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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Israel and Iran Exchange Fire; Selling Presidential Access; Giuliani: Trump Wasn't Aware Cohen Pitched Access to President. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 10, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:04]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Interesting decision, copying Nixon almost word for word.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Wrap it up. Vice President Pence now pressuring the special counsel to end the Russia investigation, as CNN gets new details on Michael Cohen's aggressive pitch to sell access to President Trump. Where does all this money lead?

Well, that escalated quickly. Hours after President Trump pulled out of the Iran deal, the world scrambling to prevent a major Middle East war, with Iran and Israel trading missiles and rockets.

Plus, from tearing up the Iran deal to welcoming home three Americans once held prisoner in North Korea, President Trump is shaking up the world. Are we now seeing the Trump that his supporters put in office?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead today.

The president has called it a witch-hunt time and time again. Vice President Pence has previously generally avoided criticism of or pressuring the special counsel, in keeping with his law and order position.

On October 28, 2016, lest we forget, Pence tweeted -- quote -- "Donald Trump and I commend the FBI for reopening an investigation into Clinton's personal e-mail server because no one is above the law." No one is above the law.

But now Vice President Pence seems to possibly have taken on a different view, for the first time asserting the investigation has gone on too long and it needs to end, with nary a mention of the point of the investigation, to see if Americans aided the Russian government in its attempt to interfere in the 2016 election, nor any mention by Vice President Pence of the five guilty pleas, one person sentenced, 23 defendants, and 75 criminal charges in all that Robert Mueller's investigation has yielded so far.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us.

And, Kaitlan, the vice president now seemingly following the president's lead in trying to pressure Mueller to end the investigation. It seems like this is a signal of a new phase for the White House.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it certainly some new phrasing.

Vice President Mike Pence is someone who, if at all, rarely comments on the Mueller investigation, which is why his comment today as they were welcoming those freed Americans home was just so newsworthy.

Now, he doesn't normally say something like this. And, to be clear, he is echoing what the president and other White House officials have said in the past. It is the same message, but very different language.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Vice President Mike Pence calling for the end of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation for the first time Thursday.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.

COLLINS: As others have noted, his words echo President Nixon in 1974, one year into Watergate.

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have provided to the special prosecutor voluntarily a great deal of material.

PENCE: Our administration's provided over a million documents.

NIXON: I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end.

PENCE: We have fully cooperated in it, and in the interest of the country, I think it's time to wrap it up.

COLLINS: Pence also distancing the White House from the legal scandals engulfing President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen.

PENCE: What I can say is that that private matter is something I don't have any knowledge about, and I think the White House issued a statement saying the same.

COLLINS: Instead focusing on Trump's foreign policy moves with this made-for-TV moment, Trump, with Pence by his side, greeting three Americans freed from North Korea on the tarmac before dawn, before going on network morning shows to praise his boss for securing their release.

PENCE: It's all a direct result of the strong and clear leadership that President Trump... COLLINS: In a parade of interviews, Pence making clear he wants to keep the focus off the president's scandals at home and on his potential achievements abroad.

PENCE: President Trump found a way to communicate in terms, I believe, that Kim Jong-un could finally hear. He could hear that this president was serious about achieving the objective that has alluded the world community for a quarter century. I think we sent a pretty strong message to Iran this week when the president made the decision to withdraw from their Iran nuclear deal.

COLLINS: But as Pence was on air defending Trump, he was taking a broadside from a fellow conservative, columnist George Will, who lambasted Pence today, calling him "America's most repulsive public figure," writing: "Trump is what he is, a floundering, inarticulate jumble of gnawing securities and not at all compensating vanities, which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be, which is horrifying."

Pence seems to be brushing off the criticism, keeping his eye on the upcoming summit of the president and Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

[16:05:02]

PENCE: I think the president senses an opening that may result in a historic agreement.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, it is hard to ignore the backdrop there.

Vice President Mike Pence is at that Air Force base with the president welcoming back those freed Americans. He's trying to keep the focus on North Korea and the Iran deal, but he's still having to answer for the scandals that are facing the Trump administration, the Mueller investigation and what's going on with Michael Cohen.

Now, he and the president will appear tonight at a rally in Pence's home state of Indiana together -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House, thank you so much.

My political panel joins me now.

David, I want to read another line from George F. Will's scathing op- ed. And this is a conservative. If this was from a liberal, I would not be reading this. But this is from a fellow conservative.

The op-ed is titled "Trump is no longer the worst person in government." Obviously, he's not a fan of the president.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: But he writes...

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What does he really think?

TAPPER: "Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America's most repulsive public figure."

What do you make of this broadside against the vice president?

URBAN: Look, I think it's completely unfounded.

The vice president is a really solid man, a great politician, a great -- he's a great public servant. He's doing a great thing for this country.

George Will's ad hominem attack is uncalled for. It's unkind. It's unfair. I mean, I could go on and on. George Will's never a fan of this president to begin with, so for him to write something like this is not surprising. But to be really so mean-spirited about the whole thing is quite surprising and not very nice at all.

TAPPER: It's certainly not nice.

URBAN: Needless to say.

TAPPER: No one's going to dispute that. I don't think George F. Will would dispute that, that it's not nice.

Kirsten Powers, George Will refers to Pence as -- quote -- "governing by groveling."

Take a listen to some of the things the vice president has said about the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: I'm deeply humbled, as your vice president, to be able to be here.

Thank you for those kind words, but, more importantly, thank you for your leadership.

And in President Donald Trump, I think the United States once again has a president whose vision, energy, and can-do spirit is reminiscent of President Teddy Roosevelt.

It's the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president to a president who literally embodies American leadership. The book is entitled "The Art of the Deal." And it's actually an American classic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I don't think he provided an Amazon link.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: American classic.

(LAUGHTER) TAPPER: But -- yes, "Art of the Deal," an American classic, right up there with "Huckleberry Finn."

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Now, vice presidents generally praise presidents and are somewhat obsequious. It's an American tradition.

URBAN: It's the job.

TAPPER: It's an American tradition.

POWERS: Right.

TAPPER: But has he taken it too far?

POWERS: Yes. I think he has taken it too far.

And George's a very principled person. He's somebody who has obviously been observing politics for a very long time. And I have to laugh, I'm sorry, when I hear a Trump supporter complaining about people being mean and unkind.

(LAUGHTER)

URBAN: Shocking.

POWERS: Yes, because, look, he's a columnists, and sometimes columnists have to be tough and they have to, you know, really go after people.

And I think it's pretty clear that he feels that Pence has gone to the dark side and that it's kind of pathetic. And we have to also mention the excellent use of the word lickspittle.

TAPPER: Lickspittle.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: It wouldn't be a George F. Will column if I didn't have to look up something.

(LAUGHTER)

URBAN: Yes. Look, it's clear that he thinks that the vice president's jumped the shark politically, and I just think he's wrong.

The vice president is out there doing what vice presidents do on the stump, you know, week in and week out, selling the president's message, sticking to the message, and doing a very good job.

TAPPER: Speaking of the Russia probe, which we were, because that's Vice President Pence talking...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Great segue.

TAPPER: ... talking for an end to it, and politicians changing their tune, because he is talking about nobody's above the law, but now he's -- when it was Hillary Clinton. But now he's like, wrap it up.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Yes.

TAPPER: Earlier this week, Rudy Giuliani, the president's new lawyer, was asked if the president would comply if Mueller issued a subpoena for him to testify. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: What happens if Robert Mueller subpoenas the president? Will you comply?

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Well, we don't have to. He's the president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "We don't have. He's the president of the United States."

Well, 2018 Giuliani, I want to introduce you to 1998 Giuliani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: OK. If the president is asked to testify, subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, and says, no, not going to do it?

GIULIANI: You got to do it. I mean, you don't have a choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, obviously, he's talking about Bill Clinton right there.

Isn't this what Americans hate about politics? You don't -- it's not a principle if you only apply it to your opponents.

POWERS: That's right. We have to be honest, though. This happens on both sides.

TAPPER: Oh, of course.

POWERS: Both sides definitely do it. And it is a major problem.

And I think if you even look at Mike Pence, a lot of things that he said about Bill Clinton when he was a radio host at the time, and how he talked about infidelity being the worst thing that's ever happened in the history of the world, and then, you know, with Donald Trump, it's apparently not a problem.

So I think, you know, and with Mike Pence, another thing to mention is, he's an evangelical. And there's a lot of people who would argue that Trump isn't necessarily in a line with a lot of evangelical values.

(CROSSTALK)

[16:10:06]

TAPPER: Not in his actions, at least.

POWERS: And, certainly, if a Democrat had been doing these things, Pence would have been criticizing them. There's no question about it.

So, I think, with Giuliani -- come on, Giuliani -- the reason he chose Giuliani is because Giuliani will say anything, you know? It's not -- he's not looking for somebody who's principled. He's looking for somebody who is scrappy and go out and is going to out and just say whatever he wants.

TAPPER: David, to your credit, you have had the same position on Robert Mueller that I believe you would have if it were a Democratic president.

URBAN: That's correct.

TAPPER: Why is it so difficult for so many other Trump supporters to have that same principle?

URBAN: Listen, I don't -- I can't speak to why they don't think the same way I do.

I think Director Mueller's -- I would say, let's get it moving. I do agree with the vice president. We need to wrap it up. It can't continue on forever and into infinity. I think my guess would be he would be looking to wrap it maybe sometime before the midterms.

I don't want that pall hanging over these elections. I think he needs to wrap it up. And if I was advising the president, as his lawyer, I would say, don't cooperate either. There's no upside for the president in doing this.

TAPPER: In terms of doing an interview.

URBAN: Yes, no upside.

TAPPER: All right, we have a lot more to talk about, especially with you saying that just now, right before we go to break.

Rudy Giuliani is putting some distance between the president and one of his most loyal people. Is President Trump now turning his back on Michael Cohen?

Stick With us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:23] TAPPER: Could the words of Rudy Giuliani come back to haunt his client President Trump? He weighed in on the more than $2 million reportedly paid to Michael Cohen by corporations and investment bank with ties to a Putin crony and Russian oligarch. Giuliani told CNN today that the president did not know about these payments and that the president did not know Cohen was aggressively pitching his access to President Trump.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now.

And, Sara, President Trump, he promised to drain the swamp. Cohen being the president's lawyer/fixer while also simultaneously allegedly pitching himself as Mr. Access and Influence, I have to say that's one of the swampiest things I ever heard.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's because it is a swampy thing. And, look, yes, Democrats and Republicans alike have done this when their party is in power, but as you pointed out, Donald Trump ran on promising he would drain the swamp and then his personal lawyer saw an opportunity and our sources say would go to clients, potential clients and say, I'm the closest one to him. I'm his personal lawyer, hire me, fire these other guys. He promised access to the White House.

And one of the things I think is telling is that even though Giuliani has now said that Donald Trump did not know that Cohen was pitching access, the White House won't say anything about this. So, you have a president who ran on this pledge, on this promise, and the White House won't address whether, you know, Cohen brought the private business to President Trump, whether he is hanging around the White House. They don't want to answer these questions.

TAPPER: And, Sara, Giuliani just resigned from his law firm to work full-time in Washington. And now that law firm is taking issue with Giuliani's recent defense of Michael Cohen's payment to Stormy Daniels. Help us explain this.

MURRAY: Well, sure. Let's go back do how Giuliani downplayed or dismissed these payments originally. Listen to what he said on FOX News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do out of his law firm funds or whatever funds, it doesn't matter.

Like I take care of things like this for my clients. I don't burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Now, apparently, Giuliani's law firm disagrees with that approach as you pointed out. Giuliani officially resigned. Apparently this whole negotiating with Mueller thing is going to take longer than he expected and his law firm, Greenburg, put out a statement in which they said they can't speak for Mr. Giuliani with respect to what was intended by his remarks, but speaking for ourselves, we would not condone payments of the nature alleged to have been made or otherwise without the knowledge or direction of a client, i.e., it is not the standard practice to just run around cutting checks without the client knowing about it.

TAPPER: All right. Good to know. Sara Murray, thanks so much.

My panel is back with me.

Jeffrey Toobin is now joining us.

And, Jeffrey, let me start with you. According to a Republican strategist, Cohen would tell prospective clients when he was pitching himself, something like this, quote: I don't know who's been representing you but you should fire them all. I'm the guy you should hire. I'm closest to the president. I'm his personal lawyer.

Now, some corporations now acknowledging they paid Cohen through this shell corporation, this LLC, Essential Consultants.

Although this all looks very swampy, I guess the question is, is it legal?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Totally legal. This is the scandal. You know, one of my mentors in journalism was Michael Kinsley and he had something that he calls Kinsley's law. Kinsley's law is, the scandal isn't what's illegal. The scandal is what's legal.

The scandal is what society chooses not to punish. Welcome to K Street. It's full of ex-administration officials, ex-cong -- what do you think Trent Lott does for a living?

TAPPER: Are you allowed to simultaneously work for the politician that you're promising access to while also selling access?

TOOBIN: But he wasn't -- was he working for the politician? I mean, I --

TAPPER: He was working for Trump as a fixer per se, the Trump Organization.

TOOBIN: You know, I mean, look, Donald Trump is -- he comes from a different background. But the idea that someone who has proximity to a legislator, to an executive branch official, can go lobby that person, this is what makes Washington work.

TAPPER: Yes.

TOOBIN: This is what Washington is such a sewer. But, you know, I'm shocked that everyone's so shocked.

TAPPER: Today, Rudy Giuliani told CNN's Dana Bash that the president did not know, Kirsten, of Cohen's cash flow or that Cohen was pitching his access to Trump. Cohen had an office near Trump's in Trump Tower. Do you believe Giuliani?

POWERS: I mean -- all things being equal, I wouldn't believe Giuliani but I think that even if Trump didn't know specifically what was happening, he certainly conceptually would think that it would be happening as we just heard, this is pretty common place.

[16:20:06] Trump obviously would see that his -- the people around him are going to try to make money off of their proximity to him. So I don't know if it was all broken down into specifics, but he had to have an idea this was happening.

And I do agree that this is sort of the way Washington operates but you are typically required to register at least if you're lobbying. Was he just giving them advice and which case does seem on the up and up, or was he actually arranging meetings and lobbying the government? And so, that would change the dynamics.

TAPPER: David, you know K Street a little bit.

URBAN: Yes. So, a few points, right? Jake, the profession of lobbying is also protected like --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Sure.

URBAN: -- by the First Amendment, right? The last sentence is the right for citizens to petition the government for redress of grievances, to the First Amendment. Must be pretty important.

So, for Jeff saying it's a swampiest, most disgusting, despicable profession other than journalism, I might buy that.

Second, you know, there is a problem in Washington of shadow lobbying, right? That's been taking place as Jeffrey points out --

TAPPER: People not registering to lobby.

URBAN: Yes, it goes back a long way. You know, Dick Gephardt, John Breaux. You know, lots of people, Trent Lott, others. And that is a problem. There is no transparency.

You know, there's open source, open secrets is a lobbying database. Type somebody's name, a client, you could see what they're paid for, how much they're paid. And that's really the problem here, right, is there's a lack of transparency. It's a black box. Money went in.

And, look, if you look at Cohen's pitch, I'm the best, closest guy to the president, if you're a sophisticated company, that's probably not going to sell you the day. I'm quite surprised that these folks signed up and paid as much money as they did.

TAPPER: Someone paying as much $100,000 a month.

Jeffrey, go ahead. Let me get Jeffrey's response.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: No, I mean, I'm so moved that James Madison wrote the First Amendment to protect the sleaze bags on K Street.

URBAN: Hey.

TOOBIN: But the idea that the only problem is transparency, no. The problem is that if you have money in the United States you can buy access through lobbying. Lobbying is a disgusting profession, that is legal, but the idea that the only problem here is transparency is no. It's the problem is --

URBAN: Jeff?

TOOBIN: -- you can buy influence and access --

URBAN: Jeff, why is that a problem? If you go, if you can make a cogent argument, so you're saying all pollutions are corrupt.

POWERS: No, the problem is --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: What you're saying.

TAPPER: Let Kirsten.

URBAN: You're saying if you get access to a politician, somehow they change their mind and somehow -- yes?

POWERS: The problem is the average person doesn't have $1.2 million laying around, for example, to pay somebody to do nothing apparently, right? I mean, I think that he was helpful and then decided just to keep paying it for reason.

TAPPER: Some of the companies said that they didn't get really anything out of the deal.

URBAN: The average person can come to Capitol Hill and lobbying their congressman.

POWERS: That is an absolute falsehood.

URBAN: Sure. No, it isn't --

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: That is ridiculous and I can't believe you said that.

URBAN: I'll take you and Jeff and we'll go to the Hill. I'll take you on a field trip and we can go.

POWERS: You work here. You know that's ridiculous.

URBAN: No.

TAPPER: One of the things I want to ask you about -- the payment to Cohen that might be most alarming, Jeff Toobin, is the one from Columbus Nova. That's an investment bank. Its founder is cousins with Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg. Vekselberg is close to President Putin. Columbus Nova has denied reports that this was a conduit for reports

to Cohen from Vekselberg. But this might all come full circle one supposes for special counsel Robert Mueller who is looking into Russian interference in the election.

TOOBIN: Collusion. It's -- why are Russians paying money to Michael Cohen? I mean, you know, there's a lot we don't know.

But, you know, we don't have subpoena power. Robert Mueller has subpoena power. He can find out how the money went around.

But, you know, who really paid Stormy Daniels? You know, we have this incoherent explanation from Rudy Giuliani that, you know, I don't know, maybe it was partially true or somewhat true or not true. But we know the money that was going into this account now was from Russians and from corporate interests.

Who really paid the Stormy Daniels settlement?

URBAN: Jeff, are you paying Columbus Nova? Is that what you're saying, Russians paid Stormy Daniels?

TOOBIN: Could be, could be. Who do you think?

URBAN: Michael Cohen.

TAPPER: Michael Cohen. But somebody reimbursed him.

URBAN: Michael Cohen.

TOOBIN: That's the old explanation.

TAPPER: The president reimbursed Cohen.

URBAN: Jeffrey is saying Vladimir Putin paid Stormy Daniels.

TOOBIN: Does it surprise you?

URBAN: That's outrageous is what you're saying Jeff.

TOOBIN: What -- I mean, who was putting money in the account? We don't know --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: You think it's Vladimir Putin.

TOOBIN: We have the story that Donald Trump paying $35,000 a month. Which no one's seen any records of and now seen records that these companies are putting in money. So that's where we know money is coming from. And, you know, the latest Rudy Giuliani comedy tour of explanations --

URBAN: I have great faith in Director Mueller to get to the bottom of that. How about that?

TAPPER: We should disclose, by the way, when I said you know K Street, you are a lobbyist.

URBAN: Registered lobbyist, you can look it up.

TAPPER: Right, but you disclose what you do?

URBAN: Sure. Absolutely. Absolutely.

TAPPER: Does it not raise your eyebrow that is this Russian oligarch has ties to this investment bank and gave Michael Cohen we don't --

URBAN: The question is did Michael Cohen know that? Did they know that there's a Russian oligarch behind Casa Nova.

TAPPER: What was he being paid $500,000 for?

URBAN: I'm not sure, I don't know the answer. What strikes me more amazing is paying $100,000 a month to do nothing.

TAPPER: Yes, no. All very --

TOOBIN: I want that job.

TAPPER: I know. It's a good gig. It is a good gig to not do work and get paid $100,000 a month.

Everyone, stick with us. We got a lot more to talk about.

Missiles and rockets are flying between Iranian forces and Israel just hours after President Trump withdrew from the Iran deal. Why the next few hours could be the difference between stability or war in the Middle East.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Turning to our world lead now: growing fear of all-out war across the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warning that Iran crossed a, quote, red line.