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Trump Lashes Out at Mueller as White House Doesn't Know What McGahn Said to Special Counsel; Sources: Feds Preparing Charges Against Michael Cohen; Melania Trump Talks Cyberbullying as Trump Tweets. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Kate Bolduan.

President Trump unleashes a barrage of acidic new tweets. The trigger? White House Counsel Don McGahn, cooperating extensively with the Russia investigation. The president's legal team is in the dark about what McGahn said.

The president is attacking the special counsel in that probe, "Disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of angry Democrat thugs spent over 30 hours with the White House counsel, only with my approval for purposes of transparency. Anybody needing that much time where they know there's no Russian collusion is just someone looking for trouble. They are enjoying ruining people's lives and refuse to look at the real corruption on the Democrat side, the lies, the firings, the deleted e-mails, and so much more. Mueller's angry Dems are looking to impact the election. They are a national disgrace."

The president's tirade on the heels of comments made by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, declaring, with a straight face, truth isn't truth.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm not going to be rushed into having him testify so he gets trapped into perjury. When you tell me that he should testify because he is going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, that's silly. It's somebody's version of the truth, not the truth. He didn't have a conversation --


CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, MEET THE PRESS: Truth is truth. I don't mean to --


GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth. The president of the United States says, I didn't --


TODD: Truth is truth. Mr. Mayor, do you realize what --


GIULIANI: No, no, no.

TODD: This is going to become a bad me.

GIULIANI: Don't do this. Don't do this to me.


HILL: Could it become a bad me.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House.

This morning, Rudy Giuliani appears to be trying to bat a little cleanup?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems like it has become a bad me. And the images of Chuck Todd going like this while Rudy Giuliani is saying truth isn't truth. The president's personal attorney is trying to clean up those comments.

Let me read to you what he said. He wrote, "My statement was not meant as a pontification on moral theology but referring to the situation where two people make precisely contradictory statements, the classic "he said, she said" puzzle. Sometimes, further inquiry can reveal truth. Other times, it doesn't."

This goes to the president and his attorneys' concern that Mueller will try to get them into a perjury trap. The notion that other people might offer a version of the truth that doesn't match up with the president's. Most people will say, as long as you stay truthful, you won't be caught in perjury. There's this concern among the president's attorneys that several other people could offer a different version than the president.

But this falls into the president's attorney attorneys' broader attempt to poke at the credibility of the special counsel's investigation. While we did see Mueller's approval ratings backslide for several months as the president and his attorneys raised the critiques of the Mueller investigation, now we see a bounce back in the numbers from a CNN poll conducted by SSRS. You see now 47 percent of the American people approve of how Mueller is handling the Russia investigation. That's up from 41 percent in June. It does appear a big part of the poof boost is from Democrats, who are growing tired of the attacks on the special counsel's investigation. It still remains a deeply polarized investigation. Many Republicans still disapproving of the Mueller investigation. But It does appear there's a consensus among the American people that folks would like to see the investigation wrap up shortly. What that hinges on is the Mueller team getting back to the president and his legal team as far as an interview is concerned. It appears a lot more back and forth could still be in the works -- Erica?

HILL: Jeremy Diamond with the latest for us. Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

Joining me now, CNN legal analyst, Ross Garber, Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," and CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston.

As we look at all of this, we'll go back to whether truth is truth. But, Ross ---


HILL: You have been preparing lines for this. The White House was taken by surprise with this reporting about Don McGahn. How concerned should the president be if at all?

GARBER: Let me say this. We have known for a long time that McGahn has been cooperating to some extent. I think what was probably surprising over the weekend is the extent, the number of times that he went in and probably how little the White House knew about it. Those things alone, I think, the White House should be very concerned about. The notion that the White House counsel, the senior lawyer for the presidency, was in cooperating with federal investigators, that the president and the chief of staff and others around the president don't know what he said, that is troubling. I have represented a lot of public officials. I have never seen something like that.

HILL: It's remarkable. It obviously struck a nerve with this president. We can tell that by the number of tweets and the focus of the tweets and the comments from Rudy Giuliani. Take a look at this.


[11:05:06] GIULIANI: Our recollection keeps changing. It's in the eye of the beholder.


GIULIANI: Facts are not in the eye of the beholder. You are welcome to argue the case.


GIULIANI: It's somebody's version of the truth, not the truth. He didn't have a conversation --


TODD: Truth is truth. I don't mean to go --


GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth.


HILL: As we look at this, Mark, yes, the memes are on there this morning. Rudy Giuliani was trying to clear things up a little bit, as Jeremy reported. This is part of the push to reshape and discredit this investigation.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. There's no question, there's this very public effort on behalf of President Trump, his allies and Rudy Giuliani, specifically his lawyers, to try to put any discredit upon this investigation. If you think about what he is trying to do, he is going out there right now, Erica, and what he is trying to do is he is trying to cloud any question about what exactly happened, what the president's recollection was of any of these events. In addition to that, he is also trying to create this cloud to also show that the president might not have had intent. The president didn't knowingly try to include with Russia. The president, you know, knew a meeting was happening but didn't realize that he shouldn't have allowed it to happen. I think at the very end, that if we see charges or some kind of outline from Mueller given to Congress that says the president did try to collude, that's going to be their defense.

HILL: To your point, we have seen a lot of that. Ross touched on this a little bit. The fact that we hear from this White House that no information incriminating the president was provided and yet they do not know exactly what was said, because there wasn't a full debrief. You can't -- this goes back to truth isn't truth. You can't have both of those things be accurate.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Truth is not on the president's side. Truth is not on Rudy's side. All they can do is create confusion and try to create alternative facts. If we go back to inauguration weekend, alternative facts. The end of the road is truth isn't truth. That's the plan. That's the strategy. To the extent there's a strategy at all.

GARBER: I think two things we should note. One is, Rudy and the president, they are talking to the president's supporters. That's first. The second is, there's a kernel of truth in what Rudy said. The three of us can walk away with different recollections of a meeting, different senses, different perceptions. Assuming we're both telling the truth, trying to tell the truth, which version is the truth? Who knows? I think there's a seed of the right idea there.

STELTER: Does Trump earn the benefit of the doubt at this point? Does Rudy Giuliani earn the benefit of the doubt at this point? I wrote a story about Rudy going on tv and lying. He has been lying all along, as the president's lawyer, and the president's been lying ever since he took the oath of office. Do they have credibility left?

GARBER: That's one of the big problems. It's a credibility issue. It's a communications issue, too.


STELTER: You are right, he is speaking to the base. Speaking is the base is working for the president's fan base, truth isn't truth anymore.

HILL: That's true. This brings into account, we could walk away with a different impression from the same meeting. That's true. That's where you get the "he said he said." There's a kernel there. If we go back to the point of, there was nothing incriminating but we don't know what was said because we didn't do a full debrief, what's to stop the White House from getting a full debrief saying Don McGahn, we need you in here today, Monday, we want to know everything you talked about? Is there anything that could get in the way of that?

GARBER: What would normally happen is that would happen lawyer to lawyer. I would be shocked if it didn't happen a long time ago. Maybe it didn't.


HILL: Our reporting is that full debrief did not happen with William Burke, who is his attorney.

GARBER: It's incredible. It can happen now. It can happen lawyer to lawyer. It seems to me it should happen lawyer to lawyer.

HILL: There's also, Mark, as we look at the president stepping up these attacks -- the president is calling the investigators thugs. It doesn't sound like, despite his tweets, the president is comfortable with Don McGahn speaking with investigators, trying to downplay all of it and reminding everyone, but he did it with my blessing.

PRESTON: If you remember, there was a different legal team when McGahn started cooperating and going in for these meetings. That was their decision to move forward. They thought by having don go in and having him do this, they are not hiding anything. We have seen a 180- degree turn in strategy with a different legal team that are very aggressive and continue to obfuscate what the investigation is trying to do and that's get to the facts.

One thing Brian did say, and I think it's important, because it's really what's happening right now to this country, is credibility is really in the eye of the beholder. Right now, we have 40 percent -- four in 10 Americans that are OK with the way President Trump is acting. Even more surprisingly, you have 80 percent or 90 percent of Republicans right now in general who think that he is doing a good job stewarding the country. That's a big divide.

[11:10:22] HILL: It is.

To Brian's point about credibility and facts, let's see what Rudy Giuliani said about the Trump tower meeting.


GIULIANI: All they knew what that a woman with a Russian name wanted to meet with them. They didn't know she was a representative of the Russian government. And, indeed, she's not a representative of the Russian government.


HILL: Of course, we actually know that's not true. They did know. It was in the documentation. Yes. STELTER: The e-mail said this is part of the attempt to help your campaign and to support you and help you get elected. That was attempted collusion.

HILL: Here is the thing.


STELTER: It's a shame we're debating these basic facts.

HILL: It's a shame we still are. But we are because the messaging is out there. Yes, this works with the president's base. They will follow what they want to believe to be true as so many are doing as Mark pointed out. The larger issue is, when does it start to erode more away at those numbers we see that Mark was talking about? Four in 10 Americans don't have a problem with it.

GARBER: Look, I don't think Rudy was lying. I don't think he was intentionally misstating the facts.

STELTER: He keeps hurting his client.


STELTER: My god.

GARBER: I don't think he knows what happened. I think it may be a reflection of the notion that it may not matter exactly to them exactly what the facts are because, again, they are talking directly to their base. Their base is saying, it doesn't matter. Rudy is focused on all sort of other issues instead of the nitty-gritty facts. It's one of the issues that happened all along. It's why they don't know what McGahn said.

STELTER: By the way, I think we know how this ends. Rudy has said, we will release our own report. Give us a report, we will release our own. At the end of this, there's two sets of facts.

HILL: Like there was a memo from the Republicans and the Democrats. We remember how that played out.

Mark, Ross, Brian, appreciate it. Thank you all.

Coming up, sources telling CNN federal prosecutors are preparing criminal charges for President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen. What could those charges be? That's next.

Plus, first lady, Melania Trump, speaking out about cyberbullying in a big speech this morning. Did she reference the president and his behavior online?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd like to punch him the face, I'll tell you.

Jimmy be a man. Just relax. Just relax.




[11:17:09] HILL: He is President Trump's longtime attorney, his so- called fixer. Could he be known as a defendant? CNN learning federal prosecutors in New York are preparing criminal charges against Michael Cohen, charges that could be announced in days. Cohen is being investigated for possible bank and tax fraud and campaign finance violations linked to a six-figure payment to a certain adult film star. This brings criminal charges deep into President Trump's inner circle.

William Rashbaum is one of the "New York Times" reporters who broke that story joins me now.

Good to have you with us.

Based on what you are learning here, the charges could be filed before the end of the month. How much of the focus in terms of the charges is on those hush money payments that were made by Michael Cohen?

WILLIAM RASHBAUM, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: I think that it's hard to divide it up by percentages, so to speak. The bank fraud and tax fraud charges, possible charges, are more serious and carry potentially longer sentences.

HILL: Those are related to the taxi medallions mostly, business-wise?

RASHBAUM: That's my understanding.

HILL: Then the other charges -- maybe not as weighty. They produce a better headline.

RASHBAUM: I think they are more sensational. They have attracted more attention over the last several months, since the search, certainly than the bank and tax fraud charges. It's all been under investigation, I think, pretty much over the same period of time.

HILL: We're learning that -- you are learning the charges could come before the end of August. If that doesn't happen, if the charges are not filed before September 1, is it simply waiting until after election day?

RASHBAUM: I think there are a lot of moving parts here. I think it appears or it would seem that the government and Mr. Cohen's lawyers are having or have had some sort of discussions about cooperation. He has made clear that he is interested, you know, through his lawyers, his own public statements hinting at it that he is interested in cooperating. So those talks may still be going on. They may be completed. How that goes and how far along they are and what decisions both sides made will have some effect on when there might be some action. If they have reached an impasse, if they're not going to -- if they can't reach a deal and they want to charge him, they may choose to do that before the end of August.

HILL: In terms of any sort of cooperation on the part of Michael Cohen, how much of that deal would also include something for the Mueller investigation? This is all happening, obviously, in the southern district.

[11:20:03] RASHBAUM: It's hard to say. You know, it's -- we don't know -- I don't know what information Mr. Cohen has that might be of interest to Mueller's people. He could have information that would be of interest to the southern district that would have to be of some significant heft to get him a deal. But it's sort of a wild card. Many people assume that he has information that would be of value to either or both of those prosecutorial agencies. But really, we just don't know.

HILL: We don't know. Here we all sit, waiting to find out.

William, appreciate you coming in. Thank you.

RASHBAUM: Thank you.

HILL: Also with us, CNN legal analyst, defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu.

Shan, anything to read into us being at this point today, August 20th?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think of those charges -- first of all, I think this is Michael Cohen's worst nightmare come true. Any time you get a raid on your office, you worry what they will find. This is everything he would have feared, bank fraud, tax fraud as well as campaign finance possibility charges. The one most dangerous for the president is actually the campaign finance issue. That can lead to the president's knowledge or direction of Cohen to do this. I think that for the prosecutors, the bank fraud and the tax fraud are really their leverage on him. The potential sentences for that, whatever they are on the books, it really comes down to the federal sentencing guidelines. That's going to depend on how much money is lost. When you are talking about anything over a million, it's significant and you are looking at jail time.

HILL: It's well over a million, at least from what we have learned.

All of this is happening as it is day three for the jury in the Paul Manafort trial. Waiting on a verdict there. Could that have any impact on the decision as to when to file charges and also be any possible deal for Michael Cohen?

WU: I don't think the Manafort trial will affect when they file charges. I think that issue is probably the traditional notion of avoiding the midterm elections.

I think for Michael Cohen, he would be happy to have taken a deal yesterday. He has been signaling he wants that. With this news now, there's no question he will be facing charges. I think we would be looking for that to happen very quickly. HILL: What's your sense of -- a lot has been made of whether Rick

Gates is a credible witness, as we know, in Paul Manafort trial. How does Cohen stack up in terms of credibility?

WU: I think it's hard to know right now. He has been in the right position to be very credible, because he is in the right place to know things. I think we don't know yet what else is in the closet with him. If he were to come and give testimony, they are going to find dirty laundry for him. Most importantly, his first step will be undergoing extensive interviews with prosecutors. They will leave no stone unturned. They will know about anything that is sort of untoward or improper in his background.

HILL: A lot we are waiting on today, that's for sure.

Shan, always good to see you. Thank you.

WU: Good to see you.

HILL: Coming up, a little bit of irony. First lady, Melania Trump, speaking out about cyberbullying this morning. How does that square with her -- the president, her husband's behavior online? That's next.


[11:28:34] HILL: This morning, Melania Trump is making the case for a more respectful social media experience for children. The first lady attending a summit on cyberbullying in Rockville, Maryland. The topic, of course, is one of the core issues of her Be Best campaign.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: In today's global society, social media is an integral part of our children's daily lives. It can be used in many positive ways. But can also be distractive and harmful when used incorrectly. This is why Be Best chooses to focus on the importance of teaching our next generation how to conduct themselves safely and in a positive manner in an online setting.


HILL: In a positive manner. That coming in stark contrast in the manner of her husband, the president. Here is a few of those moments to refresh your memory.


TRUMP: I don't know what I said. I don't remember.

Maxine Waters, a very low I.Q. individual.


TRUMP: Wacky Jackie. (CHEERING)

TRUMP: I think somebody said she's in Nevada right now campaigning with Pocahontas.


TRUMP: The guy on CBS is -- what a lowlife. What a lowlife. But there's no talent. They're not like talented people.


HILL: Those are the spoken words. But there's, of course, the online behavior.