Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Discussed Playmate Payment on Cohen Tape; Duck Boat Tragedy; Middle East Violence; Trump Administration Defends Putin Invitation. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired July 21, 2018 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Sex, lies and the audiotape. President Trump's former lawyer and a secret recording he made of the president discussing a payment to a "Playboy" model.

Plus a town in mourning; 17 people are killed in a boat accident during stormy weather.

And the toughest ever?

The U.S. president claims to be tough on Russia. We will test that claim.

Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier.


VANIER: The man once touted as Donald Trump's fixer, long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen, made numerous recordings of his conversations with Mr. Trump. Those recordings are now in possession of the FBI.

According to the source familiar with the matter, at least one of the recordings made just two months before the election is of Mr. Trump and Cohen discussing buying the rights to the story of Karen McDougal. She is a former "Playboy" model, who says she had an affair with Mr. Trump in 2006, something which he denies.

We get the details 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?


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: Political analyst Michael Genovese is here with us to break it down. He's president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.

Michael, break it down for us.

What are the various ways in which this could develop for Mr. Trump?

MICHAEL GENOVESE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot of it now depends on who can control the narrative. When the public sees in their minds' eye this story, what's going to be the feature?

What's going to be the headline?

What's going to be the narrative that they see?

Will they see a pack of lies?

Will they see hush money?

Will they see a president acting in a sleazy manner?

Or will they see, oh, it's just innocent, it's mild, it's very small.

And so I think the accumulative affect of all this will weigh heavily on the president. And he -- if he hasn't lost the narrative already, he's about the lose it.

VANIER: It's very interesting the way you --


VANIER: -- characterize it and the public perception because when I read the story, and I assume this is how a lot of people are going to see it, the first thing that hits you, is, wow, the president's lawyer was actually recording him and we have the tape.

You think this is going to be catastrophic for Donald Trump. But then there's Rudy Giuliani's version of it, Donald Trump's lawyer. It's his job to make good of this but he says this conversation helps us because the content of the conversation shows that Donald Trump didn't know about payments to buy the rights to Karen McDougal's story. So this could be a good thing for him.

GENOVESE: Probably not. I think anytime you're talking about hush money, talking about payments to try to cover up an alleged affair, all those things are negatives. I think Rudy Giuliani is trying to put the best spin on it. He's does a great job at that.

But I think he's working with some very, very soft material here. I think most of the people who will see this will argue, that, wait a minute, he's talking about hush money. He's talking about silencing a potential source right before a campaign. It looks bad so it may very well be bad.

VANIER: We're also finding out that that tape was protected by attorney-client privilege. But Mr. Trump's lawyers actually wanted that and got that privilege lifted so that the tape could be accessed by prosecutors. Again, that suggests that they think the tape helps them.

GENOVESE: Well, there's a lot about this we don't know about. You can take one side or the other's positions. But there's a master who has looked at these to try to judge whether or not things can be attorney-client privilege or whether they're for public release.

And so we're still at the beginning of this; we don't know the full story. We don't know what other tapes exist, what may or may not be on them. And so I think it's a little premature for us to say, well, this is exculpatory or it's damning.

VANIER: The potentially even bigger story here, it seems to me, is that we now have the confirmation that Michael Cohen was recording, that there are recordings and that the FBI has them. And there could be more.

What do we know?

GENOVESE: We don't know a lot. We keep hearing from Rudy Giuliani that there's really not much more in there. Don't worry about it. There's less here than meets the eye.

Robert Mueller's going to know. Prosecutors will know. If they have material that's useful that they can build a case on, it will be used. So I keep cautioning people in this case, there's so much more that we don't know, so much more below the surface, we need a little patience. Don't make final judgments too early.

VANIER: What can we infer from the fact that this information became public?

Somebody leaked this, right?

Either the FBI or Michael Cohen, one would think.

George Well, the newspaper's got it and they have been running with it. It's a hot story, it's salacious; hush money, it sounds really intriguing. Somebody did release it, probably shouldn't have. I think the White House is playing catch-up on this. But that's the problem, they keep having to play catch-up. They don't have control. They're not playing offense, they're playing defense. Now clearly the president, when he plays defense, plays offense. But

right now you're seeing the president's attorney, trying to spin this in a way that makes the president look good. But it's very hard to put a spin on this. There's no way this can look good for anyone.

VANIER: Michael Genovese, as always, pleasure to talk to you. Thank you.

GENOVESE: Thank you.

VANIER: Vigils were held on 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 at the time.

It sank in a lake on Thursday during a sever thunderstorm. Our Kaylee Hartung reports.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, those poor people, oh, my gosh.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cellphone video capturing the moments before the amphibious tour boat carrying 31 people capsized on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri.


HARTUNG (voice-over): The duck boat struggling, fighting 60-mile-per- hour winds and massive waves before overturning just after 7:00 pm Thursday evening. The severe thunderstorm warning issued about half an hour before the boat capsized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My understanding was that, when the boat went in the water, it was calm. Then partway through, coming back, is when everything -- when the waves picked up and then, obviously, swamped the boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Western units, we need a water rescue. Will be north of the show boat. Will be a duck that has capsized. We have approximately 30 individuals in the water.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Seventeen people killed. Authorities say the victims ranging in age from 1 to 70. And Missouri's governor telling CNN that 11 members of one family were on the boat, nine of them dying when it sank.

MIKE PARSON, GOVERNOR OF MISSOURI: They're still somewhat in shock of the incident, trying to figure out all the things that happened in that tragedy event. But it was a tough -- it was tough --


PARSON: -- to go in there and talk to them and to see them in that position, because all of us that have family members and children, you know, it's just hard to imagine being in that situation.

HARTUNG (voice-over): Choppy waves began crashing against two duck boats in the Missouri lake. Courtney Parker was on board the boat just a few feet in front of the one that sunk.

She told CNN, "My husband was holding our daughter and tried to get life jackets for them and jump off. But then we got out of it and made it to the ramp. And I turned around and watched the other boat nose dive and my heart dropped."

Officials say there were life jackets on the boat but it's unclear if anyone was wearing them. Among those killed, the driver of the boat, Bob Williams. A second crew member, the boat's captain, among the 14 survivors.


VANIER: CNN's Kaylee Hartung reporting there.

So just how the weather contributed to the Missouri duck boat tragedy is a key focus of the ongoing accident.


VANIER: The U.N. warns this could turn into another war. We'll have the latest on efforts to maintain a fragile Israel-Gaza cease-fire -- when we come back.





VANIER: There are reports that a Gaza cease-fire is back on after another round of violence. Hamas and a diplomatic source say the truce was restored after more fighting on Friday. CNN's Ian Lee has the latest on the conflict from 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 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.


VANIER: Two more people have been killed in protests across Iraq. That brings the death toll to 10 killed since the demonstrations started earlier this month. The protests spread from Basra in the south to other parts of the country that include the capital, Baghdad.

People are demanding the basics: clean water, electricity and jobs. Iraqi officials say they have increased security across the country to protect the protests and government institutions.

According to the U.S. president, he is the toughest president on Russia ever.

Is he really?

We'll take a look.





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.


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.


VANIER: It's been four days since that summit in Helsinki. And we know what was said during the Trump-Putin news conference. We know about the backlash in Washington and 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 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 is soft on Russia.


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.



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.


DOUGHERTY: 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. 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.


VANIER: And thank you for watching. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'm back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us on CNN.