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White House Complains Mueller Hurting Trump-Putin Relationship; Alaska Earthquake; Report: Mueller Looking at Role of Don Jr., Ivanka in Moscow Project. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 30, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The White House complaining that Bob Mueller is the third wheel in President Trump's relationship with President Putin.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Shaken and spooked. The White House admitting the president is rattled by all the furious developments in Mueller's Russia probe, as the president comes face-to-face with world leaders, including a couple he won't call out for murder.

Breaking news. A major earthquake hitting the U.S., roads and bridges out, aftershocks still going on, a new look at the wreckage across Alaska.

And a Putin-approved poisoning. The British now drawing a direct link to an attack on their soil that left an innocent person murdered. Will President Trump have anything to say to Putin about it?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We begin today with our world lead.

President Trump holding crucial meetings right now with world leaders at the G20 summit in Argentina, but just one glimpse at his Twitter feed makes it pretty clear the president's focus is somewhere else entirely.

Mr. Trump going after the Russia investigation this morning, and trying to explain why it's no big deal that he repeatedly lied to voters by denying any business or political ties to Russia during the campaign, despite the fact that there were some.

He tweeted -- quote -- "Oh, I get it, I'm a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our country going in the wrong direction, to put it mildly. Against all odds, I decide to run for president and continue to run my business. Very legal and very cool. Talked about it on the campaign trail. Lightly looked at doing a build somewhere in Russia, put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn't do the project. Witch-hunt."

Wow, that's a lot of falsehoods in just two tweets. President Trump clearly rattled by former lawyer Michael Cohen's admission that Cohen lied to Congress about a proposed Trump project in Moscow, so as to be consistent with the lies that President Trump was telling voters on the campaign trail.

A source telling CNN the president is -- quote -- "spooked and completely distracted." Mr. Trump also canceled his meeting with Vladimir Putin, citing Russian aggression against Ukraine, but he did talk with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, the autocrat that the CIA believes ordered the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


QUESTION: Mr. President, what did you discuss (OFF-MIKE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had no discussion. We might, but we had none. Thank you very much.


TAPPER: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live in Buenos Aires, where the G20 summit is under way.

And, Jeff, even the president's press secretary admitting today that the Russia investigation is affecting the president as he attends this important summit.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, used the word undermine when she said that is what it is doing to the U.S. relationship with Russia.

But it was clear it was on the president's mind from the very beginning of the day here, when he got up and set out for a daylong series of world meetings, meetings with world leaders, but he still spent the day also explaining why he's not meeting with one of them, Vladimir Putin.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump on the world stage today at the G20 summit in Argentina, but still furious and fixated on the Russia investigation.

The president insisting again today it's not why he canceled the meeting here with Vladimir Putin, still blaming that on Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

TRUMP: Ukraine. We don't like what happened. We're not happy about it. Nobody is. And hopefully they will be able to settle it out there, because we look for to meeting with President Putin.

ZELENY: But the optics and timing of a one-on-one Putin meeting not ideal for the White House, as Trump becomes the central figure into whether his campaign conspired with the Russian government in the 2016 campaign.

The president started this day here in Buenos Aires defending his business dealings with Russia on Twitter as very legal and very cool. Later, the White House released a statement blasting the investigation again as a Russian witch-hunt hoax, but going on to acknowledge it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia.

As world leaders gathered for a meeting, the president four seats away from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA believes ordered the killing of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The president has repeatedly contradicted that assessment. Today, a White House official said the president and crown prince exchanged pleasantries. Asked about what, the president shrugged.

TRUMP: We had no discussion. We might, but we had none.

ZELENY: The president only a few steps behind as the Saudi leader and Russian president had a warm encounter, all smiles and a long handshake.

The White House hoped a signing ceremony for the new U.S., Mexico and Canada trade agreement would be the high point of the day.

TRUMP: Battles sometimes make great friends.


ZELENY: But a frosty relationship with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over steel and aluminum tariffs made clear that deep tensions remain with a key U.S. ally.


ZELENY: So the most consequential meeting of this summit here, Jake, is coming tomorrow evening at a dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Of course, that is the first time that President Trump will meet face to face with his counterpart there in more than a year. Of course, at issue, is the U.S. going to back off, back down, is the Chinese present going to back down in this ongoing escalation of a trade war?

The president, we know, likes to make a deal here, but his base also likes this fight with China. So, Jake, that is the one overriding question of many here at this summit, not involving at least what's on the president's mind, Russia -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny with the president at the G20 summit, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with my experts.

Seung Min with "The Washington Post," I want to start with the president and the delicate dance about whether or not he's going to actually have a meeting and with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin .

They exchanged pleasantries, but they haven't had a formal discussion yet. Look, the CIA said that MBS, the crown prince, ordered the murder of one of your colleagues at "The Washington Post," Jamal Khashoggi. Is the White House concerned about that potential imagery, or even the imagery of pleasantries being exchanged?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So that's going to be something to watch, because we know at these international summits, there is a lot that goes on beyond the formal bilateral meetings.

So that's why this also is relative to Putin. And that, we will be really watching closely and looking for reports to see what kind of conversations they have, for example, at tonight's dinner with all the G20 leaders.

When I was on the Paris trip, we know he had a lot of interesting conversations with other world leaders in Paris that day, but the image especially just with MBS and Vladimir Putin kind of having that high-five earlier today just was a reminder about just what our intelligence agencies have said about the actions of these two men and just how the president has just cast so much doubt on what our own intelligence agencies have said.

TAPPER: We're told that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, did bring up the murder of Khashoggi with the crown prince.

Do you think President Trump will?


Here's what's bothers some about watching all of this unfold in terms of Saudi Arabia and Russia. Donald Trump is supposed to be the America-first president, and yet he seems to be in a very submissive week pose when it comes to these meetings with world leaders.

Why is it that when the president of the United States says there will not be a meeting with Putin, Putin feels so emboldened that he says, no,, there will be an impromptu meeting?

To me, that sounds like a confrontation, where Putin is in control of events, backslapping his buddy who killed a "Washington Post" journalist and the president doesn't know what to do.

TAPPER: It's very curious. President Trump was asked if he will meet with Vladimir Putin. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I don't know. Not particularly. I don't know.


TAPPER: So he's asked, "Mr. President, will be you will be exchanging pleasantries with Putin?" And Trump says: "I don't know. I don't know. Not particularly. I don't know."

What's going on here? A. SCOTT BOLDEN, FORMER D.C. DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: Well, I think it's a lot of diplomacy, but Donald Trump trying to figure out what his place is and what his place isn't.

The reason he canceled the meeting with Putin -- he may say hello to him -- is because he didn't want the press and he didn't want the scrutiny on whether his business interests in Russia during the campaign and perhaps even now, he doesn't want to be asked about that because he doesn't know what -- he knows what Cohen said.

But he certainly doesn't know -- or he knows what he said. And if those are inconsistent with one another, there would be more questions about his relationship with Putin now.

And is his business interests driving what we're doing as a country in Russia or is his political interest for America driving it? And right now it's unclear.

TAPPER: And, Jackie, the president says that he didn't meet with Putin or he canceled the meeting with Putin. Who knows if he's going to actually hold that meeting with him.

Because -- as a protest for Russian aggression against Ukraine. But Sarah Sanders released a statement this morning attacking the Mueller probe and saying -- quote -- "The Russian witch-hunt hoax, which is hopefully now nearing an end, is doing very well. Unfortunately, it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia."

OK, first of all, that sounds like it was completely dictated by President Trump.


TAPPER: It doesn't make any sense.


BOLDEN: He just didn't sign his name to it.

TAPPER: In his syntax.

But, second of all, why would the Mueller probe be more upsetting and more undermining of the relationship than the fact that Russia attacked the United States and interfered or attempted to in the U.S. election? That doesn't seem to make sense.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Because it's affects the president directly, I think is the answer to that question.

But, look, the reason why President Trump is so distracted is because there are very few things in the scenario where he can have control. The Mueller probe. The relationship with Saudi Arabia, right now, he's facing a revolt in the Senate over not being able to brief them.

Even with Russia, he was -- his hand was forced on Russia sanctions because the Congress rebelled against him. He really is sort of tailspinning right now because he is someone who really needs to be holding the reins. And he is not.


TAPPER: And I want to bring the image that Seung Min talked about a second ago, which is really just the most jarring image.

It's Russian President Vladimir Putin approaching the crown prince and they slap each other five like NBA All-Star players in the locker room, so delighted with each other.

And just -- just if we show it again -- they know that they are on camera before the world and they are strutting. They are excited about meeting each other. And I think a lot of people see that and are horrified.

KIM: Exactly.

And again, like, it's just -- that smile especially because we had a better view of Putin there, and just that giant smile.


CARPENTER: And, again, it's just that reminder for us especially and perhaps to the rest of the world that these are two leaders that our president has -- hasn't been able to stand up to these.


KIM: They're both strongmen who the president has embraced around the world.

TAPPER: And murderers.


BOLDEN: Right. And they're vicious. And they suppress the press in their countries.

But I think it was more than this -- that, rather. And that is that they know they're on camera, which is what you said. So they're struggling, right? But they're sending messages to the U.S. and others that, at these critical times, despite how bad we are as autocratic leaders or as dictators, if you will, that, Saudi Arabia, we got other friends than just the U.S.

Mr. Trump, we got other friends. And as a matter of fact, we're building a better friendship now because we're strutting our stuff in front of the world stage.

TAPPER: And take a look take a look at what Democratic Senator Bob Menendez -- I think he's the chairman -- or -- I'm sorry -- the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He put up that video and he wrote: "That feeling when you own the president of the United States and can do whatever you want."

That's what he wrote. CARPENTER: Listen, that's harsh, but it's just hard to watch, because it's my view. I have a lot of problems with how President Trump acts. But when he goes abroad to conference like that, he is our president.

I don't want to see our president take a backseat to thugs backslapping each other and watching our leaders flail and let it happen. That is the whole point of going to summits like this. And if he can't express American interests on that stage -- there's a lot of qualms, because we take a lot of stuff here.

But those are our problems in are family. Those are domestic problems. When the U.S. president goes there, he needs to tell those people to stop and to get in line.

TAPPER: And when Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, met with President Trump, he said -- quote -- "I would like to congratulate you on your historic victory in the midterm elections in the United States."

Obviously, whether or not President Trump had any sort of historic victory in the midterm elections, where he lost the House of Representatives, is another -- is a question.

But clearly foreign leaders have learned...

KUCINICH: Flattery. All that matters is flattery. All the matters is what you say, not necessarily what you do, because then can do what you want.

And you have seen this over and over again with foreign leaders. I mean, you saw it was Saudi Arabia, frankly, recently.

TAPPER: Flattery will get you everywhere.

Everyone, stick around.

Save the penthouse for Putin -- new details of what Robert Mueller is uncovering about Trump business deals, as he now looks at the president's children and leaps right over the president's red line.

Then, that escalated quickly. Trump Cabinet Secretary Ryan Zinke getting really personal in a public attack on a congressman who just told him to resign.

Stay with us.


[16:17:42] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

Sticking with our politics lead, the Mueller investigation ramping up and seemingly getting closer and closer to President Trump and his inner circle. Former Trump fixer, Michael Cohen, testifying that then candidate Trump, despite claims to the contrary, was pursuing plans for a Trump Tower Moscow well through June 2016. Sources telling CNN that Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump both had knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow plans and according to Yahoo News, Mueller has asked questions about their roles in the project.

CNN has also confirmed the "BuzzFeed" scoop that there was talk of gifting Russian President Vladimir Putin with the $50 million penthouse apartment in the proposed luxury building.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now.

Sara, the president may be thousands of miles from home but the Mueller probe is not far from his mind or his Twitter fingers.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Jake, and it gives you a sense of how this latest developments about this Moscow project could be more worrisome to President Trump, because they could drag the Trump kids further into the Russia probe.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have a great relationship with Putin and Russia.

MURRAY (voice-over): The glitzy Trump Tower Moscow could have featured a penthouse for Vladimir Putin and an Ivanka Trump branded spa. Instead, the failed deal is creating another headache for President Trump, ensnaring his children in the Russia probe and prompting his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to add another guilty plea, this time for lying to Congress to his roster of offenses.

After denying throughout 2016 and 2017 that he had potential business interest in Russia --

TRUMP: I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away.

MURRAY: Now Trump is acknowledging and downplaying the Moscow Project, tweeting Friday that he lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn't do the project. Witch hunt.

The project never came to fruition. But special counsel Robert Mueller's interest in the family business could put the Trump kids under additional scrutiny. As part of his plea deal, Cohen said he briefed Trump family members about the Moscow project, although the plea deal doesn't state which family members. When Donald Trump Jr. testified before the Judiciary Committee, he told them he was peripherally aware of the deal.

[16:20:02] Among the project's potentially bells and whistles, an Ivanka Trump spa, according to the documents provided to CNN. If the Ivanka branded spa had moved forward, she would have been given sole and absolute discretion to approve the facility plan. So far, Ivanka has not testified before congressional committees. Another potential selling point for the Moscow project, a free penthouse for Putin valued at $50 million. Felix Sater, who worked on the project with Cohen, said it was an idea considered as a marketing ploy for the Moscow project. Even though Trump said he had no active Russian business interests

during the campaign, now he says it only made sense to keep potential deals like the Moscow project in the works, a seeming contradiction to some of his earlier claims.

TRUMP: I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn't have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities?

I built an unbelievable company. But if you look there, you'll see there's nothing in Russia.


MURRAY: Now, of course, it's not illegal for Donald Trump to mislead the American people. The big question, though, is whether in his written answers to special counsel Robert Mueller, those line up with the latest we know now about this Moscow project and how long discussions went on about it, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Back with my experts. Just to underline this, the president said in January 2017, no deals that could happen in Moscow because we stayed away. Not true.


TAPPER: They didn't stay away.

KUCINICH: Definitely not true.

TAPPER: That's a lie.

KUCINICH: Yes, that is a lie. But Sara is right. It's not a lie to lie to --

TAPPER: It's not illegal.

KUCINICH: It's not illegal to lie to the American people. That said, we don't know what he said to Mueller. We don't know -- Giuliani said something to the effect that his written answers match up with Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen is a liar. Who is telling the truth here?

Maybe we'll see that report some day and that will make it all clear to us.

TAPPER: Some potential exposure for Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, it seems, based on the fact they were part of the briefings that Michael Cohen says he gave.

A. SCOTT BOLDEN, FORMER DC DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: They've got to be interviewed. As a former prosecutor, prosecutor's love this type of stuff. Not just because it's -- there may be an inconsistency with what Trump wrote and what Michael Cohen pled to, but this crux -- this intersection of business and political interests and whose interest Donald Trump is representing I think I'm more scared or he -- Trump should be more scared of what other deals are in the pipeline. Because if he lied about this while he was campaigning and still cuddling or coddling Putin, then whose interest is he representing? Are there other business deals?

And remember this part. We don't know what Mueller knows. Mueller shows what he wants you to see, and at the right time he drops other indictments or charges. And if I was Donald Trump right now and I know he's a subject that he knows a subject and possible target of this investigation right now, the walls are closing in, or at least the pyramid prosecution, they're up to here right now with the top being Donald Trump. They're on their way.

TAPPER: And what's also interesting, in march 2016, in the midst of this effort to try to build Trump Tower Moscow, Trump as a candidate makes the case for easing sanctions against Russia for the annexation of Crimea, telling the "New York Times" that nobody cared, other than the U.S., and that the U.S. was the least affected because we were so far away.

So Trump is developing a foreign policy framework towards Russia while at the same time he's actively pursuing business interests there that Vladimir Putin can make or break. Now that might be legal, but, god, that stinks.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, here's the whole big question. We are now learning that Donald Trump had extensive business talks with Russia before he was a candidate and as a candidate. So big question. Was there a deal to accept election help from Russia in exchange for policy? Meaning in terms of sanctions, withdrawing from NATO, modifying the GOP platform.

There's three big buckets of investigations going on that all come together, because all these people report to Donald Trump. There is the business deals, which Michael Cohen is singing like a bird about and gets to the Trump family. There is the WikiLeaks hack, which Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi were involved it. And then there's the policy issues which Manafort who is an insider and lobbyist, and Michael Flynn, who will be sentenced next month were involved in.

So, we have these separate things going on right now. But it all gets back to Trump, because Trump is the only person who ties it together.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And what I find interesting, too, what else is going to come down the Mueller pipeline in terms of lying to Congress? We know a lot of people have talked to Congress during the respective committee's investigations, including Don Jr. himself.

And I found it remarkable what Richard Burr, the Senate Intelligence Committee said earlier today. He said, if you lie to us, we're going to come after you, which is a pretty stark statement from the chairman. And he says the committee has already made a lot of referrals to the special counsel, to DOJ, that they are constantly reviewing the testimony that the committee has taken to see whether it matches up with what they have. So, potentially, we'll see more --

[16:25:00] CARPENTER: It is that referral that led to the Michael Cohen plea this week about lying to congress.

KIM: Right.

TAPPER: And Adam Schiff, who's almost certainly going to be the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he said they're going to reopen the investigation, which the Republicans on the committee have said that.

BOLDEN: And they should.

TAPPER: And also share, just as Richard Burr, the Republican in the Senate says he's going to do or has been doing and share the transcripts to see if there are others who lied.

BOLDEN: Yes, there are certainly parallel tracks to this and they're coming from a lot of different directions. But remember one thing, the business interests of Donald Trump are still in play. Remember, he didn't put his business interests in a blind trust. He still owns those companies. He's delegated them to his sons and what have you.

But those companies -- his companies are doing business all around the world. We can't forget about that, and I think Mueller is focusing on that as a pathway to get whether you lie or not, because Mueller doesn't like liars. But whether you get to it through business interests or whether you get to it through -- whether he's represented his national interests, there's going to be a day of reckoning, if you will. And that day of reckoning is going to come through the Mueller investigation.

TAPPER: And, Amanda, you wrote a whole book about how much President Trump lies.



TAPPER: Gaslighting.


TAPPER: And I want to just remind people what Michael Cohen says is that they were trying to make a deal for Trump Tower Moscow and that deal lasted way until June 2016. Take a listen to some of the things that President Trump has told voters.


TRUMP: I don't deal there, I have no businesses there, I have no loans from Russia.

I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we've stayed away.


CARPENTER: Here's where I think the big gas light about this comes into play. A lot of the appeal of Donald Trump through the campaign for Republicans was that he's his own business guy. He doesn't need to get donations from anybody, because he can just run for president. No strings attached.

And now we see the whole time he was advancing his own personal interests at the expense of the whole entire Republican Party.

KUCINICH: And he has different strings. They're still strings.

TAPPER: And Vladimir Putin at the entire time could have explained to American voters how President Trump -- candidate Trump was lying.

Everyone, stick around.

A powerful and massive earthquake hitting Anchorage, Alaska. It's pummeling the region with a series of strong aftershocks. All of this as people begin to see just how bad the damage is.

Stay with us.