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Giuliani: Trump Repaid Cohen for $130K Stormy Payment; Giuliani Gives New Explanation on Why Trump Fired Comey. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 3, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.


Breaking news, the president's story changes and changes and changes. His new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, now says without equivocation that President Trump reimbursed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen for hush money payment to an adult film star Stormy Daniels. Now the president has obviously said that he didn't know anything about any payment.

BERMAN: There are legal questions here about campaign finance violations and then there are simple questions about whether the president lied to the American people. Did he lie when he said he didn't know about the payments to Michael Cohen? Questions about that. Also, questions about what Rudy Giuliani says about the issue of obstruction of justice and why the president fired James Comey, much more on that in a minute.

First, MJ Lee, following every detail of these new arguments on the Stormy Daniels case. MJ?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, you know, for months, the White House has been trying to wave everyone away from the Stormy Daniels story, saying the affair never happened. They didn't know about this payment. And that Donald Trump denies all of the allegations related to Stormy Daniels.

Well, Rudy Giuliani changed all of that last night in just one interview. He unexpectedly revealed that Michael Cohen was paid back by Donald Trump for the $130,000 payment that Cohen made to Stormy Daniels. And he said that this was not a campaign violation. Here is Giuliani talking about why he did not violate any laws.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: They funneled it through the law firm.

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Funneled through the law firm and the president repaid it.

HANNITY: Oh, I didn't know that. He did.


HANNITY: There is no campaign finance law.



LEE: Now the reason this was so staggering is because Donald Trump, remember, was asked about this payment on Air Force One last month and he said that he didn't know anything about this. Let me just remind you, this is what he said last month.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Then why did Michael Cohen make those if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you'll have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don't know.


LEE: So the legal explanation that Giuliani seems to be making is that Donald Trump personally paid back Michael Cohen. That there were no third parties involved because, keep in mind, candidates can donate to their own campaigns. Now, the thing that I should mention is that Michael Cohen had this very carefully worded statement back in February.

Let me just read what he said back then. "Neither the Trump organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Miss Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly."

Now, the important thing about this statement is that it does not mention that Donald Trump didn't reimburse Michael Cohen and now it seems like that was certainly not a mistake.

BERMAN: MJ Lee, great to have you with us. Thank you very much.

Joining us now, CNN chief legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, If we can, we want to put pause on the question about whether the president, the White House, Michael Cohen and others have been honest about this over the last six or seven months. They haven't been completely honest about this. We'll talk much more about that in a second. But let's discuss the legal implications of Rudy Giuliani's argument here, which is, number one, he is suggesting, well, I don't know if the president knew about the payments at the time, but he paid Michael Cohen back for them and they were personal. So if you take that linear argument, if there was one there, how does it help the president.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are two issues here. One is when a candidate gives money to his own campaign, which he's certainly permitted to do, he has to report it. The other issue is if someone else gives money to the campaign, there are both financial limits and reporting obligations. What Giuliani appears to be saying is that these -- both Michael Cohen's payment and the president's reimbursement of him were completely outside the campaign finance system and had nothing to do with the campaign, these were personal expenditures and a personal reimbursement. And so there were no reporting obligations in connection with these expenditures. That appears to be the argument. Whether it is a valid argument is a separate question.

[10:05:00] HARLOW: But on that point, Jeffrey Toobin, this morning, Giuliani went back on Fox and seemed to very clearly state that this was done to help the campaign, to help the president win the presidency. Here is Giuliani.


STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: So you're saying that Stephanie Clifford made these allegations, told Donald Trump's lawyer -

GIULIANI: And denied them. And then said it wasn't true. However, imagine if that came out on October 15th, 2016 in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton.

DOOCY: So to make it go away, they made this -

GIULIANI: Cohen didn't even ask. Cohen didn't ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.


HARLOW: Right, Jeffrey? -- Right?

TOOBIN: I haven't heard that clip before. I mean, that's a confession.

HARLOW: Right?

TOOBIN: That's a confession that this is a campaign finance violation because they wanted to shut her up in October of 2016.

HARLOW: So then what?

TOOBIN: I mean, you know - I mean, that's why the payment was made then. Which is -- it was obvious to all of us, but now you have the president's lawyer confessing that this was a payment for the benefit of the campaign.

(CROSSTALK) HARLOW: I know. I know. -- I was asking John earlier - I was saying, so then what? If it is campaign finance violation, what is the - what is the penalty for that what, is it a misdemeanor, is that a felony, what is it?

TOOBIN: Well, if it's -- it depends on the level of intent. The most FEC, Federal Election Commission violations are handled civilly. But if it is willful, if it is intentional, it can be handled criminally. That is how it works.

BERMAN: So, Jeffrey, based on this, you know, bombshell we just played for you, this new surprise we provided you this morning, take that in conjunction with Rudy Giuliani last night. There were phone calls he made to reporters overnight. How would you assess his legal performance over the last 24 hours?

TOOBIN: Well, I think the background to this appears to be they know Michael Cohen's office was searched. They figured that the FBI found the financial records which explained the fact that Cohen and everybody has been lying about the Stormy Daniels payment and the president's reimbursement. So they had to come up with some explanation and so the president -- so Giuliani came up with that explanation this morning.

But the other things he said, I mean, I think it is -- it sounds look a pretty bogus explanation, but the other stuff just sounds like mindless riffing about his explaining about -- the new explanation for why he fired Comey, which sounds to me like a confession of obstruction of justice. This explanation for the timing of the Comey -- of the Stormy Daniels payment sounds like a confession to campaign finance violation. So it is not an impressive performance so far by the former.

HARLOW: Stick with us because we haven't even gotten into what you just brought up, which is the obstruction of justice potential issue here with the Comey firing, what Giuliani said. Stay with us.

Let's bring in our political commentators, Patti Solis Doyle and Congressman Jack Kingston. Appreciate you both being here. Congressman Kingston, let me begin with you. As someone who was out on the campaign trail a lot, supporting the president, been a very vocal supporter of him, how does this sit with you right now that Giuliani is saying, yes, the president paid off this hush money when the president said to us that he didn't?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think -- I really regret Rudy Giuliani using the word funnel, but aside from that, Michael Cohen was not involved in the campaign. He worked for the Trump organization, which was a separate entity. He was on a retainer, $35,000 a month. Within that retainer he could pay expenses of the client and it would be normal that even though he's not involved with the campaign, that if he sees a problem that he needs -- it needs to go away. That he would address that and it would not -

BERMAN: Just one problem, Congressman. Just one problem with that -- is that according to the reporting that's been done since Rudy Giuliani said this, the payments didn't start until 2017 -- so it is a post facto retainer on this subject, correct?

KINGSTON: That is correct. And I think that's going to have to be explained. But I think you could -- if I'm as a candidate had a problem, let's say, you know, real estate tax or some issue as a real estate landlord and I had a lawyer who was handling it for me, it is not good for me publicly for that to come out that I did something that wasn't correct in business. It would be an embarrassment to me as a candidate. But it is not necessarily a campaign function when that lawyer steps in and takes care of it for me.

HARLOW: Patti, how do you see it?

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I see it this way. I think the president of the United States is a liar. Many of the people who work for him are liars.

[10:10:01] They lie to the American people. They lie to investigators. They probably lie to each other. They lie about small things, like, crowd size, they lie about big things like 3 million people voting illegally. And now they're lying about grave and criminal things like collusion with a foreign hostile government, and obstruction of justice and hush money and FEC violations. And I don't know about you, Jack, but I'm getting sick and tired of being lied to. I can only imagine how you as a supporter and someone who voted for him can feel.

KINGSTON: I don't know how you survived the Clinton organization then, but let me say this, the question at hand is about Rudy going public and one of the things that I think was interesting, John and Poppy, is that he actually -- I think sent a signal to Mueller. He said I believe Mueller is a good man, he was a patriot. If they are objective, we can come to some agreement. I actually think that beyond all the Comey and the accusations and Michael Cohen stuff, that there was a signal there that Rudy was delivering a message. Why else would he go on publicly as he did?

BERMAN: We're going to talk about Rudy Giuliani and the Mueller investigation in a minute. But when pressed on the president's changing stories, on the Stormy Daniels payment, because on Air Force One, the president said he didn't know anything about the payment. And the White House -

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: -- podium, Sarah Sanders says she talked to the president, the story was false. Now he's admitting that he funneled Rudy Giuliani that the president funneled money to Michael Cohen for that payment. On the issue of why this story changed, Rudy Giuliani says it is not an issue. Congressman, how can being straight with the American people be not an issue?

KINGSTON: Well, I think the president has -- I think Rudy should clarify that the president, in fact, was paying this $35,000 retainer to Michael Cohen for non-campaign expenses, and within that, that's how Cohen started negotiating this. And that that retainer continued to go.


BERMAN: My question was about honesty in this case, not about -

KINGSTON: Well, that's what I'm saying. That Rudy needs to get out and say, here's why the president has been truthful about this.

HARLOW: No, no, no. What John is asking is why is it - why is honesty not seemingly an issue to Rudy Giuliani? He says it doesn't really matter that that was the story now. What matters is that this is how the payment happened. Doesn't honesty matter? Doesn't having a straight story matter?

KINGSTON: It does and I think that there are two different levels here. One is his lawyer saying things on TV, they believe that's a freebie, it doesn't count in a court of law. But I think in terms of the contract as a politician with your voters is that when you're asked a question, regardless of the circumstances, you should give a straight answer and so I think they have to explain why the president wasn't lying here.

BERMAN: Patti, we'll give you a chance to respond to this in just a moment. Congressman, stick around too, a lot more to discuss.

Rudy Giuliani's new explanation for why the president fired James Comey, could that cause new problems for the president.

Plus, after being interviewed by the special counsel's team, a former campaign aide now says it is clear the investigation is, quote, "All about collusion."

And will three Americans detained in North Korea be free today? The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani says, yes, the White House, though, what does the White House say? That's next.


[10:17:30] HARLOW: All right. In the last 18 hours -

BERMAN: At age of 36 years -

HARLOW: I have two, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani didn't just out the president on Stormy Daniels. Did he also just blow up the president's claims of no obstruction? Listen to this.


GIULIANI: He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn't a target of the investigation. He's entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that. And he couldn't get that.


BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House with much more on this. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I have a strong suspicion that answer of Rudy Giuliani's will of high interest to the special counsel, of course. There, he was saying he had not said that Trump was not a target of the investigation. Of course, we know that James Comey has said he told the president he wasn't the subject of the investigation. But Trump wanted him to make a public statement about it, which James Comey would not do.

Of course, the White House has reason for why they fired James Comey, has changed drastically several times because if you remember back last May, almost a year ago, right after they fired James Comey they maintained for 48 hours that it was because of the recommendation from the attorney general and the deputy attorney general for the way that Comey handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. But the president blew that excuse out of the water when just two days later he told Lester Holt this -


TRUMP: We had a very nice dinner. And at that time he told me you are not under investigation.

Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it is an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.


COLLINS: So there are the president's own words. But that was a year ago. Now we should note what the president said less than a month ago on Twitter when he wrote that he did not fire James Comey because of the Russia investigation, saying there was no collusion, no obstruction of justice, saying slippery James Comey, the worst FBI director in history was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation, where, by the way, there was no collusion. So I guess, John and Poppy the reason James Comey was fired depends on which Donald Trump you ask on which day of the week. But clearly, there's a lot of confusion. And I should note one more thing that Rudy Giuliani said last night was the president said after he fired James Comey, quote, "I'm free of this guy."

[10:20:00] BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Kaitlan thanks very much.

I want to bring back our panel. Jeffrey, the president said yes, the story changed on why he fired James Comey. But let's take the latest explanation from Rudy Giuliani and this latest explanation may be the most problematic because the president's lawyer now says that the FBI director was fired because he wouldn't publicly exonerate him. Does that help the obstruction case, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: It hurts Donald Trump and helps Robert Mueller proving corrupt intent. This is the court issue with the obstruction of justice investigation. It is quite clear that the president has the right to fire the FBI director. What he doesn't have the right to do is fire him with a corrupt intent. That's what obstruction of justice is. And the -- if he fired him, because he wouldn't exonerate -- because Comey wouldn't exonerate Trump, that sounds to me like a corrupt intent. I'm going to fire you unless you exonerate me in your investigation of me. That's corrupt intent.

HARLOW: And we should note, the president has not corrected Giuliani on Twitter at all. He actually - Giuliani says the president was very happy with his performance on "Hannity" last night. So, apparently the president has no issue with Giuliani saying that -- go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Just to be fair to their argument, which I don't agree with, is their argument, Alan Dershowitz made it frequently and they adopted it, which is it doesn't matter what his intent is, he has the right to fire the FBI director for any reason or no reason or a corrupt reason. And that, I think is a wrong argument but that's the argument that they're making.

HARLOW: Patti, looking at the legal team, Giuliani is part of this new legal team in the White House. Ty Cobb is out. He didn't like how the president was dealing with responding to the Mueller investigation. He's gone. Emmet Flood is in. This is a very skilled attorney who worked with President Clinton during the impeachment proceedings. You worked closely with the Clintons for years. What do you make of this new team and the message that it sends?

DOYLE: Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that Ty Cobb represented me during the Whitewater investigation in the early '90s. I was a very, very minor witness, but he represented me during my grand jury testimony and my testimony in front of Congress and my deposition. And I found him to be incredibly professional, very smart strategically, and a very calming force. You know his advice to me was always, your answer should be honest, your answer should be concise, your answer should be short.

And I think that kind of advice probably does not sit well with the president of the United States. That's not his style. He is not concise. He is not honest as we discussed in the last segment. And so to me, it says that this is going to be a much more aggressive legal team, this is not going to be a rational, you know, play by the book. It is going to be aggressive and we saw this with Giuliani last night. And this morning and, you know, I don't know how that's go to play out ultimately.

BERMAN: You know it is interesting, Congressman, because one of the things the president has said over the last week is that it has been proven that there is no collusion with Russia. Well, Michael Caputo, who was an aide during the campaign, in just this week, testified before the special counsel, he says they seem to be investigating collusion. Listen.


MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: The Mueller team knew more about what I did in 2016 than I knew myself. And I think they know more about the Trump campaign than anyone that ever worked there. These guys have got every single e-mail, anything that has ever gone down and they're clearly focused on trying to identify some Russian collusion. And I don't think they're convinced yet there is no Russian collusion.


BERMAN: They're investigating collusion, Congressman.

KINGSTON: Well, it is interesting that after all this time and all these investigations no one has come up with anything about collusion. We keep hearing about all of the bombshells that come out of Capitol Hill and yet none of them have kind of put a dink in the armor, if you will.

But I think one of the interesting things that Rudy Giuliani did push last night as he felt that Robert Mueller was an honorable guy, but that the team was bad. They talked in the full interview for example about Andrew Weitzman. Sean Hannity made references to the partisan donations of some of the team. They talked about if we sit down with Mueller, then we want it to be on the Hillary Clinton standard that it has got to be somebody who wants me elected and hates my opponent and it has got to be off the record, so to speak. Giuliani talked about having it recorded, and I thought that was all interesting, like they were sending a signal to Mueller team that -

HARLOW: But that's him saying we don't want an objective investigation. Isn't that bizarre?

KINGSTON: Well, I don't know. If you're the lawyer, you probably don't want an objective investigation in terms of -

[10:25:03] HARLOW: But if you have nothing to hide, you do, Congressman, if you have nothing to hide, you do.

KINGSTON: Well, yes, but think about this, what they were saying is there is a clear double standard here that Hillary Clinton was treated completely different than so far the Trump team has been. So I think what they were saying, again -- part of it was that the Mueller team has some problems. They definitely have partisanship. When Peter Strzok does the interview with Hillary Clinton and writes her exoneration, how can you consider that objective by any standards? And I think appealing to Mueller as an honorable guy, saying, look, you got to think this thing through a little bit, it is bigger than the hatred of Donald Trump. This is about the United States justice system.

BERMAN: We have a couple of things to cover quickly. Jeffrey, I want to give you a quick chance to respond to that.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, just the idea that the FBI is some enemy of Donald Trump is absurd. You know, during the campaign, the FBI never disclosed that they were investigating Donald Trump, but on the eve of the election, on October 28th, James Comey blew up the Hillary Clinton campaign by announcing he was reopening the e-mail investigation. So the idea that the FBI is some sort of cabal of liberal Democrats is just insane.


KINGSTON: But Jeffrey, think about Andrew Weissman -

HARLOW: Hold on, guys. Hold on.

TOOBIN: I was an assistant U.S. attorney with Andrew Weissman. He's one of the most experienced and competent investigators in the Department of Justice. He is a private citizen, fully allowed to make campaign contributions, which he did. That is not a qualification or a disqualification from being a -

HARLOW: Hold on, time out.

BERMAN: We want to just change -- play one bit of sound that Maggie Haberman of the "New York Times" says is part of the Giuliani interview which most gobsmacks the White House. And it has to do with Ivanka Trump.


BERMAN: And whether or not she could become a target of this investigation. Listen to this.


GIULIANI: If they do Ivanka, which I doubt they will, the whole country will turn on them. They're going after his daughter.

HANNITY: What about his son-in-law? They talked about him.

GIULIANI: I guess Jared is a fine man, you know that. But men are, you know, disposable, but a fine woman like Ivanka, come on.


BERMAN: Patti, it has got to be a quick response. What do you make of that?

DOYLE: I think this administration has a really hard time with the concept that no one is above the law. Not daughters, not women, not men, not disposable men, no one is above the law. Ivanka Trump did something that warrants, you know, criminal investigation, she's going to be investigated.

TOOBIN: It is also not 1950, you know.

HARLOW: Thank you.

TOOBIN: Women are supposed to be treated the same.

HARLOW: And John is not disposable.

BERMAN: That disposable. Jeffrey, Jack, Patti, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

KINGSTON: Thank you.

HARLOW: There are shifting stories about the payments to Stormy Daniels. Who is to be believed? The president? Or his new attorney? Rudy Giuliani.