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Trump Discussed Playmate Payment on Cohen Tape; Trump Administration Defends Putin Invitation; Duck Boat Tragedy. Aired 12m- 12:30a ET
Aired July 21, 2018 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The secret tape, Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen recorded a conversation between them about payment to a "Playboy" model who alleged an affair with Mr. Trump. That recording is now with the FBI.
"Toughest ever," the U.S. president says he's harder on Russia than any of his predecessors. We will examine that claim.
Plus honoring the memory of 17 people killed in Missouri when a thunderstorm sank their tour boat.
Live from the CNN Center, I'm Cyril Vanier. It's great to have you with us.
VANIER: So the man once touted as Donald Trump's fixer, long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen, made numerous recordings of his conversations with Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump was incredulous when he found out.
According to a source, he said, "I can't believe Michael would do this to me."
Those recordings are now in the possession of the FBI. According to a source familiar with the matter, at least one of the recordings is of Mr. Trump and Cohen discussing buying the rights to the story of Karen McDougal. She's the former "Playboy" Playmate that said she had an affair with Mr. Trump in 2006, something Mr. Trump continues to deny. We get the details now from CNN's Jessica Schneider.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Cohen secretly recorded multiple conversations with Donald Trump, sources tell CNN. And those tapes are now in the hands of federal investigators.
Two months before the election, Cohen recorded a conversation with Trump, discussing a payment to the former "Playboy" model, Karen McDougal. That's according to Trump's current attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
McDougal claims she had nearly a year-long affair with the president right after Melania gave birth to Barron in 2006.
KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYMATE: I was attracted to him, yes. He's a nice-looking man and I liked his charisma.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): McDougal has said Trump tried to hand her cash after their first night together.
MCDOUGAL: After we had been intimate, he tried to pay me and I actually did not take that.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Did he actually try to hand you money?
MCDOUGAL: He did.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Trump denies the affair. McDougal says she didn't take the money that night but McDougal eventually sold her story to the "National Enquirer" for $150,000. The tabloid never published it.
Giuliani told CNN that Trump didn't know he was being recorded during that discussion. But on the tape, Trump and Cohen discussed buying the rights to McDougal's story from AMI, the parent company of the "Enquirer."
Trump advised Cohen to pay by check so that it could be documented, according to Giuliani. The recording was one of several seized by the FBI during a raid of Cohen's hotel room, apartment and office back in April.
There are other tapes of Michael Cohen and other powerful individuals that the FBI seized, beyond the president, that could be embarrassing for the people on the tape and for Cohen, according to a source familiar with those tapes.
Prosecutors in New York City are examining possible election law violations related to payments Michael Cohen made to women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump. Adult film actress Stormy Daniels received $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged affair. She has since sued Trump over that agreement.
Daniel's attorney is now urging Cohen to release the recordings.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: If Michael Cohen, in fact, is a true patriot, as he wants the American people to believe and as Lanny Davis wants the American people to believe, then Michael Cohen should release all of the audio recordings.
And I will tell you for a fact, there is more than one. There is multiple recordings. And all of them should be released for the benefit of the American public.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): For now, Michael Cohen isn't commenting. He's been seen on the streets of New York City but has stayed mostly silent, at least publicly. He sat down with ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos off camera earlier this month, signaling his willingness to work with special counsel Robert Mueller, stressing his family, not the president, comes first.
And late last night, after a week of twisted words from the White House regarding Russia, Cohen quoted the legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite and said, "It has never been more important than it is now for everyone to distinguish between innuendo and fact" -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.
VANIER: We're joined now by Michael Moore, former U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.
Help us understand this.
What do we need to take out of this?
Let's start with this, what are the possible scenarios depending on what was said on that tape?
MICHAEL MOORE, U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I mean, you can have a situation where there is a campaign finance violation that could be if Trump knew the money was being spent and Michael Cohen was spending the money to affect the outcome of election. That could be a violation.
VANIER: So a reminder, the money was spent by the "National Enquirer" to buy the rights of Karen McDougal's story. If Donald Trump knew that the "National Enquirer" was buying her rights that could be campaign finance --
MOORE: Well, we know he's friends with the "National Enquirer" owner.
VANIER: Right, the owner of American Media Inc., that owns the "National Enquirer."
MOORE: And these things don't just happen in a vacuum. And so my guess is that there may be some testimony or some evidence, if they pursue a campaign finance violation, that Trump had some knowledge or involvement in making those arrangements.
They may have been made through a third party, somebody like Mike Cohen, who was his fixer as we know, but if he had some involvement in that, you may have a problem.
VANIER: Reportedly, the content of the conversation was not that. In fact, according to the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, it helps the president's case because nothing in that 2-minute or so conversation shows that the president knew about that payment made before it was made.
So it would help their case?
MOORE: Well, and we're very early in understanding what these tapes are.
MOORE: And what's contained in the tapes. And I think that history has taught us, as we have listened to Giuliani, that we may need to wait until the rest of the story comes out. And so at this point, what we need to do --
VANIER: But is it a possibility that this actually -- ?
MOORE: Well, I don't know that I would ever think that anytime your lawyer is recording you and he's giving that information over, and the information is recovered and reviewed by the FBI, that's a positive thing for a client.
VANIER: We got interesting information from several CNN sources, that the president waived privilege on the recordings. So those recordings, that recording was protected by client privacy. It couldn't be used in court, that means.
MOORE: Well, the recording itself may not have been admissible in court because of attorney-client privilege but we also have an indication at this point that Michael Cohen is watching out for Michael Cohen.
And it may be that he cooperates and talks about things that went on or he was directed to do by the president outside of the recording itself. There is an exception to the attorney-client privilege and it means it doesn't allow an attorney and a client to conspire to commit a crime.
So if, in fact, that was going on, that would be something that wouldn't be covered by the privilege. The communication itself, because it was within the attorney-client relationship, the recording itself may have been held aside by this special master.
But in this case it may also be that Michael Cohen says, wait a minute, there is more to the story than just the fact there was a recording.
VANIER: But if they waived the privilege, they had the privilege; waived it, doesn't that strongly suggest that they think this works in their favor?
MOORE: I don't think so. I think they don't really have a choice at this point. We already have -- we know the tape is out there. We've got Michael Cohen, who could be a cooperating witness for the Mueller investigation. I don't know necessarily that saying we're going to go ahead and let people listen to it, I don't know that it works in their favor as an indication.
Otherwise they just may have gotten caught with the fact that the tape in fact exists. I mean, this is an administration who has denied payments, who has denied knowing people, who has denied having involvement.
Well, suddenly now that's not true. And most of the times these things come out and they are an attack or they tend to shine discredit on somebody's credibility.
Here, I think, the statements that have been made, statements by the president, statements by his counsel, those things are -- the credibility of those has already been brought into question as they stand.
VANIER: There is also -- and this is very big, an important part of the story -- there is a story behind the story, which is that Michael Cohen is recording people and including one of his main clients, Donald Trump.
MOORE: That's right. And I think that's the big story here, is, in fact, that the president's lawyer was recording him. And this is an indication that Michael Cohen is going to begin to watch out for himself. He may, in fact, be cooperating.
But anytime a lawyer is recording a client and those things may be being held to say, look, I need to have a get out of jail free card. I may need something to protect myself down the road. So I'll have this tape. My guess is that's why the recording was made.
VANIER: Michael Moore, former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Georgia, thanks for joining us.
MOORE: Good to be with you. Yes, absolutely.
VANIER: Let's go to the Middle East now. There are reports a Gaza cease-fire is back on after another round of deadly violence. Israel says it hit dozens of targets linked to Hamas on Friday after the fatal shooting of one of its soldiers. Things appeared to have calmed down.
But how long will the truce last this time around?
CNN's Ian Lee is in Gaza.
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The situation is calm now in Gaza, although we can still hear Israeli warplanes and drones overhead. This situation spiraled out of control earlier today, when a sniper along the Gaza border shot and killed an Israeli soldier, that according to the Israeli military.
Then Israel responded with this widespread campaign against Hamas targets. That includes weapons depots, command and control, training facilities, an array of Hamas targets. At least 60 were targeted.
And in this, three members of Hamas' military wing, al-Qassam, they --
LEE: -- were killed and another person was killed, we're hearing, along the fence and the situation grew tenser. Many people here thinking that this could lead to a war.
The U.N. special coordinator for Middle East peace, Nickolay Mladenov, he said that everyone needed to step back from the brink, both Palestinians and Israelis, and talk this down.
We're hearing that a cease-fire has been reached. This according to a Hamas spokesman, Fawzy Barhoum, saying that the Egyptians and the U.N. were instrumental in bringing back this calm.
But this calm could last for a little while, could last for a week. That's because we've seen an uptick in violence really ever since March, when this protest movement began along the border, where you'd see thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of Palestinians, gathering on the border and confronting Israeli soldiers.
Israeli soldiers have killed over 140 Palestinians during those protest and Israel says that they are defending the border. But until there is a real settlement that brings calm to Gaza for the Gazan factions here as well as Israel, then we could expect to see these upticks in violence continue -- Ian Lee, CNN, Gaza. (END VIDEOTAPE)
VANIER: President Trump says he is the toughest U.S. president ever on Russia. When we come back, we examine the president's track record.
VANIER: The Trump administration is defending its decision to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Washington this fall. This is what secretary of state Mike Pompeo said Friday, speaking at the United Nations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm happy that the two leaders of two very important countries are continuing to meet. And if that meeting takes place in Washington, I think it's all to the good.
Those conversations are incredibly important. We have our senior leaders meeting all across the world with people where we have deep disagreements with.
It is incredibly valuable to the people of the United States of America, the -- President Putin and President Trump continue to engage in dialogue to resolve the difficult issues that our countries face between each other.
I think this makes enormous sense and I'm very hopeful that that meeting will take place this fall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: It's been four days since the summit in Helsinki and we know what was said during the Trump-Putin news conference. We know about the backlash in Washington. We know about the damage control from the White House. What we don't know is what the two leaders actually said to each other when they met privately. Matthew Chance reports from Moscow.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Details on what exactly was discussed at the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki remain sketchy. Neither side has given a full account of what Presidents Trump and Putin talked about.
But Russian officials have revealed several key aspects of the talks. Russian president Vladimir Putin said useful agreements were made there.
According to media reports, he told --
CHANCE: -- ambassadors here in Moscow that he made a proposal to President Trump to hold a referendum in Eastern Ukraine but then agreed not to discuss the plan publicly, said the U.S. could consider it. U.S. officials have since ruled out that proposal.
The Russian ambassador to the U.S. said Trump and Putin discussed concrete measures for Eastern Ukraine. Now the Russian defense ministry say the Helsinki talks also focused on international security matters, including a discussion of the New START Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
Defense officials in Moscow say cooperation in Syria was also discussed, including the reconstruction of the country. And a joint U.S.-Russian plan to return refugees to their homes.
Moscow is one of the few places outside the White House, where the Helsinki meeting has been highly praised. The Russian foreign minister called the talks "magnificent, better than super," were his words.
The Kremlin has rounded on critics of President Trump, accusing them of sacrificing ties with Russia for political gain. It's a hint that, behind the smiles in Moscow, that how well the summit went, concerns are growing here that a backlash in the United States could actually make the tense relationship with Washington even more strained -- Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.
VANIER: So the meeting went down pretty well in Moscow. Not so well received, however, in Washington. And true to form, President Trump hit back at his critics, who say that he's soft on Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There has been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia. All you have to do is look at the numbers, look at what we've done, look at sanctions, look at ambassadors not there.
Look, unfortunately, at what happened in Syria recently. And I think President Putin knows that better than anybody, certainly a lot better than the media.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: The toughest ever on Russia?
This is an important claim. So let's actually examine the president's track record. Mr. Trump has been in office 1.5 years. This is what he can point to.
First of all, keeping the sanctions in place that were already there before he came to office, the Obama-era sanctions against Putin for invading Crimea.
Secondly, approving the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine, a foe of Russia. Attacking Syrian military sites which caused the deaths of hundreds of Russian mercenaries. Imposing sanctions on certain Russian oligarchs, the richest men in Russia, businesses and government officials.
And also earlier this year, expelling 60 Russian diplomats, more than any other country. So let's bring in CNN contributor, Jill Dougherty, she's a global fellow for the Woodrow Wilson Center.
So, Jill, is Donald Trump right?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think in some ways he is. But, there is a big but. You look at overall, there is another side to this. For instance, what did he do at NATO?
Granted he got the allies to cough up some more money. But in the process I think he weakened the organization by criticizing it. And there are other aspects to this. There is no, I would say if you stand back, Cyril, there is no cohesive approach to Russia.
These are the things that he talks about; sanctions, yes. But he was really pretty much pulled, kicking and screaming, into doing those sanctions. So overall, his administration takes very strong steps sometimes but
the president himself is not the person who apparently is pushing for that or, at least, if he is, we don't know about it.
So I think, absent any real policy, it feels very schizophrenic. The president says nothing very specific, does nothing really very specific, except to talk about a better relationship. And yet his administration does take some pretty strong steps against Russia.
VANIER: All right. This raises a couple questions for me.
First of all, are you telling me that the president, the actions that this president has taken against Russia, somehow he didn't really want to take them?
DOUGHERTY: Well, in some cases, yes. I think that's true, especially with sanctions. But I think it's -- the question is, who is driving this?
VANIER: This is not a president who has been forced into doing many things he hasn't wanted to do.
DOUGHERTY: No, but that's why, getting back to this point, who was driving this?
Is it the president himself who is saying what we ought to do is provide lethal weapons and we ought to do sanctions; in other words, some policy?
Or is it his administration of these officials, who push forward with, let's say, predictable American steps?
And some of them actually may be unpredictable and stronger than you might expect. And he goes along with that to kind of -- as an insurance policy to look tougher, when, actually, rhetorically and with President Putin, he is not.
This is the quandary.
DOUGHERTY: We simply don't know. And if you judge by what he says, I don't think that it is very harsh. Rhetorically, it's, in fact, very soft, other than to say, you know, I'm Putin's worst nightmare if the relationship goes south.
VANIER: All right. Jill Dougherty, thank you so much for joining us. It is a very important question and it's something that comes up time and time again in the debate about why Mr. Trump says the things he says about Russia. Jill, thanks for your input.
Still to come, the grim investigation into a tour boat accident that claimed 17 lives, including nine members of a single family.
VANIER: Vigils were held Friday to mourn the 17 people killed in a boating accident in the U.S. The tragedy happened near the popular U.S. tourist town of Branson, Missouri. Nine of the victims were from the same family.
The so-called duck boat, an amphibious vessel, was carrying 31 people when it sank in a lake on Thursday during a severe thunderstorm. Miguel Marquez reports.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, God.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cell phone video capturing the unthinkable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's going under.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): A tour boat full of families disappearing beneath the swells on Missouri's Table Rock Lake. Fewer than half the people on board would make it back to shore alive; 17 passengers, from ages just 1 year old to 70, including the boat's driver, Bob Williams, are now gone.
MIKE PARSON, GOVERNOR OF MISSOURI: One lady lost nine members of her 11 members of her family.
MARQUEZ: Oh, dear.
PARSON: So I had a chance to talk to her and it's difficult to find the right words to say.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): It is one of the deadliest duck boat accidents in history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a storm.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): As strong weather rolled in Thursday evening, the waters on the lake became treacherous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never seen it quite this bad. Boats can't get in, boats can't get out.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): This video from a man who had a ticket for the duck boat and turned back, tweeting, "We saw high winds and bad weather roll in. So I decided to get a refund and leave with my wife."
Severe thunderstorm warnings for the area were first issued at 5:45, then again at 6:30, just before the accident.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Welcome aboard Ride the Duck.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Still, two duck boats continued with their advertised tour. Radar shows the fast-moving storm heading toward Branson, hitting the lake with 63 mile an hour wind gusts, just as the boats tried to turn back at 7:00 pm. Only one made it to shore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to make it.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): The first emergency calls for the other came in at 7:09.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Western units, we need a water rescue. Will be north of the show boat. Will be a duck that has capsized.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there is somebody out there with a video of this, please send it to our Stone County Sheriff's Office Facebook page.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): As investigators pour in to Branson to find answers, the president of the duck boat company tells CNN, this never should have happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was perfectly calm and we had a high-speed wind system that just came out of nowhere. Obviously, we shouldn't be out there in severe weather. We're absolutely devastated and we couldn't feel -- we feel terrible.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): For so many here now, grieving such sudden loss, terrible is just the beginning.
VANIER: So just how the weather contributed to the Missouri duck boat tragedy is a key focus of the accident investigation right now.
VANIER: Thanks for watching. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment.