Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Slams FBI Raid of His Personal Lawyer; President Trump Cancels South America Trip to Oversee Syria Response; FBI Raids Michael Cohen's Office, Home in Long Island, and a Hotel Room He's Staying In; Trump Slams FBI Raid Of His Personal Lawyer As A "Disgrace"; Trump: Sessions Made "Terrible Mistake" By Recusing Himself; Search Warrant Reveals Mueller's Interest In Manafort's Actions During Trump Campaign. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 10, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:11] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

The next few hours could tell us everything about the job security of the special counsel, the deputy attorney general, the attorney general and ultimately the president of the United States.

This really is a new chapter. The FBI raided the home and office and hotel room of the president's lawyer, malfeasance fixer Michael Cohen.

So what do investigators know about President Trump today that they did not know yesterday? What does the president imagine they might know? And most importantly, what is he going to do about it?

So far he's confined himself to public displays of rage and frankly wrongness. A short time ago he wrote, "Attorney-client privilege is dead." That's not actually true. Nor for that matter is much of this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now and actually much more than that. You could say it was right after I won the nomination it started. And it's a disgrace. It's frankly a real disgrace. It's an attack on our country in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for.


BERMAN: An attack on our country, he says. CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House.

Abby, we know his level of anger and outrage over this is really at a new level.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The president in his tweet this morning really illustrating in two tweets, four exclamation points how furious he is about this newest development in part because Michael Cohen is more than just the president's lawyer. He's also someone who is so close to the president's businesses, something that he said that if the special counsel came close to it would be his red line, and he's also as close to the president as family.

But we know that the president talked to his White House lawyer Ty Cobb and John Kelly, his chief of staff, yesterday trying to strategize about what to do but when he ended up talking about this at the top of his dinner meeting with military leaders, that was all him our sources tell us, and here's exactly what he had to say about what he thinks this means about the Mueller investigation and where it's going.


TRUMP: The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself. Why don't I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it's a disgrace what's going on. We'll see what happens. This is the most biased group of people. These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I've ever seen. Democrats, all, or just about all, either Democrats or a couple of Republicans have worked for President Obama.


PHILLIP: Well, that's not exactly true. I mean, the people who are responsible for this latest decision by and large are Republicans. Take a look at this graphic of some of the people involved in this investigation. Robert Mueller, a registered Republican, Rod Rosenstein, appointed by President Trump, Christopher Wray, the FBI director also appointed by President Trump, and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who is taken over this investigation after it was handed off from the Mueller probe is also a Trump appointee, appointed in the last several months.

So the president is now dealing with a situation in which a very rare raid of an attorney's office was signed off by the highest levels of his own Justice Department by officials that he appointed to their positions but none of that matters, John, the president is upset.

He thinks that this is perhaps crossing a line and a source told CNN's Jim Acosta last night that he believes this is -- could lead the president to take steps to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and perhaps fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is in charge of this Mueller probe -- John.

BERMAN: You know, despite what he says, it is his people who are doing this who have made the key decisions here.

Abby Phillip, at the White House, thank you so much. Keep us posted because what happens in the West Wing today is crucial.

In the meantime, I want to take a step back if we can and get more details on these searches themselves.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz here with that. Shimon, what have you learned? SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Certainly

significant information here, John, that the FBI would conduct these raids early in the morning. What we know is -- based on what's been published and what's out there is that at least three locations were hit by the FBI in the early morning hours yesterday.

We're told one of those locations was obviously Cohen's law office. He has an office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan. That was one of the locations the FBI went to. They also went to his home in Long Island and then also a hotel he was staying at.

Now the search was very broad based on what we're told. It included documents obviously related to Stormy Daniels, a key issue that's been out there now for quite some time. They also apparently searched for bank records.

[09:05:04] They also were looking for other records such as communications according to the "New York Times" between the president and his lawyer, Michael Cohen. Those records were seized. E-mails, tax documents, business records. So it seems as though a whole bunch of information really that the FBI here was looking for. Certainly significant in the way that they did it, you know.

Michael Cohen's lawyer was saying that he had been cooperating with congressional investigators, with investigators in general. Did not see any reason for them to do it in such an aggressive manner but clearly something had changed in the last few days, perhaps maybe the last few weeks, where the FBI had decided they needed to go to a court and obtain a warrant to do this secretly to hit him by surprise and obtain these records. We don't know what happened but certainly something has changed here.

BERMAN: All right, Shimon Prokupecz for us in Washington. Shimon, thank you so much for those details.

I want to get more insight here. Joining me now former assistant U.S. attorney Kim Wehle and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.

There is process and there's substance. In this case, though, the process really tells us a lot about the substance, Kim, because the hoops that they had to jump through to do these searches were so enormous, the bar was so high it gives us a sense, perhaps, of the substance of what they were after. Explain.

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Sure. So the bar was very high and I think that should also give everyone a sense of comfort that the process worked here and there are a lot of safeguards in place to prevent what is being called, I think, very erroneously a witch hunt.

So in this instance the special prosecutor has a scope of his investigation if new things come to light is the language of the regulation, he must go to Rod Rosenstein in this instance because he's acting attorney general, and ask what to do about it. And here it sounds like Rod Rosenstein made the decision not to expand the special prosecutor's jurisdiction but instead to send it to the Southern District of New York which has a lot of expertise in which is the area in which Mr. Cohen actually resides.

So because Mr. Cohen is an attorney, the internal Justice Department guidelines which actually bind the special prosecutor as well as the Southern District of New York, as you mentioned, require that this be a last resort tool essentially before they go out and seek this warrant. It requires a signoff not only by the attorney general, presumably it's here Rod Rosenstein, the acting, we don't know, but also by the criminal division of the Department of Justice, and it requires probable cause under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution that is sufficient for a federal judge, a magistrate judge, to sign off on this.

So this was a lot of people with eyes on this in I think a nonpartisan professional way and I say that having been someone who worked in the Whitewater investigation and was an assistant United States attorney. These are professionals that are handling this.

BERMAN: And one of the people who either looked at this was this guy Jeffrey Berman, no relations, thank you very much, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was appointed during the Trump administration, reports are President Trump met with him personally after replacing Preet Brarara. I mean, this is a guy who maxed out in those donations to President Trump. So to call him a Democratic partisan right now is relatively absurd.

One other thing that's absurd here, Laura, the president made this statement this morning on Twitter. Let's put it up. "Attorney-client privilege is dead," he says.

What are the facts here? Yes, there was this search of the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen here. Can you never search a client's lawyer?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course you can and the attorney- client privilege is alive and well, but it was never intended, John, to be an absolute thing to be able to protect people who may have been involved in crimes. For example, there's a crime fraud exception which says that, if the communication was made in furtherance of a crime or an ongoing fraud or anything like that, then the privilege does not apply to that communication.

It also doesn't apply in any event if it's not between simply the attorney and the client. If there is a third party who was invited into the discussion either be a CC or a BCC of e-mail, if they were present at a meeting who was not -- it does not apply, or if it was a conversation that had nothing to do with the legal end, for example, business advice. None of that applies under the privilege. It's an umbrella but it's never intended to be absolute.

It is inconvenient to the president to have this happen. I'm sure it puts him on additional pins and needles and fuels a different level of paranoia. But in fact it's working as it should and, by the way, it's not Mueller who will ultimately determine whether actually privilege exists, it's an independent court. They're going to isolate whatever documents that are there and they'll figure out whether or not the privilege should apply in all respects to all the different documents. BERMAN: If I can, there's one bit of breaking news that just crossed

my computer here. We just learned from the White House that the president will no longer be attending the annual Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru or traveling on to Columbia this week.

[09:10:06] He was supposed to leave this weekend. This was a big international summit. The president no longer going. The White House says he's going to stay here in the United States to monitor developments in Syria. Vice President Pence will be going but it's significant. The president doesn't often cancel a big international trip like this with just a few days to spare.

We'll get much more on what might be behind that coming up in a little bit.

Kim, we've been told that this search of Michael Cohen may have to do with possible allegations or concerns about bank fraud, wire fraud, election fraud. So with the investigators going through his office, his home, his hotel room, what would they be looking for specifically?

WEHLE: So they already have to have identified in the application for a warrant a sense of what they're looking for. And the standard is one that requires the judge to make the conclusion that there is evidence of a crime likely at all three of these locations.

So we have a little bit of information about what this could be. Bank fraud is fairly easy to demonstrate. It just really requires physical documents of particular transactions, but we don't know what was in that application so it's difficult to imagine and I know this from my own experience in Whitewater. We just are seeing the tip of the iceberg. There could be a lot of facts and dot connecting that could happen here and of course we have Stormy Daniels and that whole situation, and the curious $130,000 payment that at a minimum was a violation of Mr. Cohen's ethical duties as an attorney if he made it without his client's knowledge and consent.

So one way or the other, there's going to be information that is of great interest and as was mentioned in order to secure this process, the bar is really high. This is not something that's just done on a -- out of curiosity. It's not allowed by the law and also I think within the Justice Department, they're going to be very conservative about making these decisions.

BERMAN: All right. Kim Wehle and Laura Coates, stand by if you will because again we do have this breaking news. We just learned that the president has canceled a planned trip to South America over the weekend.

Abby Phillip back at the White House with the latest on this. Abby, this is surprising.

PHILLIP: It is. The president was set to leave at the end of this week for this trip to South America. Really surprising for a lot of different reasons, one, they were always some questions about what was going to happen. He would be in this meeting, this contacts with the president of Mexico. There have been all of these disputes over the last several days of immigration and the trip had already been cut short because of some political turmoil in Peru and now this.

The White House says in a statement that the president is staying back to deal with the situation in Syria. And as you know, he's been contemplating what the U.S. response is going to be to these alleged nerve agent attacks in Syria and last night sources told my colleagues that the president after he had that dinner with military leaders, huddled with a smaller group of his top military advisers about how to proceed forward and it is very likely that the United States if they decided to go forward with any sort of military action would do it conjunction with the French, but all of this is hanging in the air.

We also know, of course, and we can't separate this, the president dealing with these issues with his personal attorney, something that has so angered and infuriated him. There are a lot of open questions about why this is happening but Mike Pence, the vice president, is going to be going in his stead, this last minute decision coming literally just days before the president is set to take off here -- John.

BERMAN: And there's that reason they're giving, as Abby has noted, is to monitor the situation and the military developments in Syria. You know, presidents can do that from anywhere in the world. The means, the apparatus, the advisers travel with the president if he wanted, he could do that overseas. Not saying that's not the real reason here but there are other things going on. Obviously these new legal issues as well.

Abby Phillip at the White House. Thank you very much.

We talked about all the legal angles here surrounding the Cohen raid. What's the political fallout here? It is significant and we have new reaction from Capitol Hill plus this.


TRUMP: It will be met and it will be met forcefully.


BERMAN: All right. Any minute now the president could make a decision on what to do in Syria after this apparent chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians. Officials say that all options are on the table.

And Mark Zuckerberg in the hot seat on Capitol Hill. The top question for the Facebook CEO, how was the data of 87 million users grabbed and what are they doing now to protect your information?



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news we learned just moments ago that the president is canceling a trip this weekend to a summit in South America. The White House says it's to monitor military developments in Syria, but it also comes in the wake of the seismic legal developments, the searches of the home and offices of his longtime lawyer and friend, confidant, Michael Cohen.

Joining me now is Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, and Molly Ball, CNN political analyst. Molly, I just want to remind people exactly how close Michael Cohen is to President Trump in the words of Michael Cohen. Listen to this.


MICHAEL COHEN, LAWYER OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My job is I protect Mr. Trump. That's what it is. They say I'm his pit bull. That I'm his righthand man.


BERMAN: He is President Trump's guy, Molly Ball, and now his home, his hotel room, and his offices have been raided. It doesn't get any closer to the president than members of his own family.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. I mean, he is almost a member of the family and if you've been following Trump for many years, before he was in politics, Cohen was very much his henchman, I guess, to use a slightly pejorative term.

[09:20:07] But someone who by his own account was so close to Trump and care so much about protecting his personal interests that he would, he claims, make a payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels without even telling Trump just because he was looking out for him to that extent.

So, the degree to which he is in meshed with or in charge of Trump's personal affairs really cannot be overstated and that means that this development, the raiding of Cohen's various properties and domiciles is very -- brings the investigation very, very close to Trump.

BERMAN: Right. The president says that these raids or searches of his friend aren't an attack on perhaps his lawyer or an attack on perhaps criminal wrongdoing, he calls it an attack on the country, Ron Brownstein.

He says, "An attack on our country in a true sense is an attack on what we all stand for." That's an incredible statement and something that should make people I think sit up straight and pay attention.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But consistent with the way he has responded to so many threats before. You know, essentially as we talked about before what the president does is equate any challenge to him as an attempt to silence his supporters.

I mean, that's almost always what he does, the way he basically says that they're going after me, elites are going after me to put you back in your place and it's a way that he, you know, tries to -- in a kind of jujitsu manner turn any attack on him as a way to further solidify his bond with the portion of America that's behind him.

The problem is that a majority of Americans consistently say in polls, they believe this is a legitimate inquiry from the special counsel. They want it to be allowed to continue. Where the rubber really meets the road politically on all of this again is the reaction of the Republicans in Congress.

I mean, we've heard over and over again from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan that they see no need for legislation to protect the special counsel's investigation because there is no, in effect, credible threat from the president against the investigation and each time he erupts as he did last night, that argument becomes more transparent and more difficult to justify.

BERMAN: The Republicans in Congress will be the ones who are on the spot here politically and soon if the president pushes this much, much further. Molly Ball, you had a fascinating moment or two with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions who came under renewed attack yesterday from President Trump.

Once again suggesting that, you know, Jeff Sessions, made a mistake by recusing himself, he wishes he hadn't appointed Jeff Sessions or nominating him as attorney general if he knew he was going to recuse himself.

Do you see this new attack on Sessions and Rod Rosenstein by name directly as a new chapter for the president and does this put him any closer, do you think, to perhaps pushing them out?

BALL: I don't think we know. I think that, you know, it's not a new attack, but it is a renewed attack, right? He continues to say these things and the feeling that I think Jeff Sessions and people around him have is that they have no idea what the president is going to do.

I asked Jeff Sessions, are you going to be fired and said, well, there's one man who can answer that question. And so, for Jeff Sessions the policies he's implementing and the work he's doing at the Department of Justice are so important to him that he is just going to continue to do his job for as long as he has it.

And he did tell me that he believes he did the right thing in recusing himself. He believed that he was following the rules and he had no choice. He doesn't seem particularly sympathetic to the investigation.

He doesn't necessarily believe that it's fair to Trump, but he believes that he had to do that recusal and so, you know, if he does get fired, I do think you would see all hell break loose politically, a potential constitutional crisis.

These Republicans, who as Ron said have tried to pretend that this is not their problem are going to be called to account to say where they stand on this.

BERMAN: Ron, we got about 30 seconds left here. The White House, the president has canceled this trip to the summit over the weekend. They say it's to monitor military developments in Syria. Could you do that at a summit? You're actually surrounded by world leaders there at a summit like that. What do you make of it? BROWNSTEIN: Well, in the past, you know, we've seen president's go overseas as a way of getting away from their legal troubles. Certainly, Nixon in Watergate famously in the final throws of that made several foreign trips particularly the Mideast.

So, it would be more typical to go than to not go. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one and say, in fact, it is about Syria. But just to underscore, really quickly, your first point.

Whatever happened to Donald Trump in this investigation, the long-term impact of this in terms of convincing a big part of the electorate that all institutions in American law enforcement and really in American life are partisan, corrupt and designed to reward one side or the other, that lasting damage cannot be understated.

BERMAN: This will leave a mark. Ron Brownstein, Molly Ball, great to have you with us today. Thank you very, very much.

[09:25:06] We have major new developments overnight in the Paul Manafort side of this investigation. We've been talking about Michael Cohen, but there are new developments surrounding the president's former campaign chair, who is now charged with a variety of crimes.

CNN's Kara Scannell with the latest on that -- Kara.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Hey, John. So, what we've learned from the court filing last night is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team had executed a search warrant last August and in their application for that warrant, they laid out that they were interested in Paul Manafort for his conduct related to the campaign.

Now, we remember Paul Manafort was indicted on charges relating to his work for a pro-Russian-Ukrainian group and the White House and Trump supporters came out and said there's no connection to Trump or collusion.

Well, now we are learning from the search warrant application that in fact, Mueller's team is looking into the issues of Manafort's role in the campaign specifically they had spot information documents communications when they raided his apartment in Virginia relating to the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, all attended under the umbrella of trying to get -- finding out some dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

They met with several Russians. The Mueller's investigators were also looking for any information, communications or records involving this (inaudible) real estate development family, (inaudible). They are important too because they facilitated the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting, but they had also done business with Donald Trump before -- before he ran for office.

They were instrumental in hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and they also were in talks with the Trump Organization to build Trump Tower in Moscow, so that's very interesting. This also comes with the White House pushing back by saying that Manafort has nothing to do with this.

And now we are seeing more information trickle out about Manafort, his role in the campaign and even whether he had any role in foreign contributions coming in to the U.S.

BERMAN: All right. Important new developments there as well. Kara Scannell, thank you very much for that.

It is crystal clear the president is furious at the raid of his longtime lawyer, his friend, his confidant, his fixer, Michael Cohen. What not clear, what is not clear, is what he will do next? We'll take a look at the president's mindset and what he's been saying behind the scenes.

Plus, Chinese vowing to slash deep tariffs on auto imports. This after President Trump threatened to slap up to $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. How will the markets react to this news? Stay with us.