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Trump Admits Hush Money; Legal Implications of Cohen Payment; Comey Fired over Investigation; Ivanka Off Limits. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 3, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:00:21] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow, 1:30 a.m. Friday morning in Pyeongyang. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks so much for joining us.

It's been a stunning whirlwind of admissions, denials and let's say it outright, lies. The first, the president admitting a hush money payment with Stormy Daniels despite denying it weeks ago. And now his lawyer linking that payment to the 2016 election.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani also insisting that the president fired James Comey over the Russia investigation because Comey would not publically clear the president. Why this is an explosive revelation.

And Giuliani, of all people, says that the three Americans detained in North Korea will be released today. Why is the president's personal attorney announcing this as the U.S. government remains silent?

But we begin with President Trump and his shifting story over that payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. This comes on the heels of the stunning admission by attorney Rudy Giuliani that the president repaid $130,000 in hush money given to Daniels just before the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, MEMBER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LEGAL TEAM: That money was not campaign money. Sorry, I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But they funneled it through the law firm.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I didn't know -- he did?

GIULIANI: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no campaign finance law?

GIULIANI: Zero.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: The president tried to explain in a series of tweets. He said this morning, quote, Mr. Cohen, an attorney, 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. The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her, Stormy, about an 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.

But, we should say, the president denied knowing anything about the payment when reporters asked him about it on Air Force One just 18 days ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. What else?

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

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Let's bring in CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, how do these latest revelations line up with what we've heard from the administration, including from the White House podium, because it's not just the president who has made misleading comments about this in the past. You've heard the same from Sarah Sanders.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it's a beautiful day in Washington, but the storm clouds are back over the White House with this case of Stormy Daniels. The inconsistencies, I guess, line up, but only because they are, by all appearances, falsehoods and even, in some cases, outright lies.

The White House press secretary has been asked on multiple occasions about all of this. At one briefing she said the president did not know about this. Of course, Sarah Sanders may have been in the dark on some of these details as it was suggested by Rudy Giuliani on Fox News. But here's how Sarah Sanders answered this question a couple of months ago. Here's what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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. RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president strongly,

clearly and has consistently denied these underlying claims. And the only person who's been inconsistent is the one making the claims.

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

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. What else?

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

TRUMP: No. I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, of course, we're going to have a briefing coming up in about an hour from now, Jim. And Sarah Sanders will be asked these questions all over again. She tried to answer some of these questions earlier this morning, basically saying the same thing, that you're going to have to talk to the president's outside legal team about this, that she doesn't want to comment on that sort of thing. But it's going to be difficult to say that over and over again when they've pretty consistently given false statements, either knowingly or unknowingly, to the American people about all of this.

I talked to a source familiar with discussions in the latter stages of the 2016 campaign. This is a person who is familiar with the discussions that were going on at a very high level inside the Trump campaign, who told me earlier this morning, Jim, that then candidate Trump denied having this relationship with Stormy Daniels way back when. And according to this source who was familiar with these discussions, there was a lot of people inside Trump world who were disillusioned about all of this and puts this in the same category as Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton, so a lot of disappointment, a lot of disillusioned people inside Trump world.

[13:05:21] Inside the White House officials telling us they're shocked, they're surprised. And one senior White House official tried to be charitable and described Rudy Giuliani's performance as clumsy. Of course, our Dana Bash is hearing from Rudy Giuliani that all of this may have been premeditated and then coordinated with the president. But it was pretty sloppy in terms of its rollout with Rudy Giuliani referring to FBI agents as storm troopers and describing Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, as disposable. So there's going to be a lot to clean up at this briefing in about an hour from now, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It raises the question, can you believe what the president says. We've asked it many times.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta at the White House, as always.

Let me bring the panel to dig through this.

So beyond what is apparently an abject lie told by the president and his spokesperson.

Laura Coates, from a legal perspective, why is it important that the president reimbursed for this payment?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Because you have campaign finance laws that have two prongs. One is for transparency, that you know where the money is coming from, and also to ensure that there's a threshold of a limited of the amount of money you can actually contribute to a campaign.

So if what Michael Cohen did was give an excessive contribution to the campaign, obviously $130,000 is much more than $2,700, then it's a loan and you have to not only report that loan to the campaign, to the Federal Election Commission, but also the reimbursement has to be reported as well.

Why that's important is, if you could just allow, as a candidate, to say, listen, loan the campaign some money, we'll go around the actual reporting requirements and disclosure, I'll pay you back after the election, you basically undermine the entire propose of campaign finance laws.

And, also, Giuliani walks you right into the idea of willful and intentional violation when they say they tried to funnel it through a law firm to try to make sure no one could detect where the money came from. This is not just an FEC issue anymore, now it's the DOJ about willful and possibly intentional crime violations.

SCIUTTO: One more legal question on that because we're hearing from some of my colleagues that this was intentional. That Rudy Giuliani -- whether you believe that or not, it's possible that he's just covering up for being clumsy, but is it possible that they would let this out there to protect them from some other legal danger?

COATES: It could certainly be knowing that Michael Cohen's office, his home and his hotel room have been raided. I'm certain that whatever was found by the investigators and the southern district of New York have already detected a paper trail there. So perhaps they're getting out ahead of an inevitable paper trail disclosure. It could also be, however, that Giuliani prefers the taste of his own foot in his mouth because certainly he walked right into it in that capacity.

But it could be that. It could be the benefit of the doubt. I could also be that they're trying to say, even if all of this is true, it's a legal so what here.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COATES: We're talking about a fine and nothing more. We're talking about a retainer and nothing more.

SCIUTTO: So, Ryan Lizza, the other revelation of many in that interview, of Giuliani on Fox last night, was Giuliani talking about why this payment was made. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you were saying -- you're saying that Stephanie Clifford made these allegations, told Donald Trump's lawyer, you know, look, I'm -- not in public.

GIULIANI: And denied them. And denied them. And they said it wasn't true.

However, imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure. Right. So to make it go away they -- they made this deal.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: If it came -- what if it came out, he asked there, right before the election? Ryan Lizza, that makes it a direct connection, does it not?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You're not supposed to say that.

SCIUTTO: Right.

LIZZA: Because I whole argument of people who -- that -- I don't know that Donald Trump has made this argument, but people who are defending the president and this payment as being totally unrelated to any campaign finance laws will argue that it was just coincidental that the payment was made right before the campaign. So there was really no benefit to the campaign. The argument goes, Donald Trump has entered into non-disclosure agreements with a series of people going back many, many years before he --

SCIUTTO: Everybody who works for him, right?

LIZZA: Right. Many -- before he was running for president. This was more about protecting his reputation, protecting his family, protecting the reputation of the Trump brand, right. It wasn't related to the campaign. That's the argument.

Oops, Rudy Giuliani says, you know, of course we had to do this that week. He could -- you know, he could have lost the election if this came out. So that seems to be, you know, a famous -- Michael Kinsley's, you know, Kinsley gaffe where, you know, he made a mistake by telling the truth.

SCIUTTO: Imagine that, telling the truth.

A.B. Stoddard, I imagine folks at home might have trouble keeping track of this, right, because every day there is some revelations, sometimes there are 14 revelations in this whole broad investigation into this administration. What's particularly significant in your view about what we learned from that interview? [13:10:14] A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: I really think that revelation, that it bounced to an in-kind contribution and it was meant to impact the election, that admission is really the worst. If you look at Trump's tweet this morning, some lawyer's sitting with him and he's trying to sound really official, that he definitely didn't do anything wrong, and all rich people do this kind of thing. They have these slush funds. Just sort of take care of business that they don't really know about. And that he didn't really have an affair and all this kind of stuff.

And I think it was intentional. I think that last night, there's news breaking now, that Michael Cohen's phones were -- were intercepted by the FBI before the raids on his office and his hotel room and his home and there might have been one phone call that was intercepted to the White House. They're worried about Michael Cohen. I think that they were sending a signal out to Michael Cohen that we're going to relieve you of this -- we're going to say it, there's no way it was a campaign finance violation.

OK, he shouldn't have used the word "funnel" last night, but Giuliani, I think, was internally trying to do that, send that out the signal to Michael Cohen, we're going to relieve you of this. We're going to relieve us. It was not campaign finance.

Then, of course this morning he goes on "Fox and Friends" and says it was directly related to the campaign by admitting, well, this happened in mid-October, you know. But I think that this -- that the eye of the hurricane is Michael Cohen. And that is what's panicking the president. And that's really where most of his sort of legal exposure might lie.

SCIUTTO: Right.

STODDARD: And that's what we're going to see in the days to come.

SCIUTTO: I should note that CNN has not yet confirmed that story about a wiretap on Michael Cohen, but it certainly is -- it's a story that we're looking into now.

LIZZA: We know that the e-mails were monitored. So it wouldn't be shocking to learn that, if it's corroborated.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

Giuliani also said -- many things he said in the interviews last night and today -- that the president did not learn details of the settlement until just the last couple of weeks. In effect covering up for his gaffe or perhaps intentional revelation of this, though contradictory to past statements.

We know that "The Wall Street Journal" printed details of this NDA in January. Does it stretch the bounds of credibility to believe that the president did not know anything about this until the last couple weeks?

COATES: Well, it does, especially since the president's surrogates, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has been talking about this issue that predated several weeks ago. And so you have that issue here.

But the interesting thing here is not simply when the president knew about it -- that's also very important -- but he is saying -- and according to Giuliani last night -- that he didn't know the particulars but knew generally about it and then sought to reimburse. If the purpose of the payment itself was simply to affect the campaign, then him reimbursing it took on the weight of an otherwise Michael Cohen exclusive issue. It essentially says, I was -- had a hand in this.

And I don't -- and you're right, A.B., about the point you made. It's very odd to me that they would trade up in legal exposure, to trade in Michael Cohen, who may have had an FEC violation, a civil fine that may have resulted, to then now implicate the president of the United States about what he knew and add the willful and intentional funneling mechanism to it is a real oddity, which is why I think, if it was intentional, what were they trying to prevent or deflate from coming out later.

SCIUTTO: Right. I mean that's the thing, there's so many -- there's so much significances to this.

And the lie seems to be maybe the least consequential of it --

COATES: Right.

SCIUTTO: Because we've seen so many of them. Because it sounds like there's a real legal jeopardy here.

Laura, Ryan, A.B., please stay here. We have a lot more to talk about.

More explosive revelations from the president's lawyer, including an attempt to explain the ousting of James Comey, calling the fired FBI director a very perverted -- you heard that right -- man.

Plus, Giuliani says that three Americans detained in North Korea are set to be released today. That's from the president's personal lawyer. But still no official word from the White House.

And, a sobering warning to the president, don't talk to Robert Mueller. Why a former Trump campaign aide is sounding the alarm on the special counsel.

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[13:18:05] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

The firing of James Comey, it is at the heart of the special counsel's question about possible obstruction of justice by the president in the Russia investigation. But now Rudy Giuliani, newly part of the president's legal team, is offering a new explanation of why then-FBI Director Comey was shown the door.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 she -- he couldn't get that. So he fired him, and then he said, I'm free of this guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So before we address yet another lie emanating from this administration as to why he was fired, because there have been multiple explanations, just legally on that question, is the president entitled to being told by the FBI director he's not the target of an investigation?

COATES: No, but he is entitled to the deference given for somebody who's serving at the pleasure of the president. The FBI director is different in they serve multiple terms that literally outlasts any president. He is entitled to having some information, perhaps.

What he's asking for, really, is the Hillary Clinton treatment, which would be odd that you would want that given if -- if James Comey came forward and said that you're not presently a target of the investigation, just as what happened with Hillary Clinton, it would then trigger the response and the requirement to then correct that if that ever changed and enlighten the public again. So it's odd that he would want that sort of treatment.

Also, the president of the United States, usually by not just regulation but also by custom and practice, is supposed to be detached from an investigation, let alone one that has to do with his own orbit. And so in many respects he thought he was entitled to what he is truly not entitled to, for defamation reasons, for regulatory reasons and otherwise.

SCIUTTO: Well, that principle has clearly been thrown out the window.

COATES: Yes.

SCIUTTO: A.B., for lack of a better word, we now know that the printed explanation for Comey's firing a thousand years ago, last May when he was fired, that this was about his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails drafted by no one else other than the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that that was false. That was a false explanation. I mean the president said so much in an interview with NBC last year, but here you have the president's lawyer saying he was fired because he -- well, he wouldn't give him that promise that he's not under investigation, but also because of the Russia probe.

[13:20:23] STODDARD: It's kind of unbelievable. I remember at the time, we all do, that even the vice president was sent out to cameras several times saying the Rosenstein memo, the Rosenstein memo.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

STODDARD: Just repeating it robotically. And then he, of course, gave the interview to Lester Holt and said, I thought about this Trump Russia thing and it's so fake and I was going to fire him, really throwing everyone under the bus at the time. But the idea that Rudy Giuliani would go and just say this is exactly

why he did it, in the midst of them saying there's no obstruction case to be built here, and Giuliani's description of this -- what he deduced from the list of the 49 questions is that they're desperate. They don't have anything. As if the actual questions are the final report of the special counsel.

He's -- it's really important, Donald Trump's word cannot be taken seriously by friend or foe alike on subjects large and small, from the silly to the consequential. Rudy Giuliani needed to maintain some credibility here, and he really lost it between last night and this morning.

SCIUTTO: Ryan, up to this point, we have not heard any mention of Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, being involved in this investigation in any way.

LIZZA: Yes.

SCIUTTO: But it did come up last night with Rudy Giuliani, who made it seem -- really issuing somewhat of a warning, or a threat there, about her being off limits.

LIZZA: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about his son-in-law? They've 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Did he just say -- did the president's personal attorney just say that the president's son-in-law is disposable?

LIZZA: Yes, this got completely overshadowed by the admission that Trump repaid Michael Cohen the $130,000. But as everyone's reaction watching this, I don't know if you guys have seen this before, but this was astonishing. He basically was saying -- well, one, he's making a political argument that the person that should be prosecuted, it depends on their popularity with the country and we don't prosecute people who are popular, and if the country turns on a prosecutor, then that prosecution is somehow not warranted. That's ridiculous. And I'm no lawyer, but I don't think that's how it works in the Justice Department.

But -- and then secondly, making this weird argument about gender and that, you know, women are sympathetic, but men, who cares about them. And then, third, saying that this president's son-in-law is disposable. Can you imagine if you're Jared Kushner today and saw that, that the president's lawyer, newly appointed lawyer, who has taken over this case, going out on this big -- his first big public interview is saying you're disposable?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

LIZZA: If you're sitting there and you're Mueller, you're thinking, huh, OK, well, I guess I -- you know, they're not go to push back on that one.

SCIUTTO: That's an opportunity, right?

Laura Coates, I wonder -- now, Giuliani could have been freelancing there, but Giuliani is the president's new choice to be his lawyer, has had conversations with the president there. Did you sense that warning was based on something perhaps that the president's lawyer knew? Did they get a question related to Ivanka Trump? Is there something behind it?

COATES: Well, it very well could be. Remember, we have heard a lot about the 666 Building. I do find it odd that somebody who is considered disposable is heading up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That surprised a lot of people as well.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COATES: But the idea of him being disposable may be a warning shot, the same way that that "National Enquirer" cover page story may have been a warning about the fact --

SCIUTTO: Michael Cohen.

COATES: Michael Cohen, warning people about the idea that the president's loyalty is one-sided and one way. It's not reciprocal outside the family. It may be, again, this is based on the Michael Cohen raid of his home, his office and his hotel. Remember, a very small, according to the president of the United States, business -- or legal advice or legal scenarios was with Cohen. So a lot of his business deals are lined up with, who, Jared Kushner. And so the idea that he would say, I may know what you found, I may know what's in those documents. Remember, Michael Cohen himself tried to give some indication to people in the courtroom when he said, here are my clients. Do you want to sign on to being my client? There may be documents there. This was Giuliani returning that and expressing that over to the public.

SCIUTTO: And, of course, Giuliani was talking to another Michael Cohen client, Sean Hannity, revealed after --

LIZZA: That's right.

COATES: Client.

LIZZA: (INAUDIBLE). SCIUTTO: A.B., of the many things that happened in the last 24 hours, one that I really don't think we should -- we should forget about is that Michael Caputo, a long-time Trump aide, who was interviewed by the special counsel yesterday, came out kind of a changed man from his interview with the special counsel. Not only expressing respect for the special counsel, having dismissed the investigation multiple times, but saying that he's very much on the track of Russian collusion. That that is clearly a question that Mueller is very interested in. And Caputo also said he seemed to know more about the campaign that we did. He seems to have something to back that up. Significant, not, isn't it?

[13:25:12] STODDARD: Very. I think in the end of Anderson's interview, and I listened very carefully, Caputo did make it clear that he doesn't think that they have anything on collusion. And this certainly separated out that their -- these sort of outsiders and some campaign insiders from the president. But what Michael Caputo made clear is that they're not messing around. They're not on a phishing expedition. It's not a witch hunt. And that they do know everything. And he made that very clear, they have texts, they have e-mails, they have it all. They know your schedule better than you do. They know all the players.

And he made it really clear that it's not something to be blown off, which was so interesting coming right after Giuliani's description of this as desperation. As if these questions were them stabbing around in the dark. Every single question is something that Robert Mueller knows the answer to. They're looking for President Trump's answer.

SCIUTTO: And it appears to be striking fear in the hearts of folks who have long dismissed this investigation.

LIZZA: Yes. Everyone comes out of there chasant (ph). They come out of that non-descript federal office building in Washington deeply chasant and like your kids coming out of the principal's office.

SCIUTTO: Well, there's more to discuss. A.B., Ryan, Laura Coates, thanks very much.

Coming up, Kellyanne Conway's husband at it again, this time trolling Trump over his potential violation of campaign finance laws.

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