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Report: Trump's Personal Lawyer Splits from His Legal Team; North Korea State Media Says Trump Pledges to Lift Sanctions; Corker Unloads on Cultish State of GOP. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thanks very much, hi everyone I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN. Let's get you straight to the breaking news.

A source tells CNN the President's personal attorney and loyal confidante known as his fixer, Michael Cohen, he has split with his elite team of lawyers, the team that was guiding him through the criminal investigation, including a high-profile FBI raid on his home, his office in early April. That split could signal a shift in legal strategy as criminal charges against Cohen become more likely and could it also signify something greater, perhaps cooperation? Let's go to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, with the scope right now, just first, Evan, tell me more about the split from the lawyer.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This is a split that appears to be happening right at a crucial time, Brooke, because the legal team has been spending hundreds of hours going over millions of pages of documents that were seized in that raid that you talked about back in April when the FBI came to his home, hotel and his office and took away all these documents.

They've been going over all the documents to make sure that they separate anything that is considered privileged. So, he's under tremendous financial pressure, it's very expensive to hire the white shoe law firms here from Washington that have been representing him both in the congressional investigation and the federal, the FBI criminal investigation. So, it's a key moment for Michael Cohen. We also know that obviously the pressure from prosecutors here is such that there is this pressure to perhaps make a deal and provide whatever information prosecutors believe they need as part of their investigation, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Do we know on that last point, do we know if he has spoken to prosecutors about the potential of any kind of deal?

PEREZ: We're told he has not yet not yet had a conversation with prosecutors this. And here's the key thing, we don't even know whether the prosecutors want him to come in and do a plea agreement because they may well have enough evidence. They may think that they have enough evidence that they don't need his cooperation and that they're just going to go ahead and indict him. They certainly suggested in court documents that they believe that an indictment is very, very near in the offing. As a matter of fact, the only reason why it hasn't happened, it

appears, is because they've been fighting over the access to these documents. For Michael Cohen, this is a key time. At the end of this, the split with this law firm, I've been told by one source that this signals they're entering a new phase. But this may also be Michael Cohen's way of getting the President's attention, to let him know, hey, things are bad for me, I'm getting a lot of pressure here and you have to figure out how to help me perhaps.

BALDWIN: Perhaps, perhaps. Evan Perez. Thank you with the news on Michael Cohen. Let's analyze. Daniel Goldman is with me, a former federal prosecutor. Solomon Wisenberg is a former deputy independent counsel in the Clinton era Whitewater and Lewinsky investigation. So, gentlemen first, Solomon, let me just start with you. Can you just tick through various reasons why someone, in this case Michael Cohen, would want to change attorneys?

SOLOMON WISENBERG, A FORMER DEPUTY INDEPENDENT COUNSEL IN THE CLINTON ERA: Well, a couple of things to keep in mind, there is no reason necessarily if you've now decided you want to cooperate and go in and deal with the government, perhaps give them something against President Trump, there's no inherent reason you need to change your attorneys to do that. It happens all the time. You have an attorney who is fighting, and he turns to you and says you know what, the evidence is too strong, we need to deal.

I've heard one report that says it a dispute over legal fees, so it could be nothing more than that. Also keep in mind Rod Rosenstein told President Trump several weeks ago from what we have seen and heard reports of, the Cohen investigation has nothing to do with you. Nevertheless, if Michael Cohen decides it's in his interest to deal, he might have information about President Trump and I don't know of any prosecutor, southern district or not, who would not seriously listen to that.

BALDWIN: Mm-hmm. Speaking of southern district, Dan, you know a lot about this, it my understanding and Evan pointed this out as well, his lawyer who he may be splitting from is a DC guy, from one of these white shoe law firms. So, this could be an SDNY case and wouldn't he want an SDNY lawyer?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: That's right. The lawyers he has been using for this intensive and expensive privilege review are carryover lawyers that he was using down in the DC both in the special counsel --

[14:05:00] BALDWIN: To go through millions of pieces --

GOLDMAN: And the congressional documents. That is going to conclude this by Friday according to the judge's order. To the extent he wants to shift gears either to cooperate or to fight this, ordinarily people who are investigated by the southern district of New York get defense attorneys who were prosecutors in that office. They know the inner workings, they know the people, they know how everything work, they know the precedent, they know the history, they have a much greater institutional knowledge. As Solomon said, it not that somebody else couldn't do it, but there's a particularized knowledge and it usually behooves a potential witness or defendant to have someone with experience.

BALDWIN: Evan made the thought toward the end that perhaps this is Cohen's way of getting the attention of the President. Is that a possibility?

GOLDMAN: It's a possibility but I discount it really. It could be nothing more than legal fees, a dispute over legal fees. It could be what Dan mentioned, that he wants somebody with an in at that office. However, in this particular case, you know, he certainly it's very unlikely based on what we've seen that he's going to convince somebody not to bring a case against him. This isn't the typical case where you're coming into the southern district and your person is a subject and maybe he or she is on the bubble and there it might really help if you've got relationships in the office or you know the internal politics of the office and what levers to push and pull. Here he's somewhat limited in what he can do. He's either going to plead or fight and if he pleads, he wants to have something important to give them.

BALDWIN: And the fact that we know, Dan, he hasn't talked to prosecutors, at least not yet and maybe prosecutors don't need to talk to him, maybe they feel like they have enough to indict him, does it surprise you that they haven't met you?

GOLDMAN: No. The way the process works is that if he does want to cooperate, his lawyers reach out to the prosecutors and say he's interested in coming in and meeting with you and giving you all the information that he has about his own criminal conduct that's being investigated or anything else he may have done previously or separately and then they meet over and over for hours and hours and he's tells them all that information. Then at that point --

BALDWIN: Is that the queen for a day in.

GOLDMAN: It's what traditionally is called the queen for the day. A proffer agreement in federal court. Then they spend a lot of time the prosecutors do, going over what he said, comparing it to other documents and evidence to corroborate it to see if he's telling the truth and at that point they then say we will offer you a cooperation agreement. Notwithstanding what Evan said, I assure you the southern district of New York would love for Michael Cohen to cooperate. Not necessarily because they need it in a case against Michael Cohen but because he may have valuable information against others committing crimes with him.

BALDWIN: Sure, and Solomon, I have this last one for you. In the past month the President has gone on a bit of a pardon spree where there was all this speculation, perhaps he is sending out smoke signals. Using his pardon power to send messages to the likes of Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort et cetera. If you had a client who came to you and said essentially, well, the President has promised to pardon me whatever happens, what's your strategy going forward?

WISENBERG: Well, I would be very careful about that if I were such a lawyer, even though the President's pardon power is absolute, he's not allowed to use it in a way that would tamper with witnesses. So, I would be very careful even discussing that. Even though the Trump administration has been attacking Bob Mueller almost from day one, the President himself did not go personal with Mueller in a vitriolic way, did bring on Rudy Giuliani, who has gone very vitriolic, until the raid on Michael Cohen's office.

That really enraged President Trump and it bothers him for some reason. He had been initially told by Mueller that he wasn't looking at past business dealings and now lo and behold he's got the southern district, who may end up looking at past business dealings. I think that's a real, real key here, just that the attacks on Mueller have gone nuclear since Michael Cohen entered the picture so keep your eye on that.

[14:10:00] BALDWIN: It's an excellent point. Dan, thank you as well. We have more breaking news this afternoon. North Korean state media now reporting that President Trump agreed to lift sanctions during those nuclear negotiations. This is a significant development were going to break that down. Also had a Republican senator railing against his own party saying there was a cult-like situation between Republican leaders and President Trump. This as the President scores big wins in the primaries. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:15:00] BALDWIN: More break being news this afternoon. Hours after President Trump returns home, North Korea state media is reporting that the U.S. President has agreed to lift sanctions. There are some caveats. Let's go to our CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson who is live in Seoul, South Korea. Nic, lifting sanctions. What are those caveats?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, what the North Korean state media is saying, and we have to look at this and say they could be spinning to their own population, that's not unknown for politicians in state media to do that, but what is intriguing here, and we have to look at this in the light of the fact that previous regimes have spun their way out and lied their way out of previous agreements.

They're telling people that President Trump discussed the lifting of sanctions as they make progress from dialogue and negotiations. Now, what President Trump has said, and there's no mention there in the North Korean version of denuclearization. What President Trump has said is there will be no lifting of sanctions until there's denuclearization, as he said in the press conference yesterday, until the nuke factor has gone away. So, this is a discrepancy, this is a gap, this is a difference. So, this is what will make it difficult for negotiators for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, faced with this type of scenario, where Kim seems to be either lying to his people or he's been lying to President Trump. It's not clear.

This ambiguity that seems to exist now is what that joint declaration yesterday was supposed to tidy up. So, the North Koreans saying we can get rid of sanctions, that's our understanding, without mentioning this issue of denuclearization whereas President Trump has told us something very different. So why is there this gap between what we're hearing?

BALDWIN: He's lying to his people or lying to President Trump. Nic Robertson on the news. Let's get analysis now on we know President Trump's shocking declaration that he'll stop joint military exercises in South Korea. Startled not just Korean leaders but also Japan, several U.S. lawmakers. Today the president tweeted this, "We save a fortune by not doing more games as long as we are negotiating the good faith which both sides are."

Right now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is there in Seoul hammering out the details on how ending the drills would even work. He also said full engagement with North Korea will begin sometime next week. But did President Trump get the idea about ending joint military drills from Russian President Vladimir Putin? Earlier this year "The Wall Street Journal" suggested that earlier this year Putin is the one who suggested Trump do this as a way to temper Kim Jong Un's nuclear tests.

So, on all of that and breaking news, Max Baucus, former Democratic senator from Montana, former U.S. ambassador to China. Welcome back.


BALDWIN: Before we get into was it Putin who gave him the idea, I got to ask you about the news that Nic Robertson just reported on Kim Jong Un essentially telling his people that the U.S. is going to lift those tariffs, although it sounds like lift the tariffs during negotiations, but Trump has said that won't happen until the nukes go away. Your thoughts.

BAUCUS: This is the danger of 38 minutes of conversation private between the two leaders. Actually about 17 minutes when you calculate in the translation. We don't know what was said. We read the joint declaration. A lot was said outside of the joint declaration and we don't know.

I'm not terribly surprised, already each side is spinning its version. North Korea is going to spin it its own way. We don't know whether Trump agreed to lift sanctions slowly or not. The big problem here is North Korea is really in the driver's seat. We are asking them to dismantle, freeze, what not. Even though when there's no discussion about missiles, we'd like them to cut that back.

So, they will draw it out, my judgment. North Korea will go slowly. That plays to their interest to get some sanctions relieved. China very much likes this drawn out because that enhances the power of China to be part of the solution as well. I'm not terribly surprised. It's unfortunate. We all want this to work. We're not too surprised.

[14:20:00] BALDWIN: What about getting the idea of ending these joint military exercises from Russia's Vladimir Putin. The notion that the President is getting advice from one dictator about another dictator, would you believe that?

BAUCUS: I would not be surprised. It is in Putin's interest for the United States to withdraw from South Korea and ultimately bring our troops out. That's in Putin's interests, in China's interest and North Korea's interest.

BALDWIN: Is President Trump just being naive?

BAUCUS: I think President Trump is so taken up with his own personality and his ego, he thinks he can talk his way in and out of anything. He's inexperienced and this is going to come back I think to bite him. Not a lot is going to really get accomplished. I hope it does, but I don't think a lot will and we're going to be personality and his ego, he thinks he can talk his way in and out of anything. He's inexperienced and this is going to come back I think to bite him. Not a lot is going to really get accomplished. I hope it does, but I don't think a lot will and we're going to be grinding this thing out how to deal with North Korea's nuke or missile capability over the next one, two or three years. It going to take time.

BALDWIN: As the former ambassador to China until very recently, you mentioned a second ago Xi obviously has a dog in this fight. It was China who provided the 747 for Kim to fly those 3,000 miles to Singapore. Hasn't it been China's long-time goal to get rid of U.S. troops from the peninsula?

BAUCUS: Yes. China wants stability on their terms, their terms as a peninsula not controlled by the United States. If they get a peace agreement with South Korea, North Korea and South Korea, that's great. That's in North Korea's interest, it's also in China's interest. But the main thing is not only will North Korea drag this out, I'm sure of that, it's very much in China's interest and China will be very, very involved. They're an authoritarian country, this is existential for them and they'll find some ways for them we don't even know about where they'll be part of the solution here that's best for them.

BALDWIN: And also, on China, I just want to get some news on this controversial Chinese firm ZTE, the one so many lawmakers called this national security threat. We know the President surprised everyone by saying he wants to save the ZTE jobs. We know the senate has threatened to block any kind of deal to revive this company and now the White House says it's willing to work with congress to, quote unquote, ensure that the final report respects the separation of powers. What's your read on that?

BAUCUS: I think Trump thinks he got a deal with President Xi by cutting a deal with ZTE, he does not want that upset and he's going to find a way with Trump's language to keep that deal. That's what he's going to do.

BALDWIN: Max Baucus, thank you very much.

Just ahead here on CNN Republican Senator Bob Corker ripping into his own party's leadership over their loyalty to the president. Why he is calling the GOP a cult. [14:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Another day of Republican Bob Corker showing he is mad as hell at his own party, today he took on Republican leadership claiming the GOP is becoming like a cult under President Trump.


SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: We're in a strange place. I mean, it's almost, you know, it's becoming a cultish thing, isn't it? And it's not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a President that happens to be of purportedly of the same party.


BALDWIN: Let me remind everyone that Bob Corker is not running for reelection but other Republicans who are may have received a strong message from last night's primaries. President Trump is claiming victory via Twitter for sinking the reelection bid of South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford, Trump endorsed newcomer Katie Arrington just hours before those polls closed.

In Virginia Republican voters chose a pro-Trump candidate, Cory Stewart, defended civil war memorials and tweeted removing confederate statues was as bad as the actions of ISIS. And in Nevada April Trump brothel owner who wrote "The Art of The Pimp" won the GOP primary for the state legislature ousting a three term Republican.

So, let's discuss with two conservatives who have very different views. Republican strategist Rick Wilson and CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson.

[14:30:00] Fellows, good to have you back on. Rick, let me start with you just on this world cult as in the Republican party has become almost cult-like in support of Trump, we have now seen the world cult used three times in the past two days, Corker twice, Eric Eriksson once. Is that the word that you would use?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think cult may not even be strong enough as a phrase. I think we are right now entering a point where these folks have almost adopted Trump's him as a religion. They've almost adopted Trump's him as something that is so overwhelming all of their other judgments about everything around them, that any word against him is religious level blasphemy. Any critique of Trump must immediately be declared apostasy and those people have to be stoned and shunned and what not.


WILSON: I don't think there's any give anymore inside the traditional Republican party where you can critique the President in any way without risking both his cult-like acolytes going absolutely crazy on you and the President tweeting and deploying his 50 million social media followers. So yes, these guys have falling in line in large measure out of fear, but cults and edge case religions operate on fear and intimidation very frequently, not just on sort of enlightenment and love.

BALDWIN: Ben, what say you?