Return to Transcripts main page


Comey Continues Media Blitz As Book Is Released; Judge: Michael Cohen's Legal Team Can Review Seized Records; Michael Cohen's Mystery Third Client Is Sean Hannity; Trump Op-Ed: We Are Changing Tax Day For Americans. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 17, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CUOMO: End House. It's a boys and girls club. You can go online and you'll be able to see how you too can help. Part of an upcoming series. Right?

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Champions for Change. So we'll all be watching that. But good for you, John, to raise so much money for them. I can't drive 26 miles without my legs getting sore, so we're really proud of you, John Berman.

CUOMO: You are the man and you know what? You look good in those tights, brother. You looked good.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You can't see me but I'm still wearing them. All right.

CUOMO: Next hurricane we know what you'll have on.

BERMAN: Thank you. Thank you very much.

We actually have some real news so let's get to it.

All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman and Michael Cohen is not my attorney.

We have new developments in the bizarre legal linkage between the investigation surrounding the president and FOX News "don't call him a journalist" except sometimes Sean Hannity in just a moment. But first new comments from fired FBI director and new best-selling author James Comey, a new defense of some criticism of his work this morning in a new response to the president's charge that he should be in jail.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The president of the United States is accusing people of crimes without evidence and pronouncing them guilty and saying they should be in jail. That should wake all of us up with a start. But there's been so much of it that we're a little bit numb and that's dangerous.


BERMAN: Now for those of you keeping track at home. This is really just still the beginning of James Comey's media blitz. The president is in for a long week of new commentary.

Abby Phillip in Florida near the president's Mar-a-Lago resort. Any response from the White House yet, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. You're absolutely right. James Comey's book believe it or not actually came out today but for the last several days the White House, the Republican National Committee and the president himself have been trading barbs with him on social media and elsewhere over his comments in the book.

The White House accusing James Comey of being a disgruntled employee and saying he has absolutely no credibility whatsoever. But as part of this media tour, Comey was on, as you saw in "Good Morning America" this morning talking about a whole host of issues including some criticisms from the left and the right to the comments that he's made in his book, but also this, when the president accused the FBI of breaking in to his personal attorney's office and home, here's how James Comey responded to that charge.


COMEY: It shows me he either doesn't know or doesn't care what the rule of law looks like. Nobody broke into anybody's office. It doesn't happen. The FBI gets a search warrant from a federal judge and conducts itself professionally, completely and politely by the accounts of the people involved. So it's a total distortion of the way things work.


PHILLIP: So now James Comey appears to be delving into some new issues and perhaps seeking to get even more reaction from this president.

We are here in Florida where the president is just a few miles away at his Mar-a-Lago resort. And it's going to be a fairly busy week for him. He is going to be greeting the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tonight. They're going to have a couple of days worth of meetings and talks but the big issue on his agenda this week with Abe is preparing for that meeting with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, and also dealing with some thorny disagreements over trade and the transpacific partnership.

So President Trump is not laying off Twitter while he's here but the White House has certainly kept his agenda pretty full with events and other meetings while all of this whole Comey media blitz is going on back in New York and Washington -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip for us down in Florida. We will see if the president continue his extraordinary restraint when it comes to James Comey and I say that quite ironically.

All right. Here in New York the courtroom battle over documents seized from the president's lawyer, it has no clear resolution yet. What it does have is high drama. The big news from Michael Cohen that FOX News, again don't call him journalist except sometimes, Sean Hannity, Sean Hannity's a client of Michael Cohen according to Michael Cohen, and that's still reverberating around the political and legal worlds this morning as his Hannity's vigorous if not completely consistent explanation.

CNN's Brynn Gingras here with that angle and also really the very important legal developments that happened here in New York.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: \Yes, it was a lot of high drama but the legalities first. Essentially what happened here in this hearing is the federal judge in this case giving all sides a bit of what they wanted without making really a final determination about how investigators will be able to review the seized documents from last week's raid on Michael Cohen's home, his office and his hotel room.

Now the U.S. attorney's office will hand over copies of the seized material to Cohen's legal team and a judge has asked them to get an idea of the volume of the documents they believe is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Now the government is going to do the same. Remember, after all that the president also filed the late motion wanting access to all those records as well and the judge also authorized Cohen's team to give Trump's lawyers whatever material pertains to the president and the Trump Organization.

[09:05:09] As you can imagine, that's a move his legal team was very pleased with, but all of this somewhat overshadowed by what John was talking about, the fact that we learned in court, FOX News host Sean Hannity is a client of Michael Cohen. This came out really in dramatic fashion in court after the judge insisted Cohen's attorneys to hand over a list of his clients and that short list was from RNC fundraiser Elliott Broidy who Cohen helped negotiate a payoff for a Playboy model after getting her pregnant. And an unnamed third client who was Hannity.

Now Hannity claims he only sought legal advice from Cohen and wasn't an actual client. Here's what he said on his show.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Michael Cohen never represented me in any legal matter. I never retained his services. I never received an invoice. I never paid Michael Cohen for legal fees.


GINGRAS: A lot of questions there. Back to the criminal investigation, though, into Cohen's personal and business dealings. While it's new to us, the government revealed in court it's actually been working on this case for months, but in some aspects it will now slow down a bit until all sides come back to court and a judge makes her final ruling regarding these documents.

And, John, that could take several weeks and kind of Michael Cohen's attorney has got a little bit of what they wanted here. Of course prosecutors saying this was a stall tactic. It kind of worked.

BERMAN: They didn't stop investigators all together but it did slow things down for the time being.


BERMAN: Brynn Gingras, terrific report. Thanks so much for being with us.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN legal analyst, former New York prosecutor Paul Callan, and a trial attorney, former U.S. attorney from Southern Florida, Guy Lewis.

Paul, I want to start with the Sean Hannity matter here. Sean Hannity says Michael Cohen didn't represent me, I didn't pay him yet there's sort of attorney-client privilege here. It's strange to me that you can assert both things at once. Is there a legal distinction?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there can be attorney-client privilege whenever you have -- there are two parts to the rule. One it has to be intended to be a confidential communication with an attorney of or concerning some aspect of the law. If those two things are present, you have attorney-client privilege in place, but I think what's interesting here is that Sean Hannity has really kind of shot himself in the foot here because he probably had the protection of attorney-client privilege which would prevent the details of his conversations from being revealed, but now by struggling so hard to say, hey, this guy's not my lawyer, I didn't pay him anything, now it's not protected by anything if that's the case and it can be revealed in future court proceedings. So I don't know what he thinks he's trying to accomplish for himself but he's not helping himself.

BERMAN: So, Guy, in addition to just being dramatic and strange, frankly, that all this happened, what does it matter for the investigation? Why was it that Michael Cohen seemed to go out of his way to point out that this third client existed and ultimately when it came to it they admitted that it was Sean Hannity?

GUY LEWIS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: John, that's a great question. You've got -- look what you've got. You've got one side saying, the government saying, look, we're investigating Cohen for matters that have nothing to do with attorney-client privileged information. This investigation has been ongoing. It's related to Cohen, not anybody else and it's basically as result of Cohen being this fixer, these business dealings that he, Cohen, were involved in.

On the other side, John, Paul's 100 percent right. You've got Cohen coming in saying, look, the government storm troopers came in and took all this attorney-client privileged information and that shows you how bad the government is, and then you've got the judge in the middle trying to decide what documents, what information goes to -- can go to Cohen and what can go to the government.

BERMAN: We'll ask about the journalistic questions and I put a small J on that and in quotation marks later in the show in relation to Sean Hannity. Let me stick with the law here and what happened in court yesterday.

Guy, first to you here, who got more out of this from Judge Kimba Wood? Yes, the Cohen and his team got delay, the White House or I guess the president's team got access to the documents ultimately but Kimba Wood in no way shut down this investigation or the use of this evidence.

LEWIS: Not at all, John. In fact what's going to happen here, what will play out and you can see sort of with the judge's ruling, Judge Wood's ruling, she's sort of move in this way, she asked both sides to submit names for a special master. So what I see happening is you're going to come up with a universe of documents. She's then going to appoint a special master and say, special master, listen to both sides.

[09:10:04] Let them fight about this, rule on what's privileged, what's not privileged, and then the rest of it, government, you're off to the races, you can use it, go forward with your investigation.

BERMAN: And Paul, to you, when it comes to this investigation again as it moves forward, talk to me about exactly what a special master is, and I know that the Cohen team won by slowing things down a little bit but on the other hand, politically speaking, the longer all this goes on it's not good for the president.

CALLAN: It's going to delay the investigation and it could delay it for a considerable period of time depending upon how much material has to be reviewed. Now this special master will be an independent lawyer, usually both sides sit down and they say who can we trust, both sides, to do this job, review the material and keep it confidential. And then that person is appointed by the court to review all of the documents and separate out the attorney-client privilege and irrelevant material from the material that could be relevant in a criminal investigation.

You don't see this happen very often in criminal cases, but on the other hand, because this involves the president of the United States and the personal lawyer of the president of the United States, I think this was a sensible approach by Judge Kimba Wood.

BERMAN: She really does seem to be trying to be as fair as possible and is cautious as possible going forward.

Paul Callan, Guy Lewis, thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate it.

CALLAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. It's going to be a long week for the president even besides the Michael Cohen thing because James Comey is just getting started. What's the political fallout? We'll discus. Plus the White House walking back the pledge from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Nikki Haley came out and said there will be no new Russia sanctions, the White House says not so fast.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It is official you can now by James Comey's book, a higher loyalty and this morning, the fired FBI director is continuing his media rounds. Joining me. CNN political analysts, Amie Parnes and Josh Dawsey, and Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times."

Josh, as we sit here this morning, I guess we're on day three of the media blitz. We're on day one of the sales of the book right now. Do you get a sense of how the White House feels it's going? Do they feel as if this damaging or they think they're getting their punches in?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you saw the president's very angry tweets over the weekend where it really went (inaudible) of attacks against James Comey, and the White House really had an array of surrogates across the air. You had Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Sanders.

You had various folks who are really trying to discredit James Comey even before his ABC interview on Sunday night. I think the White House feels the damage here could be worse. The president was certainly ramped up and upset about this book and so far, none of the woes have been absorbed in the White House estimation are irredeemable.

None of the blows or anything they didn't expect from this book. Nothing that hasn't been reported or no new episodes that have driven a frenzy of media coverage. Obviously, it's not good for having the FBI director on television calling the president unethical and untethered to reality. But the White House -- because there's not been a lot of new revelations, maybe this isn't going so badly.

BERMAN: Of course, they also have to deal with the Michael Cohen fallout which could be far worse. So, relatively speaking, the Comey stuff is a walk in the park. Lynn Sweet, on James Comey, Comey has faced some criticism, he really has, over this book.

And the way he chose to write certain things, whether it be the physical descriptions, whether it be seeming to be willing to get down in the gutter quite literally and figuratively when dealing with some of the more salacious episodes here. This morning, just a short time ago with George Stephanopoulos. He tried to defend himself on that front. Listen.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I'm trying to be an author and bring the readers with me into a room and so I describe all kinds of people in great detail to try and create a vivid image for the reader. I'm not trying to make fun of President Trump. I'm not trying to make fun of anybody. If you read the whole book, you'll see I'm trying to give you that picture.


BERMAN: So, I guess, Lynn, the question is, what kind of a messenger is he now to get the point across that he wants to?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Well, when you are the author you still can control what you write. I write every day. I know what I put in and I don't. You're responsible for that and the consequence of trying to be a little bit of a lecturer of civic life and the danger of what he says is President Trump, he also gave up a little bit of himself and what he was thinking, and you do want that in the book.

That's the memoir part of the book as opposed to just a straight -- some historical tone. So, you do suffer, I suppose, in the public eye if, you know, if it seems too personal. I think it's just -- just a few passages out of a book and I wouldn't put too much in to it as to either inflate or deflate what it means.

But you know, this happens with everyone who writes a book who has a few paragraphs in there that then become a bigger story than what the author thinks is the bigger message and he did seem a little defensive this morning, but that will soon pass.

He's going on a nationwide book tour. He has a lot more interviews left to go and if he has nothing new to add from his -- from what he knew first hand, it's one thing. If his comments on unfolding current events like this Michael Cohen and court battle that he still has more of an impact.

BERMAN: Amie Parnes, I was going to move on to Michael Cohen, but as an author yourself, do you want to comment on James Comey before I move on to Michael Cohen?

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: To Lynn and say that, you know, he knew, and the publisher knew what they were releasing ahead of time. It's part of a strategy.

[09:20:08] I was involved in a strategy on our book called "Shattered," you release juicy excerpts ahead of time to, you know, get peoples' attention and whet their appetites. That's sort of what he's doing here.

And I think he knew what he was doing, and he knew -- what kind of reaction this would get by talking about President Trump's appearance and his hands and his hair. So, all of this is very calculated. It wasn't just, you know, a fluke moment.

BERMAN: No. No. It wasn't. I think that's crystal clear with the way this has laid out and I use the word strategy there and I think that's astute.

Josh Dawsey, to Michael Cohen now because by all accounts including accounts from you, from inside the White House and your award-winning that reports on the president every day, the White House is really nervous about Michael Cohen.

And it seems as if the president is personally nervous about the situation surrounding Michael Cohen and they may have slowed things down yesterday in this courtroom by requiring this sort of review process on the evidence that was seized there.

But it seems almost definite now that much of this evidence will be admissible and used by investigators at some point and it seems that we veer down this new path that will never go away now until this investigation is complete. Does the White House have a Michael Cohen strategy?

DAWSEY: I don't know what their strategy could be. I mean, eight days ago, Michael Cohen's office was raided, all sorts of papers, his phones, his computers and papers, even some recordings he has made with conversations he's had with others.

Unless they convinced Kimba Wood, the judge of the Southern District of New York to not make this admissible, what is the president, or anyone supposed to do here? It's a court proceeding that's playing hundreds of miles away from the White House.

It's a total separate matter from the Mueller probe that has, you know, parts of Russian interference and meddling and other aspects. It's really kind of a second vein here that's seen as perilous to the president.

I mean, your strategy could be the White House is starting to distance the president from Michael Cohen a little bit, but it's hard to say that when the president says Michael Cohen's my lawyer, he's long been my lawyer.

Everyone who covers Trump orbit knows he was this fixer, a person that was closest to the president when he was taking care of these matters. So, I'm not sure what the strategy could be. I don't say that to be derisive, it's just the raid has happened.

Unless they get the information out of the courtroom, the prosecutors in the Southern District, which are aggressive. It's kind of known as a sovereign district of New York, independent, I don't know what they could do from the White House about it.

BERMAN: He can't distance himself from Michael Cohen any more than he can distance himself from say, I don't know his hands which James Comey said are bigger than he expected. Lynn sweet, tangentially related to the Michael Cohen court hearing yesterday, you had Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti, his attorney there.

And Avenatti, the attorney, just announced this morning that he's going to go on "The View" in about an hour and a half and he and his client, Stormy Daniels, are going to release this composite sketch of the thug as he puts it who threatened his client and her little girl in Las Vegas back in 2011.

Do you see this part of the story any more driving things forward or has Stormy Daniels and Avenatti and his composite sketch in "The View," has that really become a side show there that has no more bearing on where things are headed?

SWEET: Well, you have a few buckets here in the court of public opinion. This is a factor and Avenatti is a master of these things. I suppose if you want to issue an ABP, if you do it on "The View," I don't know, if that's -- it's going to get picked up by everybody.

But it does not -- does not have an impact on the legal bucket and the legal strategy of whether or not he will effectively be able to pierce this nondisclosure agreement and I don't know if it's so much as a circus, but this is a confluence of historic, strange, not normal proportions of all these different stories coming together and are intertwined.

And actually, even though it has salacious aspects, Stormy Daniels is standing up for what she said was an unfair agreement. If you take away her profession which is a legal profession that she has been in, it isn't as much of a circus as one might think.

And that's why I want to kind of put this out there that this is an amazing confluence of historic events and it's serious and, yes, it has side shows because lawyers often try to use, manipulate and sway public opinion to get people on their side, and if that police sketch yields anything, that will be stunning.

BERMAN: You say confluence there. That's a good word to describe what happened to an extent yesterday, quickly, Amie, with Sean Hannity. To no one's surprised, Sean Hannity has close ties to the White House and the president, and now we know the president's lawyer, Michael Cohen.

It makes you shake your head, when you look at the amount of programming that Hannity puts on defending not just the president but Michael Cohen directly and what happened there. You now see this direct relationship.

[09:25:14] PARNES: Yes. There's a massive conflict of interest here and what he should have done, what Fox News should have done was acknowledge that, even if he had a small relationship with him, you know, he needed to disclose that.

He went on for days and days and days and talk about Michael Cohen and how unfair this was to Michael Cohen without even saying this is a guy I sought counsel from, this is a guy I sought advice from even for 10 minutes. So, I think that is problematic for him and that is why this is becoming such a massive story around him.

BERMAN: Amie Parnes, Josh Dawsey, Lynn Sweet, great discussion. Thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate it especially given that its tax day, and this morning the president is touting tax reform and praising the economy. He does that in a new op ed.

Joining me now, CNN chief business correspondent, Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's like the Super Bowl and Christmas all wrapped up in one. The president's in "USA Today" talking about his tax bill. This is a signature legislative achievement. He's pointing out a typical family of four next year earning $73,000 a year is going to get a tax cut of about 2 grand.

So, this is the last tax season under the old rules and the president is saying America's competitive edge has been restored. We significantly cut our corporate tax rate from one of the highest in the world. American workers and businesses are finally able to win again. Jobs are up, taxes are down, and Americans are winning again.

So, trying to take a victory lap on that tax bill and economic achievements of this presidency. This is the party of fiscal discipline and it's interesting that those tax cuts and that big, big budget busting spending plan will actually add to deficits going forward here according to the Congressional Budget Office.

I wanted to show you what that looked like. Remember those days in the financial crisis, 2009, 2010, those were big deficits, but they have been declining for the past few years and now looks like they will be headed up again.

When you look at the size of our debt compared to the economy by the year 2028 will be the largest since World War II. It's a concern and Republicans will have to figure out how they're going to rectify that in a very, good strong economy. You shouldn't be growing deficits.

You use those times to cut them. Markets look like they'll have a good morning. Up 200 points for the Dow futures. Netflix had just terrific earning and subscriber numbers. You might even see the Dow higher for the year if you get a rally like this on the open.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

All right. Nikki Haley said new sanctions against Russia were in fact coming. Now, it looks like the president is hitting the pause button or even more. The latest next.