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Trump's Team Fights Cohen Raid; FBI Sought Info on Taxi Owners; Comey Wars with Trump; Trump Pardons Libby. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

The president of the United States and the former FBI director he fired, they are now at war. President Trump calling James Comey a slime ball, as Comey breaks his silence with a devastating takedown of the president and his behavior. Among the explosive revelations, President Trump didn't care about Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, he was obsessed with the salacious dossier and Comey also commenting on the president's marriage to the first lady.

More breaking news right now, and courtroom drama in New York over the FBI raids of Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney and longtime friend. There's a hearing underway right now as Michael Cohen's attorneys trying to keep at least some of the seized material under wraps. One source -- one surprise participant, I should say, at that hearing is an attorney representing President Trump arguing on behalf of the president.

Our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is over at the courthouse in New York. Here in Washington, our own Kara Scannell with more details on what the FBI is specifically looking into with Michael Cohen.

Shimon, let me go to you first.

How surprising was it to have one of the president's attorneys there at the hearing?

SIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Wolf, it was surprising for all because we had expected to hear arguments here. We weren't even sure we were going to be allowed in the courtroom because there was some thought that this would be a sealed proceeding. But then when we got inside, Michael Cohen's attorneys started making some arguments. And then we've learned that someone was intervening and that person was the president and that his attorneys were present and they were going to argue that he, the president, Donald Trump is the only person who can waive privilege in this case, not his attorney, Michael Cohen, and therefore the government should not have access to some of this information.

Now, the judge told the attorneys that the law in this was sparse but that she is going to give them an opportunity -- she's going to give the president's attorneys an opportunity to file a brief which will be due sometime on Sunday evening.

But certainly this was a surprise because we had all along just expected this to be about Michael Cohen attorneys arguing about their concern over privileged materials being handed over to the FBI and really to prosecutors who made it clear in court, these are government public corruption attorneys in court today who made it clear in court and open court that this is a criminal investigation that is ongoing and that they need access to some of this information.

We also, Wolf, expect that a court filing at some point today, perhaps in the next few hours, will be made public, which will indicate at least or give us some information as to what the government is seeking here, what they've been doing.

We expect that there will be a 2:00 hearing here where another person who we all know by now, Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney, is going to make some arguments concerning privacy surrounding his client. Again, he believes -- he told the court -- he did speak to the court here before we adjourned this afternoon, that he believes some of the documents that the FBI seized relate to his client and he wants to address the court about that.

BLITZER: Stand by.

Kara, take us through some of the new details you're learning on what the FBI is specifically investigating.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Wolf, earlier this week we reported that the FBI was asking questions about Michael Cohen's taxi medallion business. Now sources tell Gloria Borger and I that the search warrant used on the search on Monday also asked specifically about one partner that Michael Cohen had in that taxi medallion business, a -- the family -- that's a Ukrainian family known as the Steiners (ph). They own a large fleet of taxis in Chicago. And Michael Cohen has loaned them money. He -- we know that there are at least 22 shell companies that this family owns to operate their taxi business, and Cohen is the secured debtor on several of those. So we know that he has lent them money over the years. It's not clear exactly what interests the FBI has in Cohen's financial relationship with this family and there's no indication the family has done anything wrong.

But we do learn from this that the FBI is digging deeper into Cohen's personal financial dealings, as well as looking into the broader scope of what payments or what activity he was doing to potentially suppress information before the campaign and the election, Wolf.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by.

Kara, Shimon, I'm going to get back to you.

I want to bring in our panel to get some analysis of what's going on.

Laura -- Laura Coates is with us, our legal analyst -- how significant is it that at this hearing in New York a lawyer representing the president of the United States is present, making arguments?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's extraordinary. It also seeks back to what happened just a little -- over a couple of weeks ago when the president intervened into the federal action in California over the Stormy Daniels' case. You're seeing -- I mean it's unprecedented. The president of the United States is looking into this issue.

[13:05:08] But it's also not surprising that it's happening because, remember, the privilege, the attorney-client privilege, which he's trying to say, you've seized documents. I am by far his most prominent client. That belongs to me, like the executive privilege. Michael Cohen cannot dismiss it. He cannot argue information. He can't talk about it, even if he wants to, unless I authorize him to do so. And so he has a vested interest if any materials that was seized relates to his own attorney-client relationship, then he needs to intervene right now to secure it. Unlike what happened with Jeff Sessions and other hearings on The Hill about, I'm going to alert the president in case he wants to exert executive privilege. He has an opportunity to do so. Now you have a very robust (ph) and muscular approach that was necessary.

BLITZER: And, David, the lawyers representing Michael Cohen, they filed this temporary restraining order to keep federal investigators from going through some of the material the FBI seized in those three raids in New York.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Which was an extraordinary step. It's always extraordinary to serve a subpoena on a lawyer's office. And it's an indication of how serious they think the potential material is that they could find that would be part of that subpoena. Remember that what the president describes as an attack on America, that the FBI would investigate this, could be evidence of a crime of bank fraud, of wire fraud. This could be part of a larger case that the special prosecutor is pursuing against the president, or it could just be about going after Michael Cohen, because this is what people need to understand about prosecutors, they charge crimes. And if Michael Cohen is in the way, maybe it has nothing to do with Trump down the line. They will go after Michael Cohen if he's up to no good.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they know that Michael Cohen has a lot of stuff and one of the things that an attorneys told me this morning, who's familiar with this case, has said, you know, they may suspect that there was obstruction of evidence and that that could be one reason --


BORGER: To go to -- to go into this -- into this office.

But we also reported -- Kara Scannell and Sara Murray and I reported last evening that Michael Cohen did tape recordings. He had a lot of tape recordings, which he very often tape-recorded media personalities, people who called him, and he would defend the president. This was sort of during the run-up to the election, and the election, and then he would routinely play it back for the president and aides -- anyone who'd kind of walk into the office -- and aides to sort of say, well, look, this is how I've been defending -- this is how I've been defending Donald Trump. What other recordings Michael Cohen has, we don't know.

GREGORY: Right. And what -- and information evidence that could be leverage against the president or other people.

BORGER: Exactly.

GREGORY: I mean, look, this -- investigators, the FBI, prosecutors, they play tough and they care about the rule of law. And, you know, Donald Trump has all kinds of dealings, business dealings, and whatever Michael Cohen was up to in this preposterous story. Just ask anybody -- any lawyer worth their salt, the notion that he paid personally to earn Stormy Daniels' silence is preposterous.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a trail of money, yes.

COATES: Well, that's why -- that's why it's so important, if you think about it, is Michael Cohen the attorney's -- or the president's attorney or is it his right-hand man? There's no right-hand man privilege. You can't have a compartmentalized relationship.

BORGER: There's no Ray Donovan (ph) --

COATES: There's no condition -- exception there. You can't have, like, well, I don't want to have anything there. If you have a compartmentalized relationship, then we'll attack the areas that are not categorically attorney client.

RYAN: But one thing you know, anyone who's in that realm of this president, even before he became president, it's about loyalty and they understand who he is intrinsically and what he is. And for this -- this latest raid to have the president's name in it, for the warrant to also have the president's name associated with it for the first time, that is significant as well. We cannot -- we cannot forget -- forget that.

BORGER: And --

BLITZER: Very quickly, Gloria, these recordings, these phone conversations that Michael Cohen would routinely record, do we know if he recorded conversations with the president himself?

BORGER: We don't know. We absolutely do not know. Since the president was down the hall a couple doors from him, maybe not. But I think it's -- and we also don't know if the president recorded conversations. We know that Donald Trump had two phones in his office and routinely would be on a phone and have somebody else pick it up and listen. But we don't -- you know, we don't know the answer to that.

I want to add one other thing.

I just got off the phone with a couple of sources who are familiar with the president's thinking. And they said, you know, a week or so ago, the president was pretty sanguine. He was bringing in his own -- he was bringing in his own cabinet and he felt more comfortable about what he was -- about what he was doing. He was doing the tariff thing. He was doing everything he wanted to do.

One source just said to me now that his anger is beyond what anyone can imagine. And that he is -- another source said to me, he is becoming completely unmanageable.

[13:10:02] RYAN: But, you know, it's interesting that you say that.

GREGORY: At least he's not president of the United States or something.

RYAN: It's interesting that you say that, I mean, and that -- for that to happen now. Just a few weeks ago he was trying out new lawyers, trying to find new lawyers, even white shoe lawyers who've said I'm not going to do this because, one, the president would talk too much and throw so much out there that's now coming back to hurt him. And I would think back then during that time he would have been angry. But now he's angrier now versus then.

BORGER: I think that Cohen was a tipping point.

RYAN: Yes.

BLITZER: And he's got a new lawyer who is representing him in this hearing in New York City today. So we'll get more on that as well.

Everybody stick around.

The other breaking story that's happening right now, the president and the fired FBI Director James Comey in a war of words after Comey breaks his silence in a devastating takedown, including calling the president -- including calling Comey now a slime ball after Comey calls him a liar and a mafia -- and operating like a mafia boss. There are new revelations, next.


[13:15:03] BLITZER: Explosive revelations and a fiery response from President Trump. We're now hearing today from the former FBI Director James Comey, fired last year by President Trump. He has a brand new book coming out and we're seeing excerpts from that book.

Plus, he's talking about a conversation he had with the president about those very salacious elements in the Steele dossier.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I said to him, sir -- when he started talking about it, I may order you to investigate that. I said, sir, that's up to you, but you'd want to be careful about that because it might create a narrative that we're investigating you personally. And, second, it's very difficult to prove something didn't happen.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Did you believe his denial?

COMEY: I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.


BLITZER: President Trump responded on Twitter earlier in the day. Quote, James Comey is a proven leaker and liar. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked classified information for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under oath. He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who is, as time has proven, a terrible director of the FBI. His handling of the crooked Hillary Clinton case and the events surrounding it will go down as one of the worst botched jobs of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey.

That tweet from the president.

Here's more of what Comey said in that ABC News interview.


COMEY: I started to tell him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013 during a visit for the Miss Universe Pageant, and that the Russians had filmed the episode. And he interrupted very defensively and started talking about it. You know, do I look like a guy who needs hookers. And I assumed he was asking that rhetorically. I didn't answer that. And then I just moved on and explained, sir, I'm not saying that we credit this, I'm not saying we believe it, we just thought it very important that you know.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you tell him you thought it wasn't true or you didn't know if it was true or not?

COMEY: I never said I don't believe it because I -- I couldn't say one way or another.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How weird was that briefing?

COMEY: Really weird. It was almost an out of body experience for me. I was floating above myself looking down saying, you're sitting here briefing the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in Moscow.


BLITZER: Amazing. Amazing stuff indeed.

Jamie Gangel is joining our panel as well.

What did you think?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think it's astonishing. The one thing that an FBI director or former FBI director can do is dodge a question. So when you see him repeating certain words that are, no question, salacious, it just -- I'm stunned that he went that far. That said, I've talked to quite a few former FBI high-ranking sources.

They are not happy about this because they feel it crosses the line of professionalism. They are worried about their reputation. They've been under attack. The organization has been under attack. And they're afraid that when he says these things and goes this far, it further hurts their reputation short-term and long-term.

BLITZER: Gloria, what was your reaction?

BORGER: Well, you know, I think that there is a couple of books in this book from what I've seen. And, again, I haven't read the whole thing. You know, there's the one book which is about honor, integrity, justice and his notion that he was dealing with somebody he didn't trust who was a serial liar, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, who didn't understand the separation of powers and all the rest.

And then there's the part of it that's kind of revenge served cold part of it, which I think is quite unattractive, to be honest, because if you want to be bigger than that, you don't talk about the president's marriage or the size -- I was looking at the size of the president's hands or -- and, again, I don't know how much of a part of the book that is, because I -- because I haven't read it fully except for, you know, excerpts, obviously. So I think -- I think I want to pay a lot of attention to what Comey is saying about the substance of the discussions he had with the president, the discussions he had with Jeff Sessions, and where this would lead people to believe -- on obstruction, I don't think he makes a -- he does make a judgment on that, but less on the other -- you know, less on the other stuff.

GREGORY: The -- I think there's a couple important points. There's a lot of noise with all of this and a lot of recrimination.

I think that Comey is making a mistake by going into these details and joining the fray in a way that he should not, in the way that intelligence officials should not, in the way that Andrew McCabe should not have. The -- they -- they served institutions that are bigger than them --

BORGER: Right.

[13:20:08] GREGORY: And they shouldn't really be getting down to the president's level, who is engaging in all of that.

Comey has done so much to hurt himself in the conduct of the investigation with the Clinton e-mails, doing something unprecedented by talking the way he talked when he shouldn't have done that, trying to manage his media profile and his public profile.

But we should also be very clear, he was not fired because of any of that. Donald Trump was not defending Hillary Clinton's honor. He fired him because he didn't like the Russia investigation.

BORGER: Right.

GREGORY: And what this book details is the fact that this president has no regard for the major institutions of law and order. And I just --

BLITZER: Well --

GREGORY: I said this this morning, just ask yourself, if Hillary Clinton, as president, had done any of these things, would members of the House, I think one of whom you've got coming up on the program, would they have voted to get rid of her by now?

RYAN: But, you know, this is -- this is --

BLITZER: I want to just play -- April, I want to get your reaction, but listen to what Comey said on this assertion that the president of the United States, following meetings he and other officials had with him, was clearly not interested in Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Listen to this.


COMEY: President-elect Trump's first question was to confirm that it had no impact on the election. And then the conversation, to my surprise, moved into a PR conversation about how the Trump team would position this and what they could say about this. They actually started talking about drafting a press release with us still sitting there. And the reason that was so striking to me is that, that's just not done. That the intelligence community does intelligence. The White House does PR and spin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You also said you were struck by what they didn't ask.

COMEY: Very much. No one, to my recollection, asked, so what -- what's coming next from the Russians? How might we stop it? What's the future look like? It was all, what can we say about what they did and how it affects the election that we just had?


BLITZER: All right, everybody hold their thoughts for a moment because we're just getting this statement in from the White House. The president has pardoned Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to then Vice President Dick Cheney. A lengthy statement. A lengthy statement just released by the White House.

Jim Acosta, our chief White House correspondent, is on the story for us right now.

Jim, tell us a little bit about the president's decision, which is potentially very, very significant, especially given the current context?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Scooter Libby, who was, of course, a part of that investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA agent and operative Valerie Plame during the George W. Bush administration. This was all in -- it was all really in reference to the case that was made for the Iraq War during that time period. Scooter Libby was under investigation, as were other administration officials, for the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity. He was convicted of perjury in that case. And the president announcing today, the White House announcing today that the president is going to pardon Scooter Libby. So that is -- that is happening now. That just was announced by the White House in the last several moments.

Now, the reason why all of this is important, a couple of different things. One is, we should point out that Scooter Libby's attorney, Victoria Toensing, she is marked to Joe deGenova, who we should point out in just -- in the last couple of weeks has been talked about as potentially joining the president's legal team and going up against the Mueller investigation. That didn't pan out. There were conflicts cited as the reason why Joe deGenova did not sign on.

But perhaps more broadly and more importantly, Wolf, the reason why this is important, and you're hearing a lot of legal analysts bring this up, is that the president is showing a willingness to use his presidential power to pardon people. And, of course, there are concerns that if the Mueller investigation continues to go down this road and you have convictions coming in the not-too-distant future, that the president could essentially be sending a message to people who might be tempted to cooperate with Robert Mueller that, hold on -- you know, essentially hold on, don't cooperate too much might be the implication here, because if you do end up going to jail, you could be pardoned later on. That, of course, is the message that some people are being -- are talking about, that that is the concern here, that the president, by pardoning Scooter Libby, may be sending a message to people who are just essentially ensnared in the Russia investigation, Wolf.

Obviously all of that is going to come up at the briefing this afternoon with Sarah Sanders when she holds that briefing in about an hour from now. But the pardoning of Scooter Libby, you know, a figure from the Bush administration, part of that entire episode, that saga over the wrongful case that was made by that administration about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there is some closure in all of this, I suppose, in Scooter Libby being pardoned, but it's certainly going to raise a lot of questions, Wolf.

[13:25:05] BLITZER: It certainly will.

At the end of the statement that the White House released, the president said, I don't know Mr. Libby, but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.

Jim Acosta, stand by.

Jamie Gangel, you've done a lot of reporting on the Scooter Libby conviction, convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice. He received clemency from President Bush, but not a full pardon.

GANGEL: It -- he -- it was commuted by President Bush but President Bush decided he was not going to pardon him. And this became very public because Vice President Cheney went to the mat with President Bush and said, you can't leave a wounded soldier on the field. President Bush decided he could not go there. So this is a big move by Trump.

Here's some context. I know that Vice President Cheney and Victoria Toensing and Joe deGenova, among others, have been lobbying President Trump about this for quite some time. But I think there is something very specific here that spoke to Donald Trump. No one in the Valerie Plame case was ever convicted of leaking her name. It was not, in fact, Scooter Libby. The prosecutors knew from day one that it was Richard Armitage at the State Department. And supporters and conservatives of Scooter Libby have always felt that this was a case of prosecutorial overreach. And who were the two people involved in that case? James Comey, who appointed the special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. So this speaks to Donald Trump in a way that I don't think any other case would, because this is the way he feels.

BORGER: I mean I don't -- do you think it might be a coincidence, this a day after the Comey book came out? I mean I'm just -- I'm just saying.

GANGEL: On the timing. On the timing.

BORGER: I'm just saying. And obviously he's just sticking his thumb in his eye.

Look, he may agree that he should be pardoned, you know, absolutely.

GANGEL: Correct.

BORGER: He could get his law license back, as David was --


BORGER: We were talking about.

But -- but it sends a signal to people like Paul Manafort.

RYAN: Yes.

BORGER: Somebody like Manafort, who faces the rest of his life in prison, for example, maybe you --

GREGORY: But this is also --

BORGER: Maybe you ought to go forward.

GREGORY: This is also Trump with a view that none of this matters and that the rule of law doesn't matter. You know, President George W. Bush didn't pardon him because his lawyer, Fred Fielding, said, you can't do this.

RYAN: That's right.

GREGORY: This is going too far. And President Bush was angry with Vice President Cheney about going to the mattresses on this whole point.


GREGORY: So this is the reality that this president, who is being investigated to what extent on this question we can't know of obstructing justice by firing Jim Comey, but certainly Robert Mueller knows about it. Now, whether he could be indicted as a sitting president is a separate matter. This could be referred to the House as part of a report by the special prosecutor.

But just, again, his contempt for this investigation is evident, I think, by reaching back to somebody who he doesn't know but he heard was mistreated, so, therefore, as president, he should just pardon them.

RYAN: So my sources are telling me that the main person that this -- this move is going to is for Manafort, to say, look, this is what I'm doing. And Jim Acosta was absolutely right.

But you also have to remember, when you look at this moment in time, the president is very strategic. He understands that there is something else that Mueller is doing in the background. He knows that something else is percolating. So he wants to start moving this piece so that all of those to include primarily Manafort understand, you can be pardoned if you just talk --

GREGORY: But think of what he -- to quote Trey Gowdy, who is the Republican, former assistant U.S. attorney in Oklahoma, say about President Bush -- President Trump, if you're innocent, then why don't you act innocent. I mean this is this kind of behavior, like, oh, it's a signal to Manafort that don't cooperate. What's he got to hide?

BORGER: No, and it's also -- it's the flexing of his presidential muscle.


BORGER: You know how frustrated he is that he can't control the Justice Department. He can't control the FBI.

RYAN: And he's not supposed to. There are policies that say he's not supposed to.


RYAN: Yes.

BORGER: Of course, but he's frustrated that he can't. Well, this is one thing he can do.

BLITZER: Well, right.

BORGER: And he can do it with the stroke of a pen.

BLITZER: And Laura Coates is with us too, our legal analyst.

The president certainly has the authority to go ahead and pardon anyone he wants. COATES: He absolutely has presidential pardon authority. You saw this

earlier in his administration with Sheriff Joe Arpio, the controversial sheriff out of Arizona, in his handling of undocumented immigrants.

[13:29:37] But I think that this commentary, if you just switch out the players, his message is for Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller. Why? Because at the time that there was a special counsel appointed, an independent prosecutor appointed to oversee the matter involving this man Scooter Libby, the deputy attorney general at the time was Jim Comey. And the Patrick Fitzgerald character was the equivalent of Robert Mueller. And so if you're saying to these people that I believe that there was a scapegoat here or a witch hunt of sorts about a particular person and I'm going to rectify that particular wrong and show you how I -- how I believe the past will now be prologue.