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Trump Attorney Negotiating Payoff; Lawyer Used Trump Organization E-mail; Possible Meetings Locations with North Korea; Others to Attend Kim Meeting. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired March 9, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
We have some breaking news just coming in to CNN. We've learned that President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, used a Trump Organization e-mail account during negotiations to pay off a porn star who claims to have had an affair with President Trump.
Let's go to our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin. He's got the details for us.
So, Drew, you've just had a chance to speak to Stormy Daniels' attorney. What are you learning?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: A brief conversation. Michael Avenatti confirmed that the e-mail first aired on NBC News is, in fact, legitimate. It is an e-mail between Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels' former attorney, Keith Davidson. And also a representative of First Republic Bank.
It seems to deal, Wolf, with the transaction of money that took place between Michael Cohen, which he says he facilitated, to Stormy Daniels, who we know as Stephanie Clifford. A money transfer that took place between bank accounts on October 26th at 4:15.
Michael Cohen, who sent a message to the bank from his e-mail at TrumpOrg.com. He's asking if his money has been deposited. He's being told that is true. And he forwarded that message to Stormy Daniels' attorney, it looks like, later that same day.
Again, what's interesting here, Wolf, we're learning so much about this affair that the president says he denies through his attorney. We could write a whole book on it.
This is more information, now documentation, coming out that Michael Cohen, during the transaction that took place just days before the 2016 election, was using his own Trump Organization e-mail as a conduit to negotiate and to deliver some of these messages between this porn actress that they were trying to silence, the bank and himself -- Wolf. BLITZER: You know, the legal part of this is important, the political
part is important. From the legal standpoint, Drew, why, potentially, could this be so significant?
GRIFFIN: One of the legal questions is, as I understand it, as a non- attorney, was the president involved? Did the president know? Was there communication between Michael Cohen, Trump's private attorney, and the president over what to do about Stormy Daniels?
You know, Michael Cohen says, no. But all of these other indications, including the nondisclosure agreement, seem to indicate that there was communication.
And Sarah Sanders at the White House was talking about how the president had won this arbitration agreement and it was a win for the president which also seems to indicate that there's been some communication.
So, the question is, was President Trump, then Donald Trump, directly involved, or at least communicated with, with his attorney about this issue of trying to silence this porn star in the days before the election. And was that done for political purposes?
If it was, that brings into the whole aspect, this complaint at the federal election commission, that this was, in fact, done on behalf of the campaign.
It should have been either a disclosed campaign contribution or somehow this is an illegal campaign contribution, because $130,000 violates the limit of personal money you can donate to a campaign.
BLITZER: Yes, it's, sort of, described as an in-kind campaign contribution, potentially.
Stand by. I want to bring in our Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, clearly, anxiety has been high over at the White House over all of this. What's the latest you're hearing?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it certainly has. This is something -- you know, been something that the White House has long-wanted to not talk about, saying these questions have been asked and answered.
But, as Drew was just reporting there, we are learning much more about this every day. In some cases, every hour.
Adding onto that. We asked Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, earlier this week if the president had talked recently to Michael Cohen about this matter specifically.
Since then, we have learned that he spent last weekend at Mar-a-Lago. He was at Mar-a-Lago with the president on Friday. He was seen there at a Republican fundraiser.
Presumably, the two would have had a conversation. We do not know if they talked about this.
But, Wolf, there are still questions here. First and foremost is did the president authorize that hush money, if you will, in October of 2016? And has he, sort of, been involved in this process along the way here?
I do expect those questions will be asked again today at the White House press briefing. Of course, so much else going on here, but this has caused anxiety because it connects the president directly to this legal action for the first time.
[13:05:06] So, as we end this week here on a Friday, certainly a major development that we did not know earlier on in the week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm going to have you stand by as well, Jeff. I know you're working your sources over there to get more information.
I want to bring in our panel to assess all these late-breaking developments. Joining us, our CNN Legal Analyst Laura Coates, CNN Political Analyst David Gregory, and our Senior Political Reporter Nia-Malika Henderson.
Let me go to you, Laura, first, on the legal part of this. If, in fact Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney, was using Trump business organizational e-mail to facilitate this hush-money payment, what does that suggest?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, it says that he was lying, when he told everyone that the Trump Organization didn't have anything to do with the actual payment of it or the Trump campaign. That is now belied by the fact you have a Trump.Org e-mail account being used.
Number two, it had a huge impact. Because, remember, we've all been wondering here, did you really make a settlement negotiation and a $130,000 payment without your client's knowledge, without Donald Trump's knowledge against ethical standards in the practice of law and just contrary to everyone's logic?
Well, you're seeing now that that is not the case. And if that is not the case, if he really did make that payment with the knowledge of the Trump Organization, well, you have a campaign expenditure or a contribution.
The outcome of the election is not the big deal here. The deal is that with the campaign finance laws, you have to have transparency. We have to know where the money is coming from. We have to know how it's being spent. And there are limits.
And even rudimentary math tells you, Wolf, that $130,000 is way more than a $2,700 cap which means that he should have reported it. They should have said it was an expenditure or a distribution on behalf of the campaign.
And it was not reported. That's a huge problem for this administration. BLITZER: In response to a complaint from the FEC, he issued a
statement saying that the money came out of his own pocket. He facilitated, he used the word facilitated, the payment. What does that say to you?
COATES: Well, coming out of your own pocket's not the issue here. It doesn't have to come from Trump's own pocket for it to be a campaign finance violation.
Remember, the payments that were made on behalf of John Edwards was not out of his own pocket to have private jets for his mistress and a variety of things. And it was still indicted on a federal fund.
Why? It's about whether or not the funds were used on behalf of the campaign or in furtherance of the campaign.
This was made 11 days before the general election. Of course it was made in the furtherance of the campaign.
But, Wolf, let's be very clear. The FEC has a long track record of not going forward and prosecuting certain cases.
Because even with the John Edwards scandal, which, by the way, it was Don McGahn who said, on the FEC, that payment to Reilly Hunter on behalf of John Edwards, that wasn't an actual distribution. That was a private matter.
And you have that same conundrum here when you say the FEC has to be in full agreement. It has to be unanimous to go forward with these cases. And until they prove they'll prosecute these sorts of things or go forward, it may be a toothless endeavor, even though it's obvious.
BLITZER: Let me play an exchange that our Chris Cuomo said on "NEW DAY" this morning with Stormy Daniels' attorney. Listen to this.
Actually, we don't have that clip right here, but we'll get that clip ready.
But in the exchange, he left no doubt, the attorney representing Stormy Daniels, that not only Michael Cohen but the president, himself, must have been fully aware of this $130,000 hush money payment.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And so, what's unraveling for the president, I think beyond the legal claim whether this is a violation of FEC rules which is serious, is a further embarrassment to the president.
And to have him, to have the press secretary, to have his personal lawyer perhaps have a lie that's unraveling here about what was known by whom. And Michael Cohen's representations that Trump didn't know, he paid it out of his own pocket, were so ridiculous on their face.
To have all of that in the middle of a lot of other big stories going on is a huge embarrassment to the president. And if there are more details that show that this affair happened, details that support it more on that relationship, it's not just bad, you know, for his marriage, but just a big distraction.
And we've seen the extent to which it bothers the president. Someone who's very, you know, keen on paying attention to where stories that are -- that are getting the most attention, to try to divert attention away from that.
BLITZER: Here's the exchange that Chris Cuomo had with Stormy Daniels' attorney earlier this morning on "NEW DAY."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Why did the American people need to hear from Stormy Daniels?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: Because cover-ups matter.
CUOMO: Meaning what? What's the cover-up here? They entered into a deal.
AVENATTI: No. The cover-up is that you have attorney Cohen claiming that Donald Trump never knew anything about this. You have the White House claiming that Donald Trump never knew anything about this. That's going to be shown to be patently false.
I am confident that when those evidence or when that evidence and those facts come to light, the American people are going to conclude that attorney Cohen and the White House have not shot straight with them on this issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:10:05] BLITZER: All right, they're fighting hard to allow her, Stormy Daniels, her attorney, to speak publicly and say whatever she wants.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes.
BLITZER: Despite the hush agreement.
HENDERSON: Exactly. I mean, and he's talked about -- the attorney talked about this being a freedom of speech issue. At some point, we're going to hear from Stormy Daniels. Our Anderson Cooper has an interview with her this Sunday, so that'll be interesting.
BLITZER: I don't know if it'll be this Sunday. But he's done an interview with her for 60 minutes.
HENDERSON: Yes, at some point. So, we'll see, at some point, what she has to say about this.
You have seen, from this White House, a real attempt to contain this and compartmentalize this. And, day by day, their efforts are, really, I think, unraveling because it is inching closer and closer to the White House.
You had Sarah Huckabee Sanders talk about the president, in relation to this -- to this lawsuit. And that, according to our reporting, really angered the president.
So, it seems like a day by day, even though they're, kind of, downplaying and saying the president had nothing to do with this, that is going to be a harder and harder story to maintain going forward.
And you think about what kind of damage this does to the Republican brand. Not even so much Donald Trump. People didn't necessarily think he was the most faithful husband. But, in terms of the Republican brand, what this does to them, particularly among women in this Me Too era.
BLITZER: Stand by. Everybody stand by because there's more. You'd think, by the way, Michael Cohen, if the payment of $130,000 hush money payment had nothing to do with the Trump Organization, he wouldn't have exchanged e-mails using the Trump Organization e-mail account that he clearly has.
Everybody stand by. There is more breaking news coming in, including Michael Cohen's original words.
Plus, a nuclear roll of the dice. President Trump stunning the world by accepting Kim Jong-Un's invitation to meet face to face. Is this an opportunity or is it a trap?
[13:15:58] BLITZER: More on the breaking news. CNN has confirmed that President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, used a Trump Organization e-mail account during the negotiations to pay off a porn star, Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair many years earlier, back in 2006, with then Donald Trump, a private citizen.
I want to read a statement that Michael Cohen released in February. Quote, neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly.
So let's talk a little bit about the legal and political ramifications of all of this.
Laura, the notion that you negotiate a few days before the election, a payment, an $130,000 payment. Michael Cohen says the money came from him. He facilitated the payment directly, didn't come from the Trump Organization, didn't come from the Trump campaign. But to negotiate the deal, he used Trump Organization -- his Trump Organization e-mail account.
COATES: Really, it's unbelievable the way that this -- one, the hush agreement is the one that won't shut up, and also how sloppily this has been done and executed. To have this paper trail is almost completely nonsensical. If the whole point of an NDA was to have no evidence, no --
BLITZER: An NDA is a nondisclosure agreement.
COATES: Yes, a nondisclosure agreement, is not to have any receipts or proof of it. And here you have that very thing from a trump.org e-mail address no less.
Let's not get hung up on the notion that it didn't come -- that it came from his pocket only. Remember, we're talking about campaign finance distribution and expenditure laws. It doesn't matter that it didn't' come from Trump directly. In fact, most of the times when you have a campaign contribution, it's not coming from the candidate. They're soliciting funding from other people. And you have to report that as well.
So for him to try to say -- and, listen, this is not an issue with the Trump campaign or organization because it -- if it did come from my pocket, well, that's not the requirement for reporting or distribution. What is the requirement is that if there is something that's made in furtherance of the campaign, not the success of the campaign but to impact it or influence or also to help the campaign, you've got to disclose it.
And the funny thing about this whole thing is, this wouldn't really be a really big issue. I know that sounds shocking that we're talking about the president and a porn star, but legally speaking, the biggest issue here is about the campaign finance, not the morality clause that's inherent in being president of the United States.
BLITZER: I'm wondering how Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, is going to handle this. She's got a briefing scheduled at the top of the hour. And she apparently irritated the president with some of the comment she made earlier in the week about this whole Stormy Daniels affair.
We're looking at live pictures coming in from the Briefing Room.
She's got a very sensitive mission on her hands right now. You know she's going to be asked about this.
GREGORY: Well, I mean, she waded into some controversy by suggesting that he prevailed in the arbitration process. I would be willing to bet that she'll stay as far away from this as she can. She'll direct those questions to outside counsel. This is something that doesn't relate to anything that the president has said about this, in particular since he's been president, or conduct since he's been president. So I think she wants nothing to do with it. And I think, you know, that's going to continue.
The problem is, again, for the president to be fixated on this, which I'm sure he is, and it's been described as a slow burn within the White House and part of the backdrop, at the same time that we're talking about a potential stunning development on North Korea with a summit meeting with the president and Kim Jong-un, this is the kind of thing that the president will do almost anything to keep attention away from. And we've seen that in the past few days. BLITZER: Yes. I mean that's a fair point.
HENDERSON: Yes. No, it's true, and you saw from much of our coverage, for instance, has been on this amazing breakthrough in terms of this accepting a meeting with the leader of North Korea. That is something that the president has done in the past, tried to distract from a story he doesn't like.
I think the problem with this is, we don't know where it's going. We don't know what other evidence this woman has. We don't know --
GREGORY: Right. And with a special prosecutor who's on his tail right now.
HENDERSON: Yes. Exactly. Yes.
GREGORY: And this is, of course, what Bill Clinton went through where --
HENDERSON: You've got Paula Jones and then -- yes, there was discovery there.
[13:20:00] GREGORY: The discovery process in an investigation can take different turns.
HENDERSON: Yes, so that's, I think the danger here for him if there's anything else. Are there other women who would make similar allegations? Are these other hush agreements? So that, I think, is where the danger for -- for this White House is.
BLITZER: And the concern at the White House is, there's going to be a Federal Election Commission investigation. Some members of Congress are asking the FBI to investigate. There's even been some suggestion that maybe the special counsel, Robert Mueller, should take a look at all of this as well under his authority to take a look at related matters that come up during the course of this investigation. So there's a lot of potential legal and political danger for the president right now.
Everybody stick around.
There's more news we're following, including the other major story we're following, President Trump stunning the world, accepting an invitation to meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, within the next two months. But where? Who will be in the room?
Stick around. We'll be right back.
[13:25:13] BLITZER: From fire and fury to diplomacy and dialogue. President Trump makes a very bold and risky move agreeing to meet with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. The decision sets the stage for an unlikely and unprecedented summit. The first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and his North Korean counterpart. It also raises hopes of a breakthrough in the escalating nuclear
standoff. They say the devil's in the details and the details of President Trump's meeting with Kim Jong-un have yet to be worked out. So far, all we know is that the two leaders plan to meet sometime between now and May.
Let's get some more on the logistics and the challenges from CNN's national security analyst Samantha Vinograd. She served on the president -- President Obama's National Security Council.
Let's talk a little bit about location because, as they say, location, location, location. That could be very significant.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly. And the location is key because it sets the dynamics before the meeting even starts.
Wolf, I think Kim Jong-un is going to suggest Pyongyang for the meeting. We know that he doesn't like to travel. He's deeply concerned about assassination attempts. And he wants a home turf advantage. But I think we should save this for further along in the process.
And that's why we should meet in the middle. And this is where Switzerland comes in. Switzerland is neutral ground. The Swiss have hosted talks between the United States and North Korea in the past. And Kim Jong-un actually went to school in Switzerland, so it's not wholly unfamiliar territory.
Another option is China. China has been the administration's trump card on North Korea. They've had an unprecedented role in the pressure campaign. And by hosting the meeting in China, it could lead the Chinese to pressure Kim to continue into this process and to stay invested.
Finally, South Korea, if we want to get closer to Kim, is another option. There's a lot of momentum on the peninsula right now and President Moon has been playing such a key role that we could see the meeting happening there to keep those dynamics happening.
BLITZER: Another possibility is, like President Moon and President Kim Jong-un, they're scheduled to meet next month sometime and they're supposed to meet along the demilitarized zone, have a meeting there. That could be a sort of a neutral location as well.
BLITZER: What about, who would join the president in a meeting? Who would be in the room if, in fact, it happens, the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea, they sit down face to face?
VINOGRAD: Well, I think this is going to be the hottest ticket in town. And it's very important that the president fill seats with members of his cabinet to send a message to Kim Jong-un that all options are still on the table. And that's where our national security adviser comes in. The national
security adviser is typically in head of state meetings. And having General McMaster there signals that we're engaged in the diplomatic track but all options are on the table because General McMaster oversees that process, diplomatic military pressure and otherwise.
Next we get to Secretary Tillerson. Secretary Tillerson is our lead negotiator as secretary of state, so he needs to be in the room to send the message that the State Department is empowered to lead these negotiations.
I think it's also important to have the director of National Intelligence in the room. In case Kim Jong-un makes any false claims about the state of the program, DNI Coats can be there to throw some reality around and to say, we know what's happening and we're going to keep watching.
General Mattis is also a key player here. Yes, we are engaged in the diplomatic track, but as the White House briefed last night, we're not letting our pressure campaign go. And part of that is sending a message that the military option remains on the table and we remain committed through our military alliances to South Korea and Japan.
And, finally, I think having the South Korean president present is really important. That shows that the United States and South Korea are in lock step on this process and will continue that approach going forward.
BLITZER: I'm sure they are thinking about all these options right now.
Sam, thanks very, very much.
President Trump's announcement was stunning, but he also expressed a willingness to meet with North Korea's leader dating back to his days as a candidate, and then as recently as earlier this year. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And then one of the papers called the other day and they said, would you speak to the leader of North Korea? I said, absolutely. Why not? Why not? And they come out, Trump would speak to him. Who the hell cares? I'll speak to anybody! Who knows? There's a 10 percent or a 20 percent chance that I can talk him out of those damn nukes, because who the hell wants him to have nukes?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you willing to engage in phone talks with Kim Jong-un right now?
TRUMP: Sure. I always believe in talking.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that --
TRUMP: But we're (INAUDIBLE). But I would be -- absolutely I would do that. No problem with that at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:30:07] BLITZER: If you didn't hear that, he was asked, are you willing to engage in phone talks with Kim Jong-un right now?