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Report: Rosenstein Consulted DOJ Ethics Adviser on Recusal; Trump Pardons Scooter Libby; Cohen Helped with Hush Money in Another Case; Trump Team Fights to Keep Government from Seeing Cohen Raid Information. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN on a Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin, thanks for being with me. Here is the breaking news involving the man who is Special Counsel Robert Mueller's boss. The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. We're now learning Rosenstein had his own questions about recusing himself that has been a growing call from the president's allies since he first began overseeing the Russia probe and Mueller's team.

Let's get right to CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett who has the exclusive details. Also, with us CNN contributor Norm Eisen a former ambassador, also, served as Obama White House ethics czar. You have the scoop, Laura. What do you know?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: For nearly a year, people have questioned how rod Rosenstein has been able to oversee Mueller's probe given he was a witness to a key event in the firing of FBI Director James Comey in May. But we're learning that Rod Rosenstein hasn't been making the decisions in a vacuum. He consulted with the career ethics official at the justice department about his ability to continue overseeing the probe, rather. He followed that official's advice, I'm told. Now, of course, the president and his allies have come after Rosenstein hard this week.

We saw Alan Derschowitz calling for his recusal. You remember the president tweeting back last June saying, I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director. By the man who told me to fire the FBI director. But Brooke, ethics officials about I've talked to and other legal experts tell me that Rosenstein is doing the right thing here playing by the book. Consulting with career officials as Attorney General Jeff Sessions did on his own recusal.

BALDWIN: All right. Laura with the scoop. Thank you. Ambassador Eisen, let me go to you. Reacting to you heard Laura say "by the book" the notion that Rosenstein has been consulting with the senior ethics advisor despite being the target of the president's ire to stay on.

NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER AMBASSADOR: Thanks for having me back, Brooke. And I think that it is the right decision. President Bush's ethics czar and myself have written today an analysis in "USA Today" explaining that under the applicable ethics rules, Rosenstein does not have to recuse himself yet. Most of these rules focus around the moment at which a prosecutor is clearly going to have to be a witness at trial. You ought to be vigilant before that. You want to do the right thing. You want to appear to be doing the right thing. I would not have advised him to recuse up to now. If you think about it, Brooke, it gives the president the power to knock out a supervisor who he clearly doesn't like by saying, oh, that person is a witness. We know he doesn't like Rosenstein.

BALDWIN: Why is this coming up now? Right. We know he wrote the Comey memo, which is what the president used in the justification of firing him. I mean, why not consult with this ethics advisor a year ago?

EISEN: I am sure that Rosenstein, like Sessions, has been consulting with the ethics authorities all along. Now I have no doubt. It is important with the advice that I'm speculating, but confidently speculating, the advice that was given to him was sound advice. You need someone senior to oversee the Mueller investigation to appoint a special counsel. I guess it has been the right person to do that.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I spoke with somebody who is a close friend of Rosenstein's this morning and he's clearly aware that he's on the chopping block. This friend said to me, you know, there's a strange calm, is the way he put it, to rod, in terms of his firing. He said he's just doing his job. He's a stoic guy. He's a pretty fatalistic person. He's like this is a job I'm going to do it right and I'm going to do it as long as I'm asked to do it.

[14:05:00] BALDWIN: All right. If he's calm, let's sort of juxtaposition his mood with that of the president. You had some colorful reporting, and I want to get into it. The adjectives you got pissed, flailing, and upset. How will Trump react to this?

BORGER: That's the way he is. He's angry. He's upset. Let me set the scene a little bit.

BALDWIN: Please.

BORGER: I talked with a couple of sources who are close to the president who said a week ago the president was pretty sanguine he was in a good mood. He thought he was finally getting a cabinet he wanted. He was getting the issues out there that he wanted. He was doing -- he was talking about tariffs. He had gotten tax reform. He was talking about his poll numbers. He thought his poll numbers going up. He was in a good place.

And this point, and I believe the tipping point is the raid on Michael Cohen and we saw that all for ourselves. When the president spoke to reporters the other day. How angry he is, and I had one source say to me that this is beyond what anyone can imagine. And another source said to me that the president is effectively becoming unmanageable. And that everybody is counselling him. You have to get through this and figure out what your next steps are and, you know, his friends believe that will occur. But for now, you have a very unhappy president and, by the way, Brooke, it's easy to understand why, isn't it? I think given the fact that Michael Cohen's situation is on his plate.

The Comey book is coming out, to which he responded, he has a crisis Syria, he has to prepare for talks in North Korea, and he's dealing with these other personal issues. His personal attorney's office being raided. I think, you know, we can understand why he would be flailing, as one person put it.

BALDWIN: And the fact his own attorney showed up at federal courthouse in New York, which we'll get into in a second trying to keep the FBI-seized materials that Michael Cohen had away from the government. So, yes, context is important.


BALDWIN: Mr. Ambassador, hearing all of that. Right. Hearing how the president is feeling and how Rod Rosenstein is feeling. Calm, fatalistic guy. What do you think about that?

EISEN: Well, Brooke, the president brought it on himself. The Mueller investigation is the result of the Comey firing. It was, obviously, a serious potential obstruction of justice the moment it happened. The Michael Cohen raid is the result of a long pattern of the president using then private citizens, Mr. Trump, using Cohen as his fix it man and doing these hush money deals and otherwise Cohen was known as a bully. Pushing and pressing people. And the president has a long history in the private sector with Cohen and then in the public sector as president of pushing the law. And now the rumors about the Rosenstein firing. That would be more potential obstruction.

So. the president needs to take the sound advice that people are telling him. Calm down. You're president. And take a breath. Let things unfold. Have some confidence. Unless, Brooke, there's something in those Cohen files or there's some information that the special counsel has, and the president feels that fighting back no matter how devastating, is better than facing justice.

BALDWIN: Sure. It was one of the pieces. Hang on, Gloria. I want to bring in Joseph Moreno if I may another voice here sitting with me in New York, former justice department prosecutor. You've been listening to Gloria and the ambassador talking about the Rosenstein threat today. The fact that he has been consulting with this ethics advisor. Should he recuse himself? Should he not? We pointed out he was key in the whole Comey firing memo that the president used and people wondering a year ago what is going on? What do you make of his moves or lack thereof?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROSECUTOR: Brooke, Rod Rosenstein has been a consonant professional from the get go. I don't think anyone who knows his background can question his judgment, his ethics, his loyalty, his honesty. I have full confidence he did the right thing then. He's doing the right thing now by running it past ethics officials. If they told him all along that he can supervise the investigation, despite the fact he may have been a potential witness, it seems to me he would make sense he's doing the job, unless and until he's interrupted. BALDWIN: The fact he wrote the memo, he has been the target of the

president's ire. Would it be better in the end for him to stand his ground? If he ends up being fired he's another, you know, player to fold and walk -- I think it's the solicitor general that would oversee the Mueller probe.

[14:10:00] MORENO: That's his play. It's absolutely stand your ground. He's a career prosecutor. He knows right from wrong. He has seen tough times. Perhaps not this tough. But at the end of the day he has to do what he thinks is right. I'm confident he will.

BALDWIN: Let me get on to the Libby news. Another huge news. The president has pardoned Scooter Libby chief of staff for Dick Cheney. Now Trump has pardoned him. Now Ambassador Eisen, a lot of people have been wondering, wow, all of a sudden, the timing, the message, looking at what he was in trouble for. Is it a message to Mueller? Rosenstein? How do you interpret this?

EISEN: Brooke, Scooter Libby is a good and decent person. He says that he's maintained his innocence throughout. I won't opine on that. A jury found him guilty. But it's a shame that being used by the president now. I think to send a message. Perjury, obstruction of justice. Hey, people in Trump world! Don't worry about it. The president is saying, I have the pardon pen.

There's something similar that happened before with the Arpaio pardon. The investigation was first beginning to spin out of control. People thought that was a message, as well. And I think the president should not be too confident, Brooke, that that pardon pen has all the power he thinks it has. Because like any other government power, if it's done with corrupt intent to cut off the investigation of him or other people, even there was speculation at one point about a self-pardon. No. The constitution doesn't allow those kind of -- despite the extraordinary breadth of the pardon power. There are limits.

You can't take a bribe for the pardon or use it in a corrupt way. Last thing, the state attorney's general is coming behind. The president can only pardon federal offenses. But a lot of the stuff that Mueller has gotten into the trouble that Cohen clearly is in with a lawyer's office raid. That's an extraordinary thing. DOJ believes they have strong evidence of a crime. Those are also state offenses. And do you think that the attorneys general are going to standby and let the president make a mockery of the American rule of law? No way.

BORGER: Well, let me suggest that there might be a little bit of a political component here. Which is that the special counsel, in this case, Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed by one James Comey.

BALDWIN: That's right.

BORGER: And so is it a coincidence that the week the Comey book is coming out the president is furious about the Russia investigation. Comey is saying very critical things about the president. Both personally and professionally in this book. That the timing of this, I'm not saying that the president wouldn't have done it. And was recommended to do it, by the way, Victoria Tensing who is Scooter Libby's attorney, don't forget, she and her husband met with the president the other week when the president was considering putting them on the legal team, you know, maybe this came up in the conversation. Who knows. They've been representing him for quite some time. So, you put these things together and it is interesting, not surprising, but the timing, to me, is something I think we ought to be looking at.

BALDWIN: Sure. Let me read this, this is what we got from Scooter Libby in a statement, quote: My family and I are grateful to President Trump for his gracious decision to grant a pardon for over a dozen years we've suffered under the weight of the terrible injustice. To his great credit, President Trump recognized the wrong and wouldn't let it persist.

[14:15:00] I want to ask everyone, please standby. We have more breaking news this afternoon. The court battle playing out now that alluded to a second go to those FBI raids earlier this week on Michael Cohen. Cohen's lawyers are fighting to keep the seized materials under wraps. Amid Cohen's role negotiating another hush payment involving a playboy model. Don't move. You're watching CNN. More to come. We'll right back.


BALDWIN: We're back on a Friday. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. A surprise courtroom entry in the Michael Cohen case today making arguments on behalf of the president. This new lawyer, hired by Trump, engaged in the back and forth over evidence collected in the FBI raids of Cohen's office, hotel, and home. Cohen is fighting to block the information. The judge is looking at a new 22-page filing submitted by the department of justice. We're also following new reporting that Cohen reportedly negotiated a $1.6 million settlement for a top Republican fund-raiser involving a playboy play mate.

Let's start there. CNN national political reporter MJ Lee is with us. Joseph Moreno has stuck around. So, MJ, just first to you. On this man who again the fund-raiser involving a Playboy playmate. On the man who, again, the thread, the pattern with Cohen involving this another woman and some hush money.

MJ LEE, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. It's a lot of money, too. CNN has now confirmed that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's longtime lawyer was involved in 2017 in brokering a deal to pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model. The former Playboy model is claiming she was impregnated by a top GOP donor based on the West Coast. He's the deputy finance chairman of the RNC. A big figure in the Republican party.

As a part of getting this hush agreement deal and the money, she could not speak about her relationship with this fund-raiser. Now I do have a statement from Elliot Broidy who basically acknowledges this pregnancy and the affair as well. Here is a part of what it said. First, I would like to sincerely apologize to my wife and family for the hurt that I have caused. I acknowledge I had a consensual relationship with a Playboy playmate. At the end of this relationship this woman shared with me that she was pregnant. She also decided that she did not want to continue with the pregnancy and I offered to help her financially during this difficult period. We have not spoken since that time.

What is key in the statement is Broidy says that Cohen reached out to him after being contacted by the woman's lawyer. Now Michael Cohen has been in the news for so many reasons. Of course, we know about federal agents going to his home, his hotel room, his office to collect a lot of documents. Some of which we know had to do with Stormy Daniels and had to do was Karen McDougall. Women who were involved with Donald Trump at some point in time.

And another name I think we're going to be talking about a lot more in the coming weeks is Keith Davidson. This is a lawyer who once represented Stormy Daniels and also McDougall. He represents the former Playboy model. So, the web actually keeps growing, but the number of people in that web that we're aware of, not that many people.

BALDWIN: OK. Turning to you now, this is the kind of information that presumably the FBI agents were able to obtain when they raided the office, the hotel, the home of Michael Cohen. We're hearing audio recordings. He had a history of recording conversations. When I was listening to Shimon Prokupesz who is our reporter standing outside the federal courthouse in New York. He was shocked, as was, you know, many people down there it wasn't just Cohen's attorney present, but it was the president's own personal attorneys intervening in the courtroom. They were making arguments that it's the president who is the only person who can waive privilege in this case. Not the Michael Cohen attorney, therefore the government shouldn't have access to the seized information. True?

MORENO: Well, I mean, you know, it's the attorney/client privilege. Who's the client? President Trump. If anyone has the right to assert the privilege, that's the party that is going to assert that right. So, it's going to be a fascinating battle here. As you talk about going head to head two fundamental components of our legal system. One is a person's ability to have privileged communications for the purpose of obtaining legal advice.

The other is the pursuit of truth and justice. Not being allowed to hide behind that privilege to commit effectively criminal acts. So, they're going to be going head to head. In between you're going to have federal prosecutors, attorneys for Michael Cohen, and attorneys for the president. And in the mix, you'll have a federal judge sitting atop making decisions. It won't be a box by box determination. It will be document by document, line by line. Perhaps recording by recording. To determine whether the privilege should apply. Anyone who thought it would be over and wrapped up quickly will be disappointed. It will be going on for a long time.

[00:25:00] BALDWIN: I keep going back and we talk about this Trey Gowdy, Republican, saying two President Trump some time ago, if you're innocent, act like it. Thank you two so very much.

Standby because coming up next this war of words unfolding between President Trump and James Comey. Comey breaking his silence telling his side of the story in a devastating take down. Trump returning the volley painting Comey as a liar, a slime ball after Comey calls him a liar and a mafia boss. That's the beginning. New revelation next.


BALDWIN: We're back with even more breaking news on this Friday afternoon. We've been talking about this hearing involving down at the federal courthouse involving Michael Cohen in New York. We recorded on the FBI raids. His home, his hotel, seizing material, potentially records involving hush payments, Access Hollywood tapes. Here is the headline he's now officially under criminal investigation. Let's go to the senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, with this. This is obviously huge news.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It was obvious, in fact, something big was happening here. For the first time, we see in the words of a prosecutor from the southern district of New York that Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation and it says here that he is under investigation for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings. Again, we don't know what all has been seized. There's a lot of information here that has been redacted by the government. But it does say that one of the things they're looking at is that the fact that he had very few clients.