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CNN TONIGHT

Sources: Cohen Aggressively Pitched Himself to Potential Clients Promising Access to Trump after 2016 Election; White House Dodges Questions About Cohen; Trump's Latest Attack On Media; Michael Cohen Paid By U.S. Firm With Links To Russian Oligarch; CNN Sources: Cohen Pitched Himself Promising Access To Trump; George Will Slams Vice President Mike Pence. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired May 9, 2017 - 23:00   ET

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


[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. It is 11:00 p.m., right on nose, right now on the East Coast. And we're learning a lot more tonight about how Michael Cohen turned his relationship with Donald Trump into a big box business.

Multiple sources telling CNN that Cohen the man who describes himself as Donald Trump's fixer aggressively pitched himself to potential clients after Trump's election. According to one Republican strategist saying, quote, "I'm the guy you should hire, I'm closest to the President. I'm his personal lawyer."

Well, apparently the pitch worked. The money came rolling in. More than a million dollars in the months following the election including from a company linked to a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin. All of this raises a lot of questions for Cohen, who's already under criminal investigation related to his business dealings, but we're not getting any answers tonight. Any from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't you think the public has a right to get some answers about these questions that their payments coming from Russian connected entities or Russian individuals connected to the Kremlin through a shell company that is controlled by Mr. Cohen to pay off whoever? I mean, doesn't the American people have a right to have some information about that?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I think there are appropriate venues and channels in which to do that, and I've encouraged you to reach out to them to do exactly what you've just outlined.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I want to bring in now CNN Contributor, Frank Bruni of "The New York Times," also CNN Political Analysts, April Ryan and Brian Karem. You guys get the same answer every day no matter how you ask that question. I will refer you to had President's outside council.

I mean, she was sort of smiling when Jim was asking the question, because she knew the answer.

FRANK BRUNI, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": She was.

LEMON: I am going to refer you to the outside council. Before I get to you guys at the White House, I just want to start with you, Frank, because we have this new CNN -- this reporting now -- CNN reporting that Michael Cohen, aggressively, allegedly pitched himself to potential companies including Novartis, the pharmaceutical giant saying that he was, you know, he had access to the President and possibly granting them access to the White House. Is that problematic? Is this how the swamp works?

BRUNI: Well, I mean it is problematic. Because of the fierce of what you did because of our quick initiative, because I mean, usually this stuff is done in a slightly more subtle fashion. And I don't think we had ever seen something -- well, we seldom seen something quite this blatant. As you had hinted, there is pay to play, there is selling of access in Washington. That goes back a long time. But as with so many other things in the Trump administration this is at an extreme and with an intensity and with a shamelessness that I think takes it to a whole other level.

LEMON: And with people who don't -- who would not use a -- use it in this role, the (inaudible) whatever you had. In this role, Michael Cohen, which is the role of personal attorney that is never -- that a personal attorney has never been.

BRUNI: Right.

LEMON: And usually a company will hire a lobbyist or call the White House and say we would like to meet with you just to discuss some issues or what have you or get to know you, or whatever it is, but not call the person, Frank?

BRUNI: And you just used a very important word which is lobbyist. He is not a registered lobbyist and it seems what he was promising to do was lobby and to lobby and get them things they wanted in return for the payments they were giving at.

LEMON: April, did you know, we are going to talk about the public face of this in just a minute, but what is the private reaction to this behind the scenes at the White House?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALIST: It's stinging. What is known -- it is stinging. What is known is that Michael Cohen for years has been the fixer, but he is also been bringing people to the President. And one person in particular that we know that he brought to this President years ago, who's circulating around the President is Pastor Darrell Scott, and that is the relationship dating back way back when and Darrell Scott, who people are questioning some of his credentials at this time.

He is supposedly one would say, yes, one would say no, supposedly bringing together this urban agenda. So Michael Cohen, has a history of bringing people to the President. But when you are in the proximity of a President of the United States, it's not about lining your pockets. It is not about pay for play, it's about how your accessibility to the president can help people instead of lining your pockets.

LEMON: Brian, I want to talk about Sarah Sanders, because dodging questions left and right today about the president.

BRIAN KAREM, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, SENTINEL NEWSPAPER: All day and twice on Sunday. We meet again, throwback.

LEMON: And the payments received. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know whether Mr. Cohen ever approached the White House as a representative of any of those companies, whether the President was aware of the payments or whether he was aware that Mr. Cohen was marketing something?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware, and again I would refer you to the outside council.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has the President taken any action during his administration to benefit Novartis, AT&T courier airspace?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Not that I am aware of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that Michael Cohen was ever in anyway qualified by insights in this administration?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to get into somebody else's qualifications.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Yes. So, again and again, I mean, she can't get into it. She had referred to a reporter to the outside council. Is the White House -- do you guys feel like the press is getting a run around?

[23:05:04] KAREM: Well, we always get the run around. The only answer that was missing out of that montage was, I can't get ahead of the President on that. And I would tell you, you will never get ahead of the president on that. The only one who ever did was Giuliani and look what had happened. He set himself on fire.

Simply fact the matter is they give her this little information as possible. She has as much admitted that earlier when she said that she gives us the best information, she has at the time. I would bring up something that Frank said earlier. And Frank, I've never heard the word subtle ever used when it comes to the President of the United States or this President anyway. And they are not subtle in how they brawl beaters over the head with what they don't want to tell us.

They need an enemy. We're the enemy. They project upon us as the enemy, and they fight us. And they're going to walk around us and they're going to avoid us. And it's not subtle. It's very brutal, and it's very -- it's un-Presidential. LEMON: They know full well that the outside council is not going to

talk to the President either and we are not getting any answers from that. So, there's basically, you will never going to get an answer to it.

KAREM: Exactly.

LEMON: But April, Sanders seems to use the phrase not aware a lot -- a lot these days. But, I mean, shouldn't she be an aware? She is after all the president's press secretary, she speaks on behalf of the President. That is you April.

RYAN: It is kind of a Galopede dance, not aware, keeps are -- that is delicate dance for her to say not aware. Because she keeps herself out of trouble by saying that, if there's any kind of legality that comes behind what she says. But also listening to former press secretaries before, sometimes they just don't want to know some things. Because if they do they are in a quandary when it comes up in that briefing room. It could slip out or the fact they have to say something that is unflattering for a president.

But in the court of public opinion it doesn't look good. But she is saving herself by saying that she is not aware. So words matter. The devil is in the details, and the devil is in those words. Words matter.

KAREM: Right. And it is a consequence.

RYAN: And for her to say that, she is keeping herself out of trouble.

LEMON: I wonder if there, you know, on this issue if these evasive statements, Frank, if it undermines their credibility when it comes to larger issues.

BRUNI: Well, it totally does, but I don't think she has any credibility left. And I think, yes saying I am unaware, keeps her out of trouble, I think she is genuinely unaware. I think she is being kept in the dark. I think a lot of people around Trump are in the dark a lot of the time. And the question you have to ask is how do you continue in the job? If you have no information, let alone the best information to give people, how can you step out there day after day? And seem to be that utterly -- I mean, because you come across as incompetent even though what you really are is unaware. The empress of unawareness here and why are -- why -- I think it's time to ask why we keep going back to these briefings. We in the media day after day after day? Because it just yields pieces of video like --

LEMON: I was asking that a year ago.

BRUNI: Well, I mean -- you keep asking the right questions.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: If we don't go back to those briefings -- if we don't go back to those briefings they will put us out, they will shut us out. We have got to keep going. And it's not about us. It's about information for the American public.

BRUNI: But you are not getting any information.

RYAN: It's not about us. There's transparency, though. The American public --

KAREM: I'm sorry, the situation is --

RYAN: The American public has at least saying what is going on.

LEMON: One at a time. Brian and then April. Go ahead, Brian.

KAREM: OK. But Thomas told me something the very first time I walked into that press briefing in 1986, and it holds to this day. It's not the answers that are given. It's the questions that are asked. You now have put something out into the public that has to be dealt with, and that is why we're there. And that is more important than anything. And Helen told me that at a time when these briefings weren't televised. It is the questions. It is always about the questions.

The answers, you're going to get the run around, you are going to get lied to, you are going to get -- but our job, April's job, my job, everybody's in that room is to find out what's going on with this President, any President. That is a very simple job that we have. And so you have to have the briefings, you have to go to the briefings, you have to ask the questions. And I understand that they're not always going to tell me the truth, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to ask the questions.

LEMON: All right. April respond and then I will let Frank. What would you want to say?

RYAN: Really fast. I mean, it's about the transparency piece. For the American public to see the back and forth, to understand the lay of the land and what's going on. This is the President of the United States in an historic time, a time such as this. They need to see and hear what's going on to judge for themselves as well as us lobbing the questions and getting back an answer or no answer. I agree that sometimes we don't get answer. But we are going be there, we are the forth of state. We are built into the accountability piece that the founding fathers put in for the first amendment. So I will be there as long as we can be.

LEMON: Yes. OK. Listen, I see both sides of this, because I sit at home. I'm not there in the briefing. And I often wonder when, you know, I'm watching why doesn't the next reporter ask the same question and the next reporter and the next reporter and asked the same question, because she keeps cutting them off?

BRUNI: Right.

[23:10:05] LEMON: I as an observer don't feel that I'm getting any information from those press briefings and any answers. April said, sometimes -- or sometime we don't get any answers more often there are not, they don't get answers. I understand your frustration, Frank. BRUNI: No, I feel the way you do. I don't feel like I'm getting

anything out of it. This is nothing against April or --

LEMON: It's nothing against the reporters.

BRUNI: No, in fact, I mean, I respect my colleagues enormously. I am just saying, I think that it has come to a point now, where we have to ask questions, whether just asking those questions for the sake of that. There are a million ways to put questions out the sides on camera in front of Sarah Huckabee Sanders. You can do it in the stories you are writing. You can do it tweets. And there's many ways to show that we're asking the right questions and we're not getting answers without going to everyone and being hostage to a press secretary who either doesn't know anything or won't say anything.

KAREM: So why take away one of the tools?

BRUNI: because the tool isn't working.

KAREM: Well, it is working, because we are there. That is the very point. We are there. We are asking the questions.

(CROSSTALK)

BRUNI: -- other ways.

KAREM: No, yes. I understand that. But you're saying one of the ways is to get away from the briefing and I disagree. Because people do listen, people do watch. And again it shows that White House is more transparent --

BRUNI: people listen and watch --- with all due respect people listen and watch and see what? They don't get -- they don't extract any information. I mean, --

KAREM: You extracted some information from it. You said that it's not forthcoming. That is information.

(CROSSTALK)

KAREM: The point is you have to continue.

RYAN: Frank, --

LEMON: I got to go, April. Quick please.

RYAN: Frank, I totally -- I respect what you say, Frank. But once we don't show up and they already want to push us out, as soon as we are not in those seats they shut the door and it could be shut forever. We cannot relinquish what is ours.

BRUNI: We are getting amazing reporting from you too and others about the Trump administration, not because you're sitting in those seats, it is because of all the work you're doing outside of that room. And so I don't think the information process -- the information extraction process ends by not being in those seats at that appointed time. (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: OK. We've got a lot to talk about. You guys -- oh, you're not coming back. Yes, you are coming back. Yes, so, stick around. We will be right back, we will continue the conversation and we will do other things.

We'll talk about the President calling out what he says is fake news. We'll talk about that.

[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So the President kicked off executive time this morning with his favorite subject attacking the media. Back with me, Frank Bruni, April Ryan, and Brian Karem. OK. So, let's continue our conversation here. Again, I don't -- Frank wants to make sure you guys know he is not attacking you. He is just saying the press briefings --

BRUNI: I thought he was applying for a job as contractor for the administration. I didn't know actually.

LEMON: We're going to get to the President's tweet, but it's become the theater of the absurd, don't you think? Because sometimes when you watch what he become, it's become theater. And I remember and you know, during the Obama administration, during other administrations they would say, the press secretary is talking about Iran, let's dip in now. The press secretary is talking about Iraq, let's dip in now. We didn't carry the press briefings, the entire press briefing every day. I just want to -- is that necessary, what we are saying, you should give up -- you should give up the seats? But if we're not getting any information, shouldn't we just you go to them when you're getting some information out of the press briefings?

KAREM: Well, that is kind of up to the administration, isn't it? I mean, we're going to be there, whenever they say they're going to have a briefing. If you remember, Sean Spicer turned the cameras off and guess who turned them back on? It was Anthony Scaramucci.

LEMON: I don't think anyone is advocating that out --

KAREM: Well, I mean, he had -- what he did have some briefings that were off camera. He turned it off and have some are off camera. And so I mean, that is an option.

LEMON: And selectively invited people but go on, April.

KAREM: Yes.

LEMON: April?

RYAN: So here's -- I understand Frank's point. I understand Frank's point and I agree with Frank to a certain extent, and I really respect what he has to say. But here's the thing, the reason why all the major networks are tuning in for the briefing is because it is a reality show that people want to see. They love to love it or love to hate it, and that is unfortunate. But it started happening for day one when Sean Spicer came out in that

ill-fitting suit talking about the size, the crowd size and how size matters and then went from there. And then it continues. People want to watch and see the non-answers and the answers.

LEMON: OK.

RYAN: You know, the American political is a reciprocal thing.

LEMON: Let Frank weigh in, because I want to get to the other part, Frank.

BRUNI: I just want to say two quick things. One thing if we are turning ourselves into a reality show in response to Trump, well then he is remaking us.

RYAN: I'm not.

LEMON: Yes.

BRUNI: No, but I mean --

KAREM: We are not.

BRUNI: He is remaking us and this it's going to stretch to a bigger concern I have about how much we all sink to the lowest level, because he is at a low level. The other thing that I want to say in my concern comes from the following. I get e-mails from readers, every week, saying I don't understand why all of you, they are just slumping all the press, I don't understand why all of you are going every day. I feel like you are essentially kind of normalizing the absurd. You're giving a sort of dignity to that it doesn't deserve. And if we are not going to get -- if you are not going to get answers for us, the American public isn't going to get answers through this, stop sanctioning and supporting it for a time being.

LEMON: And it also could look like --

RYAN: It is not normal.

LEMON: -- when she doesn't answer -- hold on. When he doesn't answer, I have to say sometimes it looks like you guys are badgering her. People think you are, even though the question is, we understand the question and we get it.

RYAN: Oh come on, Don. Oh my goodness.

LEMON: Do you guys disagree?

KAREM: Let me ask you this.

LEMON: No.

KAREM: How many times in the last year and a half has the President of the United States had a solo press conference? Sometimes the only interaction we get with this administration is in that room. You can't even go back and get e-mails answered. Sometimes they're not in office, they won't talk to you. This is sometimes the greatest access you have to administrate --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Yes, OK listen, I have to get to the other stuff. I got to get to the other stuff. Let me just say sometimes you're too close to it, right? I would suggest that you guys, whenever you are off, or whatever, take a week off and some time off and send somebody else there and sit and watch the press briefing and then you'll understand what we're saying.

RYAN: Oh I get that. I try not to.

LEMON: So listen, let us talk about the president the fact that he said the fake news is working overtime, just reported that despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy and all things else, 91 percent of the network news about me is negative, fake. Why do you work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt?

[23:20:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They work hard with working with the media when it's corrupt.

LEMON: Taking away credentials. Is he crossing a line, do you think when he threatens to take away credentials?

KAREM: Which line? He has crossed many lines.

BRUNI: You know, Brian is entirely right. Yes, he has crossed the line and he did this, did sort of take away credentials during the primaries, if you remember there were some campaign events and phases. But the great thing about that tweet, I mean, you heard of a Freudian slip. That was a Freudian tweet. He made clear that what he means by fake news is news that is negative about Trump. We always knew that about him, but he admitted it right then and there and I think that is a keeper.

LEMON: Go ahead, April. What do you think of that?

RYAN: I think the President is someone who likes to throw things out and threaten and then maybe ultimately will do it. I take this seriously. He has threatened it this for a long time, and he wants nothing more than to do this. And I know Sarah Huckabee Sanders today said, you know, I'll continue to take your questions of the president took your questions today.

But this President is very upset with our coverage about Iran, he is very upset with our coverage about Russia, he is very upset about our coverage with Michael Cohen. He is very upset about anything that does not put him in this glorious light, this halo that he wants to walk under. The sad piece about it is that he does not remember a time where we questioned Bill Clinton, when we questioned Ronald Reagan, where we questioned George H.W. Bush, where we questioned George W. Bush, where we questioned Barack Obama. And we were able to have a friendly adversarial relationship. Right now we are being warred upon by this administration, w-a-r-r-e-

d. No matter how many questions they answer. And they would like nothing more than to put us out. And if they do that, it changes the dynamic of that first amendment, where it's freedom of the press, and it's not about suppressing us, it is bout suppressing information to the American public.

And that is what people need to really understand. It's not about April Ryan, it is not about Brian Karem or any other reporter. It's about suppressing the facts and the back and forth, the accountability piece. That is what it's about.

LEMON: OK. Listen, Brian, I want you to weigh in on this and I have a short time left. OK. Let me just read this, because President Trump tweeted falsely tonight. He said the failing "The New York Times" criticized Secretary of State, Pompeo, for being AWOL, missing when in fact he was flying to North Korea. Fake news, so bad. And then Sarah Sanders also attacked the media today for getting it wrong. Here is the fact check. "The New York Times" story, and we will put it out, to be clear at the Times never used the terms, AWOL or missing. The story said Pompeo was flying to North Korea. It was about why the trip's timing but Flex European Diplomat and may Pompeo hard to reach. Why would the president say that?

KAREM: Fake tweet, because again, he is trying to project upon us we're the enemy, shoot the messenger. And he literally like to do it sometimes, I think. And the bottom line is, look -- this president, I want to jail, cover the war, April's been there 21 years, we are not going anywhere. You need grow up and take our medicine, I said that earlier today, he needs to understand every President, every President, every President is criticized. This is the first time I've ever seen a President in my lifetime who was criticized, who wants to do away with the fourth of state.

And the bottom line Don, is the threat is not to us. We go to the White House every day. Plenty of security there. The threat is going to be and the person who's going to get hurt is that 25-year-old kid who's first time on the job covering a state fair or county fair somewhere in Montana, and someone is going to want to prove themselves to the President of the United States, wearing a MAGA hat or wanting to make America great again is going to be attacked and hurt a reporter. That is where is headed.

He may not believe everything he tweets or everything he says. As Anthony Scaramucci says, he often does things for show, but people take him seriously. As we said earlier words have consequences. And these words are particularly dangerous for United States and for the President of the United States to say them. We are not going anywhere. He has to grow up.

LEMON: Yes. One of our correspondents who was here said he was in the airport. He contacted the media of the day and said he got a dressing down in the airport and thought, you know, this person, this woman was going to attack him. And some of the words she used was just unbelievable and that has never happened in his career. It's never happened in my career. KAREM: Well, April has had death threats. I've had death threats.

We all have some death threats.

LEMON: We all have. I enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much.

RYAN: And it's not right.

LEMON: We want you guys to stay there, but just take a moment to watch some time.

RYAN: Maybe, Don.

LEMON: Oh come on.

When we come back, Michael Cohen's aggressive pitch to potential corporate clients after his boss became President. You'll want to hear this.

[23:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Multiple sources telling CNN that Michael Cohen, the man who describes himself as Donald Trump's fixer aggressively pitched himself to potential clients after Trump's election.

So let's discuss now with Seth Hettena, an investigative journalist and the author of "Trump and Russia, a Definitive History -- Trump and Russia, a Definitive History," and CNN National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem, a former Department of Homeland and Security Official. Good evening to both of you. Thank you for coming on, Juliette, you as well.

CNN has learned, Juliette, more about Michael Cohen's alleges sale pitch to potential client. Here's what he reportedly told them according to our sources. I don't know who has been representing you, but you should fire them all. I'm the guy you should hire. I'm closest to the President. I'm his personal lawyer. So Juliette, if Cohen is being hired, because of his access and proximity to the President, is that pay for play?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I mean, it is just simply is. And I think these stories sort of finally, sort of put to rest this notion that Michael Cohen is just this sort of hanger on and some dupe. He was quite strategic in who he went after, directly calling CEO's. And I would really separate the different contracts he was getting through this company. There's the AT&T and Novartis and other companies that were clearly using him as a lobbyist, even though he never was designated as a lobbyist, do he does have some legal problems and the of course, the Russia connections.

[23:30:00] You know, why would a Russian oligarch pay money to Michael Cohen, into a fund that was also used to pay Stormy Daniels? And that oligarch also benefited from the delays of the Russian sanctions implementation that has been ongoing with this Trump White House.

I don't think the answer to that question, but the fact that I can even ask that question shows how interconnected the Trump empire is and that Michael Cohen does not just represent the Stormy Daniels side of the problems for Donald Trump but the whole mess. The Russian, the money, and the sex scandals.

So this is a big story that I think we're -- I mean, let me say this. To the extent the story has changed so much in just 24 hours, the extent of how much money Michael Cohen was making, I think this story is going to be ongoing for the next couple of days.

LEMON: So Seth, Cohen has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by at least three large corporations. And the reasons these companies are giving for hiring him range from U.S. health care policy matters, understanding the new administration, and legal advice on the cost accounting standards regulation.

I mean that's a wide range of topics for one man to be an expert on. Do you think he's qualified to provide all these services?

SETH HETTENA, AUTHOR AND INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Right, so he is an accountant, he is a doctor, and he is a real estate broker all at the same time. You know, what I -- what my reporting has shown is that I'm not surprised to see Cohen in this position because he's been playing this role for a long time.

He's often described as the fixer. But he really is, according to my reporting, is a conduit for money. That goes way back decades. You know, that's been his relationship with Cohen, is to funnel money into Trump's businesses. And he kind of seems to be playing the same role, you know, after Trump's election.

LEMON: So given the evidence of that, because I understand you have been doing some digging in, and I don't know if this has to do with business ties. He apparently has deep business ties to Russia. But is that part of the funneling money into --

HETTENA: Right. So, you know, what my reporting shows is that he came into the Trump orbit through his father-in-law. He married into Ukrainian family. And what the federal sources I've spoken to have told me is that, it was the father-in-law who was the conduit for money to Russia and it was through the father-in-law, actually, that Cohen came into Trump's world.

And the father-in-law, by the way, has a conviction for a money laundering-related crime. Cohen has other kind of organized crime ties in his past. So there's a lot of kind of dirty business around Cohen, and this is just a continuation of what's been going on for a long time.

LEMON: What kind of businesses he involved in general? And the money, if they are following the money, where do you think that will lead investigators?

HETTENA: Well, look, I mean, they are following the money in a lot of different places. I think what we need to know and what we don't know is where the -- you know, we see this pattern of cash coming into Trump's businesses around the time that Cohen arrives in the Trump Organization. And what we don't know is exactly the nature of those sources. And I think that's where we need to look next, exactly where that money has been coming from.

LEMON: You're not surprised. Juliette, I'm going to get back to you. But I said to you before we came on that -- I asked you how unusual is it to have the president's personal lawyer, a fixer in this role rather than someone or a company that has, you know, has been paid as a lobbyist, as a registered lobbyist, or someone who, you know, is not a part of the administration? How unusual is that?

HETTENA: Well, to me it's an incredibly sloppy, clumsy kind of sleazy effort. He's got a company where you're mixing slush funds and pay to play in the same company with his name on it. And it's just an astonishingly bad operation from soup to nuts.

LEMON: There is a possibility, Juliette, of Cohen potentially cooperating with Mueller, seemed more likely given what we've learned about these payments?

KAYYEM: I think so. I mean, I think that noise you're hearing is everyone throwing Michael Cohen under the bus, whether it's Novartis or AT&T or the silence of the Trump White House in defending him. I mean, I think the questions I have now are sort of where did this $4.4 million go?

That's how much we know was in this -- just this LLC. We don't know what other LLCs are. Where did that money go? That's a lot of money. Was it just supporting Michael Cohen's family and lifestyle or where did they go? I think that's a legitimate question to ask.

And the other is taking a step back on the national security side and why I do think it's important that reporters not view Stormy Daniels and Russia as different. They are linked, and which is that everything that we know to the extent of, you know, Trump's vulnerabilities, Trump's allegiances, and Trump's desire to get more money, is also what the Russians know.

And they certainly knew it. And so they were playing with it as well, and they were giving money to Michael Cohen or trying to meet with the son-in-law or whatever.

[23:34:59] So, these vulnerabilities that are Trump's own fault because of his focus solely on what kind of wealth he can accumulate are actually national security vulnerabilities because we don't know what allegiances Trump had and what allegiances the trump organization had. I think that means that Michael Cohen is vulnerable because he's not family. If you're not family, you are expendable.

LEMON: Yes. Let me just quickly, Seth, before we run out of time, you said that Cohen is the key to unlocking Trump. What do you mean by that?

HETTENA: Well, you know, I guess I disagree with Julia a little bit there. I think that their relationship goes back so far that if Cohen goes down, then Trump is going down with him. So, they're intertwined and they have a history that goes back for years. They have money connections through family, through Cohen's family, through Trump's businesses.

To me, it's all interrelated. It's all connected. And, you know, that's what I mean about the key, that it's through Cohen that this money is coming into Trump's world.

LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate it. When we come back, as the White House dodges questions about Michael Cohen, is the president's attorney on thin ice tonight?

[23:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The White House dodging questions about President Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, as we're learning more about how he allegedly aggressively pitched himself to potential clients, promising access to the president.

Here to discuss, CNN political Commentators, Joe Lockhart and Alice Stewart and Republican Strategist, Rick Wilson. Hello all. Rick --

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hi, Don.

LEMON: -- I can't wait to hear from you.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Hi, Don.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: So give me your read on what we're learning about Michael Cohen and these payments.

WILSON: Look, Michael Cohen clearly was a guy who was basically taking Donald Trump's message of draining the swamp and instead he was standing under the street corner -- street light with his skirt hiked up saying hey, sailor. This is a guy who put himself out there as a guy who could sell access to Donald Trump and who could sell access to this White House to -- and he was doing it entrepreneurially.

He was calling Novartis and AT&T and saying basically, take me, I'm yours. And I am blown away by how -- on the one hand how shocked people are by this. They don't know who these people are at this point. It's Michael Cohen, it's Donald Trump. These guys have a pretty low boundary for ethical behavior to begin with.

So none of this surprises me, but we're going to have some more hilarity on this because this is a guy who decided -- as I like to say, there's a golden pyramid of sleaze, and he's at the peak of the damn thing.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: We're going to follow that, Don? Really? How --

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: I'm sorry. I'm just -- like Marilyn Monroe, skirt blowing up.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Anyways, all right. So today Sarah Sanders, Joe, essentially dodged questions about reports that Michael Cohen received payments from businesses seeking access to the administration. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the president concerned about any aspect of what we've learned in the last 24 hours?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As you know, due to the complications of the different components of this investigation, I would refer you to the president's outside special counsel -- outside counsel to address those concerns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that Michael Cohen was ever in any way qualified to buy insight into this administration?

SANDERS: I'm not going to get into somebody else's qualifications. That's something that an independent company that hires an individual would have to make that determination, not me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president promised to drain the swamp, so does he feel it's appropriate that Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, was selling access to him?

SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to weigh into this. That's a determination the individual companies have to make, and I haven't spoken with the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: The White House has refused to answer questions about Cohen and those payments. Does the public deserve an answer?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They deserve an answer. They don't necessarily deserve an answer, a play by play at every briefing.

LEMON: Right.

LOCKHART: What I found fascinating about today's briefing is I think they've now become officially useless. They were useful before because they gave a platform for Sarah Sanders and the Trump administration a way to talk to their base on a daily basis, that I think had an impact and a positive impact for them.

But what you saw there in like that second and third answer is, she's not hitting back anymore, at all. It would have been very easy there to pivot and talk about, look at what the president has done. He's gone after the pharmaceutical industry. He had his Department of Justice sue to block the merger for AT&T.

So the pay for play doesn't work with Donald Trump. And she didn't. And I think she didn't because she's caught now. She just doesn't know what to believe. She doesn't know who to believe. So she's just going to play defense and you're going to have a lot of briefings like you had today where nobody gets anything out of it.

LEMON: Wow, that was very insightful. Go ahead, Alice.

STEWART: Don, touching on what Rick said, clearly Michael Cohen overpromised and underdelivered access to the White House. And once these companies realized that they weren't going to get what they paid for, they stopped doing business with him. Whether or not the president knew about it or not, that's the question.

In my work as a professional with an administration, your job is not to provide yourself plausible deniability but provide the public credible information. And I think unfortunately that's what's missing here. People have the right to know what happened. People have the right to know whether or not the president knew about this.

And I think it's important and imperative for the White House to provide that information. And in my view, I don't care what the topic is, whether we're talking about playmates or porn stars or payoffs or Russia. If the president tweets about it, it's the White House's responsibility to answer questions about it. Unfortunately, the public is not getting that.

LEMON: Hold on. We're going to pick up on that and let's really think about what Alice said. Did Michael Cohen -- was he overpaid and did he underdeliver? Do the companies overpay and he underdeliver?

[23:45:02] We'll talk about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Back with me now, Joe Lockhart, Alice Stewart, and Rick Wilson. So Rick, in the vain (ph) of being overpaid and undelivering, both Novartis and AT&T have acknowledged that they paid Cohen to get better insight into the president.

Novartis paid a total of $1.2 million. AT&T paid at least $200,000. AT&T is seeking government approval for the acquisition of Time Warner, which is CNN's parent company. The question is, what did they expect to get for their money? And do we know what any of these people or companies got in return?

WILSON: Look, it's not unusual for companies to go out and try to find folks who have been inside administration or influence in a campaign to help them understand the thinking processes and the procedures that are in place and the personalities in administrations, that as policy questions develop.

They typically go out to higher folks who are professionals who actually have a basis of knowledge. Michael Cohen is Trump's personal attorney who handles various NBAs (ph) for girlfriends, models, actresses, porn stars, whatever.

[23:50:01] But that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to know a lot about say telecom policy for AT&T or form a policy or Obamacare for Novartis. These companies knew exactly what they were doing in this case, and they were hiring a guy who portrayed himself as having singular influence over Donald Trump.

And he portrayed himself as having a set of insights into Donald Trump's personality and the ability to influence Donald Trump in ways that were well beyond what even the most shameless lobbyist would do in their pitches.

One reporting that he said -- that he said, fire your other guys and hire me, I'm the only one who really knows Donald, I'll take care of you. That's the sort of thing that's really pushing the envelope rather abruptly, in a lobbying situation.

LEMON: Alice, what do you want to say?

STEWART: The optics of this are bad. And it looks like there's some shenanigans going on here, but the real question is, one, whether or not the president knew that these promises were being made and whether or not these introductions were made and whether or not that that influenced anything that the president did.

But from Michael Cohen's standpoint, the questions will be, if he's doing lobbying work, was he registered as a lobbyist? And from what we all understand, no, he wasn't. He may skirt around that by the lobbying rules that say, more than 20 percent of your work is lobbying, then you have to be registered.

Based on what we know about the kind of work performance he has, it probably wasn't. He's not doing a whole lot of work for anyone. So, he may be able to skirt around that. But at the end of the day, it just looks bad and it raises a lot of questions around someone that's already has a lot of legal jeopardy in other regards. And it just creates a lot of uncertainty, questions that people need to know the answer to.

LEMON: Joe, you want to weigh in on this?

LOCKHART: Well, first off, the lobbying rules are a joke. More than 50 percent, maybe 70 percent of the actual lobbying that gets done is unregistered, strategic advice. So, I don't think he's done anything that isn't being done on a regular basis in Washington. I think two interesting points.

One is that Michael Cohen was uniquely positioned. Michael Cohen is part of what I believe was a corrupt Trump Organization. And the people who hired him knew that he's the one who could say, what's the price for getting what we want? You're not going to have that conversation with a lot of standard traditional Washington lobbyists.

And I think these people took a gamble and it's backfiring on them. The really interesting point is, I understand Novartis and AT&T, they were in the news, why did he reach out to a company so tight with a Russian oligarch?

That's where this gets interesting. Did he have a previous relationship? Did President Trump have a previous relationship? That's what I think Bob Mueller is interested in. That's what we'll have to wait to see on.

LEMON: I want to switch gears now, Rick, and talk about this piece in "The Washington Post." That's by George Will, about Vice President Mike Pence, and he really doesn't hold back here.

He says, Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew -- is that right? Could Trump knew? I think that's wrong there. Become America's most repulsive public figure. Because his is the authentic voice of today's lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year's elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.

What do you think of that? I mean, he doesn't -- you can't get any tougher than that. He is not the first one to point out the vice president's unwavering praise there of the president. Is that an unfair characterization?

WILSON: You know, Don, I've always said that George Will has two things, an amazing command of the English language and the unhesitating ability to cut a bitch when he wants to. This is a guy who went hard at Mike Pence in ways just now that I think will leave a mark, because Mike Pence has been -- he's cast aside every single conservative principle when it comes to defending Donald Trump.

You know, and Pence was a well regarded mainstream conservative governor, you know, a little far to the right for some folks on the social stuff, but he was not outside of the spectrum of Republican behavior.

But the fact that he's become the apologist in chief for the president is something that I find, you know, I think it's hard to see the Mike Pence that people knew in Indiana versus the Mike Pence that people are seeing today. I think Will correctly points that out.

STEWART: Don, I think one thing, the reason Mike Pence is there, certainly, is because he's able to bring the social conservative and the evangelical vote to Trump and able to bring them along. And he is, in large part, responsible for why they continue to support the president with regard to his defense of religious liberty and the Supreme Court and the life issue.

But one thing, I think the world of Mike Pence on the Cruz campaign, he quasi-endorsed us (ph). But, look, what he's mastered the art of is being able to speak out on issues that he wants to.

[23:55:02] And he's strangely silent when it comes to issues that he doesn't want to talk about. And that, I think, is the key to his longevity.

LEMON: OK.

STEWART: He understands that. He speaks when it's important.

LEMON: I got to get Joe in. I'm running out of time. Joe, I just want to read this. Here is another quote. He said, Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not at all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying.

LOCKHART: And I think will singled out the vice president, but his real target is the broader Republican Party that has turned a blind eye to the vulgarity and corruption of President Trump, what he's doing to the institution, what he's doing to the party.

Pence is just the leader, because he's the vice president. Forever people will remember Pence in the cabinet room, you know, almost kneeling at the altar of Donald Trump and offering his unwavering love and devotion. And that's not what a vice president is supposed to do.

LEMON: Thank you, all. I appreciate it. Rick, you get the award for --

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: You're making me blush. I turn rouge. A rust. I turned rust.

STEWART: Colorful language.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: That's it for us tonight. Thank you, guys. That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow. I turned rust. Get it?

[24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)