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Trump Unleashes on Probe as Legal Perils Mounts; James Comey Faces Off with Republicans; Poll Shows Iowa Voters Would Still Vote for President Trump; New Report on Russia Election Interference. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 17, 2018 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:02] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, Monday morning. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow, hope you had a nice weekend. We're glad you're with us.

Just a few moments ago we saw James Comey arriving back on Capitol Hill. The former FBI chief is in for his second round of closed-door testimony in 10 days just before House Republicans give up their majority.

Over the weekend, Comey had a very public response to a fresh attack from the president on those FBI searches that helped send his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to prison. The president falsely called those searches break-ins. Blamed them for supposedly turning Michael Cohen into a, quote, "rat." Of course, there was a warrant for the feds to do that.

SCIUTTO: Tomorrow, the president's first National Security adviser finds out whether he will go to prison for lying to the FBI as he pled guilty to. And the woes of Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen and several other former aides or allies have led the president's team to a decision. No interviews with Robert Mueller. No how, no way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: Yes. Good luck. Good luck, after what they did to Flynn, the way they trapped him into perjury, and no sentence for him? 14 days for Papadopoulos. I did better on traffic violations than they did with Papadopoulos.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: So when you say good luck, you're saying no --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: No interview.

GIULIANI: They're a joke. Over my dead body.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Of course the president had promised multiple times to sit down for an interview. That brings us to CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House.

Is he going to stick with it this time and never sit down with the special counsel?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that remains to be seen, Jim. It's been interesting this weekend watching the White House, the president's aides and the president himself really go on an offensive against Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But also against President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, who last week -- who pled guilty in recent weeks to charges that directly implicated the president.

The president is revisiting a key issue here, which was that not -- that raid on Michael Cohen's office earlier this year that produced so much of what we have seen come out of the court documents. In his tweet this weekend, the president said Michael Cohen became a rat only after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable and unheard of. He says the witch hunt was illegally started and he accused the FBI of breaking into an attorney's office and asked why they didn't do the same with the DNC.

But the president is wrong about several facts here, including the first, which is that, you know, the raid on Michael Cohen's office was the execution of a lawful warrant. There was nothing illegal about it. And also that the probe into Russian interference in the election was also clearly not illegally started. But what it really shows you is some unease here from the president with where this is all going.

You also saw his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, over the weekend, as you heard in that previous clip, discussing this investigation. But also saying that the president's misstatements were -- implying that the president's misstatements were not as serious as they seem. Listen to what he says about why the president's misstatements don't measure up to what he is saying are Michael Cohen's misstatements in the past about this investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: Pathetic. The man is pathetic. This man, you will never know what the truth is. He lies to fit the situation he's in. He will say whatever he has to say. He's changed his story four or five times.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABS NEWS HOST: So has the president.

GIULIANI: The president is not under oath, and the president is trying to the best he can to remember what happened back at a time when he was the busiest man in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: So that is a new explanation here we're hearing from the president's lawyer, that he's not under oath and therefore it doesn't matter as much. We also heard from Giuliani this weekend that in his view collusion is not a crime. So it seems very much that the president's lawyers are trying to really shift the goalposts here as we are seeing more and more about the kind of legal jeopardy that he could be facing, both from the Michael Cohen case and all these other cases that are breaking out all over the political sphere. Federal cases, state cases.

The president is clearly under a lot of legal pressure right now. And --

HARLOW: Yes.

PHILLIP: And you can see from Giuliani's comments on television over the weekend.

HARLOW: You can. An investigation of one sort or another touching nearly every aspect of Trump world. We'll get into that in a moment.

Abby, thank you very much.

Let's jump over to Capitol Hill. The former FBI Director James Comey is there for day two of his testimony. A few weeks ago, he was in there for hours and hours. Today, he's back in front of the Republicans in two committees to answer some more questions. What do you expect?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Republicans and Democrats sitting down with James Comey right now after he sat down for six hours about a week and a half ago as part of this Republican-led investigation into what the GOP believes was mishandling of the FBI probe into the Clinton e-mail matter, as well as the Russia investigation.

Republicans entering this today believe that James Comey has not been fully truthful with the committee.

[10:05:06] They believe that he didn't disclose properly his knowledge about the role that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee had in funding that opposition research, the research that eventually led to part of the Steele dossier, and they want to press him further on that. Mark Meadows, just moments ago, told me this when I asked him if he believes Comey misled the committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Did he mislead the committee in your view?

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, I'm going to give him a chance to clarify that. I can tell you that when you look at his public statements and also the testimony that he's given, those don't seem to reconcile. So we're going to give him a chance to hopefully clarify those remarks, and help us better understand what he knew, when he knew, and at what point it became a factor in their decisions.

RAJU: Over the weekend --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now Democrats believe that the Republicans are essentially grasping at straws, don't believe they had a lot of success in this investigation as a whole as well as that first round of questions. So we'll see if they have any luck going forward today. We do expect Comey probably to address the mikes later this afternoon. We'll see if he has any light to shed on what happened last time this time, because last time, he criticized Republicans for focusing again on the Clinton e-mail investigation.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

RAJU: Poppy and Jim.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju, I know you'll be watching it. Thanks very much.

Joining us now, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and former FBI Supervisory Special Agent, Josh Campbell, and CNN Legal Analyst and former Federal Prosecutor, Renato Mariotti.

Josh, if I could begin with you, you know, it's hard to keep track of all the revelations in the last week.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: But let's try to do that. In just the last week, we've learned that the discussions between Russians tied to the Kremlin and the Trump campaign about this Trump Tower project didn't end in January. Michael Cohen said it went to June. Now Rudy Giuliani said it went as far as November.

I asked Director Clapper, former director of National Intelligence, whether Russia does this kind of thing to influence folks in the U.S., including a presidential candidate. I want to play you Jim Clapper's answer and get your reaction. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Any way that the Russians can ingratiate themselves, seek access, seek leverage, seek influence, they'll do it. And of course, you know, the way for this particular asset, I'll use the term advisedly in air quotes, is, you know, through ego and financial inducement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Clapper was referring there to then-candidate Trump, I mean, not accusing him of being a knowing asset, but that Russia was treating him as an asset. Do you agree with that assessment?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I agree wholeheartedly with Director Clapper. And I think it shows this multi-prong wave of effort from the Russians when you look back to, you know, beginning 2014, '15, and into 2016. There was obviously the cyber aspect, we saw the hacking, we saw the intrusions. That was an effort to influence the election. And they also took it a step further and trying to determine, OK, who was in the best interest of Russia to sit inside the White House? And they determined it was Donald Trump and not Hillary Clinton. HARLOW: And now we know from these two separate reports going to the

Senate Intel Committee today that those efforts not only continued but stepped up in the six months after the election.

Renato, let me get your take on the significance or maybe insignificance in your view of Rudy Giuliani saying in this interview yesterday with George Stephanopoulos that the conversation between Michael Cohen and the president about a potential Trump Tower in Moscow may have extended as far as or into November 2016, the election, of course, was then. Our Dana Bash got on the phone with Giuliani, tried to clarify those statements, and he said look, essentially, yes, the conversations continued between the president and Cohen.

But he doesn't remember exactly how long, so you know, it could have been into November. Legally, how concerning should that be for team Trump?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look. It's certainly yet another instance in which the president made a false statement, right? He has indicated in the past that the discussions -- you know, weren't ongoing during the election. He said many times during the election that Russia didn't have business dealings with him, that he had no involvement with Russia.

HARLOW: Right.

MARIOTTI: So that would certainly be used against him in any legal proceeding. But in and of itself, having business deals with Russia isn't a crime. The issue might be if, for example, they were giving that penthouse to Vladimir Putin, there might be a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act issue there. But that's really the devil in the details and it doesn't necessarily have to do with the timing.

I will say that one issue from a counter intelligence perspective and this is something I imagine Josh could weigh in on as well, is that if the president was lying to the public about his dealings with Russia, potentially Russians could blackmail him if they knew -- obviously, they knew about the discussions and the American people did not.

SCIUTTO: Well, that was Sally Yates' concern, was it not, when she alerted the White House about Michael Flynn.

HARLOW: Yes.

[10:10:04] SCIUTTO: Josh Campbell, that he had lied about contacts post-election, during the transition, between him and the Russian ambassador, Michael Flynn talking about sanctions. So that lying is a potential form of pressure.

CAMPBELL: It is, and that was the -- if you think about what the FBI was doing at that time, the FBI was trying to protect American national security from foreign threats, from these counterintelligence threats, and they noticed that there were different avenues here that the Russians potentially had vectors into this campaign. As we mentioned the Trump Tower meetings and the evolving narrative

there. You had Michael Flynn, Sally Yates, you know, her hair was on fire, going to the White House saying look, this is a big deal.

HARLOW: Yes.

CAMPBELL: This is a big issue.

HARLOW: Right.

CAMPBELL: The problem is that -- and Renato hit on this, it's the lies. It's the shifting, evolving narrative where suddenly, you know, Sarah Sanders says, well, the president wasn't involved in dictating the statement. His lawyers now say he is. I was thinking, you know, over the weekend, just kind of looking back on all the shifting narrative, you remember Michael Caputo, the president's -- one of the campaign people who, you know, suddenly remembered after speaking to the House of Representatives that he and Roger Stone had set up this meeting with this mysterious Russian down in Florida.

I mean, it's this constant shifting new pieces of information that come to light. If you're sitting in Moscow and you know what's going on, these are all potential areas of blackmail if the people on the other end continue to lie about their interaction.

HARLOW: And Renato, big picture, there are so many investigations going on now. As I mentioned earlier, really touching every aspect of Trump world, Trump Organization under investigation, Trump Inaugural Committee, Trump campaign, Trump transition, Trump administration, Trump Foundation.

Of all of those, which one poses this most significant potential legal peril for the president directly?

MARIOTTI: If I represented the president, I would be the most concerned about the Southern District of New York investigation because they are really just a step away from the president. Here, they have already indicted Michael Cohen. They're building a case on other members of the Trump Organization. There's an individual labeled "Executive Two" in the Cohen charges who appears to be a very high-ranking member of the Trump Organization, perhaps a Trump family member, that would be who they're building a case against.

They've already got the cooperation of Allen Weisselberg, the CFO, people at American Media. So I would be very concerned because they look like they are ready to strike. Some of this other stuff is not in as far along of a stage.

HARLOW: Right. And that's the SDNY looking into the Trump Org, but also we know the inaugural committee, and we know part of the reason they look into the inaugural committee is from some of the documents from the Cohen raid. The president got mad about that this weekend.

SCIUTTO: Right. And it's a good point because someone is going to jail for that crime, right, already. Campaign finance. So the SDNY has found evidence of a crime. HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Not a putative crime, not a theoretical one. Someone is already going to jail.

Josh, Renato, thanks very much.

Think it's too early to talk 2020? Think again. A new poll of Iowa Republicans, crucial first state, already giving President Trump the edge.

Plus, a new report suggests that some of the country's largest social media giants did the bare minimum to help the Russia investigation. Why were they holding back and what were they holding back?

HARLOW: And an unprecedented act of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers today on the verge of passing comprehensive criminal justice reform. This matters, folks. We'll explain it ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:17:40] HARLOW: He's facing multiple investigations, Cabinet departures, now trying again to tackle healthcare and a budget deal, this time with a divided Congress.

SCIUTTO: But a new poll of Iowa GOP voters, they're going to get the first voice in 2020, shows us that if they had a chance to vote today on a second term for President Trump, they would vote yes. About two- thirds saying they would, 19 percent consider someone else, 10 percent definitely vote for someone else.

CNN Senior Political Analyst, David Gergen, former adviser to just Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

David, thanks for joining us as always.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: These numbers are interesting because I don't want to underestimate. This is 67 percent of Iowa Republicans, that's two- thirds, that's a big number, still want to vote for Trump enthusiastically, but it struck me as interesting because when you look at approval rating for President Trump nationally among Republicans, it's been in the 80s.

Should the president be concerned that it's down in the 60s in Iowa for Republicans? Or is there not much in that?

GERGEN: No, I think there's been some erosion. It hasn't yet been deep erosion, but it's enough that it should send up warning flags to the White House. Particularly because we're still in the front edges of what appears to be a big, big storm that's coming. And he may be beaten up in all sorts of ways in these reports that are going to be issued not only by Mueller and others but now by the House over time. So this is a time of some peril for the president. And he's -- you know, he's trying to rearrange his forces so he can defend himself. HARLOW: It is interesting, too, in polling that the Iowa Republicans

do, you know, even though he has 81 percent approval rating, as Jim mentioned, it's about 60-something that would vote for him, they welcome other contenders. They welcome other Republican contenders.

One thing that I found so striking, David Gergen, from this read in this polling in Iowa, key state, is how much Democrats do not want to hear from Hillary Clinton. 72 percent of Democrats think she would detract more than she would add to the race. Why?

GERGEN: Well, the whole country has Hillary fatigue. I actually think that both Clintons are being treated -- they're going through a bad patch in terms of their public reputation. Presidential reputations go in cycles. You know, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., great historian, pointed that out some years ago.

[10:20:03] They're in a down part of that cycle now. I think they will come back. But in order to do that, they have to stay out of politics, per se, they have to talk about what's good for the country and solving problems. You know, Hillary had a very high approval rating when she was at the State Department. It was when she stepped into the political arena that her numbers dropped.

HARLOW: Right.

GERGEN: You know, rapidly. And I think she has to be seen as a nonpolitical sort of wise woman of her generation.

SCIUTTO: And remember when George W. Bush left office, his approval ratings nationally were very low, including among Republicans.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: And since then, he's had something of a resurgence based in part on his activity as a former president.

GERGEN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about this because it is striking. And it is part of a long-term effort by this president to undermine confidence in law enforcement. Justice Department, FBI. His comment this weekend calling Michael Cohen a rat, set that aside for a little bit, kind of Hollywood language there, but going after the FBI, calling a warrant, a search with a warrant of a suspect under investigation, calling that a break-in.

What is the damage that that does, as it continues coming from the president's mouth?

GERGEN: Look, I think two of the most dangerous things that we're seeing with this president is the continuous attack on law enforcement, when he doesn't agree with it. Undermining the integrity of it, undermining the reputation for fairness, which is so essential to a rule of law. Once you have, you know, law by cronyism or law -- you know, put your rivals in jail or that sort of thing, the respect for the rule of law crumbles and it's really hard to run a country. But the second thing is going after the press in much the same way.

The fake news, those kind of arguments. The press is -- you know, we have our faults, there's no question about that. But he's been driving down the ratings. And what's really interesting, Jim, and you know this from your international experience, is that, you know, country after country that had moved in more authoritarian directions, the two most striking things is the leadership attacks the press and they attack law enforcement.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: There you go.

SCIUTTO: Recall this -- I mean, the president said it in so many words to Leslie Stall after the election in that first interview, saying he attacks the press so that when the press does negative stories, folks won't believe them. It was --

GERGEN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: In plain language there.

GERGEN: Absolutely right. Yes.

SCIUTTO: David Gergen --

GERGEN: But it is --

SCIUTTO: Please. Go ahead.

GERGEN: The only thing I was going to say is, this may continue beyond Trump. We don't know. That's one of the big questions. If it erodes too deeply, it's going to continue beyond.

HARLOW: Gosh. All right. David, thanks.

SCIUTTO: A new study set to give a whole lot more information on just how far Russia went to interfere in the U.S. election and since the election crucially and tell us how little information that social media giants shared with investigators.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:27:33] SCIUTTO: Happening today, the Senate Intelligence Committee is set to release two reports that will detail the Russian social media campaign to sow discord in the 2016 election and after. One of the reports first obtained by the "Washington Post" shows that the Russian government linked Internet Research Agency was active on every social media platform and sought to help candidate Trump win.

The other report to be released says that social media giants such Facebook, Twitter, and Google held back important data from the Senate during its probe into Russian meddling, and that there are likely even more Russian accounts that the companies have yet to identify.

Joining me now, Renee DiResta, she's director of research for New Knowledge. That is the firm that put together that report on the participation of social media companies.

Rene, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

RENEE DIRESTA, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, NEW KNOWLEDGE: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So first question, just so folks at home understand because this is a process here to get a sense of how broad Russian influence was, and in effect investigators need the help of the social media companies to identify some of these bad actors. What did Facebook, Twitter and Google not share or not share quickly enough so folks at home understand?

DIRESTA: Sure, so what they provided was a collection of content that they attributed to the Internet Research Agency. So for Facebook, that looked like posts and memes. And for Instagram, the images. For Google, it provided ads and YouTube content. Each of them provided something very different. So with Twitter, we actually had probably the most complete picture. They had metadata, which was information about the account.

So using that metadata, we can see that Russian trolls registered Twitter handles that pretended to be American, even having American news property names like Baltimore News, to Russian IP addresses with Russian device IDs. So you could see using that metadata, that information that's not typically public, how the companies identified what accounts were Russian and what weren't.

With some of the social platforms like Facebook and Instagram, we had information about the engagement, so we could see how many people liked it or shared it or reacted to it. But what we couldn't see was -- we could see that there were thousands of comments, four million, I think, comments across the entire data set. We couldn't see anything that people were saying.

So when we get at what impact did this have, which is the question that people really wanted answer to, that's where we still have some gaps.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We want to know how far -- how many people reacted, how far the influence went. Did the companies give you any explanation when they weren't supplying what would seem to be fairly simple information?

DIRESTA: Well, the reason I think that they didn't supply it was probably user privacy. If you're sharing comment data, you'd have to anonymize it.