Return to Transcripts main page


Report: Trump Discloses Payment to Cohen On Financial Forms; Trump Jr. Was Interested in Clinton Dirt Provided by Russians; North Korea Cites Bolton Remark on Libya As A Warning. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 16, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar in for Brooke Baldwin. And now it's on paper clear as day, President Trump financial disclosure report was just released, and it shows his debt to personal attorney Michael Cohen. The financial disclosure was not in last year's report and it acknowledged that Trump has repaid Cohen for expenses that the lawyer incurred during the 2016 presidential election.

Now, what it didn't state explicitly is what the payments were for, like hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. It did say how much, though, a value of between $101,000 and $250,000. With me now we have CNN national political reporter MJ Lee and CNN contributor Norm Eisen, a former Obama White House ethics czar. MJ, to you first. Catch us up here on what has just happened.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Brianna, this is significant because we are seeing a Donald Trump officially acknowledge in his financial disclosure form that he did in fact reimburse his personal attorney Michael Cohen sometime last year. The big question heading into today or any day this week, whenever this disclosure form was going to come out was whether he would decide to make that disclosure.

I want to point out the OGE, the Office of Government Ethics, the agency that put this form out, said that they made the clear determination that the payment to Michael Cohen had to be reported but if you read carefully the language here says that from the Trump camp that they did not believe this was a payment that needed to be reported but they are doing so anyway in the interest of transparency. Now, as you noted, the form doesn't specifically say what this reimbursement to Michael Cohen was for, but it does say what the range of the amount was, somewhere between $100,001 to $250,000. The back story of course which we are all very familiar with now is that Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels the adult film actress $130,000 at some time in 2016 to keep her quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. Since this hush payment and the NDA, the story has come out, did Trump ever pay back Michael Cohen?

We found out from Rudy Giuliani earlier this month he did in fact do so. One quick thing about what Rudy Giuliani said, this is a good reminder, he said subsequently that President Trump actually paid Michael Cohen back for a much bigger amount than $130,000. He estimated it was actually somewhere between $460,000 and $470,000. So, if that is the case, I think there are questions about whether this report today is an underreporting and whether there are going to be more disclosures coming in the future.

KEILAR: And, Norm, when you look at this, is this a violation to you?

NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Brianna, thanks for having me back. I think it does raise very serious questions about whether Donald Trump has committed a violation of his ethics requirement under federal law and of 18 USC 1001, the federal false statement statutes. That's because last year's disclosures by Mr. Trump did not contain this information. And of course, there's been a big public discussion once the Stormy hush payment came out, once Mr. Giuliani admitted that there was a repayment, whether it should have been on there.

And now we see an admission that -- a tacit admission that it should have been. At the same time that OGE director Dave Apol certified the president's statement, he signed the president's statement. He sent a referral, a letter to Rod Rosenstein at the Department of Justice providing last year's form with the missing information. So, there's a D.O.J. referral in the mix now. I think the president may be facing some very serious potential liability for last year's omission.

KEILAR: Is he off the hook at all, Norm, because the word from his team is he didn't know what this is for?

EISEN: Brianna, that's just silly. Donald Trump once won a contest run by "Spy Magazine" for the world's cheapest celebrity. They kept sending him smaller and smaller checks. He cashed one for 13 cents.

[14:05:00] Do you really believe he would pay Michael Cohen, Giuliani says $35,000 a month over a period of months not knowing what it's for? That dog won't hunt. It is implausible, and I think that's part of the reason that the Office of Government Ethics has taken the extraordinary step, I don't believe it's ever happened before in American history that a president's financial disclosures have been transmitted, that there's been a referral to the Department of Justice. This years with the information, last year's signed by Donald Trump under false statements penalty, potentially a felony under federal law, 18 USC 1001, both of those have been sent to Rod Rosenstein for examination.

KEILAR: All right, Norm Eisen, thank you so much. MJ Lee, really appreciate the reporting.

Now to the biggest document release yet on the on the most infamous meeting known as part of the Russia investigation, nearly 2,000 pages of transcripts released by the Senate Judiciary Committee that give new details on the 2016 meeting inside of Trump Tower which involved Donald Trump's eldest son, his then campaign chairman, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and several Russian nationals.

And the testimony from those at the meeting shows how eager Donald Trump Jr. and Trump campaign members were to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. But the transcripts also show how frustrated they became when that did not pan out. Just take this excerpt from Rob Goldstone, who is the middleman who connected the Trump camp with the Russians. Goldstone describes his thoughts sitting in the meeting, he said, I was waiting if there was some smoking gun, which was why I had been asked to do this, after a few minutes of this labored presentation, Jared Kushner who is sitting next me appeared somewhat agitated by this and said I really have no idea what you're talking about, could you please focus a bit more and maybe start again.

I recall that she, meaning the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, began the presentation exactly where she had last time, almost word for word, which seemed by his body language to infuriate him even more. And more to the document say about President Trump's involvement? Donald Jr. told Senate investigators he did not tell his father about the meeting. Nor is it they discussed the response to reporters after the meeting became known.

Listen to this exchange Donald Jr. had with a Senate investigator about his July 8th statement saying the meeting was about Russian adoptions. It says, quote: Here's the question, to the best of your knowledge did the president provide any edit to the statement or other input? And Trump Jr. says, quote, He said he may have commented through Hope Hicks.

Joining me now is CNN's Tom Foreman. Before we get to the analysis, remind us about the emerging story line about who knew what and when, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this meeting at Trump Tower happened in June 2016, five months before the election and these are the American members of the Trump team who were there and here are the Russians and this is the guy who set it up, Rob Goldstone, a music promoter who had friends in both camps. He is the one who exchanged with Donald Trump said the information would incriminate Hillary Clinton and dealings with Russia. Donald Jr. promising this meeting, which would involve Natalia Veselnitskaya, would bring information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia. Part of Russia and its governments support for Mr. Trump meaning his father, candidate Donald Trump.

Donald Jr. replied, if it's what you say, I love it. But in the actual meeting, Don Jr. says the information specifically from Natalia Veselnitskaya was useless, her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. And the new documents support the idea he quickly grew irritated, bored and eager to get the meeting over saying nothing incriminating about Hillary Clinton was discussed.

KEILAR: And, Tom, the key question still seems to be that the candidate, Donald Trump, know anything about all of this. Do we have a sense of that?

FOREMAN: So far these documents seem to support people the idea that over and over again people who were in the meeting said candidate Trump knew nothing about it, but I don't imagine that will quiet the skeptics. Remember, Don Jr. back before all these details were known denied pretty much everything to "The New York Times" saying did I meet with people that were Russian? I'm sure I did. But none that were set up and certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.

KEILAR: All right, Tom Foreman, thank you so much for that. The Senate judiciary transcripts also uncovering new revelation about another meeting in Trump Tower.

[00:10:00] Donald Trump Jr. told investigators he walked in on a meeting between Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Quoting Trump Jr., I don't remember the exact timing of when they took place, I believe it was after we secured, meaning after the election, but could I be mistaken. The only reason I'm aware it is it occurred in my office. I came back from the gym and they were in there.

CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger is joining me now. You come back from the gym and I'm always in your office having meetings, right. That's always what happens.

BORGER: Exactly, exactly, with the Russian ambassador.

KEILAR: That's right. Why are we just hearing about this now?

BORGER: I'd like to know what Michael Flynn is saying about this meeting since he's no now cooperating with the special counsel. We don't know what Jared Kushner has said about this meeting, but Jared Kushner was supposed to be the back channel between the Trump transition and Russia. And we do know that Jared Kushner had meetings with Russians including Kislyak and this is one we don't know about and we don't know what it was about but obviously Don Jr. wasn't saying much about it because he wasn't really much a part of it, or so he says.

KEILAR: It seems like there might have been other opportunities -- Jared Kushner has had to revise his statement.

BORGER: And in his testimony before Congress, which we have not seen the whole breadth of that yet and certainly before the special counsel but again, Michael Flynn, who was going to be the national security adviser here and who was fired because he lied to Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russians, here he is having another discussion with Kislyak. And so, the question is was it about Russia sanctions. We just don't know the answer to that yet.

KEILAR: Now, on what Tom was just laying out, what we've learned from these transcripts from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the initial story from Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump himself was this was a meeting about adoptions, about U.S. adoptions of basically Russian children, Russian babies. Then it became clear from the e-mails as we found out a long time ago that, no, this was about getting dirt. So, this is reiterated in here that this is Donald Trump Jr. very clearly admitting talking about how he wanted some information that was damaging to Hillary Clinton.

BORGER: Yes. And he was going to get it anywhere he could. And if it came from the Russians, fine with him. As he said in the e-mail, I love it.

KEILAR: But he tried to say in the transcript how was I to assess where it was coming from?

BORGER: He knew where it was coming from because Rob Goldstone made it very clear where it was coming from and he knew Emin Agalarov very well, the son of a Russian oligarch, who is a friend of President Trump. So, he knew. What emerges from this to me, and we knew some of this, but we know more of this now, is that Donald Trump Jr. was willing, anxious, eager to get this information on Hillary Clinton from wherever he could. Somebody who was more experienced or who didn't want to break the law if they knew about it would get an e-mail like this from somebody saying the Russians want to meet with you because they've got some stuff on Hillary. And either hand it over to the FBI directly or hand it over to the counsel to the campaign to hand over to the FBI. Donald Trump Jr. has talked about oppo research and this is just opposition research, which all campaigns do, which you and I know. Yes, they all do it.

KEILAR: Not with the Russians.

BORGER: Exactly. Not with the Russians. So, you have to ask this question about was it naivety or was it something he was purposely doing, and these are the questions that clearly Bob Mueller is going to have to answer.

KEILAR: Gloria Borger, thank you so much. We have some more breaking news. President Trump responding to North Korea threatening to pull out of the summit if the U.S. insists on full denuclearization. Does Trump think that Kim Jong un could be bluffing? What the president had to say next. We'll talk about that.

[14:15:00] And more breaking news. Were the Russians trying to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton when they meddled in the 2016 election? Well, the findings of a Senate intel report that was just released after 14 months, we'll talk about what that reveals about Putin's motives.


KEILAR: North Korea now says that Kim Jong un may back out of the planned meeting with President Trump that was set for next month in Singapore. The president says we'll see. But the north is now saying it will not be cornered into giving up its nuclear weapons.

[14:20:00] White House aides are now scrambling to decipher this new message, officials telling CNN the administration was really caught off guard here when Pyongyang abruptly lashed out over U.S./South Korean military drills. The North suspended today's talks with the South and issued the statement to the U.S., if they try to push us into the corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and have to reconsider whether we accept the upcoming North Korea/U.S. summit. The country's statement going on to cite what happened to Libya and Iraq as an example of why they should keep their nuclear capabilities.

So, we know there was a scramble behind the scenes. But in front of the cameras, the White House took a tone of indifference.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is something that we fully expected. The president is very used and ready for tough negotiations. And if they want to meet, we'll be ready and if they don't, that's OK, too. We will continue with the campaign of maximum pressure if that's the case. But like I just said, if they want to meet, the president will certainly be ready, and we will be prepared. But if not, that's OK.


KEILAR: Let's bring in rear Admiral John Kirby, our CNN military and diplomatic analyst, a former State Department and Pentagon department spokesman. Admiral, walk us through how we got here.

ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST, A FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT AND PENTAGON DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Thanks, Brianna, it's been a very interesting journey. We will start out with January. This is the end of what I call the bluster phase. Where Trump taunts Kim Jong un by saying he has a bigger nuclear button.

But this thing actually began all the way back in the summer with Trump's famous fire and fury comment and in September when he went to the U.N. and delivered that rocket man speech and in September that Kim Jong un called Trump mentally deranged and a dotard. So, they are insulting and testing one another.

And then we move forward into February, I call this the back-foot phase. This is where the South Koreans invite the north to the Olympics, it catches the

Trump administration off guard, they send Vice President Pence but it's a tense place for him to be because he doesn't want to look like we're softening any. Trump catches his own staff on their back foot when he suggested we move all dependence and family members off the Korean Peninsula. So, this is a very difficult and tumultuous month.

And we move into March, I call this the bombshell phase. Trump accepts on a whim almost the invitation to visit by Kim Jong un to visit him and to have the summit after just getting briefed by South Korean officials. And then Kim Jong un also surprises people with a visit to Beijing to meet with President Xi, who is going through his own back foot phase at this point, feeling like he's been left out of the discussions between the DPRK and the United States and wants back into the game.

Then we move forward into April, I call this the bartering phase. Now you're into serious discussions about what this is going to look like and you're starting to work on confidence building measures, showing each side you're serious about a meeting. Secretary of State Pompeo goes to Pyongyang. The North Koreans say they are going to stop all of their testing and missile firings. And then of course you have the famous inter-Korean summit between President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Kim Jong un.

That takes us into May where this bartering phase continues. We've got those three American detainees back. Now it looks like we might have hit a snag, as you reported Kim Jong un saying he my not want to do this someone after all because of his higher over the exercises, because of John Bolton's comments over denuclearization. So, the question is are we now facing back into the bluster phase? As the president said this morning to reporters a little bit ago, time will tell.

KEILAR: Time will tell. Thank you so much, John Kirby. I really appreciate it. I want to bring in former assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, Jamie Rubin with us. We knew this was going to be a sticky issue because the question had been did the U.S. believe that full denuclearization was the end game here? Because clearly North Korea wasn't apt to agree to that. So, as you see this playing out and this issue being thrown into the mix now instead of once discussions start, what do you make of this?

JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE IN THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: Well, last week we talked about this and there were two possibilities. I said it's possible that Kim Jong un will behave like Gorbachev and just capitulate and just give up this great power that North Korea has in the form of nuclear weapons and missiles. But I said if he were to behave like his father and his grandfather, it's more likely to be a negotiation. I think what you saw is that Mr. Bolton's comments crystallized this choice because what Bolton was proposing is that North Korea essentially capitulate, give up their weapons like the Libyans did. The Libyans hadn't even tested any weapons, they just bought a few parts and gave up those parts.

[14:25:00] North Korea has invested 30 years, 25 years, invested tens of billions of dollars in material, in enrichment, in plutonium, and reprocessing, and ultimately in testing. So, they have a nuclear weapon.

See he was telling them capitulate. And so, when Mr. Bolton says we want you to do it the way the Libyans did it. That's disarmament. He was telling them, capitulate.

KEILAR: He admitted what they had was smaller than what North Korea has. As you put it, it's a significant difference between the two things. But if you're looking at disarmament by Libya in 2003/2004, then you have to look at Gadhafi being overthrown and killed.

RUBIN: Right.

KEILAR: And for Kim Jong un, he wants to -- he wants to know that the U.S. isn't aiming for regime change. So, for him to hear John Bolton say that, is he just -- he doesn't want to hear that obviously. But is he just hanging, sort of throwing a wrench into the works on something John Bolton said or is this something that you think actually bothered him?

RUBIN: I think this is a very, very serious issue. Whether this is a negotiation or a capitulation. A Libya model is in the arms control business is a very clear idea, and that is that there isn't a negotiated process over a long period of time where weapons are reduced and not tested and then eventually moth balled. The Libya model in arms control parlance means once I give them up in one fell swoop, the United States came in, took out all the boxes and said Libya just gave up in one fell swoop. So, the phrase I would make the distinction on is this a negotiation

where the United States has equities as well, we have military forces which inherently have a nuclear capability. When the North Koreans say unilateral, but they are saying is what about the American forces with their nuclear capability on the Korean Peninsula? Because they are talking about denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

So that is what this is all going to boil down to. This is an important signal that those of us who believed that North Korea was not going to just capitulate and give them all up in one fell swoop and Trump was going to walk out a hero with no nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula, that seems to be the direction we're going.

KEILAR: Jamie Rubin, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Next, after a 14-month investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee is revealing what it knows about Russian meddling, Russian interference in the 2016 election. Was Vladimir Putin specifically aiming to help Trump win? That's what the intel community says. The house Republicans say that's not the case. Also, Scott Pruitt hammered by lawmakers today, including if he ordered security to turn on their sirens, just so he could get through D.C. traffic to get to a restaurant.