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Is Cohen Case A Greater Threat To Trump Than Mueller Probe?; French President Macron Says He Convinced Trump To Stay In Syria; Trump Declares "Mission Accomplished" In Syria. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 16, 2018 - 05:30   ET



[05:33:20] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A big day today, any way you look at it when it comes to presidential politics. In just hours, the president's longtime attorney Michael Cohen is going to be back in court.

This comes as the president's current lawyers are trying to argue against the FBI's search of Cohen's records in a new court filing. The president's attorneys calling the searches an operation disquieting to lawyers, clients, citizens, and commentators alike.

So let's bring in former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, and CNN legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former special assistant Michael Zeldin.

Gentlemen, I see two issues here.

One is procedural about what does this mean for the privilege -- attorney-client privilege -- the president asserting that it is basically dead because of these searches. And then you have this very provocative question about whether or not there's more exposure to the president in the Cohen situation than in the Mueller situation.

So, Michael Zeldin, let's start with the privilege first. The privilege is dead because you did this search and now no one can talk to their lawyer anymore with any degree of confidence that it will be safe from any type of government eyes. Fair point?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO ROBERT MUELLER, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: No, that's not true at all, actually. The manner in which the prosecutors proceeded in this case was to present evidence to a federal magistrate judge that there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the premises to be searched.

They sequestered all of the evidence seized and are going to review it from an attorney-client privilege perspective, pursuant to Justice Department policy. Anything that implicates that privilege will be reviewed separately, probably by the court, and determinations will be made as to whether it's protected or not protected.

[05:35:04] If it's not protected, it will be given to the review team to go forward with their investigation. If it is protected, it will be sequestered and not used. So, in fact, the privilege is alive and well and functioning the way it should function.

CUOMO: All right.

ZELDIN: The bigger problem that Cohen has in this case is that he's not practicing law and so the privileges are actually even applied to most of his work --

CUOMO: All right, so that's a distinction for the investigators.

ZELDIN: -- as a businessman.

CUOMO: There -- so one of the end-runs here is that the investigators have said in the pushback through their attorneys, we're looking at information where Cohen is not acting as an attorney but as a businessman. All right, so that would be their way of getting around the privilege, but let's stay with the privilege for one second.

Renato, no, I don't want you guys looking at my communications with my attorney to decide whether or not they're privileged. I don't want you to do it because once you see it, my privilege has been corrupted. Fair point?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, PARTNER, THOMPSON COBURN: Well look, that is a fair point. I don't think anybody, when they're communicating with their attorney, wants the government to be looking at it, OK? That's obviously the case.

That said, the level of proof that the government needed, they literally had to show a judge there was good reason to believe that Cohen was committing a crime and that his office was -- there would be evidence of a crime in his office.

CUOMO: And that's the exclusion to the privilege. If the communications and documents they're looking for is evidence of a past or continuing criminal activity, then the privilege doesn't apply and they can look. Fine -- we'll see what kind of proffer they can make on that -- how they prove it.

Let me ask you something else. The Mueller investigation seems to be what everybody would be concerned about. Now I'm hearing from a depth mind such as your own that oh know, this Cohen -- there's big exposure here.

Alan Dershowitz says the President of the United States may have more concern about what's going on with Cohen than with Mueller. How?

MARIOTT: Well, what's going on with Cohen is definitely a concern because his business partner, his confidant, his lawyer in certain circumstances -- Michael Cohen is a subject of a criminal investigation.

He's under investigation and you know what, he was talking to Donald Trump and the search warrant sought and obtained records of communications between him and Trump. And so what means is they were actually talking about the topics that were part of this criminal investigation. So, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, was talking to

his lawyer, his business partner about a subject that is now a criminal investigation. Very concerning for the president.

CUOMO: So he's not as removed as it is with what's going on in Mueller.

Michael Zeldin, do you agree? If you were Trump's counsel and you got an offer to get rid of one of these two situations, would you get rid of the Cohen situation before the Mueller situation?

ZELDIN: I don't have enough facts to answer that question, Chris.

The reality is that Trump is in communication with Cohen. We don't know what the nature of those communications are. We don't know whether or not the president has really anything to worry about in respect to those communications.

We know that Cohen is under investigation according to the pleadings in what they called a months' long investigation sounding in fraud and evidencing untruthfulness. So this is a particularly specific investigation as to Cohen.

We just don't know, and I don't really want to go as far as Renato does to say well, this puts the president in a world of hurt as well. I think it's -- you know, assuming facts not yet in evidence and we'll see.

So if I were to chew the two, I'll pick to get rid of the Mueller one.

CUOMO: Zeldin and Mariotti, thank you very much for making us a little smarter on all of this stuff this morning -- appreciate it -- Alisyn.


Mission accomplished -- what does that mean? That's the loaded phrase that President Trump used to talk about airstrikes in Syria. We have a live report from Syria and what's happening there, next.


[05:43:05] CAMEROTA: Investigators from the international watchdog group, the OPCW, are now on the ground in Syria trying to confirm the apparent chemical attack near Damascus. This, as French President Emmanuel Macron declares he is the one who convinced President Trump to keep U.S. troops in Syria.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is live in Northern Syria. What are you seeing, Nick? What's the latest there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's important really, is to see the results from the OPCW as quickly as possible. Was it just chlorine or was it, as U.S. officials have been suggesting according to the symptoms they saw in the victims, also sarin, a nerve agent that sparked the last two major actions by the international community?

But today, really, a lot of people taking stock of what the last four or five days really means. If you're in Damascus -- Bashar al-Assad -- you are trying to look like, frankly, you're unmoved by the last few days. You're brushing the dust off your shoulders.

But at the same time, Moscow and Tehran, your major backers, are most likely saying did we need the last week of trouble here? Russia, and Iran, and Syria had effectively -- very barbarically, but effectively been beating the rebels using conventional weapons.

Now, after they used that gas, there's now a demand as to whether or not the U.S. has a tough enough Syria policy. How long will it stay? What could be done to reel back in the barbarity of the Assad regime?

The other key issue, too, is that that U.S. has still successfully shown in the Middle East that it is the predominant military power and can hit what it likes when it likes. And that is not something necessarily to celebrate because while it does show that when they want to act they certainly can and the Russians did not step up to plate to prevent them even if they could have despite warnings, the broader question is will Russia-Iran choose another venue or another time to unexpectedly respond to this U.S. move -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Nick. So important to have you there right now understanding what the impact was of the military strike, the ongoing considerations, any type of counteroffensive.

Thank you so much for being there. You and the team, please stay safe.

[05:45:00] All right. So after launching these coalition airstrikes, what is the actual strategy?

The president says the mission was accomplished. What mission? What happens next? Where is Congress on this?

Our military experts will take up the angle of military strategy, next.


CAMEROTA: President Trump declaring mission accomplished following Friday night's missile strike on Syria, but what was accomplished?

Joining us now is CNN military analyst, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling. And, CNN military and diplomatic analyst and former State Department spokesperson, Rear Adm. John Kirby. Gentlemen, great to see you.

[05:50:00] Let me read what the president tweeted out on Saturday.

"A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine military. Could not have had a better result. Mission accomplished!" (Exclamation point).

So, Gen. Hertling, what mission was accomplished?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: The mission is the military was assigned was those three chemical facilities and headquarters facilities, as we talked about last week Alisyn, that they were going after. The military was going after specific targets and in this case the options that were presented to the president, this was the one that was chosen.

So when he says mission accomplished, it was a very good military approach. The end state was to destroy the targets, to certainly affect the ability of Assad to use chemical weapons, and to send a signal. That, in and of itself, was the mission.

And with the longer strategy, I think we can debate exactly what should be the strategy in Syria, but this was the approach that the president took.

CAMEROTA: And so, Adm. Kirby, before we get to what should happen next and the strategy, I'm just curious about those words. I mean, why the president chose the words "mission accomplished" when those are such now loaded words in our history and they did become so regrettable after President Bush said them when it was clear that the mission in Iraq was not accomplished.

What did you think when you read that?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT: Yes, I had the first reaction when I -- when I saw that. I thought that's a really unfortunate way to sort of phrase it. I agree with Gen. Hertling. Certainly, the strikes were successful from a tactical perspective but it was politically not the most astute thing to do.

And then, you saw Alisyn, a little bit later on he tweeted again how he thinks that's a great phrase and we need to keep using it often and he tried to kind of clarify the bounds with which he used it.

Yes, but it's a very loaded phrase and that's unfortunate because what you have a military do is exactly that, to accomplish the missions they've been assigned and to do it effectively and efficiently. And in this case, they did.

CAMEROTA: So, Gen. Hertling, did the coalition accomplish the mission of destroying some of the ability to use chemical weapons in the future?

HERTLING: They effectively struck the targets they were given, Alisyn. I'll use that phrase. They were given three specific facilities, as we all know now. There are several others that -- with the potential for production of chemical weapons.

Assad, the very next day after this strike, continued to use deplorable measures against his citizens without the use of chemical weapons. And certainly, from the standpoint of the type of chemical weapons that was used, whether it was sarin gas or chlorine, the regime can certainly use more chlorine gas because that's a readily available product.

Were they affected in their ability to produce sarin, and blister, and mustard agent? I believe the Intelligence Community would say yes, they were because of the destruction of the specific storage and R&D facilities.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, Adm. Kirby, what now? What should the U.S. do now?

KIRBY: Well, I don't think from a military perspective you're going to see much of a change, Alisyn.

You saw that Sec. Mattis and his spokesman, the next day after the strikes, very narrowly defined what the military mission in Syria is. It's a counter-ISIS fight. That said, they're willing to take action with respect to the use of chemical weapons.

Beyond that, I don't see much appetite in the Pentagon and I don't see much appetite coming out of the White House to change the military mission.

What needs to happen next Alisyn, though, is I think this country needs to have an honest debate about the degree to which a stable Syria is in our national security interest. And you could go down either way, but just look at the numbers. You have a half a million killed by their own government, you have millions flung into refuge -- the worst refugee crisis that Europe has seen since World War II.

I think we need to have that discussion and then from -- whatever the answers from that discussion, then have a meaningful policymaking process because right now, there is no coherent policy with respect to Syria going forward.

I don't think there's a military solution to the end of the Civil War and to a -- to a stable Syria, but I do think that this administration has abdicated all leadership on the diplomatic front to Russia, Turkey, and Iran, and we need to get back in that game in Geneva. We need to forge a political strategy to see a peaceful Syria come out of this.

CAMEROTA: All right. Admiral Kirby, Gen. Hertling --

HERTLING: And if I --

CAMEROTA: Yes -- sorry, we're out of time, guys --


CAMEROTA: -- but this is -- I mean, thank you very much for both of your perspectives. It's really helpful as we see what the next chapter is here. Thank you, both -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right.

Ahead, we have more of the blockbuster interview with Jim Comey. The fired FBI director says President Trump is quote "morally unfit for office." Why does he think that? And if that's true, why does he believe the president should not be impeached, next.


[05:59:15] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: I mean, it's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: James Comey is a self- admitted leaker.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I just think it's a completely devastating account of the president's behavior.

COMEY: So I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Jim Comey now complains that President Trump is untethered from the truth.

CUOMO: Cohen's going to be in court today.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I think it's a serious matter, there's no question because Mr. Cohen's name keeps coming up.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: She wants to ensure that she is heard.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The purpose of our actions is to establish a strong deterrent against the production of chemical weapons.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: President Trump is not a king, he's a president. He's supposed to come to Congress.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We, of course, know that our work in Syria is not done.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: All right.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Monday, April 16th, 6:00 here in New York City.