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Did The U.S. Military Hide The Real Mission Of Niger Ambush From Congress?; Mueller's Team Questions Russian Oligarch About Payments To Michael Cohen; CIA Nominee Gina Haspel Faces Confirmation Hearing Today; Trump Pulls Out Of Iran Deal, So What's Next? Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA), MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: That is -- that is tough.

And look, in her trying to persuade us that what was done was right and accepted by the American public, the natural question is if you thought it was right why were records being destroyed to block the American public from knowing what was going on.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And that's another thing for her to answer about her role in that, the reality of that.

Let me ask you something else.


CUOMO: As you know, we like to hold onto things here. What happened in Niger that took out American lives has never been fully explained.

I understand, through Barbara Starr, that you were at a briefing about this. Did you learn anything that the American people deserve to know about?

KAINE: Absolutely, Chris.

I was in a classified briefing yesterday. I will just say this, that I believe that the troops who were sadly killed in Niger in October of 2017 were engaged in a mission that they were not authorized by law to participate in and that they were not trained to participate in, and that is a significant reason that they tragically lost their lives.

And that's one that --

CUOMO: I don't understand. Help me understand. What does that mean that they weren't --


CUOMO: -- legally allowed to be in and not trained for. What does that mean?

KAINE: I will just say that the troops that were in Niger were there pursuant to a congressional authorization to engage in train and equip missions. They were not on a train and equip mission.

CUOMO: So where's the accountability?

KAINE: We are --

CUOMO: Who made that call? Who has to be held responsible for who was put and why?

KAINE: We are going to be grappling with that in the days ahead. I just received this briefing yesterday. It was in a classified setting and I'm a little bit constrained in terms of what I feel like I can say this morning.

But I would say this. The committee members were somewhat shocked to learn what happened and we're not going to let it drop.

CUOMO: I'll remind you of something that I think you have actually said in the past. Confidentiality and classification is done for the protection of the American people, not for protection from the American people.

KAINE: That's right.

CUOMO: Those troops' families are still out there waiting for answers. And the American people who say they support the troops, we've got to know who put them in harm's way, why did they do it, and how do they own that responsibility now. We've got to know, Senator.

KAINE: And, Chris -- and, Chris, you will know. After the hearing yesterday we have huddled and we're going to figure out a way that the story will be told and that people will be held accountable.

CUOMO: All right. Well, look, we'll stay on it because there's a lot of --

KAINE: Good.

CUOMO: -- political currency involved in having people not know if there's going to be a bad move involved.

KAINE: Indeed, indeed.

CUOMO: Senator, thank you, as always.

KAINE: All right, Chris.

CUOMO: Alisyn --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So, Chris, we are learning about payments to Michael Cohen's company and where the money came from. What did a Russian oligarch get for half a million dollars? We dig deeper, next.


[07:36:38] CAMEROTA: CNN learning exclusively that the special counsel's team has questioned a Russian oligarch about hundreds of thousands of dollars that his company's U.S. affiliate made to President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

Let's discuss all of this with CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin. He served as Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Justice Department. And, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

OK. Let me just put up for everybody the timeline as we know it, gentlemen, and then get you to flowchart all of this for us.

OK. So, in October 2016, that's when Michael Cohen sets up his LLC called Essential Consultants.

October 27th, Cohen wires that payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels.

Between January and August of 2017 -- this is the U.S. affiliate of the Russian oligarch's company. It's called Columbus Nova. That's when these $500,000 payments occur.

October 2017, AT&T also pays Michael Cohen, they say, for -- to gain insight into the new administration. They know that he has access to Donald Trump.

In 2017, Novartis pays him, we assume, for the same reason.

November 2017, Korea Aerospace Industries pays Michael Cohen, we assume, for virtually the same reasons.

So, Renato, you say that somehow this doesn't add up to you. Why not?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, PARTNER, THOMPSON, COBURN (via Skype): Well, I'll tell you. It's pretty unusual. Michael Cohen doesn't appear to be practicing law and certainly was not practicing law for AT&T and Novartis and these companies.

CAMEROTA: Well, I know. But, I mean, hold on.

To be clear, he doesn't say he's practicing law. He's a consultant.

MARIOTTI: Right and I'm curious what he's consulting about. Apparently, it seems likes he's -- it appears that he's selling access to the Trump administration.

And I think the real interesting thing is why he's taking money from a company that's affiliated or indirectly owned by a Russian oligarch when he knows that there's a Russia investigation going on.

CAMEROTA: Well, they say it was for real estate investing, which he also does.

MARIOTTI: Well, it -- you know, it -- what federal prosecutors, I suspect, are going to be looking at is whether any of that money, directly or indirectly, went to Stormy Daniels or to other women because the Stormy Daniels payment is arguable campaign-related.

I think a good argument could be made on the other side but Rudy Giuliani went on national television and said that the timing of it was -- it was great that it was -- it was so important that it was before the last debate.

So, you know, if that payment was indirectly made by a foreign national then there's potential campaign finance issues there.


Michael, how do you see it?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO ROBERT MUELLER, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Well, I don't know how I see it because we don't have enough facts really to be fully transparent into what's going on here.

Clearly, there are companies that are buying Cohen's access to the administration. All of those companies, if you want to look at it in its worst case, have been business before the Trump administration and Cohen may be a conduit for them to understand what the position of the administration might be.

Or it might be in good faith --

CAMEROTA: OK, and hold on. Let me just stop you right there.

That's not illegal, right? Is that sort of called --

ZELDIN: No, no, exactly.

CAMEROTA: -- lobbying or access? I mean, that's not --

ZELDIN: No, no, exactly.

CAMEROTA: People do that.

ZELDIN: Yes, exactly -- yes. So, I mean, Trump wins.

Cohen's his right-hand man. He sets up a limited liability corporation in Delaware with his name fully transparent on it.

[07:40:05] These companies hire him to gain insight into what the Trump administration's position on issues that affect their companies. That's all business as usual in Washington. I don't see anything on the face of it that's wrong about that.

The only thing that's of any interest to me is the contributions made to the inauguration by the -- whatever he is -- brother-in-law, cousin of the Russian oligarch. That seems a little bit odd given that that contribution is way out of the range that the contributions of him previously are. That's something maybe to look at.

But otherwise, on its face, I don't really see much here legally that's of interest to me.

CAMEROTA: OK, here's the flowchart as we've set it up so that people will understand it visually. Viktor Vekselberg, who's the Russian oligarch, owns a Russian conglomerate called Renova. That has a U.S. affiliate called Columbus Nova. That is what paid Michael Cohen $500,000.

Now, here's their statement. Here's Columbus Nova's statement -- the attorney's statement.

"Columbus Nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans.

After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures.

Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova's engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue.

Neither Vekselberg nor anyone else other than Columbus Nova's owners were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement."

So, Renato, what do you think of that?

MARIOTTI: Well, you know, I think it's going to be up to investigators to probe the truth behind it.

You know, the difference -- the only difference I think I have with Michael, I -- you know, and I respect his opinion quite a bit -- is just that I think that this was the LLC that was set up to pay Daniels and potentially, other women. I think those payments and how -- where that money comes from is going to be of interest. If it comes from a foreign source, that's a problem.

And also, as Stormy Daniels' lawyer talked about yesterday, there were -- he alleges there were false statements made to the bank in connection with opening the account. That, potentially, is of interest. There needs to be more information to know whether or not there's a potential crime there but that's also something of interest.

I think this helps all of us understand why federal prosecutors in Manhattan are taking a look at it.

CAMEROTA: There you go.

Michael Zeldin, Renato Mariotti, thank you both very much -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right.

The president's nominee for CIA director will face tough questions at her confirmation hearing today. What Gina Haspel plans to tell lawmakers about torture tactics used in terror interrogations.

What is she going to say? How is going to explain what she would do with her new boss who seems to want to go back to those measures? Tough spot, next.


[07:45:47] CUOMO: All right.

So, Gina Haspel is going to face the Senate Intel Committee this morning as the White House grows more confident that she will be confirmed as the first female CIA director. Now, we're learning what she plans to say to her critics.

CNN's Manu Raju live from Capitol Hill.

It was interesting reading the statements. She's in a tight spot, Manu, because they're going to grill her on one part about why did you participate in what was done after 9/11, would you do that again today.

But then, the new boss that she's going to work for, Donald Trump, is coming at her from the other angle, which is I think those tactics worked. Maybe we have to go back to them.

Tough spot for her to please everybody.


And also, it's going to be critical to see about what she'll actually be able to say about her record in the CIA that spans three decades and which was mostly undercover.

And which a lot of the records are classified about things that she did, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 in the Bush administration when she ran a CIA black site in Thailand where some of those harsh interrogation techniques took place, as well as her role in 2005 in the destruction of videotapes showing those harsh interrogation techniques, something that she has privately told senators she was ordered by her superiors.

But the questions will be about the details and whether she can reveal any of those details.

Now, in some of the excerpts released she does defend her record, especially about interrogation, and this is what she says.

She says, "I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership the CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program."

Now, the CIA, earlier this week, delivered boxes to the Senate Intelligence Committee about her record but those boxes are still classified. So the big push today and the fight today will be about declassifying some of those records, at least providing the full Senate access to them because a lot of members want to see that before they ultimately cast a vote in a very controversial nomination before this -- and there will be a contentious hearing today.

We'll see how she does, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely, Manu. Thank you very much for all of that reporting.

OK, it's time now for "CNN Money Now."

Wild swings in oil prices after President Trump pulled the U.S. from the Iran deal, and that could mean higher costs for you.

Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is watching all of this in our Money Center. What are you seeing, Christine?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, ANCHOR, "EARLY START": You know, we're seeing markets try to come to grips with this.

Oil fell four percent before the president's announcement, then it climbed back above $70 a barrel again. Sanctions could cut some of Iran's oil exports, trimming world oil supply.

U.S. companies already paying more for raw materials. They'll feel higher oil prices. Think more expensive fuel for airlines, trucking, delivery, and shipping costs for big consumer brands.

U.S. drivers also pay more gas. Buddy says you can add another 30 cents per gallon to your gas bill for the summer.

The U.S. quitting the Iran deal will hit other companies directly. Many of them signed lucrative deals when Iran's economy opened up. Remember, in 2015, sanctions turned those contracts into losses.

One of Iran's biggest deals, Boeing's multibillion-dollar plan to modernize Iran's aging airlines. Now, Boeing has to scrap that deal, as do airlines and hotels who were seizing on tourism dollars.

General Electric can no longer do business in Iran. Last year, it made millions selling equipment for gas plants.

It's not just U.S. companies, though. Any company that does business in both the U.S. and Iran could be punished.

Now, that's many big international companies like Germany's Volkswagen. It just began selling cars in Iran for the first time in 17 years. They've got to put that now in reverse, Chris.

CUOMO: Christine, thank you very much. Important insight there.

All right. So, we now know that the president wants to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. What comes next? Will this brinksmanship make you safer?

We're going to get fallout and analysis from Christiane Amanpour, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:53:41] CUOMO: President Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. The big question is well, what comes next? How will he keep Americans safe from Iran nuclear capabilities?

The decision sparking protest in Iran -- that's understandable. Lawmakers there setting fire to an American flag in Parliament, chanting "Death to America."

This morning, the Trump administration standing by its decision.


GAIL KING, ANCHOR, "CBS THIS MORNING": Are you concerned, Ambassador, that this could bring us closer to war with Iran? They're already chanting "Death to America" over there.

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Yes, I don't think it would bring us closer.

I think Iran is bringing us closer to war with its belligerent activity in Iraq and Syria. They've been moving missiles. The Revolutionary Guards Quds Force has been moving missiles into Syria that can hit any target inside Israel. That's why we've seen recent Israeli strikes.

It's that aggressive militaristic behavior by Iran on the ground in the region that's the real threat.


CUOMO: Joining us now is CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

Let's step broad and then let's get in more focused -- the overall optics of this, how it's playing out.

What are you hearing, Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right, now, basically Europe, on which the fate of this deal hangs, is trying to get into negotiations with Iran and, of course, the United States to figure out whether it's salvageable. Whether Europe will be able to continue under the terms of this deal to open up economies and that kind of activity with Iran and hope that they're not going to be punished by the United States for doing so.

[07:55:11] So what's happening is that the main European allies are afraid now of the United States.

The United States is in violation of the Iranian deal. It's the only party to be in violation of the Iranian deal.

And also, as if on cue, the IAEA -- the U.N. responsible agency -- has declared yet again today that Iran is in full compliance with all of the aspects of the JCPOA -- the Iranian nuclear deal. CUOMO: How real is it that the other signatories to the deal will stay in and that that will be acceptable to Iran to stay in and make the same commitments?

AMANPOUR: Oh my gosh, they want to do that. There's nothing more than that that they want to do. They want to save this deal because they believe, contrary to what President Trump said last night, that staying in is actually what makes the world safer.

Given the fact that there are so many other issues around Iran, whether it's Syria, missiles, Hezbollah -- all of that kind of stuff -- at least to have its nuclear program constrained, contained, and eyes on, that is something that they believe is a fundamental need for the safety of the world and the region and they want to keep it.

CUOMO: Now, how do they stay in if the U.S. puts in its sanctions?

Now, we were just talking to U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, just for your own reporting. And interestingly, he said if the U.S. cares so much about Iran's nefarious activities in the region why didn't they use the sanctions power we gave them a year ago to pinch Iran's activities in that area?

But let's say they do the sanctions right now. That will hurt the European allies. It will hurt Iran, also.

Can they sustain an agreement with that kind of pressure applied by the United States?

AMANPOUR: The answer is no. If the United States decides to punish Europe for dealing with Iran at the same time those European companies also want to deal with the United States, no.

The whole deal will collapse because there's no business to be had and Europe will find itself punished economically and also banned from all sorts of financial and banking and other instruments that the United States leverages. And, you know, it's the strongest economy in the world.

To that point, again, there's a big gap building up between Europe and the United States.

Today, the French foreign minister said the U.S. sanctions have such a global reach that it makes the United States the economic policemen of the world and that, for us, is no longer acceptable.

So now you're opening a whole new can of worms of a division between Europe and the United States. Not over Iran and the security, but over finances and economics and where America's role is.

And look, I think the most important question really, Chris, is what -- as you asked, what next?

And I think that you can trace -- if Iran breaks out to a nuclear weapons program or, indeed, if there's another war related to Iran this time in the Middle East, you can actually trace it to the decision by President Trump and the presentation by Bibi Netanyahu this last week because that's exactly what happened.

We've seen this movie before 17 years ago when President George W. Bush pulled out of the Clinton-negotiated nuclear deal with North Korea. And what it did was bring us to a North Korea with nuclear weapons, with intercontinental ballistic missiles that it has today.

CUOMO: So let's get your take on the state of play going forward. Obviously, having people in Iran chanting "Death to America" and burning a flag only emboldens the Trump administration's position on this as proof of what we're dealing with as a threat there -- the United States.

Bibi Netanyahu pulling out facts and an obvious reality of an existential threat that exists from Iran to Israel emboldens the president.

And then there's the other piece of North Korea. The Trump administration argues North Korea will respect this move and know that this administration only makes deals that will hold and that are good for them and you're not going to get an end run around us. This will embolden the chances of a good deal with North Korea.

What's your take on all those pieces?

AMANPOUR: Well, let's just take the North Korea piece first. That's a minority view.

People do not believe that a U.S. president of the United States, which gives its word and negotiates in good faith -- and this negotiation and agreement has been in compliance for the last two years -- to unilaterally have one party pull out and then seek to make the same deal, but it will have to be a better deal because North Korea actually has nuclear weapons, it actually has intercontinental ballistic missiles so it will have to a much stronger, much more robust deal.

There are many in the security and foreign policy establishment all over the world who believe that the United -- the United States' credibility is shot on this issue right now. We'll wait to see.

CUOMO: Well, Christiane, thank you very much.

There are a lot of question marks. All we know for now is the situation has changed. How will President Trump play it to the United States' advantage?

We'll see, Christiane, and we'll come right back to you when we learn more because nobody will help us more.

And, congratulations on the new additional duty for you at PBS -- congratulations.


CUOMO: All right. We're following a lot of new, my friends. What do you say?