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GOP Leaders Silent After Cohen Plea, Manafort Verdict; Rep. Duncan Hunter & Wife Charged with Misuse of Campaign Funds; Facebook Takes Down 700 Accounts Linked to Russia, Iran; Bull Market Values History's Longest Stretch of Nonstop Gains; Senate Democrat: Country Is in Watergate Moment; Trump: Mollie Tibbetts' Death "Should've Never Happened:. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT- LARGE: I would note that we know that Donald Trump wanted to fire Bob Mueller last -- earlier this year, was talked out of it by Don McGahn, the White House counsel, who's obviously been in the news a lot, of late. So I don't know that this changes much of anything. Remember, Republicans control the House and the Senate, which means they make the rules, effectively. If -- this is to Rachael's point. They made a deal a while back with themselves that they were going to have to kind of accept whatever came with Donald Trump. I'm not sure they thought it was going to be this but whatever came with Donald Trump because they thought they could get Supreme Court justices, a tax cut bill through.

Now Donald Trump remains quite popular with the Republican base, one of the most popular presidents among Republicans ever. I don't think they abandon him this close to an election.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: One of the things that can certainly be a rallying cry for the bases of both parties here, talk of impeachment. It is something that Democrats are shying away from. Here's what Senator Warren had to say.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Do think that alone is grounds for impeachment?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think that what Congress needs to do right now is we need to make sure that Special Prosecutor Mueller is fully protected from being fired by Donald Trump.


HILL: Senator Warren obviously moving more towards the protect Mueller front on that.

Steve Bannon though making the case that this is sort of a tough road for Democrats to take. He's got a point, Rachael, yes, it energizes both the Democratic base and the Republican base when there starts to be talk of impeachment. This is something again that voters are going to ask about. How do they balance that, rachel? RACHAEL BADE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: So far, on the Hill, we are seeing

Democratic leaders and Democrats in general like Warren take a cautious approach to impeachment which might surprise some because yesterday you had obviously Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer, implicating the president legally in federal court. So it is interesting because in the House about one-third of the Democratic caucus voted last December to begin a debate about whether they should impeach the president. That was well before we heard anything about potential campaign finance charges. They were just talking about Trump and the way he acted, saying he basically demeaned the office of the presidency. So we sort of expected this morning to come in here and see a bunch of House Democrats, now that they are actually talking about criminal allegations, to be talking more about impeachment. So far, not the case. They are concerned apparently that it will backfire in the mid-term elections and that it might actually Donald Trump up the Republican base, turn them out and keep them from winning the House and potentially Senate this fall.

HILL: Quickly before we let you go, Chris, I want your take on this. The charges against Duncan Hunter and his wife are -- I mean astounding when you read through this. Almost $38,000 in overdraft fees and insufficient funds in terms of -- around it's remarkable to read it. Yet, Duncan Hunter's kind of lucky that all of this happened yesterday because it is certainly being overshadowed.

CILLIZZA: It is being overshadowed but it is not being forgotten. It remains a story. We are talking about it and we should be talking about it. What is alleged in that 47-page charging document is widespread corruption and misuse of campaign funds for personal use. Essentially what you see is a member of Congress and his wife who have almost no money to their name, repeatedly, allegedly, using their campaign account for things that are all over the place. I read through it. I have a piece up on about what you should know from it. One -- just one -- piece that I'll note is Duncan Hunter asked his wife if he could buy shorts for their Hawaii vacation. She said they didn't have the money but to charge it to his campaign account and then tell the campaign treasurer that it was for golf balls for wounded warriors. That is some remarkably cynical and dark stuff.

HILL: It certainly is. We'll have to leave it there.

Chris Cillizza, Rachael Bade, really appreciate it. Thank you, both.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

HILL: Coming up, Facebook strikes another blow to foreign actors hoping to sow discord online, this time, removing hundreds of pages linked to Iran and Russia. Those details ahead.


[11:38:43] HILL: The fight to clean up social media rages on. Facebook announcing it's taken down nearly 700 accounts after exposing a, quote, "coordinated disinformation campaign. " Those pages linked to Russia and Iran. CNN's Alex Marquardt is in Washington for us with this latest.

These accounts, Alex, actually reached a fair amount of people.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, globally. This was a campaign not directed at the United States, which we talk about so often, but people around the world. Specifically in the United Kingdom, in the Middle East, Latin America, and here in the U.S. What Facebook announced is that they took down some 652 accounts and pages, both on Facebook and on Instagram, which, as you know, they own as well. They called it a coordinated inauthentic behavior.

We should note, these were two different campaigns that all these pages were part of. The first one, the bigger one, was coordinated out of Iran. These inauthentic pages, as they say, were promoting pro-Iranian national stances, for example, anti-Israel, anti-Saudi Arabia, pro-Palestinian, pro-Iran nuclear deal. Then the second campaign was coordinated by Russia. This was not to do with the U.S. or U.S. elections. Again, it was promoting pro-Russian views like -- including their actions in Syria and Ukraine. And all told, these pages reached some one million people.

Then shortly after Facebook made this announcement, Twitter did pretty much the same thing, saying that they were de-activating almost 300 of their accounts, also part of a campaign coordinated out of Iran. So Iran is not a country, Erica, that we do a lot of talking about, but they are a real force in the cyber world.

This really does show that even as companies like Facebook and Twitter are stepping up their efforts to identify and take down nefarious actors, they are stepping up their efforts, as well.

[11:40:41] HILL: Alex Marquardt with the latest for us. Alex, thank you.

On Wall Street, the bulletins to charge hitting a new milestone today and it's a big one, the longest stretch of non-stop gains in American history. Can it keep going?

CNN chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, is at the New York Stock Exchange for us live.

Good morning.


This is really remarkable where we've come from. Remember it was the dark, dark days of 2009 that was the beginning of this bull. We don't know it then. But the S&P 500 has almost quadrupled really since 2009. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 19,000 points. This was really driven by central banks, remember they tried to rescue the financial system. But the last couple of quarters you've seen S&P 500 companies have 25 percent government growth two quarters in a row. They're making a ton of money. That's why some say this bull could keep going here. The bull market driven by a whole host of things but really a strong

economy now, corporate profits are doing well. And the Federal Reserve still has relatively low interest rates. We've seen the fed raising interest rates. We've seen the president complaining about that. But, indeed, interest rates are still relatively low. So this bull market, now the longest in history -- it tops a bull market, by the way, that started in 1990 and ended with the dotcom burst. You remember that?


ROMANS: This was longer than that one. Yes, that was a big story, but here we are -- Erica?

HILL: Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

HILL: Coming up, a top Democratic Senator says the country is now in the midst of a Watergate moment. Does the Michael Cohen bombshell though really rise to that level? We'll ask a former Watergate prosecutor, next.


[11:46:58] HILL: The ghosts the Watergate making a little noise in Washington after one of the president's men pled guilty and implicated Mr. Trump in a crime. Some Democrats quickly drawing a comparison.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D), CONNECTICUT: Wolf, we're in a Watergate moment where the two parties need to come together. We need bipartisanship now more than ever to protect the special counsel and to stop -- I must underscore stop -- any consideration for pardons.


HILL: Here to discuss, a man with some intimate knowledge of that period in our history, former assistant special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation, Richard Ben-Veniste.

Always appreciate you joining us.

You are probably one of the best people to ask on this front. Do you agree with Senator Blumenthal, is this a Watergate moment?

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, very much so. However, it's through a glass darkly. This is so bizarre in the analogies to Watergate. So clear. In Watergate, there were payments of hush money to keep the Watergate burglars, quote, "on the reservation," keep them from telling what they knew. Here we have hush money payments to girlfriends allegedly of the president not to talk prior to the election or the primary in fact. Here we have discussions of pardons. In Watergate, we had secret offers of clemency to burglars to keep their silence. Here we are hearing about the president considering a pardon for Paul Manafort, for example.

This is a moment I think -- and I take Senator Blumenthal's point very strongly -- that bipartisanship has to come together and apply some sense to what's going on. How can the president be thinking about pardoning an individual who's just been convicted by a jury of 12 decent Americans in Virginia for hiding $60 million from Uncle Sam, where Republican constituents pay their taxes? Here's an individual who flouted the law, flaunted his obligations, and lived the life of a mega-rich individual while never paying taxes. Does it bring to mind the fact that President Trump himself has continued to refuse to release his own tax returns? Maybe that's part of it.

But people have to come together and act sensibly. The president is talking about a witness, Mr. Cohen, as a rat, as though he were the leader of a New Jersey crime family, a Tony Soprano, instead of being the head of the party of Lincoln. What in the world are we going through in this country?

[11:50:10] HILL: You laid out a lot for me in that answer. I want to pick up. Let's start with Michael Cohen. Looking at him, it's clear how the president feels from what we've heard. But from your view, is he credible?


HILL: Can you hear me?

BEN-VENISTE: Please repeat.

HILL: OK, sure. I was just saying, when it comes to Michael Cohen, to you, is he credible? Do you believe him?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think Michael Cohen has a credibility issue because he's pleaded guilty to a variety of federal crimes. And so anything that he says beyond "he said/she said" needs to be corroborate. And to the extent that he's got corroborating information, and there are millions of documents that have been seized from him and there are tape recordings that apparently he has, this is corroboration. And this is what prosecutors do. They start with a statement, and they get leads. Cohen may be able to point them in directions that they hadn't thought of or cement ideas that they had been thinking of with some recollections. So this is all very important. Cohen was with him for a long time. Cohen was involved in various dealings with Russia in projects that the president had talked about doing. So all of that information, I am quite certain, will eventually wind up in the hands of Mr. Mueller and his team.

HILL: You laid out a lot when we asked you whether you agree with Senator Blumenthal.


BEN-VENISTE: I'm trying to read your lips because I'm getting no sound.


HILL: OK, good. Real quickly, before we let you go, as you were answering that question about whether or not this is a Watergate moment, one of the things that stood out, when you were calling on, as well, agreeing with him that there needs to be a bipartisan effort in Washington, politically, it's a slightly different place than where we were with Richard Nixon. This has all been politicized. If something doesn't change -- I guess what I'm trying to say is, can this rise above politics, do you believe, in this country? And if it doesn't, what does that say about the state of the United States?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, it's a bizarre situation if it doesn't. Yes, it's entirely different because both Houses of Congress are now controlled by Mr. Trump's party. And if party loyalty continues to Trump, dedication to the Constitution and to the American public, then we will see nothing approaching Watergate done. But if there's an awakening of conscience and patriotism that allows for the kind of bipartisanship that Senator Blumenthal and many, many others are talking about, maybe we can have an objective investigation, and Congress will perform its duty as it is supposed to as a check against the executive department, and maybe we'll get answers.

HILL: Richard Ben-Veniste --


BEN-VENISTE: I don't think we'll get them from Mr. Trump because he continues to do this kabuki dance about talking to Mr. Mueller. It's gone on for eight months, and it seems unlikely, as I said eight months ago, that he will ever sit down and give testimony under oath.

HILL: Richard Ben-Veniste, always appreciate your insight. And thanks for sticking with us on those audio issues as well.

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.

[11:54:00] HILL: A missing college student in Iowa is found dead. Authorities say the suspect is an undocumented immigrant. How the tragic crime is now turning political.


HILL: President Trump is speaking out about the murder of Iowa college student, Mollie Tibbetts, after an undocumented immigrant was arrested and held on first-degree murder charges for her death.

The president blames the tragedy on the nation's immigration laws.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico. And you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman. Should have never happened. Illegally in our country. We've had a huge impact, but the laws are so bad. The immigration laws are such a disgrace.


HILL: The body believed to be that of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts found in a corn field. An autopsy will be performed today to confirm how and when she died. Authorities spent nearly a month searching for her.

And while authorities have yet to confirm whether the body is Tibbetts, police did arrest Cristhian Rivera on firs-degree murder charges. He is an undocumented immigrant. He confessed to approaching Tibbetts after seeing her running and told investigators he pursued her, then abducted her.

Thanks for joining me today.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

[11:59:56] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Erica.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this important day with us.

The president and the presidency in crisis. His own Justice Department now alleging the president of the United States directed felony campaign finance violations in hopes of keeping a porn actress and a playmate silent.