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Trump Changes Story on Stormy Daniels Hush Money. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 3, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[07:00:52] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. And what a day it is. We begin with breaking news on a lot of fronts.

The first one: President Trump is fighting back and changing his story after a bombshell revelation from one of his lawyers. Rudy Giuliani says President Trump did pay personal lawyer Michael Cohen back for that $130,000 in hush money paid to Stormy Daniels.

Now, Mr. Trump is tweeting, although I can't tell you that it is him for sure who is writing this. And in this very, very intricate and thought-out explanation, it says the payments are part of a monthly retainer for Cohen, who's an attorney, and the reimbursement has nothing to do with the campaign. The president also denies the affair.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Rudy Giuliani insists the president's reimbursement does not violate campaign finance laws. All of this directly contradicts denials from President Trump and the White House, who repeatedly said the president had no knowledge of the payment.

Giuliani also discussed conditions for a potential interview between President Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, while a former Trump aide said who just met with Mueller's investigators, says they are laser-focused on the collusion question with Russia. That aide, Michael Caputo, is going to join us live in just minutes to tell us more.

So let's begin our coverage with M.J. Lee. She has all of the breaking details. Tell us about your reporting, M.J.

M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Trump weighing in just moments ago, tweeting that "Cohen received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign, and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties known as a nondisclosure agreement or NDA. These agreements are," Trump says, "very common amongst celebrities and people of wealth. In this case, it is in full force and effect and will be used in arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford." That's Stormy Daniels. "The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair, despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions played no role in this transaction."

Now, I just want to point out that there is this reaction from Donald Trump because of what Rudy Giuliani said last night. We weren't expecting these headlines. We weren't expecting him to talk about Stormy Daniels and the payment issue. And suddenly, Rudy Giuliani, as you said, contradicting what Trump and people close to him have said, saying that the payment was made by Trump to Cohen directly in a personal way, the $130,000 hush payment that we have been talking about for so many weeks.

CAMEROTA: Let's remind people about all the history of this, M.J. You have some great reporting on tape. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEE (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani admitting President Trump repaid Michael Cohen for the hush money given to porn star Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So --

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

GIULIANI: Funneled it through a law firm, and the president repaid it.

LEE: Giuliani's remarks directly contradicting President Trump's own words last month.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No.

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

TRUMP: I don't know. No.

LEE: In March, press secretary Sarah Sanders also said the president was unaware of the payment.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I've had conversations with the president about this. There was no knowledge of any payments from the president. And he's denied all of these allegations.

LEE: Despite this, Giuliani telling "The Washington Post" that Mr. Trump was well aware he was eventually going to disclose that the president did, in fact, pay Daniels. Giuliani suggesting the president did not know the specifics of the payment until recently, but that Cohen's monthly retainer was intended to take care of these kinds of situations.

GIULIANI: When I heard Cohen's retainer of 35,000, when he was doing no work for the president, I said that's how he's repaying -- that's how he's repaying it. With a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael.

[07:05:09] LEE: Back in February, Cohen released this carefully- worded statement, claiming that "neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment." Notably missing, President Trump's name.

Giuliani also showcasing Mr. Trump's aggressive new posture towards the special counsel.

GIULIANI: You can't possibly -- you can't possibly not feel, as a citizen of the world, that his negotiations with North Korea are much more significant than this totally garbage investigation.

LEE: Revealing that the odds are the president will not sit down with Mueller and that Mueller's team has rejected submitting written answers to their questions.

GIULIANI: Jay and I will insist that they're going to have to treat him the same way as Clinton. Two and a half hours, we end. We walk out. Give us your questions in advance.

LEE: The White House announcing that another lawyer is leaving. Ty Cobb departing just weeks after Dowd. Emmet Flood, who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, is joining the team.

A source tells CNN that Cobb has been clashing with the president in recent weeks over his public attacks on the Mueller probe, which he advised against. Giuliani also slamming former FBI Director James Comey and giving this new rationale for why the president fired him.

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.

LEE: Last May, President Trump gave this explanation for Comey's firing.

TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. 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."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE: Now, here's the case Giuliani is trying to make. If the president directly repaid Cohen, then there was no campaign finance violation.

But you talk to legal experts and they will tell you that, yes, candidates can contribute to their own campaigns, but it has to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission. And the question we don't know the answer to yet is why did Giuliani

decide to make this revelation last night? With everything else that is going on right now, why now?

CAMEROTA: M.J., thank you. We look forward to your continuing to work the phones and give us all the developments on this story.

Joining us now to talk about it, we have CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

So Jeffrey, we want to get your perspective on all of these new developments. Do you -- what do you think of Rudy Giuliani's new narrative that this was a retainer that was being paid to Michael Cohen. Therefore, it's not a campaign contribution. This was a monthly retainer and, therefore, the president actually didn't really have to know what the money was going to or not going to.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYSTS: I mean, it's just all so bewildering. And -- and you know, just how stupid do they think we are? I mean, you know, they have been lying about this from day one.

I am not clear that there was any criminal violation here. I mean, I've never -- I haven't been clear from the start that the whole Stormy Daniels situation has a -- that there is a criminal element to it. I mean, I don't -- even if it was campaign related. I mean, that's a very esoteric crime that is rarely prosecuted.

But the fact that everyone involved in the White House, starting with the president, has been lying about this from day one is just so extraordinary. And, you know, the absence of any kind of sheepishness about that, that to me is the real story, which is to lying to the American people; less so, you know, any potential criminal violation.

But you know, why should we believe that this explanation is true? And it's also very vague about, like, whose money it was. Until you actually see the canceled checks or however the money passed, I certainly wouldn't believe anything these people say.

CUOMO: Right. But look, I mean, we know what's going on here. You look at the president's most recent tweets, I can't believe he wrote them.

TOOBIN: No.

CUOMO: The only thing that gives us any indication that he wrote them is that one of the words is misused. They meant "role," R-O-L-E, and they used R-O-L-L, which is a familiar kind of mistake for the president to make. But other than that, this is lawyered up.

Why does it matter? David, it matters because they are lying. Forget new narrative. Forget spin. They are lying about this. They're lying to the American people because they're hoping they can get away with it. That doesn't translate well when you're sitting across from a federal investigator or if you wind up in court. Very different strategies. They seem to be focusing on the second one. Let's make sure there's

no real legal exposure. We can say whatever we want. The base will believe it. And let's just keep demonizing the media and those who seek the truth.

Isn't that what's going on here?

[06:10:05] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes. And look, it does hearken back to the Clinton impeachment, when there was lying going on by the then president and, you know, there was a sense then that this was a garbage investigation.

CUOMO: Right-wing conspiracy.

GREGORY: Right, and that they -- well, right. And kind of criminalizing his -- his sex life.

And I think, you know, as Jeffrey alludes to, I mean, the relationship, whatever it was, with Stormy Daniels is probably the least, you know, surprising part of, you know, this Trump political episode in America. So then lying about it makes it worse. If it becomes part of Mueller's investigation, that becomes important.

But this credibility and the lying goes to putting out official statements like the White House did yesterday announcing a new lawyer, saying that he'll be representing the president in this witch-hunt. A witch-hunt, they say, which is an investigation that has actually produced guilty pleas on the part of a couple of people related to a crime against America, an attack on America by the Russians. That's what they lie about and don't take seriously at all and I think is of great -- much more import than Stormy Daniels.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, M.J., somebody is lying. That's true. Because the Cohen story is so different from what Rudy Giuliani is saying, which is so different from what the president said on Air Force One, which is so different from what Sarah Sanders has said at the podium. Clearly, there are all sorts of discrepancies.

But in terms of the new narrative, maybe this one is right. Maybe Rudy Giuliani has figured out that this strange retainer for $35,000 a month when President Trump has said that Michael Cohen did very little or no work for him. Why was he paying him $35,000 a month in that case?

LEE: So I think it's really important for us to point out that there are two issues here that we are talking about. There are the legal issues and then there are the credibility issues. And I don't think that we should be conflating the two.

The legal issues, questions about did Michael Cohen or did President Trump break campaign finance laws? Those are important questions federal investigators presumably will find the answers to.

On the credibility issue, those are the issues why the public is so worked up about this issue, why political reporters find it such an enticing and juicy story to cover. I mean, these are the things of movies. We have an NDA. We have a porn star. We have a secret back room

deal. We have a secret payment. All of these things are so shady and so sketchy.

But I'm certain about this. And, Chris, you know Rudy Giuliani really well. I don't think Rudy Giuliani is a person who is going to be hot and bothered by the second issues. He knows Donald Trump. He knows the potential sort of skeletons that are in his closet.

The issue that he is now singularly going to be focused on are the legal issues, right, the first set of issues. Did Trump break any campaign finance laws? Is he vulnerable in that way? And I think that is why last night we saw him specifically say what he did did not amount to any violations of campaign finance laws.

CUOMO: Right. Now look, Rudy Giuliani has an amazing reputation for being a really smart, good, and even crafty lawyer. He now has a client. OK, he's not coming on as "I'm the former mayor. I'm a guy who understands issues." He's representing Donald Trump, Jeffrey.

And what made that really clear to me is, I would be really surprised if he has any of the facts wrong in a material way. I think there was this retainer. I think it does translate the way he thinks.

But he said something else that proves where his head is on this. When he called the people who did the searches of Michael Cohen "storm troopers" last night, that showed where his head is in terms of what matters to him right now. For him to call the men and women who work for the Department of Justice -- I'm not being sanctimonious. This is Rudy Giuliani. He used to say, and I'm sure he's said it to you, Jeffrey, "It was my most proud moment professionally. These are the best people; they're the best Americans." He called them storm troopers. We all know what that meant during the Nazi era. We all know what those people are about. For him to say something that ugly about people I know he respects, that shows his eyes are on the prize, which is getting Trump out of legal trouble.

TOOBIN: Yes. I think that's true. I'm not sure that interview was as planned as you appear to --

CUOMO: I agree with you on that. I agree with you.

TOOBIN: He seemed to be riffing.

CUOMO: I agree with you.

TOOBIN: And I'm not sure his command of the facts was so great. I mean, he provided this other explanation for why -- why Comey fired.

I mean, remember, the president said he was fired initially because of how he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation.

CUOMO: Right.

TOOBIN: Then he said it was because of Russia. Now Giuliani las night says it's because he wouldn't exonerate President Trump in the Russia investigation.

CUOMO: Right.

TOOBIN: That sounds to me like a confession to obstruction of justice. I don't think that is am exculpatory statement. I think that's actually incriminating.

If you are the president of the United States and you fire the FBI director because he won't exonerate you in an ongoing investigation, is that -- is that exculpatory or is that incriminating? It sounds more incriminating to me. And I just -- I don't think that was a very crafty statement by Giuliani.

[07:15:14[ CAMEROTA: David, hold on. Before you weigh in, I just want to play for everyone, to remind everyone of all the different things that we've heard. This was Sarah Sanders giving the official account, OK, from the podium in the press briefing room of what the White House position was on March 7, so recently, about this payment to Stormy Daniels. So listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Yes, I've had conversations with the president about this. And as I outlined earlier that this case had already been won in arbitration, and that there was no knowledge of any payments from the president and he's denied all of these allegations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK, David, go ahead.

GREGORY: Well, I was-- you know, again, so that's an indication that we have inconsistent statements from the White House podium, which is not the first time. Or from the president, which is not the first time.

And going back to Comey, what Jeffrey said, but also we know from Comey's book something incredible, which is that the president on numerous occasions essentially was begging or was insisting that Comey beg to keep his job, which is not how it works. He has a 10-year term. And was demanding loyalty from him. So it's outrageous.

And, you know, one other point going back to what Chris was saying that I think is important when it comes to credibility. You know, people will not forget that Rudy Giuliani was a tough prosecutor, was criticized heavily for some of his tactics going after financial crimes, going after mobsters and such.

And you know, Jeffrey, who is a former officer of the court, as an assistant U.S. attorney, and others who are really first-class lawyers. They conduct themselves that way. And they do that not only because of their reputations and their credibility but because it's necessary ,when you're dealing with these kinds of investigations, that people on the other side can trust you, that judges can trust you, that other lawyers can trust you. If not, the system does really break down into some of the ways of talking that Giuliani was engaged in last night.

CUOMO: And look, do you know who agrees with David Gregory? Michael Cohen. We remember his statement. He acted professionally. He doesn't say they were storm troopers. And in fact, look, Cohen hasn't been doing any interviews about this stuff. And what Rudy is saying does not make him look good. But if you look at his statement, I don't know where he has been inconsistent with this: "I paid it. It was my money. I was not repaid for this directly or indirectly." So -- well, but if he was getting the retainer, obviously, he didn't see the retainer that way.

CAMEROTA: As payment.

CUOMO: Rudy Giuliani is coming up with this as a constructive theory.

TOOBIN: And Chris -- Chris, can I --

CUOMO: Rudy Giuliani is coming up with another constructive theory now, Jeffrey, which is about the firing of Comey and that he is -- he is owning the Dershowitz position. The president of the United States has absolute authority to get rid of the people who are in his charge. That includes James Comey. Comey was not doing what he said. He works for the president. The president could fire him and did so.

TOOBIN: Right. Can I just also add Giuliani said something -- another amazing thing in "The Washington Post" interview. He said he thinks the money continued to go to Cohen in 2018. This year. So this is ongoing. You know, this money continues to be -- to be going back and forth between Cohen -- between Trump and Cohen for who knows what for -- in 2018.

So this is an ongoing coverup of -- of whatever Michael Cohen was doing. And I just think, you know, we know even less today than we did yesterday.

CUOMO: That's true. Because, look, one of the little secrets you learn when you're a young lawyer even, or even a young investigative reporter. When a story evolves, OK, when you ask me what happened? And I give you a story, and that story starts to grow over time to suit the needs of the questions in the moment, that stinks. And that's why we have to find out who is lying to you in this situation.

GREGORY: Also, what more there could be? I mean, the point is that if there's a raid on Cohen's office and there was this money that was set up to pay, as Jeffrey says, to keep paying him to make sure that things are dealt with that are -- the secrets go away, where does that end? What else might it include? If you're investigating the president and those around him, you're going to keep that going.

CAMEROTA: All right. David Gregory, Jeffrey Toobin, M.J. Lee, thank you very much.

Coming up in the 8 a.m. hour, we will speak with Stormy Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti. What does he think about all these developments? CUOMO: Bob Mueller's investigators, they are looming large right now in what we're hearing about this legal strategy, where their heads must be. They must know everything that Rudy Giuliani is telling you guys now as new facts, right?

[07:20:00] So the man in your split screen is Michael Caputo. You know him. He worked for the Trump campaign. He's a long-time Republican operative. He met with the investigators. He wants you to know what kind of questions they were asking him and what the toll has been in being involved in this for people like him. It's going to surprise you, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right. Rudy Giuliani says he does not think President Trump will sit down for an interview with the special counsel. But if Mr. Trump does talk to investigators, his legal team is outlining conditions. Now, this assumes that they would be driving the process. But take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: Never beyond two or three hours. That will never happen. I think Jay and I will insist that they're going to have to treat him the same way as Clinton. Two and a half hours, we end. We walk out. Give us your questions in advance. He's ready to --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Now, to be clear, Rudy Giuliani isn't the Rudy Giuliani you've seen up til now, where he's just telling you how he feels. He has a client and he's representing his best interests.

All right. Let's talk about what we've just learned, what it means and what's going on here with Michael Caputo, former aide to the Trump campaign. He met with Mueller's investigators yesterday.

Michael, good to have you on. Thank you. You matter, especially this morning.

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Thanks a lot, Chris. It's good to be with you again.

CUOMO: So first, help me with our big question. Somebody isn't telling the truth to the American people about this Stormy Daniels deal and how it went down. Fair statement?

CAPUTO: I don't know that. I guess that there's some -- this is becoming a pretty sticky wicket, you know. I haven't talked so much about pornography since my buddy's, you know, bachelor party. I'm getting really tired of this story. I think America is, too. I just wish they'd put this thing to bed.

I know it's the president of the United States. I know that he's got opponents all over the place. I know that Stormy Daniels is looking for a second, you know -- a second act in her life. This is all getting really, you know, difficult, I think, for all of America.

CUOMO: But, Michael, the appetite for this type of prurience aside, somebody ain't telling the truth, my brother. These stories can not simultaneously be true.

The president knew; he didn't know. The president had nothing to do with it; he had something to do with it. Michael Cohen's story so far is standing up. "I did this. It was my money. I wasn't repaid." Now what do you mean you weren't repaid? You got a retainer. "Oh, yes, the retainer was there, but that wasn't specific repayment." That works for Michael Cohen. It also works for the president. Because he'll say, "I did repay it. That's the way I saw it." But then he says, "I didn't know anything." Sarah Sanders is echoing it.

Come on, man. They're all over the place. You can't say it rings true.

CAPUTO: Well, I didn't say that it rings true. I think this --

CUOMO: You said you don't know that anybody is not telling the truth. But if you know it doesn't ring true, come on.

CAPUTO: I know. I get that. I think Michael Cohen has been telling the truth. I think part of the problem with this administration is mixed messages on a lot of different things. I think those kind of chickens are coming back to roost, right?

But at the end of the day, I think this is -- when it comes down to what's happening in the courtroom, you know, the lawyers who are representing all sides, I hope this thing gets into the courtroom, and this -- you know, this gets resolved. Because God --

CUOMO: But you only know what you can show at trial.

CAPUTO: Right.

CUOMO: This is a key distinction. This is one of the reasons people sometimes have a negative view of lawyers. Which is where you can't get a straight answer out of them. Their job is to get you away from legal responsibility. So if you can't prove it, then I'm good to go. But that's not the same standard for the leader of the United States of America.

That's why Bill Clinton went down. He was impeached for lying about something that fits into the same category as what we're talking about with Stormy Daniels. Personal, irrelevant to matters of state, yada, yada. But it wasn't the act. It was the coverup. He'll lie. And if you lie about one little thing, what else will he lie about? Same analysis you guys offered up about Clinton. Why isn't it true now?

CAPUTO: No doubt. No doubt. And if the Whitewater investigation can wind itself through the logic of Washington, D.C., and land on personal, you know, sexual issues, then this investigation can certainly land on that, as well.

I think that this issue will become something of -- will become part of their agreement, if there ever is one. I certainly hope there is not going to be a presidential interview. I think it's fraught with peril. And I think this is one of the perils.

CUOMO: It's fraught with peril, because there's an expectation that the president of the United States won't tell the truth.

Of course, the interview should take place. The president should want it to so that he can be on record. And then, if cleared, he can say, "See? I did it. I'm a straight-up guy just like I promised you all those many times." Hashtag #MAGA.

But if it doesn't happen, the questions will never go away. And if it doesn't happen, because people are worried about the president not being able to tell the truth or being exposed to perjury, doesn't that tell you everything you need to know?

CAPUTO: Well, I don't know. I wonder, after Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, whether he was really happy that he sat down for that interview.

CUOMO: He was subpoenaed.

CAPUTO: Yes, I mean, when it comes down to it, I think that President Clinton probably regretted sitting down, as well.

You know, this is tough stuff. And I'm not a lawyer. But I can't imagine that as a political adviser and a communications operative, that -- that I would tell the president that he should sit down for this. I think they should avoid it like the plague.

CUOMO: Look, our job, as you know, in the media, I work for the government not the governors, right? And this is about the truth. They have the right to the truth from the people who lead them about whatever it is. Because again, you lie about the little things, you're going to lie about the big things. We're seeing that on a daily basis.

What happened with Clinton happened. I usually don't like that false equivalence stuff. But it actually works here. It's not a false equivalence. It's a real equivalence.

CAPUTO: I'm learning how to deal with you, Chris.

CUOMO: He had to sit down. So does this man. This is the same kind of situation. Now, what will happen when he does sit down? Thank you for wanting to talk about what happened in that room.

What did you learn --

CAPUTO: I'll tell you --

CUOMO: -- going into that with the investigators? Do you think they know what we're hearing from Rudy Giuliani right now? Do you think --