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Michael Avenatti Talks About New Information That Links Michael Cohen to a Russian Oligarch. Three Americans Imprisoned in North Korea Have Been Released and the Background of How They Were Detained. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 08:30   ET

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


[08:33:40] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, big news out of North Korea. President Trump just tweeted moments ago, I'm pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the three wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong-un. Date and place set.

We're going to have more on this in just moments.

But, Alisyn, this is news that families have been waiting for. A big development.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. That's great news for the families and, of course, President Trump delivered a tease there about what else to look for. So we will follow that.

Meanwhile, Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, claims that he has learned of a series of payments to President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, after the 2016 election. And this includes a half a million dollar payment from the U.S. affiliate of a Russian oligarch's company.

And Michael Avenatti joins us live now.

Michael, great to see you.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: Can you help -- this is dense stuff for everybody, OK, so can you help connect the dots, if there are any. What is the connection between this Russian oligarch and the payment from Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels?

AVENATTI: Well, Michael Cohen, in October of 2016, set up a company by the name of Essential Consultants LLC. He then set up a bank account at First Republic Bank for the purposes of operating this LLC. In connection with that, he lied to the bank about a number of things relating to the purpose of that account.

[08:35:13] CAMEROTA: He said it was for real estate investment, I believe, and consulting.

AVENATTI: Right. And he also provided other assurances to -- to the bank relating to the type of financial transactions that were going to be handled in connection with that account, which were false and proved to be false ultimately. He subsequently made the $130,000 payment to my client by wire transfer out of that account. He then proceed to accept money into that account from a whole host of corporate interests, including an entity with very close ties to this Russian oligarch.

Now, that entity is trying to distance themselves from the oligarch last night and this morning. That's going to prove to be a bunch of nonsense. They claim that they have nothing to do with this company by the name of Renova, which is a multinational Russian --

CAMEROTA: Let me pull it up for everybody just so they can flow chart it themselves. So Viktor Vekselberg owns Renova, which you just mentioned, which is a -- has a U.S. affiliate called Columbus Nova, which paid Michael Cohen half a million dollars. So there it is. That connection.

AVENATTI: Right. And Columbus Nova is now trying to -- the U.S. entity is trying to distance themselves from this and claim they have nothing to do with Renova or the oligarch, which is ultimately going to be proven to be false. And people need to ask themselves, I mean, what -- why is the continued cover-up going on here and why is this company being so slick as it relates to coming clean about what this money was for?

CAMEROTA: What's your source that the Russian oligarch paid this, that ultimately ended up in Michael Cohen's bank account?

AVENATTI: Well, we're not -- we're not going to disclose our source this morning. But here's what I will say, we have multiple media organizations as of this morning. CNN, "The New York Times," NBC News and others that have verified the veracity or accuracy of what we released yesterday.

CAMEROTA: And, in fact, it's CNN's reporting that Robert Mueller pulled this Russian oligarch aside at an airport, his investigators, to ask him about this payment. So it's our reporting, sure, yes. I just wanted to see if it was -- what your source was because there's speculation that it's some sort of suspicious bank activity document (INAUDIBLE).

AVENATTI: Well, look, just like -- just like you don't disclose your sources, I'm not going to disclose my sources because that's my work product. But CNN independently reported, you're correct, that -- that Mueller's team questioned this oligarch about these payments. And there's multiple payments totaling approximately a half a million dollars.

CAMEROTA: What is your evidence that Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch, directed this payment? Because, as you know, the U.S. affiliate, Columbus Nova, says, no connection to that Russian oligarch. AVENATTI: Well --

CAMEROTA: So how do you know he directed the payment?

AVENATTI: Well, they've said all kinds of things that make no sense. They're distancing themselves for some reason -- and I think it's pretty obvious -- from the entity.

Look, we have evidence that Viktor was involved relating to the direction of this payment and the money to Michael Cohen.

And here's the larger question in my view that -- as of this morning, what happened to that money and what happened to all of these other monies that came into this account that Michael Cohen set up? Where did that money go? Did some of it --

CAMEROTA: Maybe it's still in the account?

AVENATTI: Well, no. And we know for a fact that it's not all still in the account. So did that money go to Michael Cohen? Did it go to the president? Did it go to the Trump Organization? Did it go someplace else? What happened to that money?

CAMEROTA: But in terms of the connection to Stormy Daniels, she was paid before this money came into the account. So are you suggesting that somehow a Russian oligarch was reimbursing Michael Cohen for that payment?

AVENATTI: What I am suggesting is, is that that may, in fact, be the case, because according to our investigation, those are the first dollars that come into this account following the payment to Stormy Daniels.

And, again, the president and Michael Cohen have been all over the map relating to the reimbursement of this $130,000.

But, Alisyn, let me just say this. All of this can be clarified and cleaned up very, very easily. Michael Cohen should release the bank statements from this account -- we're only talking about 18 months' worth of bank statements -- release them publicly to the American people, along with the supporting documentation, and let people decide whether there was anything improper here or not. And -- and if he doesn't do that today or promptly, that should tell people something, namely, that this is part of a continued cover-up.

CAMEROTA: But just help me understand your thinking. Why does a Russian oligarch care about Stormy Daniels?

AVENATTI: Well, I think a Russian oligarch cares about currying favor with the president of the United States. And I also think that it's impatiently improper for Michael Cohen to be selling access to the president of the United States. We're talking about the president of the United States here. And here you have Michael Cohen, his right hand attorney, who appears to have been selling access to the Russians, to foreign -- other foreign entities --

CAMEROTA: I mean --

AVENATTI: And to multinational corporations.

CAMEROTA: I -- I hear you. But just to be clear, you -- what you call selling access, Michael Cohen calls consulting. And that's not illegal. He can consult with anyone he wants without offering insights into what he knows about Donald Trump and the Trump administration.

AVENATTI: Well, you know, Alisyn, I'm just -- I'm just a lawyer. And -- and Mr. Giuliani calls me an ambulance chaser, which I'm offended by it. But let's just assume that's true, which it's not.

[08:40:06] Michael Cohen, however, evidently this guy is a lawyer, he's a real estate agent, he's an accountant, he's a doctor, he's a business -- a business accountant.

CAMEROTA: He's a doctor? How did he become a doctor?

AVENATTI: Well, evidently Novartis hired him to consult on health care matters. I mean this guy is a multi-talent -- multi-talented guy. Evidently he's like the Leonardo Da Vinci of our time. Who knew?

CAMEROTA: Michael Avenatti, great to see you. Thank you very much for coming in and telling us all of this.

AVENATTI: Thank you. Good to see you.

CAMEROTA: We'll see you again.

AVENATTI: Appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Chris?

CUOMO: All right, in the midst of all of this, there is big breaking news going on out of North Korea. President Trump tweeting that three Americans in prison in North Korea have been released. They're on their way home with the new secretary of state and he gave us details about what's coming next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: Breaking news out of North Korea. President Trump tweeting just moments ago that three detained Americans have been released.

Let's get to CNN's Abby Phillip live at the White House.

Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Chris.

This is really breaking news and really important news on the front of the president's upcoming meeting with North Korea. He sent his CIA director, Mike Pompeo, to North Korea under the cover of secrecy in the last several days and Pompeo is now on his way back to the United States with those three Americans who have been detained in North Korea for months.

[08:45:15] Here's what the president tweeted. I'm please to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with three wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Also good meeting with Kim Jong-un. Date and place set. That's for that meeting with Kim Jong-un.

He also added that Secretary Pompeo and his guests will be landing at Andrews Air Force Base at 2:00 a.m. in the morning. I will be there to greet them.

Now, the president is -- has been waiting for it seems these detainees to be released in an effort to get some good faith efforts from the North Koreans on the table before agreeing to that meeting. But now we know that they really have hammered out a final date and time for this meeting. The president didn't reveal exactly what that would be. But that's likely to be coming out very shortly.

Two of those Americans who were detained in North Korea had been detained in the last year, in the first few months of President Trump's administration, amid really high tensions with North Korea over their nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The third American had been detained months prior under a previous administration. But all three are now coming home to the United States.

A lot of folks wondered, as these talks were going on with North Korea, what would the United States require in order to agree to sit the president of the United States down with the North Korean leader. Clearly this is at least one of the things that they required. We don't know yet what else might be on the table, but North Korea has also done several other things, agreeing to shut down a test site, agreeing to stop missile tests as part of the process of trying to get this meeting on the books.

Chris and Alisyn, there's a lot more to this story that I'm sure we'll be getting soon. But, clearly, this is a major victory for this administration and a major victory for this president who has wanted to solve this problem, something that he knows that none of his predecessors have been able to do.

Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes, a major victory for the U.S. and, obviously, for these detainees' families.

So thank you very much for all of the breaking news from there. Abby, come back to us as you have any more details.

SO what will this release of the imprisoned Americans mean for the upcoming summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un? We discuss this major breaking news, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [08:51:26] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: And we do have breaking news right now.

President Trump tweeting moments ago that three detained Americans have been released from North Korea. They are now on their way home. And President Trump says he will meet them when they arrive in the U.S. at about 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

So let's discuss with CNN military and diplomatic analyst John Kirby and CNN's Will Ripley, who has traveled to North Korea 17 times.

John Kirby, let's just start with your reaction to the president's news.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, terrific. Absolutely significant news and good for those families, good for those three Americans. This is what we would call at the State Department a CBM, a confidence building measure, obviously baked into the plan to agree to have Trump sit down with Kim Jong-un. So you saw that Kim didn't react to the exercises. Kim hasn't done any launches and now Kim has released these three Americans, all part of an orchestrated framework to get to the summit.

So obviously good news and certainly indicative of the fact that Kim Jong-un is taking this summit seriously, that the North Koreans really are serious about wanting to sit down.

It does not, Alisyn, mean that the summit will be successful or that we'll have peace in our time or that Korea will -- North Korea will immediately denuclearize. It does mean they're serious about the summit, though.

CUOMO: Will, you talked to one of the people who was just released. What did you learn about why he was there, what kind of person he was and just how hard and fast the Korean grip was on him and the others?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I was in North Korea just after one of their nuclear tests in early 2016 and Kim Dong-chul was presented to us. It was a complete surprise. At that point nobody knew that a U.S. citizen was even in custody and he had already been in jail for several months at that time. He gave me a really detailed confession about espionage, saying that he was smuggling information out of North Korea to activist groups in South Korea.

I don't know at that time -- and frankly I still don't know -- whether that confession was made under duress. It was interesting they made him speak in Korean when he was talking to me, even though he did speak some English. We believe that might be because people in the next room were listening and writing down every word that he said. Obviously all the rooms in North Korea are bugged.

Clearly he's been serving hard labor. The other two who were detained in the spring of last year hadn't actually been formally charged yet, so they might have been held in the equivalent of the jail as opposed to the hard labor correctional facility. But, obviously, none of these three men were in very good conditions,

even though President Trump saying their health is good. Clearly their families and they are certainly going to be happy that they're coming home right now.

CAMEROTA: And so the larger implication, John Kirby, does this mean to you that Donald Trump has won over Kim Jong-un on some level?

KIRBY: No. No, it doesn't mean that at all to me. It means that Kim is serious about sitting down with President Trump and certainly this is what -- this is what we're getting in return for giving them a big concession, which is having a president of the United States sit down with the North Korean dictator, which is unprecedented. So this is a transaction and we need to look at it that way. It is obviously great news, and I don't mean to diminish that, but it is a transaction that gets us to the summit and it doesn't guarantee anything beyond that.

CUOMO: Hey, look, if we're going to talk about people who are being held, I'll shed some clouds on this. You know, the Trump administration deserves kudos for this, just like with Otto Warmbier. I mean they got people home that were not able -- that was not able to be done by the Obama administration. Two of these guys were taken under your watch with the Obama administration, John Kirby. But there are people being held in Iran. And now that they're angry about what's happening with the deal, doesn't this necessarily negatively impact the chance of getting them back?

[08:55:00] KIRBY: It does, actually, Chris. That's a great point to bring out. I mean the Iran deal getting scrapped yesterday means that the Revolutionary Guard and those that are holding those five Americans in Iran are not going to be necessarily inclined to look for their release or to try to work for their release and it's going to be much more difficult for this administration to negotiate their release because we have violated now a commitment, an international commitment, that we made. So I have to wonder that the families that are -- the families of those five Americans are looking at today's events obviously very, very bittersweet for them because it means probably that it's going to be much harder for their loved ones to get to come home.

CAMEROTA: Very quickly, Will, the president has tweet that when this plane with these three American detainees lands at Andrew Air Force base at 2:00 a.m., he will be there to greet them. Obviously he says very exciting and their families agree, we can only imagine. Have you -- what do you think that they are -- from having covered this, their families are thinking right now?

RIPLEY: Well, obviously, the last few days have been excruciating for the families. Remember, it was less than a week ago that I spoke with an official who told me this release was eminent and that the North Koreans had actually decide two months ago they were going to do this. But, at that time, the U.S. said, we're not going to conflate the nuclear -- the denuclearization issue with the release of these Americans. This is a goodwill, good faith gesture ahead of the summit, but it's not going to get any nuclear concessions on the part of the United States. Apparently those are the details they were working out. But it has been truly extraordinary to listen to the press reports

coming out of Pompeo's visit in Pyongyang, going from threatening each other with nuclear annihilation to they had a lunch today where they were toasting each other and Secretary Pompeo saying that the North Koreans have been great partners in arranging this summit. It's just truly extraordinary turn of developments.

CUOMO: And let's just remember, this is the end for us in terms of waiting for them to be brought home. It's just the beginning for them. They were under horrible conditions, emotionally, physically. This is going to be a tough road for them and their families, so we'll be sensitive to that.

CAMEROTA: OK, Will Ripley, John Kirby, thank you very much for the insight.

All right, CNN "NEWSROOM" with John Berman and Poppy Harlow is going to pick up right after the break.

Please stay with CNN.