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Trump Fires Back After Comey Interview; Today: Michael Cohen Appears in Federal Court; Trump Lawyers Argue against FBI Search of Cohen Records. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 16, 2018 - 10:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again. I'm Ana Cabrera in today for John and Poppy. Great to have you with us on this Monday and this morning, it is getting fiery after being called morally unfit and compared to a mob boss by the former FBI director that he fired almost a year ago. President Trump is now calling James Comey a liar and a crook.

Following up on his tweet storm over the weekend, this morning, the president writes, "Comey drafted the Crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her (lied in Congress to Senator G), then based his decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled, he, McCabe, and the others, committed many crimes!"

Now Comey maintains it is Trump who may have committed crimes. And says he doesn't deserve the office he holds.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC ANCHOR: Is Donald Trump unfit to be president?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Yes. But not in the way -- I often hear people talk about it. I don't buy the stuff about him being mentally incompetent or early stages of dementia. He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who is tracking conversations and knows what's going on. I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president.


CABRERA: The president left just moments ago for Miami, for an event that is supposed to highlight tax cuts. He didn't say anything to the cameras or when reporters asked him questions this morning, just kept on walking.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us now from the White House with more. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Ana, I was there on the south lawn as the president left the White House. We asked him if he watched this interview of James Comey last night, he didn't answer our questions. But people who know the president best tell me they just don't see a scenario where he didn't watch a very remarkable interview, one we do not often see, where the former FBI president -- excuse me, former FBI chief is attacking a sitting president, especially so publicly and especially considering the things that James Comey said during that interview.

Now, a lot of it echoes what was said in his book. But of course, this is a president who is a penchant for television. Just to give you a sense of what James Comey said, here is a clip of what he -- his answer was when he was asked if he thought the Russians have anything on President Trump.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think the Russians have something on Donald Trump?

COMEY: I think it's possible. I don't know. These are more words I never thought I'd utter about a president of the United States, but it's possible.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's stunning. You can't say for certain that the president of the United States is not compromised by the Russians?

COMEY: Yes, it is stunning and I wish I wasn't saying it, but it is just the truth.


COLLINS: Now James Comey was also asked if he believes the president has obstructed justice or if he's going to fire the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And his answer to that was also very interesting.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Was President Trump obstructing justice?

COMEY: Possibly. I mean, it's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What will it mean if President Trump tries to fire Robert Mueller?

COMEY: It would, I hope, set off alarm bells that this is his most serious attack yet on the rule of law.


COLLINS: Now the president has only commented on this a little on Twitter this morning, accusing James Comey of crimes, but while he's doing that, the White House, his officials, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Sanders and the Republican National Committee are working overtime to undermine James Comey's credibility here. But of course Ana, you know that this is a president who says when he gets hit, he hits back 10 times harder. So, we'll be waiting to see if he has anything else to say about James Comey as he continues with this book tour. CABRERA: All right, Kaitlan Collins thanks.

And joining us now is Karen Finney, former senior adviser for the Hillary for America Campaign, Bryan Lanza, CNN political commentator, former deputy communications director for Donald Trump's campaign, and Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst.

So, Bryan, morally unfit to be president. That is what we heard from James Comey. What is your reaction to his interview?

BRYAN LANZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A despicable answer for a man who lied before Congress. In -- May of 2017, he lied to Senator Grassley. And now he's passing judgment on this president. Just a despicable answer, he's selling books, it shouldn't be -- he shouldn't be allowed to have all this space to sell these books and -

CABRERA: Why shouldn't he be allowed to have the ability to sell books?

LANZA: I think -- he shouldn't have this amplified effect to have all these media attention. What we have looked at is in May of 2017, he told Senator Grassley one thing. And now he's saying something completely different in the book. He said that he had never leaked anything before, and the book states he's leaked something. The IG report from last Friday states that he leaked something. So, there is a problem here. His sort of this unimpeachable character is the most impeachable in this entire episode now. And so, we're giving -- the media is giving him the platform to continue to spread lies. And I think that's what the problem is here.

CABRERA: Karen, you just heard what Bryan had to say. Here is the response from the White House last hour. Listen.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president thinks that Jim Comey is engaging in revisionist history. If he objected to anything that he had witnessed when he was in his very limited, very few meetings with President Trump, in a six-week period, he should have said so.

[10:05:09] Jim Comey loves to be in the center of power. He loves to divert the spotlight to himself and be in the center of power. This man, he had no political instincts whatsoever, he was wrong about the election as were many people. This guy went from being a public servant to a public relations spin artist.


CABRERA: Karen, what is your reaction?

KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA CAMPAIGN: My reaction is that the reaction from the White House and the president actually reinforces everything that we suspect and everything that we have been learning about President Trump and many of the things that Jim Comey reveals. I think one of the most interesting things about the book is while he's presenting sort of his perspective of events, it doesn't really tell us much that we hadn't heard -- that we didn't know in terms of the way -- this White House we have Hope Hicks who, you know, left the White House in disgrace after admitting that she told little white lies. So, I find it interesting that this White House, you know, is attacking someone for telling the truth about what he saw and what he heard.

And the other piece I find interesting is that, you know, they're not going to be able to drive any kind of strategy. I mean they're feeding into it because Donald Trump himself, again, reinforcing everything we know about how undisciplined he is, any kind of message they try to drive about this gets stepped on by the president himself. So, you know, again, I think Jim Comey has a right to tell his story. Clearly he's an incredibly intelligent individual. He's a flawed individual. He admitted that politics played into some of his actions and I think that's unfortunate. But it is the reaction from this White House that reinforces this idea that they're acting like a criminal enterprise where they think they can just shut people down and that people don't have a right to say what they feel like they saw and heard.

CABRERA: The question about whether this president committed any crimes is still out there as we heard in that clip we played with Kaitlan Collins, Comey talked about this conversation he had with the president, which he was asked to let go of the Flynn investigation. And Jeffrey, he says he doesn't know, but certainly there is some evidence, his words, of obstruction of justice. He also said, though, the president should not be impeached and he also admitted to telling the president he was not under investigation. What do you make of all of that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it is the most important part of what he has to say. You know, his insults about the president, I don't really find it all that interesting, you know, morally unfit or whatever. But I mean he is a critical witness on obstruction of justice. And, you know, the fact that the president asked him to go easy on Michael Flynn and the fact that he fired Comey after unsuccessfully obtaining Comey's pledge of loyalty is extremely incriminating evidence against the president.

That, to me, has always been the heart of the Comey story. Comey has been very consistent in how he told the story. He wrote it down in those memos. He told the Senate Intelligence Committee about it. He told other people, McCabe and what not about it. So I think on that issue, which is the most important issue, Comey has a lot of credibility.

CABRERA: There is also this issue about Russia's election meddling, which he was investigating before he was fired. And when it comes to Russia possibly having dirt on Trump, Comey said it is unlikely, but he said it is possible.

TOOBIN: You know I have to say, I find Comey at his least likable in those circumstances. I mean, what does that mean? It is possible? I mean, you know, the -- I believe prosecutors should put up or shut up. Either, like, make an accusation or say nothing at all. I think that's part of the problem he ran into in the way he conducted the Hillary Clinton investigation in that he didn't file charges but then he trashed her. I don't think that's an appropriate way for an FBI director to behave. You know, similarly, with Loretta Lynch, he says, I have suspicions about her, about classified information that I can't disclose. It is just unfair.

CABRERA: Dropping some -

TOOBIN: I don't think that's an appropriate way to behave. But, again, the evidence about his conversations with Donald Trump early in Trump's presidency and even before he took office remains extremely incriminating.

CABRERA: Which begs the question, why they're talking about it when there is still an ongoing investigation.

But Bryan, I want to turn to you because -


LANZA: -- because he wants money. He wants the Benjamin's. That's why -

CABRERA: Well, you know, you can also argue that the president is fueling that fire, giving him more book sales by all of the tweets that he's firing off about this book.

LANZA: The only reason why we're here is because he's on a publicity tour to sell books.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, most -- I'm someone who goes on publicity tours to sell books. Virtually ever -

[10:10:03] LANZA: I've read your books.

TOOBIN: I appreciate that. But virtually every major public servant, president, Barack Obama is about to write a book. Michelle Obama is about to write a book. I mean, I just don't see why that in and of itself is incriminating, the fact that, you know, a major public official writes a book. They all write books.

CABRERA: Getting back to the issue of - go ahead, Karen.

FINNEY: But isn't the point of it something that Jeffrey just said. I think so much of the fascination with this book, and I agree that Trump is actually fueling the fire and probably driving up book sales, but really at the heart of the matter is, I think the American people, so many of us still really don't know what happened in the election and we want to know is it possible that the Russian -- I think we know that the Russians colluded -- tried to influence the outcome of this election. And there is still an open question in this Russia investigation about whether or not the Trump team played a role in that. And I think that's part of what makes this story interesting to people is because there is still a desire to -- we know something wasn't right and so I think there is an interest in understanding what happened. I think that's fueling it. And then you pile on top of it, you know, President Trump sort of, you know, putting gas on the fire, you know, helping book sales.

CABRERA: And, Bryan, another interview with "USA Today," President Trump was asked about Putin -- or excuse me, he talked about President Trump and Putin, and Mrs. Comey. Let me read you a quote from this "USA Today" interview that he gave.

"At least in my experience," Comey writes, "he won't criticize Vladimir Putin, even in private. I can understand why a president might not want to criticize publicly another leader in the interest of forging a good relationship, but privately? Sitting with the person in charge of countering the Russian threat in the United States? Privately not being willing to do that? That always struck me." And I think that would strike a lot of Americans too.

LANZA: I think Comey needs to read the Constitution. He clearly thinks there are four branches of government and he's the fourth one. And he's the arbiter of what these things are. The reality is President Trump wants to have a good relationship with all the world leaders, whether it is Russia or China. We're in major economic conflict with China. The president is doing very serious things to address that. He's never personally said anything about their president. He's being consistent here. And what everybody else is doing is sort of looking at that specific thing and creating the false narrative. Look at what he's done with China and look at what he's done with Putin. He's been critical of both without actually being critical of the specific leaders because he needs to work with them. That's called diplomacy.

TOOBIN: Oh, really?

CABRERA: You don't agree, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: I mean, if you look -- if you look at the president's record with regard to Vladimir Putin, it is completely different from virtually any other public figure, forget -- you know, foreign leader. He has declined to criticize Putin since the very beginning of the campaign. It remains mysterious why he has been so favorable towards him and the fact that Comey took note of it means only that he's the -- one of many who has taken note of the president's behavior.

LANZA: Jeffrey, where has he actually criticized the president of China who we have these direct economic ties with. We used a lot of rhetoric. We used rhetoric during the campaign. Can you cite one thing where he specifically criticized the president of China? I think we both know we have this major conflict. Where does that happen? I think the president's behavior is consistent among all lines and I think we're just sort of narrowly focused on this and try to create a fake narrative. The president -


CABRERA: I'm not so sure that China's president is pertinent in this conversation. But the other leaders, he has called little rocket man and, I mean, he has criticized other leaders. Karen, last word. I got to go.

FINNEY: Sure. I mean, let's not forget. China is not the country that we now know as Jim Comey was party to our national security infrastructure coming to understand that the Russians, not the Chinese, the Russians interfered when the outcome of our election. They interfered in our election and we know that they are still at it. And part of what makes this story and keeps making it so interesting is we're also not doing enough to understand and this administration doesn't seem interested in understanding what is happening now and how do we stop it. Until we get those answers and until we get answers into whether or in the and how this administration and potentially has campaign may have been involved, people are going to continue to ask questions and the more they fight it, the more people are going to try to keep peeling back the layers because every time you peel back a layer, there is more that comes out.

CABRERA: Karen Finney, Bryan Lanza, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks guys.

Still to come, much more on the Comey interview, the former FBI director says President Trump is morally unfit for office. So why is he against impeachment?

Plus, President Trump's long time personal Attorney Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, both expected in the same courtroom today. Ahead, what the legal impact could be for the president.


[10:19:09] CABRERA: The president's personal Attorney Michael Cohen is due in court today. And he may come face to face with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Daniels' attorney says she will be at that hearing where a judge is expected to decide if federal prosecutors can look at material the FBI seized during the raids of Cohen's home, office and hotel room early last week. Now the president's legal team is also weighing in, siding with Cohen on this instead of the Justice Department.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is following all of this for us. Shimon, what do you know?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. That's right, Ana. So, late last night we got word that the president's legal team filed a motion with the court, extending basically their argument about why the government should not be able to view some of the material that it seized in that raid on his long time personal Attorney Michael Cohen.

[10:20:00] Remember, today we have been waiting for Michael Cohen to submit his list of potentially clients that he's had, his legal work of the last several years, which could affect the search, which he's claiming contains privileged information that the government should not view. Well, just a short time ago he had filed that with the court. He does list several clients. He does go into some of his legal work and basically they are continuing to argue that his attorneys are continuing to argue that the government should be limited in its scope of what it reviews, and if the judge is inclined to allow the government to go ahead and review some of the material, they want someone independent, outside the government, perhaps appointed to review some of this and make determinations as to what is privileged. The news here this morning is that Michael Cohen has finally submitted a client list of his legal work that the judge has been waiting for since Friday. And so hopefully we'll have a decision today from the judge on what she plans to do.

CABRERA: And quickly if you will, Shimon, Stormy Daniels is supposed to be in court. Explain why and the significance of her connection to this case.

PROKUPECZ: Right. So, obviously, she is significant to this case because we know that part of this FBI investigation into Michael Cohen, she has come up. The hush money that she has received, other issues as well including that "Access Hollywood" tape have come up in a search warrant. Her presence today is quite honestly just theater. Michael Avenatti on Friday decided that he would bring her to court today. She will be there. She will sit there as a spectator like anyone else. She's not expected to speak. She really has no say in any of the proceedings today. But nonetheless, she will be there. Michael Avenatti will likely speak to us afterwards and I'm sure she will as well. But, you know, it is just simply theater, Ana.

CABRERA: All right, thank you so much, Shimon Prokupecz. Not surprising the way Michael Avenatti has carried himself and really represented Stormy Daniels in her case.

Joining us to discuss more now, chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is back and former prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers is with us as well. So, we have Cohen in court. Stormy Daniels in court, guys. Here is what Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, said this weekend here on CNN.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: I strongly believe that within the next 90 days we're going to see an unsealing of an indictment against Mr. Cohen for a host of very serious offenses and I believe, Jake that is going to be a significant domino that's going to fall in connection with this.


CABRERA: Jennifer, how do you see this playing out?

JENNIFER RODGERS, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: Well, it is really hard to get a search warrant of a lawyer's office. It is typical that you wouldn't do that until you were pretty confident that you can build a case there and you know what's there. We already know from the papers also that they did subpoena e-mails from Michael Cohen, so I agree that there is likely to be an indictment here. The papers also reference financial crimes, so we know that's kind of the direction they're headed in and talked about his business interests being the primary reason that they're looking at him. So I agree there is likely to be an indictment. You know, the timing, who knows, 90 days, maybe about right. We never know. But I agree generally with that premise.

CABRERA: It seems like the shoe keeps dropping on Michael Cohen right now. We now have this reporting that he's the same LLC for another secret deal, first, of course there was the Stormy Daniels payment, and now "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the Essential Consultants LLC was also used for a partial payment to a former playmate who alleged an affair with Elliott Broidy, who is the now former deputy finance chair of the RNC. Jeffrey, is this significant?

TOOBIN: Well, I'm not sure. I mean, you know, this is kind of a sleazy business paying off this woman. But I don't know what the illegality is here. I mean, you know, he had a -- this Elliott Broidy had a relationship with this woman, she got pregnant, she had an abortion, she wanted some money from him and she gave him money. That's of interest to his family and her family, but I don't know what the -- what the claim of any criminality is.

CABRERA: The whole use of the LLC though, right? That seems strange.

TOOBIN: I mean, everything about it is strange, but, you know, it shows his MO of, you know, he uses this LLC, which is what he also used to pay Stormy Daniels. But in terms of something illegal, I don't -- Jennifer, do you see something illegal in this?

RODGERS: I don't. I mean people talk about anytime you're hiding money, people start talking about money laundering, but you need a specified unlawful activity underlying the hiding of the money. So, you know, your viewers might be surprised to know how easy it is and how legal it is to set up shell corporations and move money around without consequences. But it is.

CABRERA: To Shimon's reporting about the president's attorneys, joining the case with Michael Cohen essentially, fighting the government's ability to look at the records that it has seized, saying, quote, this is their argument, "It makes clear that taint team will not zealously protect the president's privilege if they're rushing to review the documents for attorney-client privilege." Is their argument strong?

[10:25:04] TOOBIN: Well, you know, I was reading their brief, I mean, there is one case where a judge said no, the prosecution can't review the documents, I want a neutral third party to look at the documents. But most of the time judges say this is the customary process, the prosecutors set up a team that looks exclusively at the question of privilege, and then they turn over all the documents that are not covered by the privilege to the team that is investigating the actual crimes. This has been in place for a long time, and a lot of cases. So I think both Michael Cohen and the Trump team have a uphill battle with the judge in trying to get her to set aside the usual procedure, but it is not inconceivable that she might - she might set up some sort of extra scrutiny of these documents.

CABRERA: Jennifer, how unusual is it for a president of the United States to not back his own Justice Department, to essentially fight them?

RODGERS: Yes, that's what makes this so crazy, right. It is his Justice Department and I know he's been attacking Mueller since the beginning of the Mueller investigation. This isn't Mueller. This is not an independent person who has been appointed. This is his own Geoffrey Berman, he just appointed him in January running the Southern District U.S. attorney's office. This is his Justice Department, as you said. So it is, you know, kind of a topsy-turvy situation.

TOOBIN: We're talking about a court case where porn star who received $130,000 from the president's lawyer. You want to talk about weird? I mean, the idea -- you ask how unusual is this? I mean we are so far into a Star Wars dimension of what we assume -- like, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, this was nothing compared to this craziness that is going on here.

CABRERA: Nothing is surprising under this presidency. Thank you, guys, great to have you both on.

Still ahead, fired FBI director James Comey thinks President Trump should not be impeached. All of this despite Comey saying the president is morally unfit for the office. We'll discuss next.