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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Rudy Giuliani Changes Story Again on Trump-Russia Dealings. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired December 19, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The politics lead now.
Paging Rudy Giuliani. The president's lawyer changing his story today on negotiations for that Trump Tower in Moscow, you know, the one that Donald Trump lied to voters about, the one that special counsel Robert Mueller claimed was potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Giuliani downplayed the project to CNN's Dana Bash on Sunday, saying -- quote -- "It was a real estate project. There was a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it."
That turns out not to be true.
CNN's Chris Cuomo obtained the letter of intent, and not only is it signed, it is signed by Donald Trump himself.
Let's bring in CNN's Jessica Schneider.
And, Jessica, the president repeatedly denied having any dealings with Russia during the campaign and after budget elected. Is there is nothing improper about this deal, about the Trump Tower Moscow, why do the president and his associates keep lying about it?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly the big question, Jake. Why the changing stories about Russia if there is nothing to hide?
And why does Rudy Giuliani keep changing his version of events? After this signed letter of intent from the president was revealed last night, Giuliani is now backtracking on his statement where he said it wasn't signed to now saying it's no big deal.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The lengthy letter of intent is dated October 28, 2015, four months after Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency. It bears Trump's signature script, and while the letter was nonbinding, it detailed how any eventual Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow would have handed the Trump Organization a $4 million up- front fee, a percentage of the sales, and control over marketing and design.
The deal also included an opportunity to name the hotel spa after Trump's daughter Ivanka. But a few days ago, Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, directly contradicted what is now in black and white, telling CNN: "It was a real estate project. There was a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it."
Today, Giuliani admitted to "The New York Daily News" that it was signed, but said the letter was B.S. because it didn't result in a deal, adding: "That was the end of it. It means nothing, but an expression of interest that means very little unless it goes to a contract, and it never did."
But the discrepancies are just another example of the president's changing stories when it comes to his business dealings with Russia. He distanced himself from any deals throughout the campaign and early days of his administration.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Putin. I have never spoken to him. I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals in Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we have stayed away.
SCHNEIDER: But the president's former personal lawyer and now convicted felon, Michael Cohen, revealed to special counsel Robert Mueller that conversations about the Trump Tower Moscow project continued until at least June 2016, after Trump secured the Republican nomination.
And, Sunday, Giuliani said, in Trump's answers to Mueller's questions, the president admitted talks went all the way through the election.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Did Donald Trump know that Michael Cohen was pursuing the Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to November of -- covered all the way up to November 2016, said he had conversations with him about it. The president didn't hide this.
SCHNEIDER: Mueller's team may be looking into how the prospects of a Moscow deal could have played into Russia's interference in the election.
Meanwhile, this document now giving a small glimpse into a likely Mueller-related mystery that could mean more trouble for Trump. The ruling from the D.C. federal appeals court means an unnamed company owned by an unknown foreign country must comply with the grand jury subpoena to hand over information related to a criminal probe.
SCHNEIDER: And this mystery company could be anything, from a sovereign-owned bank to a state-backed technology or information company.
And, Jake, Mueller's team, they have targeted foreign companies before. Of course, it was in February when the special counsel indicted three Russian companies for that elaborate social media scheme that was meant to influence voters leading up to the 2016 election -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.
I want to bring in Phil Mudd, who has worked for the CIA and the FBI.
Phil, let's start with this mystery case that Mueller is working on. The subpoena is for an unnamed company owned by a foreign country. The subpoena wants the company to turn over information about its commercial activity. When appeals court judges weighed in, they described the actions that took place outside the U.S., but directly affecting the U.S.
And the subpoena carries possible fines for each day the company does not comply.
First of all, why would this be secret? I don't understand. I mean, and, second of all, as somebody who knows these kinds of investigations, what are we talking about here? It's a mystery to a layman like myself.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I mean, the secret part of it could be the information that the government acquired that led them to make this request. How did they know to even make the request to a foreign company? How did they identify that company?
I think, in terms of identifying who it is and why you might have made the request, look, you can lay some bets in Vegas. Maybe it was Ukraine and maybe it was Turkish.
I'm betting Russian, for one simple reason. If you look at the background for a lot of the investigations so far, money. Cohen background, Stormy Daniels, that's money. Manafort, that's money. Rick Gates, that's money.
I'm looking at who paid for the Facebook ads, for example, during the campaign. Did those individuals -- and we know some of those because of the Mueller indictments are Russian -- did those individuals have other connections, Russian companies, with American individuals?
Roger Stone. I'm looking at this saying somebody wants to follow the money. That money starts overseas, I suspect in Russia. So, therefore, because everybody's lying, I want to see the documents.
TAPPER: Will we ultimately find out what this company is, who they are, what's going on here?
MUDD: We're going to find out who the company is. Whether we find out what they were doing, whether the government actually acquires documents is a different story.
That said, let me give you a behind-the-scenes snapshot. Let's say that I'm right. Let's say one of the questions is, what were the Russians doing to influence people? We have said all along 80, 90 percent of the story is invisible to us. Let's look at Roger Stone. We haven't heard about him in months, maybe weeks.
The special counsel knows who he called. That's phone records. Who he e-mailed. They know travel records, not only immigration records, how his passport was used. They could have talked to the Uruguayan Embassy in the U.K. about who was visiting there. Did Stone or any of his affiliates visit there?
I suspect that in terms of money, in terms of relationship with WikiLeaks, in terms of WikiLeaks, whether WikiLeaks was ever given data or money, the special counsel already knows this.
TAPPER: Let's turn to another big mystery. You were talking about money, and the importance of money in all of this.
Contradicting statements by Rudy Giuliani about the Trump family's negotiations for this Trump Tower Moscow, as this letter of intent signed by Donald Trump, then a private citizen, what's the relevance of this part of the story?
MUDD: There's two pieces. Let's go high and let's go low.
The high piece is pretty straightforward, understanding somebody's intent. Despite whatever was said on the campaign trail and afterwards, did you have any intent in the administration or in the campaign, if you're the president or below, to have a conversation with Russia? The president said no.
Clearly, the answer is, yes, I did.
MUDD: Let's go low.
The president, as we know recently, has offered written responses to the special counsel. Let me take a guess. One of those questions was, can you characterize your interactions, especially business or financial interactions, with the Russians over a period of time, 2014, '15, '16?
If what the president said -- I had no interactions -- differs from what we're finding in this documentation, actually, I have a written letter of intent, that's a problem.
TAPPER: The intent letter is dated October 28, 2015. That's after he launched his presidential bid.
Is the idea, do you think, that there is a quid -- just a number of different possible quid pro quos, that Mueller is trying to figure out what is actually relevant to the help that Russia provided the campaign and what might not be relevant?
I mean, we all know Donald Trump likes to make money. That doesn't necessarily mean he was trying to make money, and that had anything to do with the Russians helping him. MUDD: Yes.
Sure. I think -- let me make this three-dimensional. You got a timeline, people, Flynn Manafort, the president, the president's family. You have got financial transactions at that time. Are people receiving money for services rendered, whether it's from the Turks, the Ukrainians, or Russians?
And also what's happening on the campaign? What is the president, for example, saying about Russia policy? If I'm looking at this, I'm trying to put together a timeline of what everybody's saying and what the data says, and whether we're getting information now that suggests that they're aligned.
TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, thank you so much.
If you thought it had gone the way of the dodo bird, you wouldn't be alone, Congress doing the unimaginable, getting something done in a bipartisan way.
Stay with us.
[16:45:38] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our "POLITICS LEAD" today, something we do not see every day in off -- in Washington. But perhaps, we should see it more often. At the White House, and Democratic Senators and Republican Senators all working together on a tough issue for months, and successfully passing some of the most dramatic criminal justice reform in decades.
The bipartisan proposal was engineered by White House senior staffer Jared Kushner. It's now expected to easily pass the House of Representatives, and it will allow President Trump to sign one of the landmark accomplishments of the Trump administration.
Let's talk about this. One of the things that's very interesting is that CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports that the president's initial hesitation in this was that there could be a -- in his view, a Willie Horton situation. Somebody who benefits from this bill was released early, and then, commits a horrific crime.
And the truth is we should just acknowledge that anything could happen, really.
JENNICE FUENTES, FOUNDER, FUENTES STRATEGIES: I think that's the lesser of his worries right now. The President of the United States has bigger problems. But I think this is Bravo. Bravo for Congress and I worked at the building for 25 years and this kind of stuff has been missing for a long time.
The fact that you can have Chuck Grassley and the crews in the same bill as Democrats, and it's passed by like a substantially majority of the vote.
(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: 87 to 12.
FUENTES: Exactly. And you know, it's so needed. But it also shows you the politics of getting something like this done. If Jared Kushner had not been behind this, I think that they would have been hard to believe that when we're seen this great days. It's a great gift for all of us because we all pay the price of having people in jail longer and for reasons that they should not be there. And without the help they need to get out and be reincorporated into society, it's a huge day.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But one of the things that's interesting is that the way it was sold to the president was in terms of his legacy. And people went to the president and said, no, Willie Horton is not the poster boy for this bill, its Alice Johnson, who is a 63-year-old woman who had already served 21 years on a drug trafficking charge.
That's what Van Jones and Kim Kardashian did, essentially painted the picture for Trump. And that really is essential. He cares about the visual, he cares about the story, and this is something that will go to his legacy.
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: And I also think that in it, they sort of Nixon goes to China moment, I think in some ways it could have only been someone like Trump who has tried to carve out this brand, as this tough guy --
TAPPER: Tough on crime -- yes.
ANDERSON: Tough on crime, law and order kind of guy, that could be able to do this. I mean, it's not hard to imagine an alternate universe where Trump's not the president and he's on the outside sort of making the arguments about why this is dangerous, why we shouldn't be releasing people early.
So, I mean, kudos to Jared Kushner for getting the president there on this issue and getting something done.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And kudos to President Trump. I don't care.
TAPPER: What way -- what you just said?
BEGALA: Yes, no, I completely salute him for this. This is an important piece of legislation, he supported it, it would not have passed a Republican House and Republican Senate without him.
It's important that his son-in-law Jared Kushner weighed in and I'm all for thanking staff. But this is the president, and he deserves credit for this. I'm very proud of our colleague, Van Jones has been working on this for years.
CARPENTER: (INAUDIBLE) to Mike Lee, too, who cared it in the Senate. FUENTES: Yes.
CARPENTER: I think, he deserves one of (INAUDIBLE).
BEGALA: Mike Lee a Republican, Dick Durbin a Democrat.
BEGALA: But, honestly no guys, you know, I'm not his biggest fan. The president deserves credit for this, this should reflect well in his legacy.
TAPPER: So, speaking of bipartisanship for the outgoing Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan gave his farewell address today, and he lamented the lack of cooperation in politics today. Here's a little excerpt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We all struggle. We are all fighting some battle in our lives. So, why do we insist on fighting one another so bitterly? This kind of politics starts from a place of outrage, and then, seeks to tear us down from there.
So, key question, how do we get back to aspiration and inclusion? Where we start with humility and then we seek to build on that. I don't know the answer to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARPENTER: Yes, it's a nice message. I've been really disappointed to see all of the coverage, of not all of that. A lot of it focused on the fact that Paul Ryan did not accomplish his goals in terms of tackling entitlement spending.
If you worried about that issue, Paul Ryan is not your problem. The problem is that there's not enough Paul Ryan's. Look at the environment we're in. Responsible fiscal conservatism is not compatible with Trump's economic populism.
Paul Ryan tried. I wish -- you know, I have problems with this vote for tarp, raising the debt ceilings. But there weren't enough people helping him. And so people are trashing his leadership on this front.
I want them to look at the Senate. Look at the longest-serving Senate Republican leader in U.S. history. And judge up the trillions of dollars that have been tallied on Mitch McConnell's watch. He did not lift a finger to help Paul Ryan and he should be blamed much more than Paul Ryan.
[16:50:21] BEGALA: Well, we'll get to Mitch. Paul Ryan, when that I said nice things about President Trump, let me revert to form. Paul Ryan's when the Great frauds of congressional history.
TAPPER: Well, that's harsh.
BEGALA: Yes, he is. He comes -- looks are we saying here, he's been a complete enabler for Donald Trump. And now today, going out the door, he said we should have humility, we should get along. He has been --
CARPENTER: He don't even want to endorsement the primary. I mean, he went down to the binary twist stuff, but, you know --
BEGALA: Every day that Donald Trump has been president, Paul Ryan has carried his water and abetted everything that people have may don't like.
CARPENTER: Oh, I don't think he's one of (INAUDIBLE) President Trump.
BEGALA: But let's just say, let me give you a stat. On the day Paul Ryan walked in the doors of the House of Representatives, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton introduced a budget that had a $100 billion-plus surplus, surplus. I helped him write that budget, I know.
20 years later, Paul Ryan walks out the door, the deficit is $985 trillion, that's Paul Ryan's fault in the large measure.
TAPPER: $95 billion.
BEGALA: He's -- to -- $985 billion.
TAPPER: There it goes.
BEGALA: Just under a trillion a year.
BEGALA: That's because of Paul Ryan.
TAPPER: Do you have any thoughts what do you think his final legacy will be?
ANDERSON: I think the tax reform bill is going to be -- Well, I think one having a nearly impossible job during an impossible time. I mean, he didn't want to take the job, to begin with. I'm sure if he could have seen what the two-plus years coming his way, we're going to be like he probably really wouldn't have taken it.
I mean, he had the nearly impossible task of a president who had sort of shown up in this party but didn't really hold on to a lot of the same views that he did, had to keep this conference happy.
I think the fact that they were able to do tax reform something that a lot of Republicans had wanted to do for a long time is the one thing that he's going to hang his hat on. TAPPER: Very quickly, your thoughts. I know you already said that you think he's a good man but he failed by not bringing up immigration reform.
FUENTES: So much more that he could have done. And I think it's just a shame that he's a man who cared, but he didn't care enough to speak up to power, and to speak up to Trump, and correct him each and every time.
TAPPER: OK, coming up next. While you're watching Netflix, Netflix may be watching you. Thanks to Facebook. Stay with us.
[16:56:35] TAPPER: In our "TECH LEAD" today, those private Facebook messages you sent where you shared intimate details about your life with your old friend, well, Facebook let people from Netflix have access to them.
If you've ever shared your phone number or address on your page, Amazon might have the accessed that. And all those posts you scroll through every day, the updates from your relatives and long-lost friends. Well, who those friends are and what they're saying, Microsoft could have seen that.
A stunning investigation in the New York Times details just how Facebook shared your private information with more than 150 other companies. CNN's Tom Foreman joins me now.
Tom, is any of this criminal or when we all signed up for Facebook, did we just sign all of our rights away including the rights to our private messages?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that comes to a basic question here. Even if I can sign my rights away, can I sign away the rights of my friends?
FOREMAN: "For years, Facebook gave some of the world's largest technology companies more intrusive access to users' personal data than it has disclosed." That's the opening line for the New York Times explosive article, and the detail may be even more troubling if you use Facebook.
The Time says the social media giant made deals with more than 150 companies, under which among other things, Netflix and Spotify had the ability to read Facebook users private messages.
Amazon and a Microsoft search engine could access the names of your Facebook friends. And Yahoo could even look at your friend's post. All without your consent.
MARK ZUCKERBERG, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, FACEBOOK: Keeping people safe will always be more important than maximizing our profits. FOREMAN: It's another shot over the bow of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has been grilled by members of Congress who want to know shouldn't users have control of all their personal data?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: And specific ability to consent to the use of that information.
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I do generally agree with, with what you're saying.
FOREMAN: Privacy advocates have railed about the way Facebook allowed a political consulting firm to harvest loads of data. Again, without the knowledge of users.
ZUCKERBERG: This was a major breach of trust. And I'm really sorry that this happened.
FOREMAN: The response to the latest revelations, Congress must act promptly and powerfully next session with a strong privacy protection law.
"Opening someone else's mail is a federal crime. Why is Facebook allowed to let Netflix and Spotify open your private messages?" Netflix, says he'd "never asked for or accessed anyone's private messages, and several other companies have also denied any wrongdoing.
Furthermore, a Facebook executive says sharing all that info was OK because Facebook considered the partner's extensions of itself. But --
GABRIEL DANCE, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Despite the fact that they say these partnerships are fine and OK, they are also winding them all down.
FOREMAN: And now to be sure, none of these companies have said they've done anything wrong. CNN has not independently verified all The New York Times reporting. But Facebook has spent the whole year under pressure over this issue of personal data, and it's only getting worse.
Probably the best watchword has been offered for years by observers of social media. Don't think you're the customer, you are the product.
TAPPER: And indeed. Tom Foreman, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on the cable news network continues right now.