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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Do Russians Have Compromising Information on President Trump?; Sean Hannity Revealed as Michael Cohen's Client; Michael Cohen's Mystery Third Client is Sean Hannity; Comey: Trump is "Morally Unfit to be President". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 16, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:15]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The judge forced Michael Cohen to admit in court that he has a third client, and the third client is Sean Hannity.

Go home, 2018. You're drunk.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: Stormy Daniels coming face-to-face with President Trump's so-called fixer, as the fixer's lawyer, Michael Cohen's lawyers drop a name that rocks the courtroom, a client's name, FOX News host Sean Hannity. So what did Hannity do that needed fixing?

Unfit for duty? James Comey calls the sitting president of the United States a liar who lacks morals, who might be vulnerable. Wait until you hear how President Trump responded today.

Plus, the rift growing deeper between the world's biggest nuclear powers, after President Trump orders airstrikes on Syria. Is there a plan for after, when the dust settles?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead today and words that surely have never before been said by any news anchor in any circumstance. The president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is under criminal investigation, is appearing in court right now, alongside adult film Stormy Daniels.

And there is already a bombshell revelation. We know now that among Michael Cohen's clients is FOX News host Sean Hannity. We know that because the judge ordered the identity of the client who had requested to be unnamed revealed.

This comes as the judge will also decide if prosecutors can look at material the FBI seized during the raids on the president's lawyer's office and hotel and home and safety deposit boxes and electronic devices, a court order that sought information about, among other things, hush money payment made to Stormy Daniels not long before the 2016 election. And this is an unprecedented battle in which the Trump legal team is

asserting that they do not trust the Trump administration Justice Department.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is outside the hearing for us and is going to try to make sense of all of this.

Shimon, the hearing still ongoing. What do we know so far about this bombshell news and Sean Hannity's relationship with Michael Cohen?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, I have been out here since Friday, and what should have been a very simple hearing with the judge making a simple decision has turned into one bombshell after the other.

And just a short time ago, the judge forcing Michael Cohen's attorney to reveal who this mystery third person was. They submitted court documents this morning, saying that they revealed two of his clients, the president and Elliott Broidy, a Republican finance guy, and the third person they would not reveal.

And the judge basically, after countless arguments by two attorneys representing Michael Cohen, and also a media attorney who was there arguing for us, for us in the press, saying that -- preventing Michael Cohen's attorney from filing this under seal, forced them to reveal the name.

He stood up in court, this lawyer, Stephen Ryan, and he basically said Sean Hannity. And, as you can imagine, there was really shock in the courtroom. People -- several ran out, including myself, to report the news.

TAPPER: And Sean Hannity just addressed this on his radio show. We are going to bring that sound in just a minute or so.

Shimon, we have also learned today that the U.S. attorney's office is describing this investigation as fast-moving and that even aside from the raids they have -- quote -- "considerable information" about Cohen's activity. What does that mean?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So this was in a transcript that occurred on Friday, a sidebar conversation that was released today.

And essentially it appears that the government has been working on this for quite some time. We know that they have obtained e-mails through other warrants, covert warrants that they have submitted, and they have reviewed a lot of e-mails, several e-mail accounts, according to the court filing here today.

In addition, Jake, in court, we learned this afternoon that the FBI seized some 10 boxes of material. This is some of this material that Cohen is claiming is privileged. We also learned there are hard drives and other electronic devices that are all -- that the government would like to review.

TAPPER: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much. I'm joined now by legal analysts and former federal prosecutors Jeffrey Toobin and Laura Coates.

Thanks for joining us.

Hannity is holding his regular radio show right now. He just addressed this revelation. Take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, "HANNITY": And let me be very clear to the media. Michael never represented me in any matter. I never retained him in the traditional sense as retaining a lawyer. I never received an invoice from Michael.

I never paid legal fees to Michael. But I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

[16:05:05]

TAPPER: Jeffrey Toobin, your response?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there seems to be some disagreement between Michael Cohen and Sean Hannity about whether they ever had a legal relationship.

And that is potentially significant, because if Sean Hannity is telling the truth there, then their conversations would not be privileged. And any relationship between them would not be privileged.

Certainly, if Sean Hannity did retain Michael Cohen, he should have disclosed that, because he's been a big advocate of Michael Cohen on his television and radio shows. That is a matter of journalistic ethics. It's not a legal issue.

But there does seem to be a difference of opinion here about whether there ever was an attorney-client relationship between the two of them.

TAPPER: And, Laura, one of the things that Sean Hannity made clear to say was that Michael Cohen never represented him with any third-party matter.

This of course comes in the context of Michael Cohen representing Donald Trump in the Stormy Daniels matter and also representing former Republican National Committee vice chair, finance chair, Elliott Broidy in a $1.6 million payment he made to a former Playboy model who got pregnant.

So, Hannity trying to make it clear, nothing like that is afoot with him.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course. He wants to have the optics look good for himself.

But what I picked up on, Jake, was his statement of he never represented me in a traditional sense as an attorney and client. That is precisely what the government is arguing about why they went into Michael Cohen's office, his home and hotel to say, this was not a true attorney-client relationship.

This is somebody who happened to be an attorney, happens to be an attorney on behalf of the president of the United States, but maybe not. And because of that, because there is a disconnect in there, the statement by Sean Hannity almost helps the government's case to say, this isn't somebody you can protect, this isn't somebody who had an invoice.

You could do pro bono legal work, Jake, but the idea that there was never a time they actually had a clear attorney-client relationship, that is horrible for Michael Cohen's ability to say, please do not let them look at these documents, this footage, electronic information.

TAPPER: And, Jeffrey, to your point, we should note, Hannity, one of the most successful and viewed anchors in cable news, he's covering this story of the raid on Michael Cohen's office, hotel room, home, safety deposit box, his electronic devices.

Here is how he reacted to the news of the raids on Cohen a week ago today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HANNITY: Do you think Hillary Clinton's attorneys had their offices raided during the e-mail investigation? Not a chance. Mueller has ostensibly tonight declared war against the president of the United States. Clearly, his objective is to remove him from office.

Now, I told you and I have told anyone who will listen, Mueller's team is corrupt, starting with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, not in that clip and, as far as we can tell, never did he disclose that Michael Cohen had -- he had some sort of professional relationship with him.

TOOBIN: Right. That is sort of journalistic ethics 101, that if you have some sort of relationship with someone you are reporting about, you let your viewers, your readers know about it.

What is confusing here is that he does not seem to say -- on the radio today, Hannity seems to say that there was no attorney-client relationship, so maybe there was nothing to disclose. I think all of us know Sean Hannity is a conservative, he's a Trump supporter.

It is not supporting that he would spoken to Michael Cohen in a friendly way. There is nothing wrong or inappropriate about that. But if there was an attorney-client relationship, certainly, it should have been disclosed on the air. TAPPER: Yes. And it sounds like, as you pointed out initially,

Michael Cohen and Sean Hannity have a disagreement of sorts about whether or not Sean Hannity is a client of his.

Let's move on to this case. In a new transcript out today, the U.S. attorney's office is describing the Cohen investigation as a fast- moving investigation and that, aside from the raid, they 'already have considerable amounts of information" about Michael Cohen's activities.

Laura, what is your takeaway on that?

COATES: This is clearly what we thought in the beginning, that this does not start with Avenatti, talking about Stormy Daniels, it did not start with the off-the-cuff remark by the president in the back of Air Force One.

This began weeks and potentially months ago. And we thought that would be the case because, remember, probable cause is the floor, not the ceiling for getting a warrant. A warrant of this magnitude of an attorney, as somebody who said that they are the attorney for the president of the United States, that would have been the bare minimum.

And so they would have to have the piles of information and evidence to convince a judge and a neutral magistrate to say, listen, there is a reason we have to raid this person's home, their office and their hotel room without getting any permission and without any notice beforehand.

This is not surprising to me. But it is shocking if you're known Michael Cohen to know this has been in the works for quite some time. There may be even tapped lines in some way to perform that we don't know about it yet. A lot is coming his direction.

[16:10:01]

TAPPER: And, Jeffrey, I spoke with Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION."

And he told me that -- quote -- "I strongly believe that within the next 90 days, we are going to see an unsealing of an indictment against Michael Cohen for a host of very serious offenses."

Is that bravado or is there a reason to believe that that might be true?

TOOBIN: There is certainly reason to believe Michael Cohen is in a world of trouble.

It is very unusual for judges to agree for a search of a lawyer's office. It has happened. It created unusual problems and that is what they are sorting out in court about who reviews the documents to see if they're privileged.

But just the basic fact is that judges don't give search warrants for lawyer's offices unless there is very compelling evidence of criminality. That certainly suggests an indictment might be possible. But I do think, in fairness to Michael Cohen, we need to be very

careful about saying that, and more careful than Michael Avenatti, because we don't know what the evidence is and we don't know even what crimes he's suspected of.

So I'm certainly not going to sit here and say he's about to be indicted for X, when I don't know that is the case.

TAPPER: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, Laura Coates, thank you both.

Could the revelation about Michael Cohen and Sean Hannity hurt President Trump? New information about the relationship between Hannity and Cohen next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:26] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Just in to CNN, we've just learned, of course, that Sean Hannity is the mystery client number three of Michael Cohen's. He's the person who had apparently asked over the weekend not to have his name revealed, according to Cohen's attorney.

But a source now tells CNN that Sean Hannity never asked Michael Cohen to assert attorney/client privilege. Hannity tweeted and said on his radio show that he thought conversations were confidential. The source also said Hannity has no interest in being associated with this proceeding but insisted that Hannity's dealing with Cohen are not pertinent to the government's investigation.

My political panel joins me to try to make sense of this.

Karine, I don't understand what is going on. What do you think is going on in terms of Michael Cohen asserting that Sean Hannity was a client and Sean Hannity kind of downplaying it?

KARINA JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISER, MOVEON.ORG: I mean, it is the most bizarre thing. Because we were talking ourselves trying to figure out, well what does this all mean? But here is the thing, Jake. I think the problem here is you're talking about two people who have no credibility. And neither of them are honest brokers. So it is like, who do you believe? I can't -- I don't see myself believing either of them right now, and you need more evidence, more to come out of this story before you actually would make a statement on this.

TAPPER: David, you probably have a different take.

DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: As far as credibility, I'll leave that up to you to judge. And Sean Hannity is a smart guy and he said he assumed the conversations with Mr. Cohen were confidential, not privileged. There is a distinction.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: Confidential is something that's hey, don't tell anybody. Privileged is protected under the law. So, his choice of words are, you know, pretty specific thinking obviously he is saying -- he wasn't my attorney and we didn't have attorney/client privilege. Mr. Michael Cohen, for whatever reason, seemed to assert the exact opposite of that.

I'm not sure if he's trying to posture or perhaps, you know, for whatever reason and assert that Sean Hannity was his client. I don't see that what gets him moving forward. But we'll have to stay tuned.

TAPPER: Yes. And, Jackie, this comes as Michael Cohen is disclosing who his clients are.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Right.

TAPPER: We know the president is one of the his clients and the Stormy Daniels matter is what started some of this, presumably. We also know that Elliott Broidy, a former Republican National Committee finance vice chair through Michael Cohen paid off a playboy model $1.6 million. He had impregnated her apparently. But Sean Hannity quick to say he's never represented me in a third-party matter.

KUCINICH: Right. I think this is a list like being on the RNC Finance Committee, you don't really want to be one of Michael Cohen's clients at this point. But the real question is I think when you take a step back, why didn't Hannity disclose this on his show? He's been talking about this case. He's been talking about Michael Cohen over and over again, and he didn't -- if Michael Cohen is my lawyer, he is not, I would say that before I commented.

For the viewers, for people who are following this. I think that's an open question of, OK, fine, if you talked to this guy, why not say that, so are beyond reproach on this issue.

URBAN: Yes, but, Jackie, at that point maybe Sean Hannity didn't consider the conversations as attorney-client and he wasn't engaging him as a lawyer.

KUCINICH: But he got legal advice.

JEAN-PIERRE: But here is the problem. You have Sean Hannity on FOX News every night for the past how many years now that we've been -- dealing with Donald Trump, and Donald Trump in particular who is literally using his show like a state TV for the White House and going after the DOJ and everyone against Donald Trump and here -- this is a detail that he did not share that is true.

URBAN: Karine, I don't have the -- I can't answer it. I'm just hypothesizing why --

KUCINICH: There is nothing we can do because we don't know all the details of this.

TAPPER: I thought I heard Sean Hannity say on his radio show today and listening out of the corner of my ear as we were getting ready for the show here, that there were times maybe he'd give Michael Cohen like 10 bucks, so that something was covered under attorney/client privilege. You're a lawyer, does it work that way? URBAN: I play one on the show. Let's put it that way.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: You have a law degree.

URBAN: I have a law degree. I was a public finance lawyer not a criminal lawyer.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: So, I can't tell you the construct of what constitutes, you know, what threshold you have to cross to have the protection. I don't think that perhaps giving somebody 10 bucks and shaking hands constitutes the privilege. I could be mistaken but you -- I'm sure Twitter will blast me and say it does.

TAPPER: Oh, Twitter is going to Twitter.

Jackie, do you buy the argument that "The New York Times" reported -- associates of President Trump think this matter, the Michael Cohen matter -- forget Sean Hannity -- but Michael Cohen matter, this is actually potentially more worrisome than the Mueller matter?

[16:20:08] KUCINICH: He seems awfully upset about it. I mean, and this is something -- even if he fires Mueller, this is going to go on. This in a different jurisdiction, he can't touch this because it involves New York state. So the fact that he has no control over it, you have to imagine that will anger the president even more and could have bigger consequences.

He can't make this go away. It is going to have a -- he can't.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: There are consequences and impeachment. I mean, there is, you know --

JEAN-PIERRE: And Michael Cohen is like his fixer, his hatchet man.

KUCINICH: He knows where the bodies are buried.

JEAN-PIERRE: Exactly, which is why Donald Trump --

TAPPER: Not literally.

Stick around. Just want to make sure. Stick around.

Fired FBI Director James Comey saying the president is, quote, morally unfit for office. How is the White House responding?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:00] TAPPER: We're just learning that 10 million people tuned into to hear fired FBI Director James Comey's first TV interview last night where he questioned everything from the president's hair to the size of his hands to most notably his fitness to lead the United States.

CNN's Boris Sanchez joins me live from West Palm Beach where the president will spend the week.

And, Boris, as for the president, we know he watched bits and pieces of James Comey's interview but so far, since the interview aired at least, he's only tweeted one nasty tweet about Cohen.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And he's had plenty of opportunities to respond on camera after a barrage of tweets over the weekend. And instead the president letting that tweet and some of his surrogates do the talking for him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REPORTER: Did you watch James Comey's interview?

SANCHEZ (voice-over): President Trump avoiding reporters' questions today, as his staff takes up the battle for believable against former FBI Director James Comey and his tell-all book in a scathing first interview since being fired last year, Comey told ABC News that President Trump was unfit to lead.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think he's morally unfit to be president.

(CROWD CHANTING)

COMEY: The person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they are pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small, and insist the American people believe it, that person is not fit to be president of the United States on moral grounds.

SANCHEZ: The White House quick to shoot back.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: James Comey is a disgrace, disgruntled, discredited individual.

SANCHEZ: This morning, the president's close advisers lined up and took direct aim at Comey's credibility and motives.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The president thinks that Jim Comey is engaging in revisionist history. Jim Comey is very skilled at diverting the spotlight onto himself. And it's unfortunate that people think he's got a big story to tell. He had very limited interaction with the president --

SANCHEZ: This as a recent ABC News poll shows Americans find Comey more believable than Trump by a margin of 48 to 32 percent.

Also drawing ire from the Oval Office -- Comey's admission that he reopened the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails days before the 2016 presidential election because he assumed that she would win the presidentially. His October 28th letter to Congress on the matter no doubt a key moment in the race.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: Wouldn't it feel like to be James Comey in the last ten days of that campaign after you sent the letter?

COMEY: It sucked. I walked around vaguely sick to my stomach, feeling beaten down, felt like I was totally alone, that everybody hated me. And that there wasn't away out because it really was the right thing do.

SANCHEZ: The president tweeted out his response this morning, leveling criminal accusations at the former FBI director, writing, quote: Comey drafted the crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her, lied in Congress to Senator G, and then based his decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled, he and McCabe and the others committed many crimes.

It was just the latest in days of unfiltered response to Comey's revelations. It seem this is fight is one neither the president nor Comey is willing to forfeit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: And we may still see a more thorough response from President Trump. As you well know, Jake, James Comey's media tour is just kicking off with a number of different appearances still to be aired this week. And as you noted, the president is here in Mar-a-Largo where some of his more lengthy and angry Twitter tirades have been spawned -- Jake.

TAPPER: Indeed.

Boris Sanchez, thank you so much.

My panel is back with me for more.

David Urban, so I guess probably the most strongest thing that Comey said last night was that he said the president is morally unfit for the job, he said based on the president suggesting there was a moral equivalence between different sides in Charlottesville, based on treating women like me, the lies he tells repeatedly -- how do you -- how you respond to that? That the president is morally unfit?

URBAN: Obviously, I don't -- I'm not here to debate the -- how the president's -- what the president's response to Charlottesville or the issues of the women, but in terms of the moral equivalency and Comey's assertion that he's morally unfit, I don't think Americans going to lead to the polls in the election were looking for moral leader. I don't think they're asking for the president to be a moral leader.

The media takes great umbrage anytime the vice president talks about anything, right? They make fun of the vice president for his morals. So, you can't have it in both ways. You have a gentleman in the vice president that the media makes fun for being too moral, and the president for being amoral.

So, I'm not sure where everybody wants things to fall down. I don't think this stage in America that the nation looks for the president to be the moral leader.

TAPPER: I don't think I've ever made fun of the vice president.

URBAN: A lot of people have. You have to admit.

TAPPER: But let me ask you -- let's about the point that the American people knew who Donald Trump was before they elected him, that's a fair point.