Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: "No Problem Dong a Shutdown" Over Wall Funding; Death, Destruction from Giant Wildfire Growing; Interview With Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono; Trump Lawyer Now Arguing Russian Collusion No Big Deal?; Trump Threatens Shutdown Over Border. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 30, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is Mr. Trump's legal front man trying to clarify or confuse?

Considering a shutdown. The president strikes fear in the hearts of fellow Republicans, as he threatens to paralyze the federal government just weeks before the midterm election. How far is he willing to go to get funding for the wall with Mexico?

And missing in the inferno. One of the most destructive fires in California history engulfs more homes and takes more lives. Tonight, families search for loved ones, including children lost in the ashes.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, the Trump team is firing back at Michael Cohen and his bombshell claim that Mr. Trump was told of his son's 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer before it happened.

Donald Trump Jr.s attorney issuing a new statement tonight expressing confidence in his client's denials under oath that his father had advance warning, this as the president and his lawyer are escalating their attacks on Mr. Trump's former fixer and on the man putting all the pieces together, the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

I will get reaction from Senate Judiciary Committee member Mazie Hirono. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

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

Jim, new attacks, a lot of deflection and denials from the Trump team.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seemed like a fog of confusion all day long. 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, is moving the goalposts for the probe, making the assertion that colluding with the Russians isn't even a crime. That's an odd line of attack, as the president has repeatedly said he is not guilty of collusion.


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:

QUESTION: 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 was no collusion" and slamming the Russia investigation with a personal attack as the Robert Mueller-rigged witch-hunt.

But 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 (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: 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.

QUESTION: Mr. President, if there was no collusion, why is Rudy Giuliani saying there is no crime in collusion?

ACOSTA: Giuliani also suggested the special counsel may have a conflict in the investigation, then incredibly couldn't say what it is.

GIULIANI: Because he has the conflict, not the president. I can't tell you. I'm not sure I know exactly what the conflict is. I have a good idea of 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 scumbag. He's a horrible person. I have never heard of a lawyer taping his client without the client's consent.

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

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a big fish. The reason that -- the reason they got Manafort in solitary confinement is so that he will give up Donald Trump, not because he will 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 laughingstock 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: If they want to meet, I will 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.


ACOSTA: The president also tried to sound tough today on Russia, insisting his summit with Vladimir Putin was great and standing firm on sanctions against Moscow, saying they will remain place for the time being.

But, Wolf, getting back to Rudy Giuliani's claim that collusion is not a crime, it's a curious thing to say, Wolf. That is the one denial we have heard from the president. No collusion, no collusion. That is the one that we have heard from the president over and over again, since he basically came into office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Almost on a daily basis.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.


We heard a lot from Rudy Giuliani today, including a rather surprising new revelation, Mr. Trump's attorney exposing claims about a secret planning session before -- before that infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians.

He went on later to deny those claims, which is just one of the reasons by viewers who watched Giuliani on TV today may have been scratching their heads.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is with us right now.

Jessica, another curveball from Rudy Giuliani?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, a curveball perhaps, but confusion most certainly.

Rudy Giuliani said today and he was just trying to get out ahead of possible news reports that a meeting occurred three days before that Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer and others where several top campaign officials found out about the upcoming meeting.

Now, Giuliani described this supposing meeting, but then said it never happened. And, of course, he once again reiterated the president knew nothing about the Russian meeting in advance.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Rudy Giuliani seems to be muddying the waters about what meetings may have taken place before that now controversial June 2016 sit-down between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russians.

Giuliani brought up for the first time another meeting without the president three days before the Russians met at Trump Tower. Giuliani claims reporters have been asking questions about its occurrence and Giuliani is now trying to make clear it did not happen.

GIULIANI: There was another meeting that has been leaked, but hasn't been public yet. There was a meeting, an alleged meeting, three days before. He says there was a meeting with Donald Jr., with Jared Kushner, with Paul Manafort, with Gates, and possibly two others, in which they, out of the presence of the president, discussed the meeting with the Russians.

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

SCHNEIDER: This as Giuliani ramps up his attacks on Michael Cohen, going after him personally.

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

SCHNEIDER: And pushing back against the revelation that, according to sources, Cohen claims he is prepared to tell the special counsel the president knew in advance about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russians and approved of it.

GIULIANI: Cohen going always goes too far. And when you're lying, there's always a trap for you. So he 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 hospital say didn't it happen.

QUESTION: The president and his son.


QUESTION: But they have a self-interest in saying...


GIULIANI: And Cohen has a much bigger self-interest in saying the opposite and really get himself in favor with Mueller.

SCHNEIDER: The discourse is a complete 180 from his previous glowing reviews of the president's former fixer and attorney.

GIULIANI: The man is an honest, honorable lawyer. I do not expect that Michael Cohen is going to lie. I think he's going to tell the truth.

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani now saying his opinion has changed with the revelation Cohen recorded at least one conversation with the president.

GIULIANI: How did I know that he was lawyer taping his client? You tell me a lawyer is taping his client, I got to say, sorry, I made a mistake.

Now you're picking on me for saying he was an honest, honorable man, when I didn't know he tape recorded conversations with his clients, he was shaking people down from money, he was lying about things on a tape. He was manipulating or doctoring tapes. I didn't know any of that when I said that, like George Washington didn't know that Benedict Arnold was -- was a traitor.


SCHNEIDER: And, tonight, it's Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer who's issuing a statement on all of this, in light of Don Jr.'s continued insistence he never told his father about that Trump Tower meeting, even though sources now tell us Michael Cohen plans to say the president was told.

So this tonight is from Alan Futerfas. He says: "We have investigated this matter for over a year and are in command of the facts. We are fully confident in the accuracy and reliability of the information that has been provided by Donald Trump Jr. in the various investigations."

Of course, Wolf, the lawyer now for Donald Trump Jr. really trying to tamp down all these conflicting stories precipitated by Michael Cohen, of course, Rudy Giuliani speaking out this morning as well, trying to get a handle on things.

BLITZER: Remember, he testified under oath. You lie to Congress, that's a crime.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly. All

BLITZER: right. We will see what happens on that front. Jessica, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Senator Mazie Hirono. She's a Democrat. She serves on the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: So, you know, President Trump, he's repeatedly claimed that there was no collusion. But now his lawyer Rudy Giuliani is arguing that collusion isn't even a crime necessarily. So what does that signal to you?

HIRONO: I think the noose is closing.

And Giuliani's like a loose cannon. And so is the president, frankly. So, conspiracy is a crime and obstruction of justice is a crime. And it all points to how important it is for the Mueller investigation to continue.

BLITZER: Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer, you just heard, says there they are fully confident of the accuracy and the reliability of the information that has been provided by Donald Trump Jr. in the various investigations.


Based on what we have learned, do you think that reflects the information he provided to your committee during his Q&A session?

HIRONO: I know that, during his sessions with us, not just with our Judiciary Committee, but the entire Trump family, as far as I'm concerned, has not been forthcoming.

And so, at this point, everybody's credibility, in my view, is questionable. And, clearly, Giuliani's credibility is shot, even as he goes ahead and attacks Michael Cohen, who he said was a great guy not too long ago.

BLITZER: The chairman of your committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, says it's up to prosecutors now to determine if Donald Trump Jr. lied before your committee, and he won't call him back.

Are you satisfied with that?

HIRONO: Not particularly.

But, on the other hand, again, it points out how important it is for the Mueller investigation to continue, even as Trump and his minions and his enablers continue to go after Mueller in a very personal way. And they are just heightening their personal attacks on Mueller.

And this is why that investigation must continue.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani tells CNN -- and I'm quoting him now -- "The president didn't hack and he didn't pay for -- pay them for hacking."

That defense comes just days after CNN reported that Michael Cohen says the president signed off on the Russian meeting ahead of time, that meeting at Trump Tower, and knew about the offer of information on dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Do you think the Trump team is preparing for more revelations about what the president actually knew?

HIRONO: He must be. Otherwise, they wouldn't be so vehement and so, what I would say, acting like loose cannons. These are people who act as though they have got something to hide. And they're just scrambling. That's a good word. They're just scrambling to attack and try to obfuscate as much as possible as to what's really happening.

And so I repeat myself. I keep repeating myself in terms of how critical the Mueller investigation is, and why these -- these really personal and heightened attacks on Mueller just says to me that the Trump team is getting even more nervous than they have been.

BLITZER: Because, as you know now, the president and his lawyer, Giuliani, they're escalating dramatically their personal attacks on the special counsel, Robert Mueller. How concerning is that to you?

HIRONO: It's concerning, in that they continue to put out conflicting information.

And, frankly, to watch Rudy Giuliani these days, it's very painful, because there's a guy whose credibility is totally shot. He actually expects to continue to have people listen to whatever he has to say?

No. And he's just doing the bidding of President Trump. That's not serving the public at all. And the person who is getting to the bottom of this and in a way that can be verifiable and under oath is Robert Mueller.

BLITZER: The president, on a separate subject, he once again threatened a federal government shutdown over funding for his border wall and other immigration issues. Do you think he would actually follow through on that threat so close to the November midterm elections?

HIRONO: If there's one thing about President Trump, he continues to be very chaotic in his responses. And these kinds of utterances just come out of the -- practically out of the blue. He must be feeling a great deal of pressure.

He was given the opportunity to get the money for his wall when we had a bill in the Senate. This was about the fourth bill that was a bipartisan bill to protect the 800,000 dreamer participants. And he said no to that.

And suddenly, after months, he brings up the wall again. It must be because he feels under attack and he just lashes out. That is the one thing you can you can pretty much ascribe to the president, that when his back is against the wall, he attacks everybody who he thinks is coming after him, whether it's real or not.

BLITZER: Just to be specific, earlier in the day, he tweeted this, and let me quote from his tweet.

He said: "We must have border security, get rid of chain lottery, catch and release, sanctuary cities, go to merit-based immigration, protect ICE and law enforcement, and, of course, keep building, but much faster, the wall." When you look at that list, is there anything there that you and your colleagues in the Democratic Party are willing to work with the president on? HIRONO: We worked with him in a bipartisan way to protect the dreamers, which included money for the wall. And so that's being very much in line with where he wanted to be.

But he himself doesn't know where he wants to be at any given moment. He just plays to his base all the time. These kind of chaotic responses and erratic responses do not serve our country. And, frankly, in all aspects, whether its foreign policy or domestic policy, the president is in a realm of chaos most of the time. He creates it himself.


BLITZER: On another issue, an important issue, he says he's willing to meet with the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, with no preconditions, any place, any time, a dramatic statement from the president.

What's your reaction to that?

HIRONO: I think it's yet another example of chaotic, this time foreign policy.

We still don't even know what his discussions were with Putin, and we're supposed to just say, that's great, this president, you can do whatever the heck you want.

That is now how things work. And when he withdrew from the Iran deal, he really created major issues of reliance from our own allies. And I think that we are in a situation in terms of foreign policy where our own allies can't really trust what the president says at any given moment.

This is yet another very dangerous thing for him to do. And I really think the president thinks that he can run this country the way he ran his companies, he can do and say whatever he wants, except in the case of the country, you know, when things go bad, you can't declare bankruptcy.

He takes very little responsibility for anything he says. He lashes out. So the chaoticness of his responses, reactions, utterances, it's unbelievable.

BLITZER: And let's not forget his own State Department recently came out with their global report on terrorism and cited Iran as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, but the president says he's willing to meet with President Rouhani anyplace, any time without any preconditions.

HIRONO: Yes, he has a very inflated view of his own powers to do anything.

In fact, what he does -- what he is really good at is creating chaos. BLITZER: Senator Hirono, thanks so much for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're reading between the lines of the president's very personal attacks on Robert Mueller. Is Mr. Trump racing for another big shoe to drop?

And Rudy Giuliani's collusion isn't necessarily a crime argument, what's he trying to accomplish in the court of public opinion?



BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the latest one-two punches for President Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Their targets, Michael Cohen, Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation, those targets are clear. Their strategy, though, is a bit more confusing, especially after the latest round of tweets by Mr. Trump and interviews by Rudy Giuliani.

Let's bring in our analysts and our correspondents.

And, Kaitlan Collins, you were with us over the past 48 hours. We have seen the president and his supporters escalate dramatically their personal attacks, personal attacks on both Robert Mueller and Michael Cohen. How do you explain that?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting to see how far we have come from back before March, when President Trump wouldn't even say Robert Mueller's name, whether in person or on Twitter, and now he's attacking him several times a day, saying that he has these conflicts of interest, without saying what those conflicts of interest are.

Even Rudy Giuliani asked this morning, what exactly is it that the president is alleging that is a conflict of interest? Is it about these golf fees, this dispute that they had before? He said he couldn't even answer.

But we are seeing them ramp up their attacks on this. And we're really seeing the president be more and more consumed by it. If you look at his Twitter feed, it is constant that the president is tweeting about this, alleging all of these things, but not answering any other questions about it. And the White House also isn't answering questions about the president's mind-set here, instead simply referring to us back to Rudy Giuliani, who then, in these interviews, is making these allegations, as he did today, now saying that collusion is not a crime.

They seem to be moving the goalposts a bit because before they said that president didn't collude, there was no collusion. That is something we have heard from the president on repeat essentially, and now they're moving the goalposts, essentially, to say that, no, collusion is not a crime, which raises the question of why would you make that argument if there is no collusion?

BLITZER: Well, let me play, Jeffrey Toobin, that clip from the interview that Giuliani gave Alisyn Camerota on "NEW DAY" here on CNN earlier today.


GIULIANI: 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. The hacking is crime. Well, the president didn't hack.


GIULIANI: He didn't pay them for hacking.


BLITZER: All right, so, what is he trying to achieve by that comment?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is true that there is no such crime in the federal code called collusion.

However, it is unlawful for foreign entities of any kind, individuals, companies, to assist in an American campaign. And if you look at the case against the Russians who put all those ads on Facebook, I mean, that clearly was the violation that they made.

If it could be shown that people involved with the Trump campaign actually helped do that, I think it's quite clear that was -- that is a crime. So it is an odd day for him to declare that collusion is not a crime.

It's not just hacking that is unlawful. Any sort of foreign assistance to a domestic campaign is a crime.

COLLINS: And that last line, he didn't pay for the hacking, raises a lot of questions. It's, why are they making that argument now, that the president didn't pay for it?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, they're all sorts of crimes he didn't commit. I think we can agree on that.

The question is, did he commit the crimes that he's under investigation for?

BLITZER: Conspiracy is a crime. It's another word for collusion.

And let me point out -- and, Anne Milgram, let me bring you into this, because you're our legal analyst as well.


In that memo that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, issued August 2, 2017, almost exactly a year ago, outlining the scope of the Russia investigation, Rosenstein writes that Mueller should investigate -- quote -- "allegations that Paul Manafort committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government's efforts to interfere of the 2016 election for president of the United States, in violation of the United States law."

So, how effective is this argument Giuliani is now making that collusion isn't even necessarily a crime?


I mean, by Rosenstein's own language, I mean, he's basically saying committed a crime or crimes, and by colluding is the way in which they would have done it, by working with the Russians, by essentially cooperating with the Russians.

And, as you said, conspiracy is a crime. Aiding and abetting is a crime. It's never been alleged -- or no one has ever said that collusion is a separate crime. It's the way that the American -- that the president could have actually committed a crime, which is by working with the Russians.

And, again, it could be as simple as getting that information, coordinating the release of information coming from hacked e-mails or cooperating on social media, influence in an election.

BLITZER: David Swerdlick, it's interesting, because Giuliani also today out of the blue brings up a second meeting just before the infamous Trump Tower meeting took place, second meeting involving the Russians, only to deny it later in the day.

What's what's going on here?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Wolf, look, this almost like he's trying to do an Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi mind trick, saying, these are not the droids you're looking for.

In the same statement, he says there was this meeting and we tried to reach out to people in the meeting. But maybe there wasn't this meeting. I don't think it's clear.

What ultimately is going to matter in this case, Wolf, is whether or not the Justice Department or Congress or ultimately the American people believe the story that Michael Cohen is reportedly telling or the story that the president of the United States is sticking to regarding whether or not he knew about the Natalia Veselnitskaya meeting.

TOOBIN: But I think it's also important to point out that anything Rudy Giuliani says gets repeated in the conservative echo chamber, whether it's Breitbart or FOX News, is that the reason why Rudy Giuliani is so outspoken is because people listen and take it seriously and repeat it.

And so whether we -- we can have a sophisticated intellectual legal debate about whether collusion is a crime. You can be sure that lots of people on social media are saying, well, of course, collusion is no crime. I mean, that is an accomplishment in and of itself, for better or worse.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, the president has gone from just going after the so called witch-hunt. Now all of a sudden it's a very personal issue for him. He's going after the Robert Mueller witch-hunt.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right, and so is Rudy Giuliani.

Let's be clear. Giuliani hasn't been a lawyer since Moses was knee- high to a grasshopper. This is not about the law. This is about looking at the reaction over the course of months to attacks on the investigation, calling it a witch-hunt, and realizing that, I don't know, 35, 40, 45 percent of America believe the president, the investigation is a witch-hunt.

So you go into endgame. The president says now I got to get closer to home. I not only want to undercut the integrity of the investigation. I want to undercut the integrity of the investigator.

I think Trump realized, along with Giuliani, that they made hay saying this is a witch-hunt, and now they're transitioning to saying, as we go to endgame, I'm going to try the same tactic to undercut Robert Mueller.

BLITZER: And Giuliani's also, Kaitlan, really going after Michael Cohen big time. And the attacks against Michael Cohen are only going to escalate.

COLLINS: Yes, you will notice they're trying to delegitimize Michael Cohen and everything he is saying, because, of course, he's saying essentially that Donald Trump Jr. live when he said his father didn't know about that meeting with Russian officials beforehand, because Michael Cohen is saying that the president was aware of it.

So it's essentially Michael Cohen's word vs. President Trump, which is likely why we saw Rudy Giuliani making the rounds on cable television this morning, making these arguments against Michael Cohen, even though he had previously referred to him as one of the most honest people that he's ever known.

He tweeted that. And so now they're trying to go after him in this way. But you clearly see that all goes back to President Trump, who has been the most angry he's ever been over the past year since Mueller took over this investigation, and since the Cohen stuff happened, with the FBI writing his home, office and hotel.

The Cohen stuff is what has really infuriated the president, more so even than the Mueller investigation. And it seems that he's more concerned about what that could do to him and how it could affect him, of course, and now that Michael Cohen is making these allegations about his son, which is really the most sensitive issue for President Trump, is going after his family.

Now we are seeing him really zero in on Michael Cohen, even though they have not ruled out a pardon for Michael Cohen yet from President Trump. BLITZER: Very strange. How do you see it?

TOOBIN: Very strange.

I mean, the only mode that the Trump team operates in his attack. Anyone who crosses them gets attacked. Michael Cohen has apparently switched sides, informally, if not actually legally. You know, I maintain the slight hope that, actually, the truth matters, and we're going to find out, like, who attended these meetings, what was said. People will testify about it under oath, and we'll be able to decide what happened.

[18:30:28] But, you know, what we know for sure is that anyone who crosses Donald Trump will be attacked mercilessly. And that's what Michael Cohen has learned.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I have to assume, Anne, that Mueller and his team, they've been working, obviously, for more than a year now, they know so much more about all of this than we know, than we have any suspicion of even knowing. You're a former prosecutor.

ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. There's no question. I mean, there's so much we don't know. We're going to learn more starting very shortly when the Manafort trial begins.

And I also don't think in addition to the sort of -- the Cohen tapes coming out and Cohen switching sides, at least publicly, I also think that the fact that we're on the eve of the Manafort trial may be driving some of this -- some of the swings that the president is making right now, because I think we're going to see three weeks of news that is pretty devastating about what Manafort was engaged in. And so they may be preparing for that, as well.

BLITZER: Good point. That trial begins tomorrow with jury selection.

Just ahead, the criminal trial of former Trump campaign Paul Manafort, once again, beginning very, very soon, tomorrow. The special counsel is now revealing how Manafort pocketed tens of millions of dollars.

And we'll go live to the worsening fire disaster in California where a grandmother and her great-grandchildren are among the dead.


[18:436:12] BLITZER: The special counsel, Robert Mueller's, team says that indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort made $60 million from his political consulting work in Ukraine.

Let's go to our justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, explain why this revelation about how much money Manafort made is important.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a revelation that came just in the last couple hours. We were talking hours away from when jury selection is set to begin in Alexandria, Virginia.

The -- prosecutors for Robert Mueller and the defense are fighting over whether or not the jury will get to see 50 or so exhibits. These are exhibits that the Manafort team says are prejudicial, that they're irrelevant to the charges.

Remember that Manafort is going on trial on bank and tax fraud charges, and so the Manafort team wants these exhibits and this evidence not shown to the jury.

The government responded this afternoon, saying that this is evidence that shows that Manafort made $60 million working for the Ukrainian government, that this is exhibits -- these are e-mails, these are memos, these are photos that they show, quote -- "show full, the full sweep of Manafort's Ukrainian work."

Essentially, they say this is evidence that's going to be corroborating evidence for some of the witnesses that are going to describe what Manafort was doing and why he was using these bank accounts in Cypress and in other foreign locations to hide money that he did not report to the IRS. So this is very, very key evidence, the government says, to this trial, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you point out, his trial gets underway with jury selection tomorrow in suburban Virginia right outside Washington, D.C. What can we expect?

PEREZ: Well, I'll tell you what not to expect. We're not expecting the word "Russia." We're not expecting the word "collusion." We're not probably hardly even hearing the name of President Trump in this trial. The government and the defense have both agreed that they're going to keep this focused on the bank fraud, the tax charges.

And look, this is a tall order for Manafort. He -- this is an uphill climb for them. Because he either filed paperwork saying that he owned these bank accounts or he did not, and what we know is he did not.

So what we expect is that Manafort's team is going to say, "Look, these accounts didn't belong to him." And so this is why the government's evidence, which is going to show all the work that he was doing and why he was getting paid in these foreign locations, is very important.

So we expect three weeks of trial, Wolf, and again, a lot of this is going to be squarely focused on the tax and bank fraud charges. Remember, Manafort also faces charges here in Washington, D.C. That one has a lot more to do with the allegations that he was working for the Ukrainian government and failed to register as a foreign agent, even as he was working for the Trump campaign.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, the president, as the candidate, picked Manafort to be his campaign chairman.

PEREZ: That's right. Exactly.

BLITZER: Evan Perez, thank you very much.

Phil Mudd, what does all this tell you about how Robert Mueller and his team are working?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is like, for a former pro wrestling fan, the steel cage match. Nobody's going to walk out of this, the government or Manafort, without some blood on them.

What's happening, and you saw this with Giuliani today, is the president's team is going to try to say, "Look, the only issue on the table here is Russia. Did somebody cooperate with Russia? All this stuff about lying to federal investigators, all this stuff about money is just a side show."

What the government is saying is, "Look, when we started doing the investigation, this isn't about a few thousand bucks. This isn't about change that you shake out from the sofa. You're talking about somebody who had $60 million of income and didn't declare it." So as they conduct the investigation, I think Mueller is sitting here saying, "I followed the money and I had no option but to say this wasn't an insignificant amount. Manafort was wildly in violation of the law."

[18:40:04] TOOBIN: And what's peculiar is that, even at this late stage, it's unclear to me what Manafort's defense is at this trial.

Remember, Rick Gates, who was with him every step of the way, is going to be testifying that the whole thing was an illegal, a scam, tax avoidance, money laundering. What's the defense? I guess that, you know, Rick Gates is trying to save his own skin, but did he pay his taxes? I mean, what's the defense in the case? I don't know.

BLITZER: Because if he's convicted, Anne, he's going to spend the rest of his life in jail, given all the charges that have been leveled against him, which is to me sort of surprising he didn't cooperate and say, "You know what? Let's make a deal."

MILGRAM: Yes. I mean, this is, in my opinion, an incredibly strong case. It's a paper case.

I think both Jeff and Phil just asked the right question, which is what is the defense, particularly where there's a cooperator who's going to say, yes, that was actually Manafort's account.

And so this strikes me as an incredibly difficult case for Manafort to beat. And an incredibly -- when you talk about paper cases, you follow the money and you follow the trail, and you have a criminal prosecution that, more often than not, is successful.

And as to the time, I mean, each count can be up to -- there are counts up to 30 years. And so he's looking at a lot of exposure in federal prison for a conviction.

TOOBIN: And by the way, it's in Alexandria, which is known as the rocket docket. They say this trial is going to take three weeks. Bet that it will take two weeks, not three weeks. BLITZER: Really?

TOOBIN: Things go very fast in that courthouse.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And as Evan was saying, this is mostly focused on the tax and the bank fraud, all of these things that occurred before he served as the campaign chairman for President Trump.

But Anne's right; this is going to put the focus back on the Russia investigation, back on the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and that is going to be played out on television, which we know the president watches frequently, day after day after day. And it's only going to bring that up and likely infuriate him even more, which is also likely why we've seen him lash out at the special counsel so much in recent days.

BLITZER: And the president's not happy that this is all unfolding right now. And he said, "Look, what Manafort did was a long, long time ago. It has nothing to do with me."

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what it has to do with him is the obvious. He was his campaign chair at a critical juncture in the campaign, someone who had been a long-term fixture in Republican politics.

And as Jeffrey was saying, there's not -- there's certainly not an obvious defense for what he did in his consulting practice. And then you have all these dashed lines to his business ties overseas with pro-Russian, Ukrainian government forces. This is another dash line to the Russian investigation. Doesn't prove he's guilty of anything, but makes it clear why it's being investigated.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, let's sort of button up what happened to you last week over at the White House. You were the network pool reporter at an event. You asked legitimate, important questions, and the president didn't want to answer. That was fine, you left.

And then you were told you can't go to an open event in the Rose Garden, because they didn't like the questions you were asking. What's been the fallout since then?

COLLINS: Well, that's right. And the White House has received a lot of backlash from other reporters, because I was there representing all of the networks. I should note that I did go in as the pool reporter today representing all of the networks. We once again asked the president questions that the White House said he wasn't going to answer those beforehand, because he had already held a press conference with the Italian prime minister today, where they took four questions total, two from each side of the American and Italian press.

But we're going to continue to ask the president questions, because that is our job, and that's what we do day-in and day-out. And clearly this Cohen stuff is really consuming the president. It's something he's quite angry about. That is what we were asking about in the Oval Office last week. And you can see how that is really showing you and revealing to you

the president's mindset on all of this and just how angry he is over what his former attorney, long-time friend and fixer has said about him. The president's frustration is really coming through in regards to all of these questions.

BLITZER: You're doing an excellent job for CNN and all of the networks, I must say, when you're the pool reporter. And we're grateful that we have you. Thanks so much for doing that.

Kaitlan, give her a big round of applause. She's doing a great job.

All right. We're going to take a quick break. Much more news right after this.


[18:48:49] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight: President Trump doubling down on his threat to shut down the federal government if Congress doesn't bow to his border security immigration and demands, including funding for his border wall with Mexico.

Our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is up on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, Republicans control Congress, the House and the Senate. So, the prospect of a government shutdown before midterm elections must be rattling a lot of nerves there.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf. This is not what Republican leaders want. It's not what they expected.

One Republican senator just telling me moments ago this would be a big mistake if it happens. It is not at all necessary. But here you have the president of the United States again essentially throwing a wrench into his own party's plan by threatening this potential shutdown and essentially throwing this place into a state of uncertainty.

You had Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell who headed to the White House last week to meet with President Trump on this very issue, and both of those leaders left that meeting with confidence that this could be avoided, that they felt President Trump would sign a short term measure, even if that didn't include money for his border wall, even if it didn't include these other broader immigration reforms that he has been calling for. So what we saw from Republican leaders responding to the threat downplay the significance of this presidential tweet and then didn't include money for his border wall, even if it didn't include these other broader immigration reforms that he has been calling for.

[18:50:00] So what we saw from Republican leaders responding to this threat is essentially them trying to look the other way, downplay the significance of this presidential tweet and then his threat that he doubled down on today, saying that they're going to continue on with their own plans to pass as so many spending bills before the midterm elections as possible, avoiding a shutdown. And this is something we saw echoed from Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor earlier today.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We'll finish up the set of appropriation measures. We've been considering for several days and take four more big steps toward our goal of completing our regulation appropriations process and funding the government in a timely and orderly manner.


SERFATY: Now, keep in mind, President Trump has made similar threats before. Back earlier this year, he ended up, indeed, signing a spending bill that would fund the government until September, but he made comments in March saying, look, he was very unhappy that the money that was not included for the border wall he wants. He says then that this is something that he would not do again.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


SERFATY: And the timeline of this potentially new threat is certainly important here as well. The government is set to run out of money at the end of the day on September 30th. That seems like a far away off, but it most certainly is not because the House just went on a five- week recess. When they get back in early September, that only gives them 11 legislative days to figure all this out.

And that's why the deadline looming, that puts them about one month before midterm elections and that's why we saw this huge response from Republicans up here on Capitol Hill today, essentially warning what this would do. Senator Lindsey Graham telling us just moments ago that Republicans are the ones who are going to get the blame if this happens -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill, thanks for that report.

There's more breaking news. We're going to get a live update on the truly devastating fire ravaging northern California tonight. And we'll hear from a man who was on the phone with his family as the fire claimed their lives.


[18:57:02] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The giant wildfire raging in northern California. The numbers are growing grimmer tonight, including the lives lost and homes destroyed. CNN's Nick Watt is in Redding, California, for us.

Nick, what's the latest that you're seeing there?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are more than a dozen wildfires blazing in California right now, but this is the biggest, more than 700 homes destroyed so far in the Redding area. Redding's police chief lost his own home Sunday. He is back at work. This is all hands on deck.

This fire is leaving a trail of destruction, devastation and heartbreak.


WATT (voice-over): One of the most destructive fires to ever burn in California, 150 square miles, an area the size of Denver, scorched. Almost 1,000 buildings destroyed, 38,000 people forced to flee their homes and six lives lost so far. Among them, two firefighters, one person who refused to evacuate and three members of a family who were getting ready to flee the flames.

Ed Bledsoe spoke to his wife Melody and their great grandchildren Emily and James moments before the fire reached them.

ED BLEDSOE, LOST THREE FAMILY MEMBERS IN FIRE: He said, come and get me. The fire's coming in the back door. Come on, grandpa. I said, I'm right down the road. He said, come and get us.

Emily said, I love you grandpa. Grandma says, I love you grandpa, and Junior says, I love you, come and get us. Come and get us. I said, I'm on my way.

WATT: The fire is so large and temperatures so hot it is creating its own weather system. It can be seen from space.

Gail force winds whipped towering flames into what firefighters described as fire tornadoes. And the fire actually doubled in size overnight at the weekend. This isn't just a back country blaze. The fire threatening and burning parts of Redding, California, population more than 90,000.

CHIEF ROGER MOORE, REDDING POLICE: This fire is scary to us. This is something we haven't seen before in the city.

WATT: Some were given only 30 minutes to evacuate, not knowing if they would ever see their homes again.

JOSH LISTER, FAMILIY LOST HOME IN FIRE: It looked like an atomic bomb went off after the fact. We got a few pictures from friends, but it was a firestorm when we left.

WATT: For the Lister family, their worst fears realized, they lost everything.

There are now scattered reports of looting in those abandoned areas and on the fire lines, 17 helicopters, 300 engines and over 3,000 personnel continue to fight for control of this inferno.


WATT: Now, we just got the first bit of good news today, that the fire is now 20 percent contained. They've been working very hard to secure these lines around the city of Redding, but firefighters have described this fire as chaotic and unpredictable.

We're going to see 100-degree-plus temperatures all week. It is hot. It is dry. Who knows where this is going to go next -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So heartbreaking, indeed. Nick Watt, thank you.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.