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Report: Cohen Aggressively Pitched Access to Trump; Israel And Iran Strike Each Other After Trump's Iran Decision; Pence Says Time to Wrap Up Mueller Investigation. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 10, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Brooke Baldwin. We begin with Michael: sinking deeper into the swamp. New details reveal more on how President Trump's personal attorney was peddling his access to the president. We now know Michael Cohen received more money than first reported and his sales pitch to several companies was more aggressive than initially known.

The information comes from multiple people familiar with Cohen's conduct in the months following the election. As we learn how Cohen tried to profit off his proximity to the president, the president's new attorney is distancing Trump from Cohen. Rudy Giuliani says the president, quote, wasn't aware of Cohen's pitches. And Giuliani added I'll only get concerned about it if somebody says it involves the president. So far, they're not saying that.

Joining me now we have CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN political correspondent Sarah Murray and I am going to start with CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood. She has the details on how Cohen pitched himself to companies in the months after President Trump was elected. Describe this pitch, Sarah, and also if Cohen was able to make good on it.

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We're hearing Cohen saw an opportunity to cash in after the election and he seized it. Sources said that he presented himself to corporations as someone who could provide insider access to the president. One Republican strategist described his pitch like this, "I don't know who has 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." It's important to remember this was coming at a time when corporations were desperate to make inroads with a new administration, it's an outsider president. It is potentially why Cohen was able to land these big-name clients.

KEILAR: And they thought Hillary Clinton was going to win and she didn't, right, so they found themselves sort of flat-footed, not with the in that they thought they would need there. So, Gloria, it seems like it's widespread practice for high-ranking associates to --


KEILAR: We have seen this in past administrations too, right. Corey Lewandowski did it. Is there something different about Michael Cohen here? BORGER: The question is, was he misrepresenting what he could

provide. We don't know if he was lobbying or providing insight. That's an important legal distinction on whether have to register or doesn't have to register as a lobbyist. We know from Novartis's statement for example which was one of his clients who paid him a ton of money. That after one meeting, they just decided this wasn't worth it. They wanted to know about health care and clearly didn't get the information they wanted, though they had to continue paying him for the rest of his contract because they couldn't fire him, there wasn't any cause to fire him.

Think what you're saying, Sarah, is that Cohen is saying, look, I know how this guy ticks, I can tell you what he's going to like, what he's not going to like, but was he substantive? Did he have substantive conversations with the president with his clients, i.e., did he lobby? One of my sources said not at all, he didn't have substantive conversations with the president.

KEILAR: I wonder how that isn't cause. Seems like great cause to fire someone if they are not delivering.

GLORIA: Depends what you want.

KEILAR: Novartis is trying to distance themselves. This is $100,000 a month they were paying him. Even after I think just one meeting, phone call he had. How are these companies feeling? What are their thoughts on whether he was able to deliver?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think a lot of these companies are embarrassed that they are embroiled with the president's attorney who is now under criminal investigation. Even if there is nothing wrong with these payments. They believe that it looks bad. A number of them have come out and said the services he provided for us were completely legal, they were business consulting, they were legal advice.

A number of them have said we've also said, by the way, we've also heard from Special Counsel Robert Mueller and we're cooperating in that investigation. So, they've ended up in certainly a mess that they did not consider. Look, this really does highlight the desperate state corporate America was in. They said this a guy who knows the president. They didn't care or didn't bother to do their due diligence to see if he knew anything about Washington or policy and companies like Novartis ended up paying a lot of money and apparently didn't get a lot of return on their investment.

KEILAR: Legal but it doesn't mean it's not swampy, right?

MURRAY: Swampy.

KEILAR: I'm going to go with that. Novartis has a top exec who ends up having dinner in Davos with the president. I believe this was a group dinner, right, but at the same time, the appearance, the swampy appearance of that is these payments were preceding that dinner.

[14:05:00] They have tried to say, no, this top exec at the time is not the one who would have OKed the payments, the payments had nothing to do with this but at the same time it doesn't look good.

MURRAY: I also think this is why the reaction we've seen from the White House is so interesting. Sarah Sanders going out there yesterday and saying I'm refusing to talk about anything talking about Michael Cohen. We understand why you don't want to wade into the special counsel investigation, that's why the president has an outside legal team and Michael Cohen has his own set of lawyers, but the question is, is this administration living up to what they promised, which is to say drain the swamp, which is to say this is a president who is not going to be owned by lobbyists, consultants or perhaps his personal lawyer. That's certainly the White House should answer for.

KEILAR: Giuliani said Trump didn't know Cohen was pitching himself this way. CNN reporting shows it was pretty widely known that Cohen was doing this. Raising the president is on this right now?

BORGER: The president isn't going to like people harvesting money off his back. How is this going to affect his relationship with Cohen? We don't know. There are a lot of other extenuating circumstances within that relationship right now. Have you heard of Stormy Daniels? Will this affect their relationship? I think their relationship has already been severed to a degree because of Stormy Daniels. He didn't have a direct line into the president. I don't think he's going to have one now.

KEILAR: Cohen was able to consult because he was not at the White House. It's not because he did not want to be at the White House, right? He wanted to be at the White House, but as we understand it, he was kept away.

WESTWOOD: Right. Our reporting shows he did want a high-level position in the White House but potentially he felt even a little bit personally wounded when Pres. Trump left and behind and moved into the administration. He wasn't a formal part of the campaign, he sometimes served as a media surrogate. But he was always sort of left out of political circle and I think that maybe hurt him a little bit from some of our sourcing.

KEILAR: Does that have anything to do with why we see this play out or no? He was just trying to cash in his sort of the understanding.

MURRAY: We've seen this from so many Trump aides. The notion that it was just Michael Cohen doing this -- again, we've seen this from every administration. Republican, Democratic and if you are someone who worked on the Trump campaign and you did not go into that White House, chances are now in a very lucrative consulting firm here in Washington DC talking about how frequently you speak to the president and how you're happy to make introductions around town. Like it or not, that is how this town still works, even though the president promised to drain the swamp.

BORGER: But that's lobbying. To me was Michael Cohen lobbying or was he saying sit down and let me tell you a little bit about Donald Trump and this is how you ought to approach him.

MURRAY: Or let me introduce you here and there. BORGER: Exactly.

KEILAR: Or maybe selling a false bill of goods at least we are hearing now from some these companies. Thank you very. I really enjoyed this discussion.

We have some breaking news, days after President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, two enemies erupt in the most direct confrontation yet, both sides trading a barrage of missile fire. CNN has reporters on the ground. We'll bring you the latest on that.

Also, multiple failures. The Pentagon revealing its investigation on what went wrong in Niger and the ambush that led to the death of four Americans, who is to blame and why did it take so long to locate the body of Sergeant La David Johnson? And it might be the most brutal take down of Vice President Mike Pence. Why one high-profile conservative writer says Trump is no longer the worst person in government. We'll discuss next.


KEILAR: A barrage of rockets and missiles. You can see them streaking across the sky in this picture here. It's just marked the most direct confrontation to date between Israel and Iran. This comes less than two days after the U.S. withdrew from the deal to curb Iran's nuclear program. Israel has released a map claiming it destroyed these targets here on this map, representing almost all of Iran's military capabilities in Syria, this after what it says was an Iranian missile attack on the Golan Heights, considered Israeli occupied territory. We have Frederick Pleitgen for us from Tehran. Oren, to you first. Talk us through what has happened in the past 24 hours.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, this all started shortly after midnight when Israeli military says Iranian forces in Syria right here behind me fired off some 20 rockets at Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights not far from where I am standing right now. Some of those rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system, some of them the military says didn't even make it into territory here and fell in Syria. We came here standing in almost this exact same position a short time later to see the Israeli response and that was some of the video you showed just a moment ago.

[14:15:00] Israeli surface-to-surface missiles. We saw those fired and launched and hit in Syria behind us, as well as artillery fire that echoed across the valley here. We saw the Syrians firing anti- aircraft fire to try to down some of those missiles. All in an incredible volatile, active few hours here overnight here even right up until the sun rose in that back-and-forth. Israel holds Iran responsible for that fire. As you pointed out, fired at dozens of Iranian sites in Syria that includes intelligence compounds, command and control headquarters, as well as rocket launchers.

A very different picture as the day progressed here. This deceptive quiet is a far cry from what we saw last night but now it's the international community stepping in to make sure this de-escalates. As you point out this is the first direct confrontation between Israel and Iran and there is a fear this could go very much worse and the word war has been used here. But the U.S. has stepped in, Russia has stepped in urging both Israel and Iran to show restraint, to take a step back, essentially to back off here.

The U.S., and this is no surprise, siding firmly with Israel saying Israel has a right to self-defense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying whoever tries to strike Israel will be struck back seven-fold. It is quiet. You can see that behind me, but that tension is still in the air and it can still go either way here. It wasn't even 24 hours ago that this all began.

KEILAR: Fred, Tehran has vowed retaliation for two other recent Israeli strikes that killed at least 13 Iranian nationals. This is entirely unexpected. What is Iran saying now after this?

FREDERICK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the interesting thing is that the Iranians aren't saying anything. It seems as though they're struggling to come up with any sort of explanation as to what might have happened there yesterday not just in the Golan Heights but on Syrian territory as well. We've been watching Iranian state media and to get in touch with officials to see if there would be an explanation.

Even on Iranian state media they were saying there were Israeli strikes on to Syrian territory, hinting that they might be strikes between Syria and Israel. They said the Israelis did hold the Iranians accountable but at no point did they say the Iranians made any official statement. Now it's very, very late in the evening here and there's still nothing official coming out of Tehran. For attacks in the past, the Iranians have vowed there would be retaliation. The folks here are very, very concerned.

This is just a day and a half after president Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement. We've been going around Tehran for the better part of the day. The people say they're very concerned about the fact that they now don't only have even more economic isolation internationally of their country, but it seems as though on the front in the middle east things are heating up as well.

KEILAR: Fred Pleitgen and Oren Liebermann, thank you for your reports. I want to bring and now Jamie Rubin, he is a former Assistant Secretary of State, he is also a contributing editor of "Politico." So, this is, Jamie, the most direct confrontation that we've seen to date. What's your reaction to it?

JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: This is the beginnings of a potential war. I think we do need to realize while all the diplomatic to and fro has been going on over the disagreement, slowly and steadily over the last couple of years Iran has been developing an actual military capability in Syria. The Israeli have has finally responded. This is a big blow for the Iranians. I think what it tells us, and I think we should really think about this, imagine if Iran had a nuclear weapon right now, Israel would not be able to do this. The reason the Israelis care so much about stopping an Iranian nuclear

weapon is because if Iran had a nuclear weapon the way Israeli has a nuclear weapon, both sides would be deterred from getting into a conventional battle.

Right now, so long as Israel has a monopoly, so long as the Iranians don't have this weapon, Israel can use its jets, use its surface-to- air missiles, use its conventional superiority and prevent Iran from getting a base in Syria, which tells you stopping Iran from going nuclear should be our highest priority, which is why those of us in the diplomatic community cannot understand why we would pull out of a deal like this.

KEILAR: Pulling out of the deal, is that a factor of the timing as you see it of what happened here?

[14:20:00] RUBIN: I think what you're going to see Israel wanted to show it would respond to an Iranian step. The Iranians are less likely to be restrained because they know the United States is not in the agreement anyway.

It's hard to know exactly who caused what, but I think what's absolutely clear is if Iran goes back into the nuclear arms business the way it was going just a few years ago, Israel's security will be severely damaged. It won't be able to do what it did in the last 24 hours with the freedom and the knowledge it doesn't face a real threat from Iran. That's why this is so important, that's why it's so illogical to allow Iran now to go back in the nuclear business. That's what we can't understand.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about North Korea. We've seen the release of these three detainees overnight. The president now, we are looking toward the summit with Kim Jong un and the possibilities there for progress or perhaps not. Even the president himself has said that. When you look at these developments, at the potential promise of the summit, do you see this as something as a real breakthrough?

RUBIN: It's very hard to predict what's going to happen because we know so little about Kim Jong un and I used to be in the arms-control business in the days of the Soviet Union and people at those times didn't believe that Gorbachev, who ran the Soviet Union, was going to give up all his weapons and give up the soviet power so we have to be careful. It's possible Kim Jong un will do that and say the nuclear weapons aren't getting me anything for my people, I'm going to disarm.

That's possible. But if he acts as his father as acted and his father before him acted the last 40 years, then I don't expect an agreement to happen any time soon. It will be a breaking of the ice that for the first time an American and North Korean leader will meet and perhaps they can start the process. But we got to get past the hype and past the hoopla and look at the substance.

And right now, North Korea has what they've never had before, which is nuclear weapons and probably ballistic missile that can launch them all the way to the United States. That's what's been happening over the last year. That's why this is so important and if we don't get that reversed in a concrete way, not a promise, but a real wait, then all this talk about a breakthrough will turn out to be a disaster.

KEILAR: It is a lofty goal. Jamie Rubin, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

And next it is time to wrap it up, wrap up that Russia probe. That message from Vice President Mike Pence to Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his most direct comments yet to end the investigation. Also, scathing words from one conservative columnist. Why he says Pence is now worse than Trump.


KEILAR: Vice President Pence is echoing what we've been hearing from a lot of president Trump and his lawyers. Pence is now urging Special Counsel Robert Mueller to hurry up and wrap up the Russia investigation.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the interests of the country, I think it's time to wrap it up. I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.


KEILAR: Now this as conservative columnist George Will rips the vice president in a new column in "The Washington Post." CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza joining us with that. Walk us through this, Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: I would not have said George Will was the guy who was going to absolutely eviscerate Mike Pence, but he is that guy. Want to go through two passages of a column that is worth reading in full. This is Will talking about Mike Pence: Because his is the authentic voice of today's lick spittle Republican party, he clarifies this year's elections, vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing. George Will not holding back.

And let's go to our next quote: Donald Trump is who he is, a founding inarticulate jumble of gnawing insecurities and not at all compensating vanities. OK. Which is pathetic. Pence is what he has chosen to be which is horrifying. So, Will's point here that is very important, Donald Trump is and he can't help it. Mike Pence has molded himself to be like Donald Trump and he is in fact not.

I want to go to the next slide because it shows how different these two men are. Mike Pence, he came to prominence as a guy who could unite social conservatives and business conservatives. Donald Trump, he was a Democrat and independent, he's been all over the map prior to running for president. Mike Pence has been in office since he's been in the office since he got elected to the second congressional district in Indiana in 2000. Mike Pence is from Indiana. Donald Trump is not from Indiana and is not a quiet guy. Mike Pence doesn't eat dinner out with any women by himself other than his wife, Karen. [14:30:00] Donald Trump, I'm not going to go through all of his past,

but he's been married three times, lots of allegations against him. Now, despite all of these differences, you would think this is oil and water, right, Brianna? Listen to Mike Pence talk about his boss, Donald Trump.


PENCE: I'm deeply humbled as your vice president to be able to be here. Because of your leadership, Mr. President, and because of the strong support of the leadership in the congress of the United States, you're delivering on that middle-class miracle.

He's got broad shoulders, he's got high energy.

I have faith in this president's broad shoulders and big heart and his vision. He's my friend. He's a man who loves his family. He loves this country. Boundless energy and optimism, broad shoulders and a big heart.


CILLIZZA: Brianna, I wanted to thank you for this opportunity that you've given me to talk on television. I want to throw it back to you with the reminder that you are always a lifelong friend standing up for America.

KEILAR: But what about my big heart?

CILLIZZA: Well, it is only eclipsed by your kindness.

KEILAR: Thank you, Chris. Chris, I appreciate that.

CILLIZZA: Well, you know, that's just who I am.

KEILAR: I have to ask you about the president's tweets. There were some today and there was a key one. And who is this troll of the day, would you say?

CILLIZZA: So, do we have -- this makes me happy. I love internet trolling. Donald Trump goes with senator crying Chuck Schumer, great nickname, fought hard against the bad Iran, he's basically saying that Schumer is a hypocrite when it comes to Iran.