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Report: Giuliani Releases Statement Amid Stormy Daniels Confusion; Giuliani Reference To Timing of Payments Was "My Understanding"; Trump Would Speak with Mueller. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 4, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Erica Hill in for Brooke Baldwin today. The president is in Dallas at this hour, you see the vice president there as well. There to address the annual meeting of the NRA. This is a friendly crowd of course for the president on a day when there is also good news for the president on an economic front the nation is edging towards full employment according to the latest jobs report.

Yet today that good news is once again overshadowed by the president and his remarks on a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. Contradicting his own tweets and even the words of his attorney Rudy Giuliani. Take a look at Mr. Trump this morning when he was asked about Giuliani revealing that the president had repaid Michael Cohen that $130,000 in hush money. Keep in mind the president had previously denied knowing about the payment and then seemed to confirm he did know about it. Now take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rudy is a great guy, but he just started a day ago, but he really has his heart into it, he's working hard, he's learning the subject matter, and he's going to be issuing a statement, too. He started yesterday. He'll get his facts straight. He's a great guy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, why did you change your story on Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: We're not changing any stories. All I'm telling you is that this country is right now running so smooth and to be bringing up that kind of crap and to be bringing up witch hunts all the time, that's all you want to talk about --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said on network television you didn't know about the payment.

TRUMP: You go back and take a look, you'll see what you said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you said, no, when I asked you.

TRUMP: Excuse me. You go take a look at what we said.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HILL: A lot of conflicting statements there, I also want to bring in this breaking news we told you we were waiting on that statement former mayor Rudy Giuliani, now counsel to the president. We have it now. He says, "this is intended to clarify the views I expressed over the past few days. These are my views. First, there is no campaign violation. The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the president's family. It would have been done in any event whether he was a candidate or not."

Second, my references to timing were not describing my understanding of the president's knowledge but instead my understanding of these matters. Third, it is undisputed that the president's dismissal of Former Director Comey an interior executive officer was clearly within his article two power. Recent revelations about Former Director Comey further confirmed the wisdom of the president's decision, which was plainly in the best interest of our nation.

As we wait for the president to take the podium in Dallas, we have even more discussed than we thought we would. Joining us CNN White House reporter Kaitlin Collins. I just want to start with you on this. We're hearing all these things from Rudy Giuliani. Part of what he's trying to do is clarify some of those comments we heard over the last 36 to 48 hours or so including when he specifically alluded to the word funneling and also said imagine how bad this would have looked on October 15th, 2016.

KAITLIN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I'm not sure what Rudy Giuliani is clearing up with the statement here, especially the second one you just read where he said quote, my references to timing were not describing my understanding of the president's knowledge, but instead my understanding of these matters. Of course, during that interview Rudy Giuliani did use the word funneling and said the president made those payments to Michael Cohen on a monthly basis throughout 2017 and he said maybe 2018, which would raise a whole other slew of questions about what payments the president was making for what while he was already president. Of course, because that payment to Stormy Daniels from Michael Cohen was made before the election even happened.

And Giuliani drew a line between those two things. I don't think this does a lot to clear it up, but we can see why Rudy Giuliani is issuing the statement, especially after the president essentially ran him over with a bus this morning saying he did say he was a great guy but said that he was still learning the subject matter, he wasn't familiar with the facts, he was going to be issuing this statement soon, seemingly under the direction of the president. But even amid all this confusion, we have to go back and point out that Rudy Giuliani did meet with the president before and after that explosive interview with Sean Hannity and he said afterwards the president was not upset with him about what he said and had no problem. He made that bombshell announcement the president had known about the money paid to Stormy Daniels because he had reimbursed Michael Cohen for that $130,000. So, Rudy Giuliani here trying to clear this up. Also trying to make clear this was not a campaign finance violation. Of course, that has been the central question about this ever since Michael Cohen did first admit to making that payment. Also, he's referencing that other bombshell from that interview where

he said that the president fired James Comey because James Comey wouldn't make a public statement that the president wasn't under investigation, something that James Comey says he privately told the president but didn't want to say publicly.

[14:05:00] So really Rudy Giuliani just two weeks on the job here, Erica, since he's been announced as the president's latest lawyer already having to issue a statement clearing up himself comments.

HILL: Or making them clear as mud as you pointed out. I want to bring in CNN national political reporter, Maeve Reston, CNN political analyst, Josh Dawsey who is of course also with "The Washington Post" and CNN legal analyst attorney, Paul Callan. Paul, I want to start with you on this. Just to go back to what we just got from Rudy Giuliani, the counsel to the president, right? So, counselor, that second part, which I have to say stuck out to me as well as it did to Kaitlin, my references to timing were not describing my understanding of the president's knowledge but instead my understanding of these matters.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That is a bizarre statement. If you watched the Hannity interview, he was clear as a bell in answering the question as to when the president knew and how the payments were made. Ironically, you know, Giuliani became famous prosecuting the mob, all the big mob bosses in New York. One of those mob bosses was named Vinny, "the chin", Gigante and he used to wander around Greenwich Village in a bathrobe looking confused because that was the defense that he couldn't be running a big mob outfit. The mayor Giuliani is starting to look like Vinny "the chin", confused about how he answers questions. And using that as a defense. I think Giuliani quoted the president exactly and accurately initially and wasn't confused at all.

HILL: Josh, how much of this could be, in fact, quoting the president accurately, following up on a conversation that Rudy Giuliani and the president had had because we saw the president follow up on Twitter and then the president realizing that maybe this didn't land the way he wanted it to. Perhaps now he's backtracking.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: One concern in describing his conversation with the president and giving the president's recollection of the facts is attorney/client privilege and discussing your private conversations with your client could endanger that for Rudy Giuliani, the mayor and obviously the president's main lawyer now. That could -- I know it caused consternation in the White House that he on public television describe some of his interactions with the president. His comment about Comey at the bottom were interesting. The White House is given a number shifting explanations from the original letter that Comey was essentially unfair to Hillary Clinton, to some of his other behaviors. Rudy Giuliani basically put a new reason in there, is that he wouldn't tell the president he wasn't under investigation. If you talk to people inside the White House, that reason was close to accurate or was one of the precipitating factors at least in the tongue of senior administration officials of the time. But it was startling to see him say that on television. It seems there's a bit of a clean-up here. He gave two fairly explosive and news-filled, news-packed interviews on Fox. Now you have Rudy Giuliani and the president watching how this plays out. We have seen time and time again with this president he will analyze news coverage and come back and try to recalibrate. You're seeing meeting with lawyers, talking with confidantes, associates, he wanted Rudy Giuliani to go out and correct some of the things he said. He made that pretty explicitly clear this morning.

HILL: Let listen to more what he was saying this morning when he was talking specifically about Rudy Giuliani and what he knew and perhaps didn't know. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Rudy knows it's a witch hunt. He started yesterday. Ah, he'll get his facts straight.


HILL: He'll get his facts straight but here's the issue. Rudy Giuliani had a number of interviews, spoke to our own Dana Bash, said there's no daylight between me and the president, we have agreed on all these things. And yet Maeve Reston, here we have the president saying eventually he'll get his facts straight. We want to know what the president's facts are in this because the story keeps changing.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Just in that short soundbite right there, Rudy Giuliani did not start yesterday. He started two weeks ago, as Kaitlin said. So even in that President Trump can't get his facts straight. I think that circles back to the central question in all of this is where does the president's credibility stand right now with the American people, with the voters who are going to decide on control of the House of Representatives and possibly the senate in 2018? I mean, the real problem here is not even just how messy Rudy Giuliani's clean-up has been and his initial statements but the fact that, you know, they completely run against what Trump himself said. And Trump has, you know, has conflicted -- has been conflicted about his own statements all week this week, just confusing everyone.

[14:10:00] And I think that we're at the point where the president has lied so many times throughout the course of his presidency that he's just facing a massive credibility crisis.

HILL: And that is something we're going to continue to dig deeper on. For folks just joining us here, I want to put up on the screen for you now this statement from former mayor Rudy Giuliani. The president told us we'd be getting a statement from him. Here it is. "This is intended to clarify the views I expressed over the past few days. First, there is no campaign violation. This is in reference to the Stormy Daniels payment, repayment. Second, he writes my references to timing were not describing my understanding of the president's knowledge but instead my understanding of these matters. Third, it is undisputed that the president's dismissal of James Comey an inferior executive officer, was clearly within his power. All of this stems what we heard initially from an interview with Sean Hannity. Take a listen.


GIULIANI: I was talking about the $ $130,000 payment, the settlement payment. Which is a very regular thing for lawyers to do. The question there was -- the only possible violation there would be was it a campaign finance violation, which usually results in a fine by the way, not this big storm troopers coming in and breaking down his apartment and breaking down his office. That was money that was paid by his lawyer the way I would do out of his law firm funds or whatever funds.


HILL: That was part of the explanation we got there from Rudy Giuliani. Paul Callan, I want to bring you back on this point. There's a couple of things there that stick out. Number one, he worked obviously in the southern district here. He knows that it's not a storm trooper operation as he put out there. In that terminology obviously brings a lot of blowback for him. In terms of how the raid happened with Michael Cohen. But number two when he says the biggest issue here would be a fine. Is that really the biggest issue that there could be a fine from the FEC and a slap on the wrist and now we move forward?

CALLAN: No. It's a much bigger issue than that. There could be the impeachment of President of the United States.

HILL: Over this? Over a payment?

CALLAN: This is part of a picture that could lead to obstruction of justice charges and other things that might support impeachment. So, I think it's much larger than this. The trouble I have with the Giuliani statement is having represented many people charged with crimes the lawyer sits down with the client and says what happened? You're very meticulous about making sure you know all of the facts of the case. Giuliani then goes on with Sean Hannity and he makes a stunning announcement and Giuliani knows it's a big announcement because he says to Hannity I'm going to surprise you with something.

Obviously, this was a carefully discussed statement and then he makes the statement. Now he says, well, it's my understanding of what -- of the situation. Well, his understanding is based on what he was told by the president. What else would it be based on? So, what he's really saying is the president can't communicate with him the date that he knew a payment was made to an ex-porn star? I mean, it would be kind of a memorable thing I think for most people, $130,000. Wouldn't it?

HILL: One would think.

CALLAN: So, this is a fishy story. He accuses the FBI of being storm troopers. He sent those same FBI agents out and rousted white-collar criminals in New York. He was notorious for being a vicious, tough prosecutor. This is deep hypocrisy for him to be attacking the very FBI agents he used to arrest people when he was U.S. attorney. And that's what Giuliani is doing here.

HILL: Paul, Kaitlin, Maeve, Josh, stay with us. All of you at home as well. Still to come, much more on our breaking news, including what President Trump had to say today when talking about and possibly talking with the special counsel. All as we await the president to take that podium there and address the NRA.


HILL: We are waiting to see Vice President Pence there at the podium in Dallas. He's addressing the annual meeting of the NRA. We're waiting for the president to take the podium as well. As we wait for that, I want to bring back in my guests. We continue to hash through what's happened not only in the last 18 minutes since we went on the air with a statement from Rudy Giuliani but also what's happened even just this morning. I want to take a closer look at some of what the president had to say this morning about Rudy Giuliani. Take a listen.


[14:20:00] TRUMP: Nobody wants to speak more than me. In fact, against my lawyers because most lawyers they never speak on anything. I would love to speak. Because we've done nothing wrong. There was no collusion with the Russians, there was nothing. There was no obstruction. I would love to go, I would love to speak, but I have to find that we're going to be treated fairly. It is a very unfair thing. If I thought it was fair, I would override my lawyers.


HILL: There we have the president talking about how he really wants to talk to Robert Mueller. Nobody wants to talk to Robert Mueller more than this president. Paul, I know we've asked you this question a number of times, if you are the president's attorney, do you advise him to go in there and have this discussion? We know not every attorney who has worked for him has given him that advice.

CALLAN: I would never advise him to speak to Mueller. Every time the president makes a statement about a subject, he changes what he says about it. There are always five different versions of everything. You do that under oath to a federal prosecutor you have committed a crime. The president can speak publicly at a press conference and say whatever he wants. He's not going to be prosecuted for that. But if he testifies falsely before a grand jury, he's in trouble. He's facing potential criminal charges or impeachment first before there would be criminal charges.

HILL: When you look at that Giuliani interview, the first one that he gave to Sean Hannity, he kind of set that up. He said we think this is going to be a trap, we don't think this investigation is fair to begin with, setting up the parameter to which they could deny this. You can see just in the past 24 hours the way in which the president can't get his own story straight, that would set off alarm bells among attorneys wondering whether he should sit down with the special counsel if he can't get the story straight on the payment.

Let's be honest here this is only the latest example of the president having a tough time keeping all of those ducks in a row. This is yet another example of why that's a concern. In terms of parameters, to Kaitlin's point, you have Rudy Giuliani setting the parameters there sending very clear messages in that interview with Sean Hannity, just like you have the president sending this clear message as he has in the past. I'm putting the narrative out there that I would love to speak with Robert Mueller. This is not me saying I don't want to speak with a special counsel. If I don't do it, it's just because of my lawyers and they won't be fair to us. But that's also an important narrative that the president is putting out there.

RESTON: He has to make that case in order to keep his base with him, keep the narrative going that this is a witch hunt, that he has nothing to hide, that he's willing to speak to investigators. But of course, if you are President Trump's lawyer, you don't want to put him in front of Mueller. We know from that very specific list of questions that the "New York Times" published earlier this week that there are so many areas in which there is legal peril for the president. And it's hard to see what he would gain beyond a PR victory with the public in going in and facing those questions and those follow-ups.

HILL: When we look at it in terms of messages that we got about the special counsel, the other thing that really stood out from Rudy Giuliani was this very clear message, do not go after Ivanka Trump. Jared Kushner, he's kind of disposable. But the minute the special counsel turns its focus on Ivanka Trump, that's when we really get serious. Paul, it's pretty tough to ignore that was a direct threat in many ways.

CALLAN: It almost seemed like Giuliani sat down with the president and the president said I want you to make it clear, send a message about leaving Ivanka alone. All of us are critical of the president so nobody can criticize him for wanting to protect his daughter. But it also suggests that maybe the president's true fear is what would be found out if there was a detailed investigation of the Trump organization or Ivanka's businesses. That's what he's worried about. And a message is being sent to Mueller don't touch her, don't go near her.

HILL: And we also got a statement from Rudy Giuliani where he talks specifically about James Comey and writes "it is undisputed that the president's dismissal of former Director Comey an inferior executive officer was clearly within his article two power. Recent revelations about former Director Comey further confirm the wisdom of the president's decision which was plainly in the best interests of our nation. He is clarifying his comments there, Maeve, what's interesting is how much the narrative on how and why decision was made to fire James Comey has shifted.

[14:25:00] RESTON: It has and clearly that is one of the areas that is most dangerous for the president. And we don't have a clear set of facts, we have Comey out on his book tour talking about his side of the story. President Trump has said lots of conflicting things about the firing dating back to that original interview that he did with Lester Holt. So, I think that this is an area clearly that investigators are looking at and that the White House needs to get much clearer on their set of facts here. But Giuliani in general, that statement is just so confusing. It's like a Rubik's cube. You can't even figure out exactly what he's trying to say. I'm not really sure that's going to help the situation much today for the White House.

HILL: You know, there's another, as we were all waiting and watching to see what would happen once Rudy Giuliani was brought on a couple of weeks ago and we're seeing some of that and its aftermath, there were still all of questions about John Kelly and the relationship between him and the president, which the president also addressed this morning. Take a listen to this moment.


TRUMP: General Kelly is doing a fantastic job. There has been such false reporting about our relationship. We have a great relationship. He's doing a great job as chief of staff. I could not be more happy. So, I just want to tell you that.

JOHN KELLY, WHIT HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's an absolute privilege to work for a president that has gotten the economy going, we're about to have a breakthrough, I believe, on North Korea. The jobs report today. Everything is going phenomenally well, attacking the opioid crisis. It nothing less than brilliant what's been accomplished in the last 15 months. I believe.


HILL: I will say one thing that was brilliant in that exchange there, Kaitlin, is how General Kelly changed the narrative there. The president complained earlier today that we are not talking about these great unemployment numbers. And that we are almost at full employment and all anybody wants to talk about is this payment because both he and Rudy Giuliani were talking about. John Kelly right there really doing his job. Very quickly shifting to say, hey, look at this bright shiny object over here and how well all of these things are going.

COLLINS: Right, exactly. And they're standing right next to each other, so they can't really get into their personal relationship there. You could see John Kelly trying to take the reins here, trying to shift the president's and the public's away from all of this. I will say though however we're in the middle of a Republican primary season right now where you have a lot of Republican candidates and Republican voters who are very much sympathetic to the president and his views about this whole thing being a witch hunt and a distraction from things like at economy and from things like North Korea and other things that the president claims as successes.

We have to note, however, that the president continues to talk about this in a way that helps to overshadow a lot of what Republicans on Capitol Hill would rather him be talking about. I think the Giuliani and Trump kind of strategy in that interview and taking that aggressive stance against Mueller was the sign that the two are them are keeping everybody else at the White House in the dark. Sarah Sanders herself said she didn't know that Trump knew about -- made this repayment until she saw that actual interview on television. The White House of course according to reporting caught off guard by the whole thing so it shows the limits.

CALLAN: You know what the strange thing about it is, though? Giuliani is now using Trump speak, which usually lawyers are precise in their expression of what's going on. He's now talking like Trump. This could be this, it could be that.

HILL: Maybe the president had a hand in drafting this. So many questions that we have. We do need to take a quick break. We're waiting for the president to take a podium there in Dallas. A federal judge today issuing a remarkable rebuke at a hearing for Paul Manafort. It wasn't for Manafort. This was for the special counsel's team. Plus, a CNN exclusive on the Republican chairman of the House Intel Committee who has been on a rampage about the Russia probe. Now we're learning when he gets those documents he doesn't read them. That's next.