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Michael Cohen: Family & Country, Not Trump First Loyalty; Leftist Lopez Obrador Wins Mexico's Presidential Election; Trump to Announce Supreme Court Pick Next Week. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 2, 2018 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Cohen is breaking his violence. He seems to be saying he's willing to cut a deal with the government. Cohen tells ABC News, quote, "My wife, my daughter, and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first."

[07:00:15] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Then when asked what he would do if it comes to protecting the president or his family, Cohen said that his family is first priority, adding that when he learns what charges may be filed against him, he will lean on the guidance of his knew counsel.

So let's get right to our panel. We have Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst and staff writer at "The New Yorker" and Ron Brownstein, a CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic."

OK, so this is big news, Jeffrey, because Michael Cohen has not been speaking out. So he has been silent, OK, while all of this is unfolding with the Southern District of New York and whatever charges may or may not eventually be filed.

And the fact that now -- remember, he had said, described himself as "the fixer for Donald Trump forever" and that he would take a bullet for Donald Trump, he had said in the past. And now that he says, "No, my family and my country come first." What does that tell you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It says no more bullet for Donald Trump. I mean, it clearly implies that he will make a deal with the government if there are charges against him, and testify, cooperate rather than sort of hold the line for Donald Trump.

It leaves, of course, many questions unanswered. Will charges be filed? It certainly looks that way, given the context of how this unfolds.

CAMEROTA: But this isn't even the Mueller investigation, to be clear. This is separate.

TOOBIN: It is. It is not -- you're correct, it is run by the Southern District of New York. But if you are a cooperating witness with the federal government, you cooperate with all of the federal government. So there is no way he could cut a deal with the southern district that would involve also cooperating with Mueller. It's just that law enforcement doesn't work that way. BERMAN: And Ron, there seems to be a deliberate message of defiance

here in what Michael Cohen is saying and the way he's saying it. George Stephanopoulos, our friend, writes, "When I asked Cohen how he might respond if the president or his legal team came after him to try and discredit him and the work that he did for Mr. Trump over the last decade," George writes, "He sat up straight, his voice gained strength, and then," quote, "'I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone's defense strategy. I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.'"

That's a message, Ron.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That part is a message. Of course, we've had the -- we've had the reports, you know, for weeks on the other side that he was seeking financial support from Trump and his allies for his legal bills. So as Jeffrey said, we don't know how far this goes.

You know, strangely, when this news broke, the first name that came into my mind was Trey Gowdy, who said last week to Rod Rosenstein, "Wrap it up." You know, Trey Gowdy, who spent two years on Benghazi, saying that you know, you have to -- you have to wrap this up, because you are tearing apart the country."

And this is just a reminder that, as Jeffrey knows better than anyone on this panel, you know, investigations are like onions. I mean, you keep peeling them back, and you -- you know, you don't know what exactly you will find and that there is always the potential for a moment like this, where a major figure is signaling that they may be willing to provide information that they have not been willing to provide before. And I think it makes the demands from so many, particularly in the House, Republicans that this has to -- you know, follow some sort of artificial time line, just look more and more, I think, indefensible.

CAMEROTA: John, here's what I find interesting. Remember in April when President Trump tweeted this about Michael Cohen. And he said, "Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry. I don't see Michael doing that."

So the "I'm not the villain" of this story, I don't know. It sounds to me like he's -- he feels he's already been depicted somehow as a villain.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: It does strongly imply that. It also implies that someone else is the villain.

I mean, what's extraordinary here isn't just that, you know, Michael Cohen has a new lawyer, Guy Petrillo. Used to head the criminal division of the Southern District. It has been taken by some people as an indication of a willingness to flip.

In this interview with George Stephanopoulos, he notably says that -- he refuses to criticize the investigation, does not jump on the witch hunt band wagon, says he accepts the intelligence committee's assessment that Russia interfered with the election. And notably says in the kicker, "I want my name, my reputation, and my life back." That is not the sound of someone who's willing to be an apparatchik and go to jail for the president.

TOOBIN: But let's just remember, "I want my name back, I want my -- I want to be vindicated." If he cooperates, that means he has to admit to committing crimes, to guilty.


TOOBIN: So -- so the idea that cooperating is somehow an act purely of virtue, that's not how it works. You have to admit that you did something criminal first, usually, when people cooperate.

CAMEROTA: Hold on. I just want to say -- this is about Stormy Daniels. Or could be. There is a connection. There's a Stormy Daniels connection, which we don't talk about. In fact, George Stephanopoulos asked him about if he was willing to say that the president gave the $130,000 for Stormy Daniels, and he said, "I'm not ready to talk about that. At some point I will."

TOOBIN: Well, and one of the mysteries about the Michael Cohen situation is that what are the underlying crimes he's being investigated for?


[07:05:07] TOOBIN: Yes, there is a possibility he's being investigated for coordinating an unlawful campaign contribution. That's a very obscure crime. Not many people are prosecuted for that crime.

I find it very hard to believe that the Southern District of New York got a search warrant to investigate a lawyer's office purely for a Federal Election Commission violation. So I mean, that's what gives this conversation a little bit -- an area of unreality, because it's like what is the crime that Michael Cohen might admit to? I don't know.

BERMAN: But what is cooperation, Jeffrey? Walk us through what it means when someone, a witness like Michael Cohen does cooperate.

TOOBIN: Well, the way it works is you have a meeting first, which is sometimes called a proffer session. It's sometimes called a queen for a day agreement. Where you go in to the prosecutors, and you say, "If I cooperate with you, if you give me a deal of some kind, I will tell you the following." And the person is obligated to tell the truth, or, like, no deal.

So there's usually a long proffer session, where they talk about what they know. At that point, the prosecutors decide do they let him plead guilty? Do they give him immunity? Do they cut a deal with him in some way?

At that point, the person is obligated to go to as many meetings as the prosecutors want, meet with FBI agents, show them documents, show them their phone records, show them anything the government wants to see. You are now on the government's team at that point, if you make a deal.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

AVLON: It's also surreal, because you have the president of the United States, in contrast, in a conflict, potentially, with the government's team investigating the president, with his consigliere in sort of -- in the swing position.

TOOBIN: And you have -- and you have Trump tweeting that the government gets people to lie.

BROWNSTEIN: I will say --

TOOBIN: I mean, that's just outrageous.

BERMAN: I will say, the fact that this interview -- and Ron, jump in here. I just want to say the fact that this interview is unusual, to me. First of all, it's not an on-camera interview between Michael Cohen and George Stephanopoulos. Leave that aside. But this interview is happening before a deal might be struck here.


BERMAN: This kind of public display is not one that I'm familiar with before a deal would be struck. Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I was going to say, also, you know, the signal may be just a little bit more ambiguous or ambivalent than -- than it initially appears, in that he says, "I want my name back."

And, you know, one of the people -- one of the reasons people have been so interested in what he has to say is not only because he can shed light on things that Donald Trump did, because there also have been questions about what he did. You know, whether he was a figure involved in any potential collusion. Or for that matter, the Russian involvement in the financing of various Trump properties over the years.

So if he's saying he's planning on reclaiming his own name, I think, you know, that seems to be to imply that he is suggesting that the charges against on these fronts may be misplaced.

So you know, I don't think -- every element of the Mueller investigation, I think, has -- almost every element has surprised us. And it just -- I just think it's hard to kind of look at this and say this is the definitive movement in which, you know, the decisive blow in this investigation against Donald Trump is being struck. It's just a reminder we don't know, and it's going to take time to know.

CAMEROTA: But Jeffrey, if he -- and they -- they raided his hotel room. They raided his office. They took documents. They took whatever incriminating --

TOOBIN: Phone. CAMEROTA: Phone. His phone, whatever incriminating things he might have. So why haven't they charged him with anything?

TOOBIN: I don't know. I mean, you know, we in the news media have a different schedule --

CAMEROTA: Time frame.

TOOBIN: Time frame than law enforcement does. I mean, you know, the fact that the Mueller investigation is 14 months old, that is not long for a white-collar -- a white-collar investigation.

CAMEROTA: Before he cooperates, would he have to be charged before he cooperates? Or can he start cooperating now and never be charged?

TOOBIN: Well, that's a -- that's the subject of negotiation between him and his lawyers. Obviously, their preference would be, "Give me immunity. I have such great material."

CAMEROTA: Right now, before I'm charged.

TOOBIN: Before -- instead of getting charged.

BERMAN: We have -- we have the exchange that George had with Michael Cohen on Stormy Daniels here. I can read you what George wrote about that. You alluded to this before. "I asked Cohen if the president directed him to make that payment or promised to reimburse him."

In the past, Cohen has said he acted on his own initiative. Not this time. "Cohen answered, 'I want to answer. One day I will answer,' he said, 'but for now I can't comment further on advice of my counsel.'"

Look, I mean, again, this was a carefully-worded answer in a carefully-worded interview. I think the only thing that's clear, and we talk about the uncertainties here, is that Michael Cohen is trying to send a message this morning, John. I don't think it's any question about that.

AVLON: No. I mean, this is always the question of who's speaking to the audience of one. It's very clear that the consigliere is not pleased with his patron and how he's felt treated by the White House today. That is -- that is as close as you get to saying that "Everything I said in the past may not be --"

[07:10:09] CAMEROTA: But he's not speaking to an audience of one here.

AVLON: No. I think he --

CAMEROTA: This is him speaking to prosecutors. That's not speaking to Donald Trump.

AVLON: And the court of public opinion, but that itself is a brushback pitch to the president.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Ron. BROWNSTEIN: And the fact that he -- the fact that he didn't go on FOX, all right? Just by itself, you know, the fact that he went on ABC rather than --George Stephanopoulos, rather than FOX. I mean, he is, I think, trying to send a message to the president, but exactly what that message is, fear me or, you know, fund me?

I just -- it's kind of hard to say definitively, I think, at this point exactly what he has in mind and whether he can ultimately separate his own fate from the president, i.e. reclaim his name while, you know, raising more charges or legal jeopardy for the president. Is that -- can you really split that baby in half? I don't know.

And so, you know, I think exactly where this plays out is not 100 percent certain, but I do think that the -- that it is almost certainly going to provide new avenues for the special council to -- to explore. Even in the finances.

TOOBIN: I'm just absorbing the issue of not going on FOX. What a -- what a refutation.

AVLON: Right.

TOOBIN: What a sign right there. Not going on state television.

BROWNSTEIN: Exactly. It's not a statement of loyalty.

BERMAN: And I'm thinking, Brownstein --

BROWNSTEIN: That would be the statement.

BERMAN: -- when he said fear me, fund me, feel me. It's a great Who song. I could see --


BERMAN: Singing the defense for Michael Cohen right there.

CAMEROTA: He's setting up a "fear me or fund me" page.



CAMEROTA: But Jeffrey, if it is "fear me or fund me," if the president did pay for his legal -- his new lawyer and his legal case, would we ever know that? Would the public ever know President Trump paid for Michael Cohen?

TOOBIN: If -- if it was from campaign finance funds. I mean, we do know --

CAMEROTA: Right, but I'm saying --

TOOBIN: -- that he paid his old law firm. But apparently that -- that's -- funding has dried up.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But now, if the president wrote a check right now for Michael Cohen's fund, we wouldn't know that.

TOOBIN: No, I don't think we would. I'm trying -- I'm trying to think that through, but I don't think there is any way we would know that. I think it's -- I think a lawyer would find that an unethical situation. However, I'm not sure -- Guy Petrillo is -- who's a lawyer I know and a very distinguished lawyer in New York, I don't think he would say it's an acceptable situation for a potential target of investigation to pay the fee, you know?

CAMEROTA: Good. Glad there's still gravity there. That's good.

BERMAN: And we've got one more piece of this again I want to read to you here. This has to do with the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Michael Cohen was asked about that. He says, "I believe it was a mistake for those in the Trump campaign who did participate." He said, "It was simply an example of poor judgment."

When George asked Cohen if President Trump knew about that meeting before it happened, Cohen declined to answer. He goes, "I can't comment under advice of my counsel dur to the ongoing investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York."

You can read that both ways. The answer, "It was simply an example of poor judgment" there is something we've heard from Trump campaign associates and White House officials from the very beginning on that, John.

AVLON: Yes. And of course, the story around this White House [SIC] meeting has changed at ever turn. We've gone from straight denial, to it was about adoption, to actually, there's evidence of dirt.

And I agree with you he's kind of playing it both ways in that statement.

But what's also clear is that here is the loyalty that may have existed between President Trump and Michael Cohen did not extend, necessarily, to deeper layers of the Trump Organization. You know, Michael Cohen talked about maybe being chief of staff. Didn't go to the White House, left the Trump Organization, shacking up with a law firm in Rockefeller Center.

So there is some bad blood there that may have interesting implications.

CAMEROTA: All right. Gentleman, stay tuned, as they say, for all of this breaking news. We will continue to cover it. Thank you very much for the insights.

Meanwhile, there's other breaking news overnight.

BERMAN: Indeed. Breaking news in Mexico. The country's leftist presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, he rode a populist wave to become the country's next leader. How will Mexico's president-elect deal with President Trump? Our Leyla Santiago, live in Mexico City. The tremors of this election, Leyla, felt around the world.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. Last night, thousands went to the Zocalo, the plaza here, to celebrate the victory of the man that many analysts say -- many analysts say is Mexico's Trump. That's what they refer to him as.

Now, his message really resonated with voters. He said that he's going to take on corruption, that he's going to take on violence, and that he is going to take on President Trump.

I mean, this is a man who wrote a book called "Oye Trump!" meaning "Listen, Trump!" And he sort of in that book said he's going to push back against that wall.

Now, last night -- the concept of the wall. Last night he talked about the U.S., saying that he wants a friendship, that he wants cooperation or development with the U.S., a relationship deeply rooted in mutual respect.

And then President Trump also tweeted, congratulating Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO here in Mexico, saying he looks forward to working with him.

But here are the big issues. You can count on immigration, that cooperation on the border. That's going to be a big issue in this new era, in this relationship. And also NAFTA, that free trade agreement. That's going to be a big deal, because like Trump, AMLO has said that he wants to put Mexico first. That he wants a better deal for his country, but it will be a matter of time before we really see what will happen between these two leaders that many have compared as saying they're pretty familiar.

CAMEROTA: OK, Leyla. Thank you very much for all of that update on our breaking news that we'll continue to follow, as well.

So the Supreme Court, it will have a vacancy. How will this impact the midterms? What is President Trump going to do one week from today? We'll explore all of that.


CAMEROTA: President Trump plans to announce his Supreme Court pick next Monday. So what does all of this mean for the midterm elections? Let's discuss with CNN political commentator and former Republican congressman Charlie Dent.

Congressman, great to see you.


CAMEROTA: OK, so listen. Obviously, lawmakers have a big decision ahead of them. And I'm just wondering what you think.

[07:20:07] How do you think senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who are pro-choice, how do you think they're going to tackle this -- this nominee who will invariably not be pro-choice? I mean, he will invariably -- he or she -- be open to overturning Roe v. Wade, because that's who President Trump said he would nominate.

DENT: Well, first, I have a lot of confidence in senators Collins and Murkowski. I'm very close to Senator Collins, in particular. And I -- look, she's been a very deliberate, thoughtful member of the Senate. She will properly vet whoever the nominee is.

And it's true: both sides -- you know, and they always say that there should be no litmus test on any issue. That's what each side says, whether it's a Democratic, Republican president.

CAMEROTA: That's not true.

DENT: When, in fact, we know there always is.


DENT: There always is a litmus test. Of course there is. But they never quite admit it.

But I suspect that Senator Collins and many other senators, truthfully, on both sides of the aisle, do like to give the president some -- some discretion. They want to make sure that that nominee is going to be -- is going to be qualified, capable, can exercise good judgment, good temperament. They want to look at those qualities.

And ever since Robert Bork, it seems that -- it seems that we have applied these litmus tests. And this becomes more about ideology than the temperament or the capability of the nominee.

So the bottom line is this is going to be a tough call for those two Republican senators, but it's going to be just as tough a call for some of the Democratic senators. You know, I'll say, you know, Donnelly, Casey, and -- and a few others up in North Dakota.

CAMEROTA: Manchin.

DENT: Heitkamp. Who -- Manchin. All these folks are in districts that they're either pro-life or they represent districts that Trump did very well in. States that Trump did well in -- so --

CAMEROTA: I mean, listen --

DENT: This is going to be -- it's going to be some cross dynamics here that will be pretty interesting.

CAMEROTA: For sure. But some pundits say -- I mean, with all due respect to Susan Collins -- that she's living in la la land if she thinks that, just because she sits down with Neil Gorsuch, and he looks her in the eye and he claims that he, you know, will be open- minded or not have an agenda, that then that's what happens we you're on the bench. DENT: Senator Collins, look, I can tell you -- I can assure you she

is not in la land. Senators is tough. She's smart. And if she believes that this nominee does not meet with her approval, she's the type who will vote against it. She's tough. I've seen her in action. You saw her on health care. She stood up. She knows how to stand up if she's -- if she's pushed -- if she's pushed too much. So I would be very careful if I were the administration. I wouldn't go too far.

And by the way, I still think it's not always easy to determine just how these Supreme Court justices will actually vote. I heard this before about Roe v. Wade being overturned, and I think we heard that going back as far as Sandra Day O'Connor. And it didn't happen. But who knows? Maybe we're in a different era now.

CAMEROTA: We are. I mean, listen --

DENT: It's very difficult to predict what a future judge will do.

CAMEROTA: Look, there's all sorts of statistics that show that there used to be more politicians who say that they were pro-choice. Now, you now, there are so -- we're in a totally different era than Sandra Day O'Connor. I mean, now this is a litmus test. Now the president -- Donald Trump said as much when he was running, obviously, as a candidate. I mean, he was quite clear about that. That's what his base demanded.

DENT: Well, he did. And you know, look, I was one of the few remaining pro-choice Republicans, and said now that I'm leaving and Rodney Frelinghuysen, there will be none left in the House.

CAMEROTA: There you are.

DENT: So I understand the challenges on this issue. Both sides have made this a seminal test. This is the ultimate litmus test. There are very few pro-life Democrats. And there are soon to be few, or no pro-choice Republicans left in the House.

CAMEROTA: Right. I mean, even though -- I mean, just -- I'm sorry to interrupt you, Congressman. But even though public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans, Americans, OK? I mean, you know, across party lines -- look at this. Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade? Sixty-seven percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, say no. Only 29 percent say yes at the moment.

So how is it that Congress is so out of step with where Americans are?

DENT: Well, that's a fair question.

I'll tell you what. Susan Collins is right when she says this matter is largely settled. And I would often say to some of my Republican colleagues in the House, who -- who wanted to test the abortion issue. I said, "If you really feel so strongly about it, why don't we just put the Human Life Amendment on the floor and see how it does?" That would be a constitutional amendment. You need a two-thirds vote. Of course it would fail. It would not pass. So I often think that the strategy of the pro-life members and the

pro-life community is to simply chip away at abortion rights. But if Roe v. Wade were overturned, well, that would really be quite a dramatic step.

Now, that wouldn't necessarily make abortion illegal in every state, because states would then -- would then deal with the issue. And I suspect most states -- many states would continue to keep legal abortion, but others would not.

[07:25:08] So this would be a test. It would also supercharge the Democratic base like no other issue. So that's the other thing, too. That if that is overturned, and if Republicans are successful in nominating and getting their Supreme Court nominee through before the election, sure, that will help Republican turnout, but it will super charge the Democratic base. They'll be even angrier, because they will have lost.

CAMEROTA: Charlie, is there some irony about this playing out and people who are so adamantly pro-life while children are being separated from their parents. Even babies are being separated from their parents at the border? And that President Trump is supposedly trying to deal with that.

But there are more than 2,000 children who have been separated from their parents, and they haven't been reunited. And we don't know if they're going to be or how they're going to be because the federal government doesn't seem to have a mechanism for doing so.

DENT: Well, it's pretty hard to get awfully sanctimonious on the -- on the pro-life issue while you're witnessing children being separated by their -- from their parents and families. It is really quite -- that's an irony and a real contradiction. It's pretty hard to sort of -- you know, to go back there and wave the flag of being pro-family while watching these families be torn apart, but then you can just fall back and say, "If I'm pro-life, I guess that makes it all better." Well, it really doesn't. So there is a real contradiction there.

And again, just like the Supreme Court justice is going to -- the Supreme Court fight is going to super charge the Democratic base just like this -- just like this family separation is also super charging their base.

So it's -- I think it's going to be a wild, wild fall. I mean, let's face it. The other -- when you're out of power and you -- and you're losing all of your issues, you just get angrier. You're more motivated. And so all these issues will just simply stoke up Democratic turnout, I think, in the midterm.

CAMEROTA: We had breaking news a few moments ago about Michael Cohen, who is now breaking his silence, the president's longtime fixer and personal attorney. He has basically said that he will put his family first. "My wife, my daughter, and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put my family and country first." This is someone who, you know, in recent memory said that he would

take a bullet for Donald Trump. What do you think the significance is of this?

DENT: Sounds like he's cooperating. And I don't know what cries that Michael Cohen may have committed. All this has to do with his personal business, you know, the taxi medallion business or is this regarding the Stormy Daniels payment reimbursement.

I mean, all of this fuss a few weeks ago when everybody was sort of surprised that -- that he was somehow reimbursed for the Stormy Daniels payment. I don't think there was anybody on the planet who believed that Michael Cohen paid that Stormy Daniels payment out of the goodness of his heart and that he expected no reimbursement. No lawyer pays the settlement for his client that I'm aware of.

So bottom line, it sounds like he's cooperating, although again, as I think one of your previous guest said, it would be interesting to know just exactly what crime Michael Cohen is going to plead to. We simply don't know that.

CAMEROTA: Right. He's not been charged with anything, we should say. And we don't know that he's cooperating. It just sounds like he is open to possibly being helpful to prosecutors.

Charlie Dent, thank you. Always great to get your perspective on all of this. Thank you very much for being here.

DENT: Thanks, Alisyn.


DENT: Great to be with you.

BERMAN: Great discussion. We don't know if he's cooperating. We know he seems to be cooperative, and we'll see what that means, coming up next.

Plus, the Democratic message. We're hearing from some Democrats now they want to abolish ICE. Is that a winning message for the midterms? We'll ask a key Democratic senator, next.