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Trump Evades Questions on Michael Cohen; Rudy Giuliani Reveals Possible Other Meeting Planning for Trump Tower Meeting with Russians; Trump Willing to Shut Down Government Over Border Wall. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 30, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Our Tom Foreman, thank you so much. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Full Mueller assault. President Trump launches an assault on Special Counsel Robert Mueller, calling him out by name, even as he attacks the Russia investigation in tones that suggest all-out panic. But why won't the president say if he feels betrayed by former fixer Michael Cohen?

Undisclosed meeting. President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, attacks his predecessor, Michael Cohen, who may be prepared to tell investigators that the president had advanced knowledge with the 2016 meeting with Russians in Trump Tower. Why is Giuliani not talking about another undisclosed meeting?

"Doing a shutdown." The president warns that if Congress doesn't fund his border wall and take other immigration measures, he'll have no problem shutting down the federal government. Is he setting up a fight with his own party?

And no preconditions. President Trump say he's willing to meet with Iran's leaders without preconditions whenever they want. Just a week after threatening Iran, is the president now raising this offer as a distraction?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump won't say if he feels betrayed by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, but he's escalating his attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and lashing out frantically against the Russia investigation.

That comes as the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, goes after former fixer Michael Cohen, who may be ready to testify that Donald Trump knew in advance about that infamous Trump Tower campaign meeting with the Russians. But Giuliani suggests there may have been yet another meeting.

I'll speak with Congressman John Garamendi. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by with full coverage.

First, let's get straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, it's an all-out assault by the president and Rudy Giuliani.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is getting personal, Wolf. President Trump and his team are ramping up their attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller at a critical time in the Russia investigation. And one of the president's outside attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, as you said, is moving the goal posts for the probe, making the assertion that colluding with the Russians isn't even a crime, an odd line of attack as the president has repeatedly said he's not guilty of collusion.


ACOSTA: Collusion. Mr. President, do you think other countries --


ACOSTA (voice-over): As his aides were nearly screaming into the ears of reporters asking questions in the Oval Office, President Trump declined to weigh in on the Russia investigation. At a later news conference with the Italian prime minister --

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you feel betrayed by Michael Cohen, sir?

ACOSTA: A question from CNN about his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and no response. Instead, the president unloaded in his usual safe space where there are no questions, on Twitter, tweeting, "There is no collusion" and slamming the Russia investigation with a personal attack as "the Robert Mueller rigged witch hunt."

And just after the president was tweeting there was no collusion, his outside lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was claiming on CNN that collusion isn't a crime.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Which I don't even know if that's a crime, colluding about Russians. You start -- you start analyzing the crime. The hacking is the crime.

ACOSTA: Asked about that, the president relied on his aides to drown out the question.

(on camera): Mr. President, if there is no collusion, why does Rudy Giuliani keep saying there is no crime in collusion?

(voice-over): Giuliani also suggested that the special counsel may have a conflict in the investigation and, incredibly, couldn't say what it is.

GIULIANI: Because you have to hear the conflict. Not the president. I can't tell you. I'm not sure I know exactly what the conflict is.

I'd like to have a good idea what it is. It's one that would have kept me out of the investigation.

ACOSTA: The former New York City mayor also railed against Cohen for secretly recording the president.

GIULIANI: He's a scum bag; he's a horrible person. I've never heard of a lawyer taping his client without the client's consent.

ACOSTA: Giuliani is also blasting the trial that's about to begin for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, arguing the case is simply being used as leverage to take down the president.

GIULIANI: This is the big fish, the reason that -- the reason they got Manafort in solitary confinement is so that he'll give up Donald Trump, not because he'll give up some Russian or Ukrainian he did business with.

ACOSTA: Instead of answering questions on Russia, Mr. Trump returned to a pet issue for his base, immigration, again threatening a government shutdown if he doesn't get what he wants.

TRUMP: I would have no problem doing a shutdown. It's time we had proper border security. We're the laughing stock of the world. We have the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world.

ACOSTA: Trump also made the stunning announcement that he would be willing to meet with Iran's leadership without preconditions.

TRUMP: They want to meet, I'll meet. Anytime they want. Anytime they want. It's good for the country. Good for them, good for us. And good for the world. No preconditions.


[17:05:05] ACOSTA: The president did try to sound tough on Russia today, insisting his summit with Vladimir Putin was great and standing firm on sanctions against Moscow, saying they will remain in place.

Wolf, that is going to come as some comfort to foreign policy circles here in Washington as a lot of people here in the city believe that the president gave away the store to Vladimir Putin at that summit in Helsinki -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

The president's outside attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has been on a whirlwind of activity, attacking former Trump fixer Michael Cohen and stirring up a lot of confusion with talk of a previously undisclosed campaign meeting prior to that notorious Trump Tower meeting with the Russians.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, Giuliani seems to be trying muddy the waters a bit. What's the latest?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You can be forgiven for being confused as to what exactly Rudy Giuliani was attempting to confirm and attempting to dispute.

We do now have a new statement, this coming from Donald Trump Jr.'s attorney, Alan Futerfas. And I'm going read that verbatim now. He says, quote, "We have investigated this matter for over a year and are in command of the facts. We are fully confident of the accuracy and reliability of the information that has been provided by Donald Trump Jr. in the various investigations."

So that there coming from the president's son, seeking to stick by his public comments, which I'll remind have said that he did not tell his father, then-candidate Trump, about that meeting in Trump Tower in 2016.

Earlier today, you heard a number of different stories from the president's attorney.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): In a perplexing revelation today, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, outlined a previously unknown meeting among high-level Trump campaign operatives in the days prior to the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower sit-down with Russians, only to turn around and say the get-together he had just brought up never actually happened.

GIULIANI (via phone): There was another meeting that has been leaked that hasn't been public yet. That was a meeting, an alleged meeting, three days before.

SCIUTTO: In a series of confusing and sometimes contradictory television interviews, Giuliani said reporters had asked him about a meeting among the president's son, Don Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his campaign chairman and vice chairman Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and possibly others.

GIULIANI: We checked with their lawyers, the ones we could check with, which were four of the six. That meeting never, ever took place. It didn't happen. It's a figment of his imagination or he's lying.

SCIUTTO: Giuliani said he was only getting in front of the story before news outlets could report it, confusing the anchors on FOX News.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it -- let me just ask it this way.

SCIUTTO: Giuliani's disorienting day planner of disappearing discussions is important because of a new allegation from Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer and fixer.

Sources tell CNN that Cohen is ready to testify to the special counsel that Mr. Trump did know in advance that his son and campaign officials planned to meet with Russian who said they had dirt on Hillary Clinton and that he knew it before they sat down. Trump has repeatedly denied knowing about the meeting until a year later.

GIULIANI (on camera): He wasn't at the meeting. Cohen is not --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: How do you know what? How do you know the president wasn't? Didn't know?

GIULIANI: Because I'll you why I know. Because Cohen, you know, always goes too far. When you're lying, there's always a trap for you. So we said there was a one-on-one meeting that Donald Jr. came in and told him about the meeting was about to take place. Well, there are two witnesses who say it didn't happen.

SCIUTTO: Giuliani's bewildering media blitz today followed a series of interviews in which the former New York City mayor unleashed on Cohen.

GIULIANI: The guy is unethical. He's a scum bag. He's a horrible person.

SCIUTTO: The White House is seeking to discredit Cohen after Cohen's lawyer released a secret recording, made shortly before the 2016 election, a recording between Cohen and then-candidate Trump in which the two discussed payment concerning Trump's alleged affair with "Playboy" Playmate Karen McDougal. In fact, there was no story imminent. AMI, which owns the newspaper involved, was doing what's called a catch and kill. The president and his aides have repeatedly denied both the affair and any payment.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: When it comes time for the financing, which will be --

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wait a second. What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay him something.


COHEN: No, no, no, no, no.

SCIUTTO: Rudy Giuliani is now asserting that the recording was cut off abruptly and may have been doctored. He also confirmed the existence of more tapes but claims there's just one with the president on it.

GIULIANI: Of course, I see 183 unique tapes, evidence, of which I see him fooling, lying, deceiving everybody that he talked to.


SCIUTTO: Now, to be clear, in his many interviews this morning, Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, appears to have been referencing or trying to explain a possible meeting that reporters asked him about. And Wolf, what's confusing here is it wasn't clear, at least from his statements, whether he was knocking down that possibility or clarifying what that meeting was about.

[17:10:04] Now if you look at this most recent statement from Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer, it appears they're trying to be the final word here on this, saying that they stick by Donald Trump Jr.'s public statements, which have always been that he never let his father know in advance about this meeting in Trump Tower.

Of course, the question is, do other witnesses to that meeting agree with that assessment?

BLITZER: And it's significant, because he did answer questions before congressional committees behind closed doors and, if he lied, that's crime.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens on that front. Thank you very much. Jim Sciutto, reporting.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: I don't know if it's good to be with you, Wolf. My head is just spinning trying to keep up with all of the statements, the spin doctor, going in different directions almost simultaneously.

And the president -- it kind of reminds me of the fires out here in California. They're bad. We know they're bad. We see them flaring up, and then suddenly, you get a firestorm where there's a whole lot of fuel.

I think there's a whole lot of fuel here, and this thing is spinning out of control, much as the fires here in California are. The result: a lot of folks are going to get burned.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope for the best out in California. I know you guys are going through a rough period. But let's go through some of the specifics, the latest developments. What do you make of Giuliani's latest claim that collusion may not even be a crime?

GARAMENDI: Well, whether it is or not, two people working together to collude is called a conspiracy, and that is a crime. So I'm not sure.

You've got to be very careful with Giuliani. He parses words and then often misses the main point. The main point is if you're working with Russia to influence an election, that can be collusion. But if you're doing that, you're also involved in a conspiracy, and the crime is foreign government involvement in an American election.

BLITZER: Giuliani clearly has -- seems to be trying to move the goal post. Do you think the president's team is laying the groundwork for new revelations which might point toward the president's direct knowledge of some sort of involvement with the Russians? GARAMENDI: Well, apparently, Giuliani was very, very clear. He's

trying to get ahead of the stories that are out there, the breaking news, if you would. And yes, there's probably going to be a lot of breaking news, a lot of stories. So he's, like, scrambling to get ahead of it and, in doing so, he creates even more news. It -- it is really a strange, strange way to protect your client.

BLITZER: Let's turn to another top story. The president today reiterating his willingness to shut down the federal government if he doesn't get what he wants on border security and immigration policy. He may need some support from Democrats in order to get that done.

Should your party engage with the White House on this in order to avoid a shutdown?

GARAMENDI: Well, we have, and we will. Absolutely we will. We don't want a shutdown. We never have. And in fact, we've not been responsible for the shutdown. The responsibility for them lies within the Republican caucus, which was deeply divided. And the solution getting the government up and running has always relied on more Democrats than Republicans to do that. So yes, we absolutely will negotiate.

Exactly where the negotiations go remains to be seen. Twenty-five billion for a big, beautiful wall doesn't make any sense to anybody. However, we know there needs to be border security. There are fences that need to be maintained, repaired. Some needed to be added. We do have a wall. Not sure if it's beautiful, but we certainly have one in the San Diego-Tijuana area. It can be improved in certain areas. So yes.

And the rest of the equipment. How about drones? How about surveillance? How about men and women that are protecting the borders? All of that is necessary. And we certainly need to have a comprehensive immigration reform, all of the pieces of it.

BLITZER: At today's news conference with the Italian prime minister, the president said he'd be willing to meet with the Iranian leadership without any preconditions. He's ready to meet with them any time, he said, anywhere. Is that a good idea?

GARAMENDI: No. It certainly isn't. We saw what happens he was willing to meet with Putin without any preconditions. And in just a open press conference. We still don't know what those two hours of private discussions were.

We do know that the president has really created a crisis with Iran. We had the Iran nuclear deal that was preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon anytime soon, like within the next 20 years. And very, very tight controls and observations of what Iran was doing. That is all being seriously disrupted.

[17:15:07] I don't know what the president hopes to achieve with that meeting. Iran is a very, very bad actor. It's causing problems in Syria, in Yemen. And probably quite certainly in the Sahel of Africa, the Horn of Africa. All of those are Iran. So if the president is going to sit down with them without any

preconditions, he must think he's a genius, because if he thinks he can pull off a meeting with the supreme leader of Iran without any prior discussions, good luck.

BLITZER: I'm not sure he wants to meet with the supreme leader, the ayatollah, but the president, Rouhani, seems to be open to have that meeting. And he kept saying at that -- at that joint event with the Italian prime minister today, when he was answering reporters' questions, he would meet without any preconditions.

Interestingly enough -- we're going to have more on this later -- the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said it's a good idea for them to meet, but he then outlined three specific preconditions. More on that coming up.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

GARAMENDI: Always. Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the president steps up his attacks on the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the Russia investigation. So why does that there seem to be an air of panic to his latest tweets?

And the president says he's ready to shut down the federal government if he doesn't get money for his border wall. Is he setting up a showdown with the Republican leadership in the House and Senate?


[17:20:48] BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Trump tonight may be setting up a showdown with congressional Republican leaders as he warns he's considering a government shutdown if he doesn't get his border wall and other immigration issues.

Joining us now in his first interview since leaving the White House, the former White House legislative affairs director and new CNN political commentator, Marc Short.

Marc, welcome to CNN.

MARC SHORT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wolf, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Let's get to this. This is big news. The president says that he's willing to consider a government shutdown. At an event earlier, he said, "I would have no problem doing a shutdown." You know the Republican leadership of the House and Senate, they're scared. They don't want a government shutdown.

SHORT: I don't think anybody wants a government shutdown, Wolf. What the president is saying is that he campaigned on a promise to secure the border. In many cases, keep in mind, Democrats in 2006, the Secure Fence Act, voted for a border wall, too.

The president's plan is actually put forward by the career officer at Customs and Border Patrol. It's not a political document. He puts forward a document and a plan to secure it with a fence. And in many case, it's recognized that you can't put that wall all along across the border from California to -- to the Rio Grande River. So there are places where there isn't.

But it is -- it goes along with career officials putting forward a border security plan the president's putting forward. Democrats have supported that before. Unfortunately, politics are in the way.

BLITZER: But I understand his goal. I understand what he said during the campaign, since the campaign. He believes in all of this, but is he really prepared to shut down the federal government and what that means for tens of millions if not 100 million people out there who rely on the federal government for all sorts of services?

SHORT: I think there are hundreds of millions of people who are anxious to make sure our border is secure. So yes, I think the president's sincere in that.

But there's two different timetables here. One is September 30, which I fully expect you'll have a continuing resolution. It gets us till December. I think the time frame we're talking about is if Congress hasn't provided the funding by the end of the year in December. Not before the midterms, not in December.

BLITZER: You know what happened the last time we went through this and what he said. And I'm going to play the clip for you. Listen to this.


TRUMP: There are a lot of things that I'm unhappy about in this bill. There are a lot of things that we shouldn't have had in this bill, but we were, in a sense, forced if we want to build our military, we were forced to have. There are some things that we should have in the bill. But I say to Congress I will never sign another bill like this again. I'm not going to do it again.


BLITZER: He may have no choice if what you're suggesting, they wait until the end of the calendar year and they have to sign an omnibus spending bill to keep the government going. He may have to back away from that play.

SHORT: Well, no president should have to sign a bill like that, a $1.3 trillion spending bill that, in fact, Congress has been 22 years since they passed an appropriations bill on time. So it is -- it is a broken process, and I think he's expressing his frustration with that.

Ideally, Congress will pass multiple smaller bills, so the bill in December is not a $1.3 trillion bill. It's a much smaller bill that hopefully is going to focus on homeland security. And the president can make his case clearly to the American people: "This is what I campaigned on. This is what you elected me for. I want the funding in this bill."

So it's not a $1.3 trillion bill. It's a smaller bill that's focused really on homeland security.

BLITZER: Well, we don't even know -- that's a possibility, but what if it's not? What if he needs to sign another omnibus spending bill, a huge bill like he did the last time. He said that was the last time he's doing it. And he has no choice.

SHORT: I think he's been clear he's not going to sign another bill like that, Wolf.

BLITZER: And let the government shut down?

SHORT: But the Senate is looking to sustain the session in August, purposely to get through some of these appropriations bills. So if you can get individual bills passed, you're not going to end up with one giant omnibus at the end of the year.

BLITZER: So we should take that threat seriously?

SHORT: We should, but I think that the threat is really toward December more so than September.

BLITZER: Not before the election.

Let me go through these numbers, because you know, you're a budget deficit hawk. And take a look at this. Fiscal year 2016, the federal budget deficit was $584 billion, went up to 665 fiscal year '17. Fiscal year '18, 800 billion. This is during the Trump administration. Nineteen, it's going to be 981. We're talking about next year, a 1 trillion-dollar budget deficit because of all the huge spending that's going on during the Trump administration and the reduced revenue coming into the Treasury Department, because of the cuts in taxes.

Is this what the Republicans ran on, to have a $1 trillion budget deficit?

SHORT: No, of course not. But two things. One, revenues have actually increased despite the tax cut because of the growth. So revenue --

[17:25:14] BLITZER: So why is the deficit escalating the way it is?

SHORT: Because we're spending way more than we should be.

BLITZER: Why is -- why is this Republican leadership of the House and the Senate and the Republican president spending a lot more raising that national debt.

SHORT: Totally fair question. The president's budget that he put forward balanced the budget in ten years.

The problem has been we cannot get the same level of support within Congress. Keep in mind, we talk about that giant omnibus bill, $1.3 trillion, is you know, Wolf, you need 60 votes in the United States Senate, which means we need nine Democrats to cross over.

The trade we made at that time was, in order to rebuild the military, that was a trade we were going to make. Nobody wants these deficits, but it was a trade in order to rebuild our military we though was necessary at the time.

But we are anxious to make sure that the spending continues to go down.

BLITZER: So far, the spending is going up and up.

SHORT: It is.

BLITZER: These are the Congressional Budget Office numbers.

You just left the White House a couple weeks or so ago. You understand what's going on over there in the West Wing of the White House.

Rudy Giuliani today said that this whole Robert Mueller Russia investigation has become, for the president, a major distraction. How much time and effort? You worked with the president closely on legislative affairs. How much of a distraction has this Mueller investigation been for President Trump?

SHORT: I think I would say rather than a distraction, it's been a frustration. I think the president feels that this has been ongoing for close to two years.

BLITZER: Does this consume a lot of his time?

SHORT: Sure. I think it does consume a lot of his time. It's a frustration because he feels like that -- that the investigation has been politically motivated, that it's been proven in many cases that FBI agents doing the investigation were politically motivated, and I think he's frustrated by it.

BLITZER: So why doesn't he just let it continue and, instead of tweeting about it and making personal attacks against Robert Mueller, continuing this line of attack, this story almost on a daily basis?

SHORT: Well, Wolf, I don't think he feels like he's getting a fair shake in the mainstream media in the way they're covering it. So he's going to look to make sure that his viewpoints.

BLITZER: Why not let his aides, his supporters do that? Why does he personally, as president of the United States, have to say all these awful things, by name, of Robert Mueller?

SHORT: Wolf, I could come on your show all day long, and it would never get as much as the president weighing in. And he knows that. And so -- so he's going to weigh in himself. And he feels like this is very personal at this point.

BLITZER: Marc Short, thanks very much for coming in.

SHORT: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. SHORT: Thanks.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Coming up, President Trump won't say if he feels betrayed by his former fixer, Michael Cohen. But he's stepping up his personal attacks on the special counsel, Robert Mueller. And he's lashing out frantically against the Russia investigation. Is he worried?

And the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, goes after Michael Cohen in a confusing and contradictory series of attacks. Is he throwing up a smokescreen?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Our breaking news, President Trump this afternoon threatening a government shutdown if he doesn't get funding for the border wall and at the same time also offering talks with the Iranian leadership without any preconditions.

[17:32:48] While his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, steps up attacks on the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen.

We have a lot to discuss with our political and legal experts. And Joey Jackson, you're a legal analyst. Let me play this clip. Your reaction to the latest defense coming from the president's personal attorney. Watch this.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Which I don't even know if that's a crime, colluding about Russians.


GIULIANI: You start -- you start analyzing the crime, the hacking is the crime. The hacking is the crime.

CAMEROTA: That's certainly the original problem.

GIULIANI: But the president didn't hack.

CAMEROTA: Of course not. That's the original.

GIULIANI: He didn't pay them for hacking.


BLITZER: All right, Joey, what's your analysis?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: My analysis is that there's a reference -- and you referred to him as the president's personal attorney. I think we should all be clear in what he's doing. This is a public relations campaign. He's the president's publicist. He's also the president's conspiracy theory in chief person. Right?

And so the reality is, is that it's part of the underlying effort to distort, to distract, to mislead, and that's a problem. And so let's get to the facts.

We all know that collusion is not codified under federal law, but that is of no moment. Why is it not? Because what does collusion mean? It means a cooperative effort, right? People are engaging in an effort together.

And there is such a crime that is codified under federal statute, and it's called a conspiracy, right? And that is a crime, and he knows it's a crime. But you have to understand the overall nature is to attack, attack, attack.

When you work with a foreign power, if there was such cooperation, that would constitute a crime. A crime to defraud the government of the United States. In the event that you solicit from a foreign power in the election not only money but a thing of value. Information is value. That would be a crime. And so in the event that there are campaign violations, that's a crime. In the event you defraud the government, that's a crime. In the event you engage in a conspiracy to work together to influence a campaign, that's a crime.

He should call the facts the facts and stop distracting, deflecting, avoiding and publicizing. If you're going to be the personal lawyer, lawyer. Not you know, publicize, and I think that's precisely what he's doing.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a good point.

Gloria Borger, what is Giuliani getting at with these latest sort of confusing statements?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: The context of this -- you know, the context of all this, a couple things.

[17:35:12] One is you have the question about Michael Cohen and what -- you know, and this meeting with Don Jr. where he apparently told the president about this Trump Tower meeting with Russians, et cetera, et cetera. He's trying to respond to that. He's had a couple of stories about that today.

And then you have the context of they're in the middle of negotiating with Bob Mueller, and they're not hearing back from him much about what -- about what, if anything, he needs to hear from the president. And so I think they're frustrated by that, because this has been going on for months and months and months.

And Rudy Giuliani, he is as much of a P.R. specialist in this particular case as a legal specialist, because the president does have other lawyers who are the ones doing the talking to the special counsel.

So you put all of that together, and he is trying to do, as Joey suggests, which is to distract and deflect and defend, and confuse, because I think, you know, it seems to me that -- that if Cohen is ready to talk about the president in a different way than he has in the past, which it seems like they're on different sides now, that may be something that they're worried about.

BLITZER: It sounds like he's, Chris Cillizza, trying to move the goalposts, fearing that some big revelation is about to come out, saying, "Well, you know what? Collusion really isn't a crime anyhow."


Look, this president has been -- he's been in office 18 months. Let's say 15 of those months, 14 of those months, saying "No collusion" about as much as he says, "Fake news," which are the two things he says the most.

So for his personal lawyer, face of his legal team, to come out and say, "Well, collusion is not really the issue," well, someone should -- Rudy Giuliani should tell Donald Trump about that information. Because Donald Trump clearly thinks it is.

I think that Gloria's point of confusion is really important. I think, if you go through the interview this morning with Alisyn on NEW DAY and Giuliani, he makes a point toward the end where he essentially says, "They're going to have their version of the story," talking about the Mueller team. "And we're going to have ours. And we'll put them both out, and we'll see what people agree with."

The thing that's hard about that is one is a special counsel investigation that has been mandated by the Department of Justice. The other is Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump's sort of rogue P.R. road show. That's what they'll do. That's what this is all aimed at. We've seen this for months. It's aimed at trying to, no matter what Mueller finds -- and they're probably more nervous about it today than they were a few months ago, but whatever Mueller finds, to say "angry Democrats, partisan investigation," and to put up their own version of events.

BLITZER: You know, Samantha Vinograd, I'm curious to get your sense on Giuliani's performance today.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think if Giuliani is Donald Trump's publicist, he needs a new publicist, because he's terrible at it. He can't even keep the facts straight when he goes from one interview to the other. He contradicts himself consistently.

And at this point I think we have to assume this Rudy Giuliani improv show is really just an attempt to flood the zone with nonsense.

And from a national security perspective, imagine how embarrassing it is for the presidency that this is is guy that the president has chosen as his personal lawyer. We had Juncker here last week. We had the Italian prime minister visiting today. And the president

saying he'd even meet with Iran. And the world is watching and looking at Rudy Giuliani going on his improv routine on television and knowing that President Trump has identified this man as his personal lawyer. It's humiliating.

CILLIZZA: And to Sam's point, I think you can't reiterate it enough. I thought Rudy Giuliani was not good at all with Alisyn. The reason that he keeps being put out there is because Donald Trump thinks -- Rudy Giuliani is doing what Donald Trump wants. We know for a fact if he wasn't, he wouldn't be on the TV.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:43:41] BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal experts.

And Gloria, the president had this vague tweet today. Let me read a couple sentences from the tweet. "Is Robert Mueller ever going to release his conflicts of interest with respect to President Trump, including the fact that we had a very nasty and contentious business relationship? I turned him down to head the FBI one day before appointment the special counsel. And Comey is his close friend."

So Giuliani was asked what -- when he was on CNN this morning, what is that very nasty and contentious business relationship, and he basically said, "I don't know."

BORGER: Well, there -- there have been reports that -- that Mueller wanted to leave the golf club that Donald Trump owned, and he wanted to get back the dues or whatever; and they worked out a deal. And apparently, it was not contentious. And --

BLITZER: Is that a business relationship?

BORGER: I guess it is. It involves money. But if it were that contentious, why would he even interview him to be head of the FBI? You have to ask that question. And by the way, Comey and Mueller are not close friends. So there are a few things wrong.

CILLIZZA: And Donald Trump's, well, his attorney general recused himself. His deputy attorney general is the one who picked Bob Mueller the day after that. It's not as though Bob Mueller's sort of appointed himself. Like, "Oh, I'm -- this is my way to get back at Donald Trump." Rod Rosenstein picked Bob Mueller, so the timing is immaterial, unless Donald Trump -- and I'm not going to rule this out -- Donald Trump thinks the entire Justice Department is out to get him, and that's why Mueller was picked.

BORGER: And by the way, are we sure that Bob Mueller wanted to be --


[17:45:00] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: -- Mueller. So the timing is immaterial unless Donald Trump -- and I'm not going to rule this out -- Donald Trump thinks the entire Justice Department is out to get him, and that's why Mueller was hired. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And by the way, are we

sure that Bob Mueller wanted to be --


BORGER: -- the FBI Director again, or was just doing it as a courtesy?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Joey, what do you make of the President now blasting Mueller by name, repeatedly, over these past couple of days?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I make of it exactly what I make of the President's strategy from day one, which is to distort, you know, distract, and defend and deflect and to do that.

Here is the reality. This is as much legal as it is political and vice versa.

The fact is, is that you if get the American people to understand and come to the notion that the President's being undermined, that this is unfair, it's improper, it's inappropriate, then you're going to believe that. And then you have to look at the polls which suggests, hmm, maybe it is unfair.

So what I would say to the American people is, in looking at and evaluating investigations, what I say to juries, keep your eye on the prize. It's not about whether someone melted crayons on the radiator two years ago. It's not about the fact that a witness threw pebbles at somebody three weeks ago. It's about what the evidence establishes.

And so, therefore, the President will continue to attack the investigation and attack and to undermine and to swing hard about golf course fees and about the fact that I interviewed him and the fact that -- you know, all of these things.

But it's about the evidence coming from the Special Counsel. That's it. And that's what everyone needs to focus on. Anything else is a distortion and it should -- and it's just not fair game.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Sam, on another issue, the President said today he is willing to meet with President Rouhani of Iran immediately without any preconditions anywhere, any place. What do you think?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that Mike Pompeo probably grimaced because the State Department has laid out a 12-step plan just to start renegotiating a nuclear deal. So it appears the President undercut the State Department.

And finally, Wolf, I don't think that we should assume that Rouhani wants to meet with President Trump. Kim Jong-un did. Putin did for potentially malign reasons. Rouhani probably doesn't because he feels like the United States has sold him out on this Iran deal.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Pompeo said he's with the President, except he then laid out three specific preconditions that the Iranians have to agree to before there's --

VINOGRAD: Well, 12 down to three.

BLITZER: -- any meetings. He said the Iranians must demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people. They must reduce their malign behavior. They can agree that it's worthwhile that there must be a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation. So Pompeo lays out three conditions. The President says no preconditions.

There's more news we're following, including those deadly wildfires. A heartbreaking loss, one man's wife and great-grandchildren died as he rushed home trying to save them.


[17:52:30] BLITZER: Tonight, 17 major wildfires are burning in California. They're blamed for at least six deaths.

One man was away from his home running errands when his wife phoned, saying she could see flames approaching and asking him to come get her and their two great-grandchildren, Emily and James.

Through the flames and the traffic, he couldn't get back in time. Although he got through on the phone.


ED BLEDSOE, LOST FAMILY IN CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES: Emily said, I love you, grandpa. Grandma said, I love you, grandpa. And then Junior said, I love you, come get us. Come and get us.

I said, I'm on my way. I said -- he talked until he died. He died. I tried to call him back, and it just went to nothing.


BLITZER: Heartbreaking. Let's ring in Paul Vercammen. He is on the scene for us.

So what's the latest situation, Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Wolf, that was heartbreaking, hearing that great-grandfather talk.

This is where the Lister family lived in Redding, California, just outside. And like so many families, they're grateful that they got out with their lives but they lost everything.

Right here, you can see the metal skeleton of their Honda CRV. And then you look behind me, and you can see in their garage. They had two young children, 18 months and 6 years old. There's their bicycles.

Just a challenging tough time. They had to scramble out of here for their lives. They described it like an atomic bomb going off. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had zero warning. We went to sleep as if like it's a normal day, and we're woken up at 6:00 in the morning with banging on the door, telling us that we had to get out immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sirens in our neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And sirens. The smoke was very thick. It was just raining ash. So, yes, it was chaotic, to say the least.


VERCAMMEN: Tough times for the Lister family. He is a house painter. He lost his equipment. She's a third-grade school teacher.

So many houses destroyed here. More than 700. So many acres burned. The number at this Redding fire alone, the Carr fire, sure to go over a hundred thousand. And then, of course, the deaths that you highlighted. Six people have lost their lives in this fire.

California resources being spread thin as they battle major blazes throughout the state, Wolf.

BLITZER: So heartbreaking indeed. All right, Paul, we'll stay in close touch with you. Thank you.

Coming up, we'll get back to the breaking news. President Trump won't say if he feels betrayed by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, but he is escalating his attacks on the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, and he is lashing out frantically against the Russia investigation. Is he getting worried?


BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Attacking Robert Mueller. President Trump lashes out at the Special Counsel in the most versatile terms yet on this, the eve of the first criminal trial stemming from the Russia investigation.

Tonight, the President and his lawyer, they're sending conflicting messages about Mueller's probe of possible collusion.

Secret discussion? Rudy Giuliani exposes claims of a strategy session before the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians, and then denies it ever happened. Is Mr. Trump's legal front man trying to clarify or confuse?