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Michael Cohen Changes Lawyers; Interview With Former Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent; Republican Senator Says Party Has Become Cult of Trump. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Continuing on. You're watching CNN. We're at the top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

New developments this afternoon in the investigation of President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen. He has split with his elite legal team of lawyers, a team that was guiding him through the criminal probe, which included a high-profile FBI raid on his home, his office, and hotel room earlier in April.

Now, this split could signal a shift in legal strategy, as criminal charges against Michael Cohen become increasingly likely. But might it also signal something greater, perhaps cooperation with the feds?

CNN's justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is all over this for us today.

And so, Evan, you now have this new reporting that this switch may have something entirely to do with the Southern District of New York, who has been handling this probe.


Part of the -- there appear to be various reasons why this is happening now. There's a deadline on Friday for them to continue, for them to finish up going over 300,000 pages of documents, plus another million items that were turned over as part of this raid.

But there's also the matter of the fact that this is an investigation being handled out of the Southern District of New York, out of Manhattan. And so the law firm that Michael Cohen has been using is a Washington law firm, a very prestigious law firm.

They were handling his investigation, his testimony here in Congress, and as well as the New York investigation, which, as you remember, was at least partly referred or at least partly began as a result of a referral from Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

So now they're at this apparently very crucial stage, where one person told me that they're moving into a new phase of this case. This is a criminal case, after all. And we have learned from court documents that prosecutors believe that charges are very much imminent, probably likely, against Michael Cohen in this case.

So, I think there's various reasons why this is happening now. But you see that this is obviously part of the issue of Michael Cohen suffering -- enduring, rather, a lot of pressure as part of this criminal investigation. He's under a tremendous amount of pressure from legal fees.

These law firms are not cheap, as you know, and the pressure from the fact that this investigation is really down his neck.

BALDWIN: So I'm clear, because you're saying that prosecutors think -- people think that charges are imminent when it comes to Michael Cohen, is that the reason why they haven't met with him?

PEREZ: Well, that's one reason why it's probably likely that they haven't met with him. It may well also be that his law firm wasn't there yet. Obviously, they're still looking through some of these documents.

We're told that there's not been a meeting yet. And, Brooke, it's also important to remember that prosecutors may not want to make a deal with Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen may want to try to find a way to reach an agreement, but he may be the big fish in this investigation, and so that may not be in their interests.

There's another thing here that you and I talked about in the last hour, which is Michael Cohen may well be trying to send a signal to the president. As you know, the president has talked about pardons. And Michael Cohen, as you know, has a little bit of a complicated relation with the president.

The president is not happy with him and has not treated him the way Michael Cohen believes he should have been treated. So, he may well be sending a signal to the president, saying, hey, look, this is -- I need help here.

And we don't know what the president necessarily is going to do about this.

BALDWIN: Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Let's talk about all of what Evan just went through.

I have two CNN legal analysts, Paul Callan, a former prosecutor, and Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor with intimate knowledge of SDNY. Right?

So, let me actually just start with you, because initially when you see the headline, oh, switching lawyers, you might think, oh, could he be cooperating? But it may actually just be a matter of he wants someone who is familiar, with experience with SDNY, because they're the one investigating?


And that would be a really smart move, actually someone who maybe was in the office, but certainly is part of the New York criminal defense bar and knows the office intimately. That's the best type of lawyer to go with in this situation.

There are were reports that he's not paying his bills. So, at this point, it's really hard to say the reason why. But certainly someone with SDNY experience would be smart now.


BALDWIN: Why does that matter?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it matters in a big way.

And it also makes sense, by the way, that he hired Steve Ryan initially. Ryan handled the congressional testimony. Ryan and his law firm would have gone through a lot of these documents in connection with the congressional inquiry.

So maybe Cohen saves a little bit of money. And he's got a Washington specialist on the case.

But now, as we move closer to a possible indictment of Michael Cohen, he wants a criminal law specialist who has good ties to the Southern District of New York, which is entirely different from the Washington office of the U.S. attorney.


So, there's a logic to a change in counsel here that might have nothing to do with cooperation.

BALDWIN: How about the fact that he has not met with prosecutors?

Does that strike you as -- go ahead.

RODGERS: It's hard to say.

I mean, certainly, if you're Michael Cohen and his lawyer, one of the things you're going to want to know before you come sit down is, what are we really talking about? What am I facing?

So, whether he does it just before charges or after charges doesn't really matter so much. They're about to charge him anyway. It's not like he's going to avoid charges by coming in. So that to me isn't super significant here.

BALDWIN: Are there other reasons why he would change lawyers?

CALLAN: You can have costs. You could have the fact that one is a trial specialist and one is more of a document specialist.

Remember, when this thing started, there were 3.5 million documents which had to be gone through.

BALDWIN: Which, apparently, they have all gone through right by Friday. That's the deadline. CALLAN: Right. You need a huge law firm to able to handle that.


CALLAN: For trial, he probably doesn't need as large a law firm to do it.

So, people have specialties in different areas. And I think when you get back to this question of why haven't they indicted him yet or did he meet before an indictment...


CALLAN: ... let me tell you something.

I was talking to another lawyer who is very familiar with this case who was throwing out the old saying you could -- they will indict -- they can indict a ham sandwich, a grand jury, if the prosecutor wants them to.

Well, Michael Cohen is the whole ham. So, I can tell you, if they want to indict Michael Cohen, he will be indicted. And he, having been involved in so many strange and bizarre chapters of Trump's prior life, paying off Stormy Daniels and who knows what else he did during the course of that relationship, he's a key, key witness in this case.

BALDWIN: And the president knows it.

What about Evan's point about, listen, we don't know, but we -- we know that the president has been on this kind of pardoning spree, right, maybe sending out messages to the likes of Michael Cohen, like, I have got you.

But if Michael Cohen switching lawyers, because of the bizarre chapters, right, of their past, could he be sending a signal right back?

RODGERS: He could. But he doesn't need to do that in the way that this is being done.

I mean, his lawyers could call the president's lawyers and say whatever it is he wants to say. I mean, to me, switching lawyers, you wouldn't do that for that purpose, right? You switch lawyers because you need or want to switch lawyers for some reason.

I don't think it's about the messaging. That may be kind of a separate channel that's going on here, but probably not the reason for the lawyer switch.

CALLAN: I just want to add one thing, because we do talk about this pardon thing and that a lot of people want a pardon from Trump, and why hasn't he pardoned the person?

I think Trump, if he's going to pardon witnesses, is going to wait until very late in the game. And I tell you that because, if you pardon Michael Cohen now, he can be summoned to the grand jury, and he cannot assert the Fifth Amendment because he can't be prosecuted.

He can be forced to testify against Trump. If you wait until after he pleads guilty or is convicted at trial and then pardon him, by that time, the Mueller investigation is over. So look for the pardons late in the game, not early the game.

BALDWIN: Paul, thank you.


BALDWIN: And, Jennifer, thank you as well on all things Michael Cohen.

Coming up next: President Trump takes this victory lap on North Korea, claiming that they are no longer a nuclear threat.

But inside North Korea, state TV is claiming Kim Jong-un also got an end to sanctions. Details on the spin game over in Pyongyang.

And we just told you about how one Republican senator is saying there's a huge problem in the party with this cult-like situation between leaders and President Trump.

Well, we have just learned now that that very senator, along with a couple of others, just had a very heated lunch, so heated that apologies had to be made. We have those details.

Stand by. You are watching CNN.



BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Twenty hours now after his historic North Korea summit, President Trump declares North Korea is no longer a threat to the U.S.

Check the Twitter feed: "Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong-un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future."

And, meantime, in North Korea 24 hours later, state media is reporting the Trump has vowed to lift U.S. sanctions, with some caveats. North Korea also touting Trump's agreement to halt joint war games on the Korean Peninsula.

Jean Lee is back with us today, director of the Center for Korean History and Public Policy at the Wilson Center. She is also the former North Korea bureau chief for the Associated Press.

So nice to have you back.

I had to talk to you about how it's sort of like, all right, the rest of the world finds out about this summit. And some of the headlines that are coming out in North Korea, late to the party, everything I have seen, rave reviews from the summit.

And now we're hearing that Kim Jong-un says, oh, Trump promised to lift sanctions. But there -- the caveat is as progress is made from dialogue and negotiations.

I'm sure you're not surprised by the spin

JEAN LEE, FORMER NORTH KOREA AP BUREAU CHIEF: The -- it's interesting, because sanctions have been portrayed in North Korea as one element that is part of what they call the hostile policy by the United States.

North Koreans have been living with sanctions for decades. And they tell their people these were imposed unilaterally by the United States because of their hostile policy.

So, by mentioning that these will be lifted as part of this long process, they're signaling to their people that the U.S. has perhaps changed its attitude. So, it's interesting.


I think what concerns me, though, is that we didn't hear about this from President Trump himself.


LEE: And it was left off the statement as well. And so we're now allowing North Korea to spin all of this and to put information out there before our own president gets it out there.

BALDWIN: Well, that's also what happens when you have two guys in a room with just translators, right? It's sort of like one person's word vs. another.

And just slightly tangentially, the woman who is delivering the news in the pink, known as the pink lady, I know you share the same name in Korean as her. Who is...

LEE: She's the grande dame of journalism in North Korea.

BALDWIN: Journalism.

LEE: Propaganda.

BALDWIN: Propaganda, yes.


LEE: She is Ri Chun Hee.

And you know that when she comes out to deliver news, it is a major, milestone, historic news in North Korea. And I had no doubt that she was going to be brought out for this.

She was said to have been in retirement. But they bring her back for major events.

BALDWIN: Brought her out of retirement...

LEE: Exactly.

BALDWIN: ... for this positive review of the summit.

I was reading about newspaper articles also in North Korea where they show that -- I think buried into one of the graph one mention of denuclearization, one mention of complete denuclearization, and the big headline highlighting Trump's intention to halt those joint South -- ROK-U.S. military drills.

Why is that so significant, significant to North Koreans?

LEE: Again, what the North Koreans want to do in their state media is portray the United States as making all of these concessions to come to the table with Kim Jong-un.

They do also say that Kim Jong-un, because of peaceful gestures that he made set the grounds for this. It's really interesting to look at the language. For example, they say repeatedly the top leaders of these two countries. So they're putting Kim Jong-un side by side...

BALDWIN: On the same playing field.

LEE: Exactly.

And we see these phrases throughout. And it's amazing to see this and see how they're using this summit to elevate him to the status of -- this is a tiny, poor country with an economy estimated to be similar to those of sub-Saharan Africa, calling himself an equal to the president of the United States.

And we have given from that stage. They're going to take advantage of it. This is propaganda gold for them.

BALDWIN: You lived there. It's my understanding that North Koreans, as they grow up, they are brainwashed into thinking Americans are the devil, even though they love I guess our American movies. They are brainwashed.

And so to see the pink lady and in the papers the photos of Trump alongside their Dear Leader, what are they thinking?

LEE: So, I went to a lot of kindergartens in North Korea. And they would have a room that was just devoted to anti-America propaganda.


BALDWIN: Kindergarten?

LEE: Kindergartners.

And the walls were covered with these gory, violent images of American soldiers stabbing, torturing children, North Korean children. So, they grow up with this imagery. There's a museum in town of Sinchon that is devoted.

They've got life-size figures showing -- depicting the torture that they say the Americans are capable of and are bent on exacting on North Korean people. So, we're not going to see them suddenly switch to saying they are our friends.

What they're going to say is, because of the leadership of Kim Jong- un, he has been able to bring about this change in attitude by the North Koreans. So, he can position it as, look, I have shown I can defend you, and I'm also a master diplomat. And I got the Americans to come to the table.

And they're going to portray it as a victory.

BALDWIN: Kindergarten.

LEE: In kindergarten.

BALDWIN: Jean Lee, thank you so much.

LEE: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: Trump loyalists score big victories in state primaries, including one candidate links to white supremacists, this adds one sitting senator calls the party cult-like.

We will get reaction from a former Republican congressman who decided just last month to step down from his seat before his term was over.

Also, moments ago, a large protest in Washington, D.C., calling for an end to this new immigration policy. It's separating parents from their children as they're coming in over the border.



BALDWIN: A Republican senator says his own party has turned into something like a cult under the leadership of President Trump.

Now, this isn't the first time Senator Bob Corker has been critical of the president, but this criticism was particularly stinging.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We're in a strange place.

I mean, it's almost been -- 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: As a reminder, Senator Corker is not running for reelection, but other Republicans who are may have received a strong message from last night's primaries.

President Trump today is claiming victory on Twitter for sinking the reelection bid of South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford. Trump endorsed newcomer Katie Arrington just hours before those polls closed.

One South Carolina candidate who did win his primary is Lee Bright, a Trump supporter who vigorously opposed removing the Confederate Flag from the statehouse. Bright also introduced a bathroom bill in South Carolina and once said that transgender people have a mental illness.


In Virginia, Republican voters chose Corey Stewart. He made a name for defending himself -- defending Civil War memorials after a woman was killed by a white supremacist during a march in Charlottesville.


COREY STEWART (R), VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It's not a symbol of racism. It's not a symbol of slavery. I'm proud to be here with this flag. I'm proud to be here with all of you. And I'm proud of Virginia's heritage.


BALDWIN: And in Nevada, a pro-Trump brothel owner who wrote the book called "The Art of the Pimp" won the Republican primary for the state legislature, ousting a three-term Republican.

So, all of that said, with me now, former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent.

Congressman, a pleasure to have you on. Thanks for coming by

And we have got some news in. Manu Raju, our go-to guy on Capitol Hill, he's hearing from two Republican senators attending this GOP lunch today that told him things got really heated, contentious between GOP lawmakers over getting votes for their amendments.

It was apparently Utah's Mike Lee who started the whole thing off, raising concerns about this lack of votes. And then Senator Corker and others chimed in. And, apparently, it got so heated, Senator Lindsey Graham jumped in and we're told later apologized for his tone.

And we all know the story of how and why you left Congress early.

So, what's happening in the Republican Party?

CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, what's happened is that, before Donald Trump, Republican Party had litmus test issues. And they were based on principles or ideals.

Certainly, free trade is one of those ideals. And you were judged by that. If you weren't sufficiently pure, someone would call you a RINO or a squish. And we had these purity police out there who were self- designated.

Now those people are confounded, because, more recently, the purity test idea -- or the litmus test, I should say, is loyalty to the president. And it's really not about any particular set of ideals.

And so that's what we're dealing with right now, because the president, of course, whether you like him or not, he's not particularly ideological. He is very pragmatic and some would say very transactional.

And he certainly has not taken traditional positions. So the party is in a bit of a -- it's in a bad place right now.

BALDWIN: If it is about pledging your loyalty to President Trump -- you heard Corker say twice -- he says that it's a cult-like party.

Do you think that that is a fair assessment?

DENT: Well, I would not use a term like cult.

BALDWIN: You would?

DENT: I would not.

But I would say is that you showed a number of members. You showed the South Carolina race and some other races. But, essentially, what I noticed is the people who are running for office who are doing a full bear hug on the president...

BALDWIN: Are doing well.


DENT: Yes, in their primaries.

But, again, I come from a district -- I came from a district in the Northeast that was a swing district. And I talked to a lot of members in those marginal and swing districts. And I can assure you, it would not be wise general election strategy just to basically say you're going to be a rubber-stamp for the executive.

That is not a winning strategy. And they know that.

In fact, as a guy who has run for office 13 times, I can tell you that if you're running for office and you're of the same party as the president, it's important that you can point to some separation issues. That's why it's important for Pat Toomey and Bob Corker to have votes on this trade issue.

This is a core principle for many Republicans. And they want to be heard on that, because they're hearing from their constituents. And the job of the members of Congress is not to be an arm of the executive branch, but to be a separate, but equal branch.

BALDWIN: It's interesting. You point out just the bear hug and the delineation between primary and the general election. I know that Senator John Thune, he just admitted that there's a political risk when a Republican takes on President Trump. Is that dangerous, as November is right around the corner?

DENT: Well, it's less dangerous as you approach the general election.

And I would ask you to remember the recent Pennsylvania election, where Conor Lamb defeated Rick Saccone, where the Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, in a general election, said he was Trump before Trump, and that he would be Trump's wing man.

And that was not a very good message in a general election, even in a district that the president won by 20 points. I think some people misread these districts.

Don't look at it as a plus-20 Trump district. You can look at it as a minus-20 Hillary district, that there are people who might support the president, but they expect their member of Congress to be somewhat independent of the executive branch.

Even if they like the executive, they don't want you to be a rubber stamp. And so that's a -- that's a lesson that a lot of members need to hear, outside of ruby-red districts.

Hey, yes, in Alabama and South Carolina, yes, you can get away with that.


DENT: But good luck getting away with that in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

BALDWIN: What about -- Congressman, we've been covering this whole war of words between President Trump and our allies, Canada, namely, specifically, the -- right, the insults against Justin Trudeau over trade.