the president cancels his widely criticized plan for a fancy, French-style military parade through the nation's capital. Who's he blaming this time?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:27:13]
ACOSTA: President Trump says he's getting a tremendous response for his decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.
And, tonight, he is threatening to do it again, targeting a Justice Department official he's linked to the Russia investigation. More than a dozen former senior intelligence officials are joining forces in protest.
And let's talk about all of that breaking news with our analysts.
And I want to go to Phil Mudd first, because, Phil, you're on this list of 60 former CIA officers who were sort of joining forces, I guess, with these other intelligence community leaders that we have seen from both parties that say that this is not right, what the president has been doing, threatening security clearances, revoking security clearances.
Why did you sign on to this? And what is the message from folks like yourself?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Pretty simple.
Yesterday, you saw the former faces of the intelligence community, people who did congressional testimony, people who might have appeared in clips on CNN.
Today, you're seeing the people behind them, my peers, the people of my generation. And there's one simple reason dozens of us signed up. And there's Republicans, Democrats. People across the CIA signed on to this letter that just came out.
When I spent my career at the CIA with the peers who are on that letter, we looked at adversaries and potential adversaries, North Korea, Russia, China. One of the characteristics of those adversaries and potential adversaries is simple. People like Vladimir Putin try to prevent their opponents from speaking.
And they use legal and illegal means to do so. The president can call us dogs. He will never muzzle us. The thing that we served for, one of them, was the right to speak in a democratic society. I don't care about security clearances. This is not about security clearances. This is about people who watched adversaries limit the ability of their opponents to speak and a president of the United States who wants to tell us we cannot speak.
That will never happen, ever, Jim.
ACOSTA: And, Shawn Turner, let's show a bit of what Phil signed on to hear, because I think this is pretty profound.
It says here: "Our signatures below do not necessarily mean that we concur with the opinions expressed by former Director Brennan or the way in which he expressed them. What they do represent is our firm belief that the country will be weakened if there's a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views."
And I guess the question I have, Shawn, because you worked in the intelligence community, are people feeling this chilling effect that is being put in place? It seems that that is what the president is intending here, to put a chilling effect on the intelligence community, so people like yourself, like Phil, like John Brennan don't speak out.
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, well, I think there's no doubt that the intent is to cause people in the intelligence community to have that -- to feel that chilling effect.
But, as testament to this letter that the 12 former senior national intelligence -- national security intelligence officials wrote yesterday, and to the letter that Phil signed on to, look, it's a very clear message from them that that's not going to happen.
What the president is doing with
[18:30:00] SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: -- to this letter that the 12 former senior national intelligence officials wrote yesterday, and so the letter that he'll sign on to. Look, it's a very clear message from them that that's not going to happen.
What the president is doing with this and this is -- it's really startling and he's basically saying that he's willing to go to extreme measures to exert control and influence over what current and former intelligence officials say and do and the conduct of their job, and then after they leave the intelligence community.
He send a very clear message that if he does not concur of what they say or if he doesn't like what they say or do, then he's going to go after them. And I think that whether you're a Republican or Democrat, you know, it shouldn't matter. That's something that everyone should be concerned about.
JIM ACOSTA, THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: And Sabrina, I want to ask you about the politics of this because of what we saw after what happened with John Brennan, his security clearance being revoked, you just saw a lot of Republicans sort of praising that, senators referring to John Brennan as a, quote, butt head and saying he deserved it and so on. But you have to wonder how many of these security clearances would be revoked before some of these Republicans come forward and speak out or is the president just going go after the objects of, you know, the fascination of Fox News's primetime lineup? Is that essentially what the president is doing here? Can you dissect the politics of this? What is the president up to?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: We have seen time and again that Republicans on Capitol Hill have been reluctant to pick a fight with this president as this case as you pointed out. They expressed wide spread support for this decision to revoke Brennan's security clearance. And the question is if he goes forward and starts stripping away security clearances from all those officials that are on that targeted list. Do they change their tune? Do they express some disagreements?
I found it unlikely at the end of the Republicans also didn't have much to say when he fired James Comey at the time, had a lot of respect from Republicans on the Hill. Mark Warner, of course the top Democrat in the Intelligence Committee does want to bring up a resolution that would arbitrarily prohibit the president from -- prohibit the president for arbitrarily revoking their security clearances, but if you look at the response from Republicans thus far, there's really no indication that they would be supportive of it or even bring it up for a vote.
But I do think there's something we said about the president as being said because a lot of them said they felt that Brennan had become too vocal in his criticism of the president and so that does put the country on a dangerous path moving forward. (INAUDIBLE) administration continually say I don't like the way this former top intelligence official or former top law enforcement officials talking about my administration, and so I'm going to similarly take action to revoke their security clearance and that's not the way this country work.
ACOSTA: Susan, how about this notion of obstructing a justice here. The president could potentially be doing that if he's going after the security clearances of people who may be testifying in the Mueller investigation. James, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, these are people that are of interest in this investigation. The president is targeting those people. What should be done about that?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: We know that Robert Mueller is focused on Trump's, the president's ongoing conduct but he's looking at the president's tweets in relation to this obstruction (INAUDIBLE) from security clearance away doesn't directly impact the investigation the way firing Jim Comey or dangling pardons before potential political allies might be.
But it is sort of similar to -- to some of the other conduct we've seen which his President Trump using his presidential authority and presidential power for improper and abuse of purposes.
ACOSTA: Phil Mudd, what do you make of that?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is pretty straight forward. I'm not sure we have this exactly right. So let's clarify this, if you look at of list of people on there, there's a lot of people who have witnessed evidence about the president and his inner circle that might become part of le gal process.
These aren't just people who are opponents of the president. They are people who are potentially witnesses for Director Mueller in a case that could relate to the president. We saw the president put his finger on scales today in a judicial process, that was Paul Manafort, where he weighed in. I believe part of this is the president looking at people who could offer evidence and saying I want to undercut their credibility, so if they're ever on a camera or in a court in testimony related to somebody involved in the inner circle of Donald Trump, I have succeeded in cutting them off at the knees.
I think that's what we got here, Jim.
ACOSTA: And if he's actually against Bruce Ohr, Phil, what should happen?
MUDD: That's an interesting case. If you look at what the Department of Justice is done against Bruce Ohr, it appears it has removed from position. I think there's a simple question that any rational president would have here, before you take the step of acting against Bruce Ohr, we've seen in the case of Andy McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, that Inspectors General are tough. Any president should say would say Department of Justice investigate Bruce Ohr. I want to see the judgments of that. I want the Attorney General see the judgments. They should look at the response, not the president. He is not the first line of defense.
ACOSTA: And Shaun Turner, you worked in the Obama White House, in the Obama Administration, can you imagine what would happen if Barack Obama was revoking the security clearances of officials or former officials who might potentially be a witness in a investigation involving the Obama administration.
When you look at it through that lens, what comes to mind?
[16:35:03] TURNER: Yes, I mean, clearly the level of outraged would be overwhelming. And I think to Phil's point it's absolutely the case, look, it is the president's prerogative to revoke anybody's security clearance if that's what he wants to do. But what's startling here is the fact that there's no due process.
Look if you -- there's a set of guidelines that govern the behavior you must engage in if you hold a security clearance, and it's very restrictive and it limits what you can do in a great degree. And what we would like see here is we like to see the administration to say, look, there are some individuals out there who we believe have violated the standards of what we have -- with regards to holding a security clearance, and they should be investigated. None of that its been done. This was simply I turned on the television, I didn't like what John Brennan said, I didn't like what he did so I'm taking his security clearance away.
Again, the president's provocative to do that but it sends a chilling message to everyone who holds a security clearance.
ACOSTA: OK, standby there's more to talk about. Just ahead with the jury. Still undecided Paul Manafort's lawyers are thanking President Trump for his public support after he calls the case very sad. Is that a clue? He plans to pardon his former campaign chairman.
And amid growing criticism, and a growing price tag, President Trump cancels his plans for a fancy French style military parade in Washington. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[18:40:58] ACOSTA: And we're back with our analysts and the breaking news on Paul Manafort's trial. President Trump is refusing to rule out a pardon of his former campaign chairman as jury deliberations continue. Well, let's get back to our experts here. But I want to ask you, let's play some of the sound when the president was leaving to go to this fund-raiser out in the Hamptons and then to Bedminster. He was asked about whether or not he would pardon Paul Manafort, didn't answer that question, but then he had this to say about the case.
(BEGIN VIDE CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad, when you look at what'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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, Sabrina, (INAUDIBLE) Ellis saying earlier the jury has been told not to watch news and pay attention to these things, and of course we wonder do they actually do that. But at the same time, the president is weighing in. I mean he's not -- he's jumping and he's plunging into this case when he makes comments like that.
SIDDIQUI: Well, it's very unusual for a sitting president to weigh in on an ongoing investigation, much less one that involved his former campaign chairman, and in the past presidents typically did not weigh in to presumption of innocence or guilt. They certainly didn't call him a substance of a trial. That's maybe they touched upon some of the issues that may have come to light from a particular trial. But we have seen this with the president. He's fixated on the Russia investigation.
He can't help himself and he had defended Paul Manafort in public before but with more striking of course that when asked if he as (INAUDIBLE) Paul Manafort. He wouldn't take that off the table. He's declining to discuss it. He had an opportunity to unequivocally rule it out and many people of course believe that some of the pardon he's taken at an early stage in his presidency had been some of a signal to the Manafort and the Michael Cowen's of the world to just hang tight because he had their back.
ACOSTA: Yes, he barely masked what, you know, maybe he's true feelings on this, I want to talk about this right now. He said that a couple of some time. I want to talk this about right now.
Phil Mudd, the president is weighing on the Paul Manafort trial as its underway is peculiar. Is it not?
MUDD: It is. There are two aspects to this I'd be thinking about. The first is the potential impact on the American public. I don't think the president gives rats ass about Paul Manafort. What he is worried about is the trial that's based on money document, money documents like you might have gotten from your own personal lawyer when the FBI raided those offices and it might eventually link his family, including his son and son-in-law to financial a regularities in New York. He's trying to set the stage. He hopes to say if there's ever charges against my family, looked what happened to Manafort. It was a fraud.
Now behind the scenes there's a different story. Simple question, the special counsel Robert Mueller has spent decades as a prosecutor. Does he have the evidence going forward if the Manafort trial fails to continue prosecutions in the face of what will be tremendous political pressure?
ACOSTA: And Susan Hennessy, what about that? Manafort has another trial coming up in Washington. Could this trial in Alexandria somehow impact that trial in Washington? What do you think?
HENNESSY: Yes. So this trial is the -- the conclusion of this trial is just the beginning and how this trial pans out is going to impact the next one. So if Paul Manafort is convicted, he may decide to cooperate and we might not see another trial at all. If he does actually go to trial on these other charges, it's going to be really different than the one we seen this one, this trial was about bank fraud, tax evasion, things that happened before he was involved in the Trump campaign that were really separates at arm's length.
The next round of charges that's he's going to face in this upcoming trial are about core issues related to the Russia investigation, foreign agent registration acts violations, his relationship with Russian officials during the time in which he's serving as Trump's campaign manager.
And so this really is going to generate headlines that are going to be incredibly uncomfortable for the president that he's not going to be able to sort of say, well, e was just -- he worked for me for a short period of time and I really had nothing to do with it.
ACOSTA: Shawn, what do you think?
TURNER: No I agree with this.
[18:45:01] I mean, that for someone like Manafort, I think that Phil's absolutely right, the president doesn't care anything at all about Manafort. But I do think that if you look at the defense that, or the lack of defense that Manafort's team has put forward, I do think that there's a lot of belief here that there is going to be a pardon here. I mean, there's no other option here.
So, yes, I agree with everything that's said, but I do think that in the end, Manafort is probably going to be found guilty and I think that for this president, that's going to create some real problems going forward.
ACOSTA: OK. I talked to a source close to the White House earlier today who said if Manafort is found innocent, if he's found not guilty, expect the White House, expect all the president's defenders to pounce on that Mueller's investigation should end.
All of you, thank you very much. Appreciate that.
Just ahead, China is expanding its military power with an eye toward potential strikes against the U.S. We'll tell you what we're learning about that.
And an exclusive CNN report, tracing the bomb that killed dozens of children in Yemen back here in the United States. You don't want to miss this.
[18:50:42] ACOSTA: Tonight, a new warning from the Pentagon about escalating U.S. tensions with China and the potential threat of war. A new report reveals that China's military is likely training its pilots for long-range bombing missions targeting the United States.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us.
Barbara, this is alarming. There's a lot of talk about Russia, but China poses a serious threat as well?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Jim, what the Pentagon is saying is just that. That China has rising military capability and it is causing a lot of concern.
STARR (voice-over): 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.
MICHAEL COLLINS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CIA EAST ASIA MISSION CENTER: The Chinese do not want conflict, they do not want war, they don't want conflagration. But at the end of the day, they want every country around the world when it's deciding its issues on policy issues to 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 a key Chinese advance.
PENCE: China launched a missile to destroy one of its own satellites, a highly provocative demonstration of China's growing capability to militarize space.
STARR: But it is here is in South China Sea in a well-known feud that it U.S. already finds itself facing off against China. Manmade 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.
UNITED STATES NAVY: The United States naval aircraft conducting lawful military activity beyond the national airspace of any coastal states and exercising these rights guaranteed by international law.
STARR: China is already reshaping itself into an international military power. It has a base in East Africa and it is beefing up its military operations with Pakistan, a nuclear nation -- Jim.
ACOSTA: Barbara Starr, thank you very much for that report.
Now, a CNN exclusive on the deadly school bus attack in Yemen. We have new evidence that the bomb that killed 40 children last week was supplied by the United States.
CNN's senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir is covering this breaking story. She joins us now from London.
Nima, tell us more about what you're learning. This is heartbreaking.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we have been able to confirm that that bomb was part of a State Department sanctioned arm sales. And this is why it matters. Take a look at this.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): Every day, Zaid Al Homran visits the graveyard where his two little boys are buried. Today, he brought their 5-year- old brother along. He's all Zaid has left.
ZAID AL HOMRAN, OSAMA'S FATHER (through translator): People were screaming out the names of their children. I tried to tell the women it couldn't be true but then a man ran through the crowd shouting that a plane had struck the children's bus.
ELBAGIR: On August 9th, Zaid's son Osama filmed his class on their long awaited school trip, a reward for graduating summer school. Within hours, it all had gone horribly wrong. A plane from the U.S.-backed Saudi led coalition struck a bus carrying
them. Dozens died. Some of the bodies were so mutilated, identification became impossible.
[18:55:03] All that's left are scraps of school books, warped metal and a single back pack.
Eyewitnesses tell CNN this was a direct hit in the middle of a busy market.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I saw the bomb hit the bus. It blew it into those shops and three bodies clear through the other side of those buildings. We found bodies scattered everywhere. There was a severed head inside the bomb crater.
ELBAGIR: This video of shrapnel was filmed in the aftermath of the attack and sent to CNN by contact in Saada. A cameraman working for CNN subsequently filmed these images for us.
Munitions experts tell CNN this was a U.S. marked MK82 bomb weighing in at half a ton. The first five digits there are the cage number, the commercial and government entity number. This number here denotes Lockheed Martin, one of the top U.S. defense contractors.
This particular MK82 is a laser guided precision bomb, its targeting accuracy a particular point of pride for Lockheed Martin. Parts of an arms deal Saudi Arabia sanctioned and contracted out by the U.S. government.
So why does this matter? Because the devastation inflicted by the MK82 is all too familiar in Yemen. In March 2016, a strike on a market using the similarly laser guided 2,000 pound MK-84 killed 97 people.
In October 2016, another strike on a funeral hall killed 155 people and wounded hundreds more. Then the bus attack on August 9th where they're still counting the dead.
The U.S. doesn't just sell arms to the coalition in its battle against the Iranian backed rebel Houthi militias. It provides intelligence, helped the targeting procedures, midair refueling. President Obama blocked sales of precision guided military technology to Saudi Arabia over human rights concerns.
Six months later under the newly elected Trump administration, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson overturned the ban.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Look, there's a balance that needs to be struck. The president also noted that the Saudis have a right to defend themselves. They were being attacked from across the southern border by Houthis who were aided by Iran and launching rockets and missiles.
What I would tell you is we certainly had under the Obama administration deep concerns about the ways the Saudis were targeting. And we acted on those concerns by limiting the kinds of munitions that they were being given and stridently trying to argue for them to be more careful and cautious.
ELBAGIR: Saudi Arabia denies targeting civilians and defends the incident as a legitimate military operation and a retaliatory response to a Houthi ballistic missile the day before.
When asked to comment on CNN's evidence, coalition spokesperson Turki al-Maliki told us, the coalition is taking all practical measures to minimize civilian casualties. Every civilian casualty is a tragedy, adding that it would not be appropriate for the coalition to comment further while the investigation is under way.
The U.S. wouldn't comment on the origins of the bomb but the State Department is calling for a Saudi-led investigation, which the U.S. defense secretary supports.
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Wars are always tragic, but we've got to find a way to protect innocent in the midst of this one.
ELBAGIR: Osama's cellphone footage is all that his father has left of the two boys, their last happy moments. Osama's father isn't optimistic that an investigation will change everything. In a country where loss has become commonplace, they aren't even praying for justice anymore, just peace.
ELBAGIR: There is a growing clamor of questions internationally, if the coalition investigation does find this to be yet another mistake, what the extent of the U.S.'s moral complicity will be, Jim.
ACOSTA: And, Nima, is there any kind of investigation being conducted into this?
ELBAGIR: The coalition is carrying out its own investigation and that is really the issue here, that that investigation is being carried out by an internal mechanism, there's no independent oversight. It's not transparent. So, when you hear Secretary Mattis and you hear other U.S. lawmakers call for the collation to finish its investigation, what they're essentially saying is that we want it to finish investigating itself. And I'm not sure many people in Yemen on the ground will accept that ever so readily -- Jim.
ACOSTA: All right. Nima Elbagir, thank you very much for that important report.
I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching.
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