Return to Transcripts main page


Cohen Splits from Legal Team; Trump Declares North No Longer Threat; Pompeo Talks Disarmament; Party of Trump. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

We start with breaking news.

New legal questions swirling around Michael Cohen. President Trump's long-time personal attorney and fixer is changing his own legal team at a critical moment in the investigation, the federal investigation against him in the southern district of New York. The case has also prompted challenges from the president's legal team, who had hoped to get a look at some seized materials from raids on Cohen's home, offices, and hotel room.

Joining us now, the former Department of Justice prosecutor Joseph Moreno, Jack Quinn, CNN legal analyst, former White House counsel during the Clinton administration, Dana Bash is with us, our chief political correspondent, and Gloria Borger is also here, our chief political analyst.

Gloria, so you're getting some new news about Michael Cohen, his legal team at this very critical moment. The legal team that's been with him for many, many months, what, now gone?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, gone, probably by the end of the week. They've got some work to finish up and going -- reviewing an awful lot of documents.

And we're not quite sure exactly what the reason is. I was told this morning that they're parting ways because Michael Cohen wants attorneys who are very familiar with the southern district of New York, where he potentially faces criminal charges. "The New York Times" is reporting that it was over legal fees. So we don't quite know the answer.

And we are also speculating here that this could signal a shift in legal strategy. We've been told that Cohen has not met with anyone from the prosecutor's office. And we're not sure whether he is interested in cutting any kind of a deal or, quite frankly, whether the prosecutors are interested in having him cut a deal.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And, if I may, I just talked to a source who said what your sources are saying, that it sounds like it could be about both.

BORGER: Right.

BASH: It sounds like it is about both, meaning that Michael Cohen's attorney, Mr. Ryan, was hired -- and you were reporting this earlier -- to focus on Washington, to focus on the fact that he was testifying before Congress and so forth. Then it shifted over to New York, to the southern district of New York, and he feels that he needs a lawyer who is more well versed in the southern district of New York and how that court works and how the, more importantly, the U.S. attorney's office there works.

And then also that it's about money. Now, about money meaning that Mr. Ryan was too expensive, about money that he wasn't paying his bills, I don't know the answer to that. But it was about money is the quick response that I got.

BLITZER: But there's a critical date -- a deadline coming up within, what, a day or two?

BORGER: Right. I mean they're reviewing these documents, millions of pages, I don't know how -- and you need a large law firm to do that. And this law firm has been doing that. And so I think once that review, that document review is over, I think it's probably a time for this change to be made.

BLITZER: And just to remind our viewers, Jack, the Russia prosecutor, Robert Mueller and his team, they referred this case to the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, who then ordered -- asked the FBI to go to his home, his office, his hotel room, his safe deposit box and take all these documents. The president of the United States was very upset. He branded it inappropriate attorney-client privilege, a violation of that.

So what do you make of this -- all of a sudden decision now his attorneys are leaving?

JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, I think all of these things may have played into it, conflicts between Steve Ryan and his client, money, all of that. It's also notable that, according to the reports we've read, that the special master who was appointed to look at these documented looked at 300,000 documents, only 162 of them were even worth discussing in terms of attorney-client privilege. She rejected attorney-client privilege with respect to only three documents.

It's -- look, I think that the last element that nobody discussed that's going on here is the documents themselves. And it may be, and this is speculation, but it well may be that Michael Cohen thinks it's time to cut his losses, make his deal, because he knows what's in those document. And now the U.S. -- the southern district knows, as does Robert Mueller.

BASH: And there's a history in people, even in this case, changing lawyers before they cut a deal.

QUINN: Exactly. BORGER: Could this mean that his lawyers disagree with that strategy and would split over that or --

QUINN: It's possible. You know, I'm purely speculating to suggest that. They can disagree over strategy. But, you know, it -- I do think it's an opportune time, now that the documents are out there, he's looked at them, his lawyers have looked at them, the prosecutors have looked at them, this would be the moment for there to be a conversation between the prosecutors and Michael Cohen. And I think he may want to have in place the lawyer who's going to see this through now to the end game.

[13:05:26] BLITZER: So walk us through, Joseph, you're a former Justice Department prosecutor, make a deal. What does that mean? Usually you're charged with a crime, and then they -- the federal prosecutors say, we'll give you a reduced sentence if you cooperate. You plead guilty, there's no trial. Instead of five years in jail, you might get 30 days or something like that. But you've got to tell us everything you know. Usually that happens after charges have been field. But can there also be a deal -- he hasn't been changed with anything right now, Michael Cohen. There have been no charges. There's clearly a criminal investigation underway.

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROSECUTOR: That's correct, Wolf. So he's not been charged. However, as pointed out, the weight of his office is a particularly aggressive move when you -- when it comes to an attorney, much less the president's attorney. So you know they're not playing games between the special counsel and the SDNY. This is a serious matter. So it must be on Mr. Cohen's mind the possibility of cooperating.

And, yes, that --

BLITZER: Cooperating before any charges are filed.

MORENO: That's certainly possible. So there could be a discussion. It could be a discussion about what he knows, a bit of a discussion about what the government knows and has on him. Obviously, he knows what's in those millions of documenting. And so it's certainly, certainly a possibility that something that, you know, is being discussed.

BLITZER: From the -- from his perspective, Michael Cohen's perspective, Jack, I want you to weigh in on this as well, would it be more advantageous to wait for criminal charges or to start cooperating right away. Basically say, you know what, I've got nothing to hide. I want to cooperate. And let's work together?

MORENO: From my perspective, I want to get out in front of that as soon as possible. So rather than wait and be reactive, I would rather say, let's get the narrative in front of us, let's get to the prosecutor, let's get to the table, sit with the federal prosecutors at the SDNY, tell them what we know.

BLITZER: The southern district of New York.

MORENO: That's right. Tell them what I know and see how I can get the best deal as possible.

BLITZER: What would you do if you were representing Michael Cohen?

QUINN: Well, I think what Joe just described is what I alluded to as cutting your losses. I think this is the moment for him. And, again, only he knows, we don't know, only he knows what's in those documents and what he might be facing. There's been a lot of speculation about how much he knows about the business dealings and -- of the president over the years. I suspect that those documents are really troubling to him and his legal team. And I agree wholeheartedly with Joe, this is the moment for him to get out there.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, Gloria and Dana, you know this as well, it's not just documents. There are recordings.

QUINN: Correct.

BLITZER: This is a guy who used to record phone conversations.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And they now have access to those recordings. And maybe, we don't know, there's some conversations between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump.

QUINN: And it's worth mentioning here, before leaving this subject, that he might have thought at some point that, well, I might get a pardon from the president.

BLITZER: But he hasn't been charged with anything.

QUINN: He hasn't been charged. No, but, I mean, in advance of that, if this is something that would figure into his thinking. But I would be willing to bet anything that he has been warned by any number of people, including perhaps his own lawyers, that a pardon issued to him in the circumstances of his case would in almost all likelihood be viewed by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as an obstructive act.

BASH: You mean a pardon ahead of time?

QUINN: At any point. And so what I'm saying is, you can't -- he can't rest easily at night thinking, well, I'm going to get a pardon, because I think Robert Mueller would deem that pardon -- there -- at least there's a good possibility he would deem that pardon to be part of an obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: Gloria --

BORGER: If his case is still ongoing at that point.

BASH: Yes. Exactly.

QUINN: Umm, sure.


QUINN: And --

BLITZER: You know --

QUINN: We don't know.


BLITZER: How worried should the president be right now?

BORGER: Well, look, the president was, first of all, very upset when Michael Cohen's -- his personal attorney's home and office were raided. And we know from our reporting that it created a rift between the president's lawyers and the special counsel, who were trying to negotiate potential testimony for the president.

The raid really hit the president's lawyers the wrong way. They were supposed to meet with Mueller that afternoon. They did. But I'm told it wasn't a great meeting. It was pretty tense. Now they're trying to get things back on track.

So we know the president is upset. He considers it wrong. And at the time I think he called it a disgrace, and on and on. Whether the president is upset because of what's contained in those recordings or document, I don't -- you know, we have no way of knowing that.

[13:10:02] BASH: But, you know, you bring up --

QUINN: Well, the Trump -- I'm sorry.

BASH: No, you're good.

QUINN: The Trump Organization, as I understand it, was permitted by the special master to have access to these materials.

BLITZER: And not just the Trump -- the Trump legal team too.

QUINN: Correct.

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: Right. Yes.

QUINN: So they are a part of this whole conversation. They are aware, as well as Michael Cohen is aware, of what's in these materials.

BASH: And for what it's worth, Rudy Giuliani, who is the member of the president's legal team who speaks out has said repeatedly that he does not see anything that is, you know, bad legally, damaging for the president. There might be things that he doesn't know, but that's what he said, at least publically.

BLITZER: Maybe wishful thinking too. Maybe he's accurate. We'll see soon enough.

Guys, thank you very, very much. The president on a very different issue, declaring that North Korea is

no longer a nuclear threat, despite any concrete actions involving its nukes. A U.S. congressman on the Armed Services Committee standing by live to react.

Plus, a Republican senator railing against his own party, saying there's a, quote, cult-like situation between Republican leaders and President Trump. Cult-like situation. This as the president scores big wins in some primaries.

And a U.S. president calling the news media here in the United States America's biggest enemy. Not Russia, not North Korea, the free, independent press.


[13:15:30] BLITZER: Declaring victory. That's what we're hearing from President Trump, now on his -- as a result of his summit in Singapore with the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un. The president is back here in Washington. He's over at the White House. He's tweeting almost nonstop, including that the nuclear threat from North Korea is now over. Here's the tweet, quote, 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, closed quote.

Let's bring in CNN's senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, very positive review by the president of his summit with Kim Jong-un. What are you hearing from others over at the White House and elsewhere about this agreement, the relationship with the North Korean Chairman Kim, as he calls him now, and the next steps?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, not surprisingly, the president is taking this victory lap following this historic summit with Kim Jong-un. As you pointed out, he wasted no time putting out tweets shortly after he landed in Washington, touting, there is no longer this nuclear threat from North Korea, and that everyone can sleep well tonight.

So the president is clearly putting a lot of trust in a regime that is known to draw up negotiations and by time while continuing to build up its nuclear arsenal. But the president here is clearly convinced, Wolf, that Kim will make good on his pledge to make progress on denuclearization and no longer do missile tests, which they haven't done in several months.

As one administration official I spoke with today said, the president puts a lot of trust in personal relationships and he feel like he has one with Kim now following the summit in Singapore. The official also pushed back on the idea that the president gave up more than he gained by ending the joint exercises on the Korean peninsula, saying that there were good will gestures on both sides with North Koreans giving up the defines recently. And now the two countries have reached a framework, according to this official, to keep the peninsula safe from here. So, Secretary of State Pompeo will be meeting with counterparts, Wolf,

in South Korea, Japan and China to discuss security measures, human rights, among other issues on the table. So it remains to be seen what kind of progress will be made moving forward in the wake of the summit. But clearly the president feels very positive about how everything went.


BLITZER: He certainly does. Very upbeat indeed.

Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

Join us now, California Congressman John Garamendi. He's a Democrat. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Do you agree with the president when he says, quote, there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea?

GARAMENDI: He's absolutely wrong. He could not be more incorrect. North Korea still has nuclear weapons, still has intercontinental ballistic missiles, still has medium range missiles. And they can use them.

The fact of the matter is, the heat has been turned down, but it's still on the stove. It is still there. It hasn't disappeared. North Korea has promised for more than 30 years to denuclearize. All they did during that period of time was to perfect their ability to have a nuclear bomb. They have several. And they have the missiles to deliver them. There is a threat. It has not disappeared.

BLITZER: I've seen reports they may have as many as 60 nuclear bombs. What can you tell us?

GARAMENDI: I don't know the exact number. The numbers will range up and down. But they surely have them. They certainly have threatened just months ago to use them to take out the United States, to take out major cities in the United States.

Kim Jong-un is a known liar. His regime has, over the last 60 years, have verificated (ph), hid the -- hid the ball, hid the cannon, and hid the weapons.

BLITZER: But aren't you encouraged that there's at least a dialogue, a diplomatic dialogue has developed, which is a lot better -- just a few months ago they were calling each other names. The U.S. was on high military alert. When President Obama left office, he said to the incoming president, President-elect Trump, he said, this is the top national security threat facing the United States, this threat from North Korea.

GARAMENDI: Absolutely true. And as I said a moment ago, the heat's been turned down. There were three options, Wolf. There are three ways we can go about this. One, we can go to war. We could take them out. It would be bloody. Hundreds of thousands of people would die and a lot of Americans along the way.

Secondly, we could just simply accept the fact that they have a nuclear weapon and they have the missiles and they could threaten us, or we can negotiate. Negotiations are on the way to go. That's what's happening. But don't kid yourself that the threat is over. The heat is down, to be sure, but the heat can ramp up very fast.

BLITZER: What did you think of the president's announcement that joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which have been going on at least once or twice a year for decades, in which the North Koreans always have hated, the president now says he's suspending those joint exercises. He tweet -- he says that they're provocative. He also said -- he tweeted this morning, we save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith, which both sides are. What's your reaction?

[13:20:25] GARAMENDI: First of all, they're not games. These are very serious exercises to make sure that our troops, from the Navy to the Air Force, to the Army on the ground are prepared to fight tonight, as they have had to be for the last 60 years on the Korean peninsula.

Now, when there is denuclearization really, and when there is a peace treaty, and we've seen a reduction, then those troops don't need to be ready to fight tonight, but they must be. And it's not just about Korea. It's about China. It's about the presence of America in the Pacific. Our troops must be prepared, and you are prepared when you are able to exercise your troops. And it's no game.

BLITZER: The U.S. has about -- the U.S. has about 28,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea, maybe 40,000 or 50,000 not too far away in Japan.

He's made it clear over many, many years, he doesn't think the U.S. should deploy all those troops over there. He'd like to see them back here. He doesn't like the fact that the U.S. taxpayer is paying for the deployment of those troops in those countries. And he throws in Germany, as well.

GARAMENDI: Those countries are actually paying for the U.S. troops to be there, not the total cost, but a big portion of that cost is paid for by Japan, by South Korea. And it is necessary in the world in which we live.

We're not in la la land here. This is the real world. It is a very dangerous world. We need to be prepared. At the same time, we need to work even harder for peace. And these negotiations must go forward.

You know, the president did a good job. He had a wonderful photo opportunity. And it's a good start. But it is nowhere near the end of the first quarter, let alone the end of the game.

BLITZER: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for coming in.

GARAMENDI: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLITZER: It's being called the party of Trump and now one Republican senator is sounding the alarm, saying there's a quote, cult-like situation that has developed between the president of the United States and Republican Party leaders.

Plus, very disturbing remarks from the president of the United States, calling the press here in the United States, America's biggest enemy. This as he praises a dictator. We'll discuss that and more when we come back.


[13:26:43] BLITZER: A Republican senator unloading on his own party today, warning that the Republican leadership is becoming like a cult -- a cult under President Trump.

Here's Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We're in a strange place. I mean it's almost, you know, been a -- 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.


BLITZER: Reportedly of the same party.

Let's bring in our political director, David Chalian. He's joining us over at the magic wall.

David, there were some key primary races last night here in the United States. Any signs that the GOP is becoming the party of Trump?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: All signs point that way, and that's why Bob Corker's comments are likely to fall on many deaf ears inside the Republican Party.

It is the party of Trump. Take a look. You can tell by who the voters rejected and who they voted for last night in the primaries. Rejected, Mark Sanford, Republican congressman, former governor, one of the most conservative members of the House and the House Freedom Caucus. And why was he rejected, Wolf? Because of his anti-Trump comments at times over the last year and a half. He said the president should shut up, that he's the antithesis to everything Sanford believed politics should be all about and now he's paying a price for it inside the Republican Party because it's not his credentials as a conservative that matter, it was that his lack of loyalty to President Trump that his opponent made a winning case in South Carolina.

How about who won last night in Virginia? Corey Stewart. Here's the Republican nominee for Senate in Virginia. Somebody who says he proudly stands with the confederate flag, he defends confederate monuments. He is associated with white nationalists that helped organize that rally in Charlottesville back last summer you'll recall. He is so offensive to many in the Republican establishment of his own party that Corey Gardner, the head of the National Republican Senate Committee, whose job it is to maintain a Republican majority in the Senate, has said he will not be -- his organization, the party establishment, will not be endorsing Corey Stewart in his fight against Tim Kaine in Virginia this year, Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty significant developments indeed.

David Chalian, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our panel. CNN political analyst David Gregory is with us, and political analyst and White House reporter for "The New York Times" Julie Davis is here as well.

I want you to listen to this exchange that the House speaker, Paul Ryan, had just a little while ago.


QUESTION: South Carolina voters told Mark Sanford to take a hike last night. Is that because he opposed to the president?

REP. PAUL RYAN, HOUSE SPEAKER: I can't speak to it. I -- I'd ask the -- Mark Sanford and the South Carolina voters. It was a very close election. Some of our members have lost primaries. That's just what happens in contested primaries.

QUESTION: Could it be a warning (ph) to people who oppose the president?

RYAN: It -- very cycle we lose -- people lose primaries. This happens.


BLITZER: All right, so he's trying to be diplomatic clearly there. But how much of a role do you think support or opposition to the president of the United States played in these Republican primaries?

[13:30:00] JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean I think the evidence is, as David said, that it played quite a bit of a role, and these races are won, we know, on the margins.