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President Trump Dodges Questions About Secret Audio Recording; Interview with Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired July 25, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:05] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

The top story tonight remains that tape, Michael Cohen's secret recording of then-candidate Donald Trump. Mr. Trump caught on tape talking about reimbursing his friend, a tabloid magazine publisher, $150,000. The same sum of money that the magazine publisher had paid a "Playboy" model for the rights to her story of an alleged 10-month affair with Donald Trump.

AMI, the parent company of the "National Enquirer", bought the story and killed it. They didn't publish it. But Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen apparently were worried their secret still wasn't safe, so they were planning to buy the rights to the story from AMI, thereby guaranteeing a woman's silence in the closing weeks of the campaign.

That's what we hear on that secret tape, but not according to the president or his defenders. So, we begin tonight, keeping them honest, with the latest effort at gaslighting by President Trump and his defenders over the tape.

Now, remember, a little more than 24 hours ago, the president of the United States on national television said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.


COOPER: Don't believe what you see with your own eyes and what you hear with your own ears.

And sure enough, as soon as the tape first hit air last night on CNN, the effort began to persuade people not to trust their ears, not to believe the recording, not to see what the recording, in fact, reveals. Now, the president has not been telling the truth about this, nor was the campaign in the weeks and days when it mattered.

Quote: We have no knowledge of any of this. That's how campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks put it just days before the election. That's what they claimed. No knowledge.

Well, we now know in words made famous by Elvis Presley, that was just a lie. The song appropriately was "Hound Dog" as in you ain't nothing but a hound dog.

November of 2016 was when Hope Hicks lied and said we have no knowledge of any this. She was responding to a "Wall Street Journal" scoop revealing details of the deal that AMI made to buy the story and silence Karen McDougal. We have no knowledge of any of this, Hope Hicks said.

Now, it's possible the president lied to Hope Hicks and to everyone else in the White House. And when she said "we," she just meant we, the poor creatures who have no idea what's going on because the president lies to us as much as he lies to you. But the we she probably meant probably included the hound dog and that was just a lie.

On the tape, two months prior to that categorical denial, candidate Trump and Michael Cohen appeared to have been talking about precisely that, talking most likely about their friend David Pecker, David Pecker, the head of AMI. Listen.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and I've spoken --


COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --

TRUMP: So what do we have to pay for this?

COHEN: -- funding.

TRUMP: One fifty?

COHEN: Yes. And it's all the stuff --

TRUMP: I was thinking about that.

COHEN: All the stuff. Because here you never know where that company -- you never know what he's going to be --

TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct. So I'm all over that that. And I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: Wait a second, what financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay him something --

TRUMP: We'll pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no. I got -- no, no, no. TRUMP: Check --

COHEN: Hey, Don, how are you?


COOPER: So that recording released to CNN by Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis last night is muffled in places. Some have suggested that when they're saying "our friend David", it may not refer to their friend David Pecker of American Media. Some suggest it could mean David Dennison, the president's pseudonym in the Stormy Daniels hush agreement.

But if you actually listen to it, that idea doesn't make any sense because they're voicing concern that their friend David could get hit by a truck, in the president's words, or something happened to his company and the rights to the story therefore were perhaps leak or be sold to someone not so friendly to the president or the "National Enquirer" under different leadership would publish the critical story.

Now, because of the words in dispute were not transcribed the conversation, we haven't put it on the screen. But keeping them honest, this is a conversation two of men discussing what sounds like a familiar subject, or at least a familiar type of arrangement to them two months before Hope Hicks said no one knew anything about it.

Now, the president and his defenders are trying to shape what you hear on that tape.

Here is Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's attorneys.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I assure you that we listened to it numerous, numerous times, and the transcript makes it quite clear at the end that President Trump says, quote, don't pay with cash. Cohen then interrupts and says, no, no, no, I got it. And then you hear distinctly, if you're careful and you slow it down, check. And then Cohen followed with no, no, no.

There is no way the president is going to be talking about setting up a corporation and then using cash unless you're a complete idiot. And the president is not an idiot.


COOPER: That last bit you can decide for yourself.

But did you see what Rudy Giuliani did there? He says the president didn't say cash.

[20:05:01] He said, don't pay with cash. Not cash, don't pay with cash.

Now, we're going leave it to you to decide. But it's hard to listen to that argument and not hear echoes of this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I said the word "would" instead of "wouldn't", and the sentence should have been, and I thought I would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video. The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia, sort of a double negative. So, you can put that in. And I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.


COOPER: Yes, pretty good, pretty good. Would, wouldn't, cash, not the cash.

At least, there the president was trying to persuade people he meant to say something different. Rudy Giuliani wants us to hear words that may or may not even be there. He says he listened to the tape again and again and slowed it down. So fair enough. Here's the key passage. Just listen closely one more time.


COHEN: So I'm all over that that. And I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: Wait a second, what financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay him something --

TRUMP: We'll pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no. I got -- no, no, no.

TRUMP: Check --

COHEN: Hey, Don, how are you?


COOPER: Rudy Giuliani said don't pay with cash, heard pay with cash clearly, whether you heard don't or not. You can draw your own on collusions. Right after he said that, Michael Cohen said no, no, no, no.

So, what was said on the recording, again, we're going to leave it up to you. Just to underscore, this was Michael Cohen and the candidate talking about something the campaign later denied they had any knowledge of, period, which was just a lie, just a big lie. Nor were the president's denials about payments to Stormy Daniels true, nor was his suggestions that he himself had taped conversations with James Comey. That was untrue, which might make you think twice about what his president says about the recording or even what the president tweets.

Quote: What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad. Is this the first? Never heard of it before. Why was the tape so abruptly terminated, cut while I was saying

positive things? I hear there are many clients and many reporters that are taped. Can this be so? Too bad.

Too bad for those taped, but not too bad to reveal yet another campaign lie. It's also interesting to hear the president complain about recorded conversations when it's been widely reported that before becoming president, Mr. Trump allegedly secretly recorded conversations in his Trump Tower office.

More now from our Jeff Zeleny. He joins us from the White House.

So, Jeff, the president, Rudy Giuliani today pushing back pretty hard on how Cohen and his team are characterizing this tape.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Anderson, they are pushing back. Not on the substance as much of the recording, trying to focus as you were just describing there, on a bit of, you know, smaller matters, the minutia of it if you will. The president expressing his, you know, shock that he was recorded in the first place.

But what they're not talking about I think is perhaps more interesting. Not talking about the fact that the president has misled, the White House has misled everyone, you know, for more than a year, nearly two years about his knowledge -- of having any knowledge of any of this. So trying to push back against, you know, the process of how these recordings came out.

Rudy Giuliani was saying it was leaked and it was privileged information. He shouldn't have done it. The president expressing shock that his lawyer would have leaked this. So sad.

But actually, I thought the president's words were pretty measured compared to what he usually says, a sign to me that he must be wondering what else Michael Cohen has.

COOPER: I understand you and CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins both tried to ask the president about this today. Explain what happened.

ZELENY: Exactly. The one question for the president is, does he feel betrayed by Michael Cohen?

Important to step back and remember, there is no one closer to the president, or at least was closer to the president outside his family for years than Michael Cohen. So, the president did not have any events on his public schedule. He was actually going to be taking questions.

So, as we always do at other events he is having, we ask questions. So, Kaitlan Collins was asking a question in the Oval Office today, asking the president if he feels betrayed by Michael Cohen. The president was having a meeting with the E.U. president who is here visiting, routine business. Well, the White House did not find that so routine, clearly a sign

that the president does not want to answer these questions. So they took the extraordinary step of banning Kaitlan Collins, our CNN's Kaitlan Collins from covering an event later on in the afternoon in the Rose Garden where the president was announcing this sort of an agreement with the E.U.

So I was at that event. I was asking the president the same questions. Does he feel betrayed by Michael Cohen? Did he mislead the American people about not knowing about this affair or the payments?

The president did not look back as he walked into the Oval Office from the Rose Garden, did not answer the questions. Aides shot us looks, Anderson, but no answer from the president.

So, at the end of this day, pretty extraordinary the president's only commented one time, one tweet about all of this. We'll see what else he has to say in the coming days.

COOPER: Look, I'm going to ask you the question, and frankly, I know the answer to the question.


[20:10:00] COOPER: But I feel like I have a responsibility to ask this question. Has anyone in the White House ever apologized for lies they have told? In particular, is anybody going to apologize or at least admit they were lying or saying information that was not true, that we now know the president knew about this and either the president lied to everybody in the White House or Hope Hicks was lying when she said we don't know anything about this?

I mean, does anyone ever come forward and say oh, yes, that thing that happened a year ago, we were wrong?

ZELENY: No. You know the answer is no, Anderson. But we do have a bit of experience in this because all of these lists are really racking up. We have so many examples of places where we simply were not told the truth.

There is -- when you talk to aides privately, they will say, look, we are giving you the best information we know at the time. Perhaps that's true. It could certainly be true. But it still speaks to the point that they're being either misled by the president, and they in turn, in his name are misleading the American people.

COOPER: I just remember doing the interview with Kellyanne Conway once, and she was like, well, you know, if reporters make a mistake, will heads roll? You know, if reporters make a mistake, they admit they made a mistake and apologize for it and they do it as quickly as possible. I've just yet to see anybody in this White House do that.

ZELENY: Of course.

COOPER: And I don't know how they can just, you know, just kind of move on and think oh, well, people -- no one will care that they lied a year ago and, you know, we'll just move on. Anyway --

ZELENY: There is no correction column here at the White House, Anderson.


ZELENY: There is for newspaper and TV reporters but not at the White House.

COOPER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Two perspectives now on what the law has to say about the conversation we've all been listening to.

Joining us CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Also his old Harvard law school professor, Alan Dershowitz, author of the now bestselling new book "The Case Against Impeaching Trump."

Jeff, let's start with Lanny Davis. He says that Cohen's not going to be the president's bullet taker or punching bag anymore. He wants to tell the truth.

Is this a declaration of war by Cohen? Because, frankly, one of the things Michael Avenatti is saying, well, if Cohen wants to tell the truth, he can release all the tapes. He can actually just go out and start telling the truth.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Right. And, you know, we are parsing this tape very carefully, as we should. But, you know, if you are an investigator or a prosecutor or even a civil lawyer, what you want is the whole context. You want to ask Michael Cohen, how did this conversation start? Is this your first conversation about this subject? What did you do afterwards?

He mentions Allen Weisselberg, who is another Trump Organization executive. What was his role in all of this?

COOPER: Right, because he is saying the guy from the Trump organization knew about the formation of this company to pay the money, and all along, Michael Cohen and all his supporters were saying this is something, at least with Stormy Daniels, this is something Michael Cohen just did on his own. Nobody from the Trump Organization had anything to do with it.

TOOBIN: Exactly. And, you know, it's fine to fixate on whether he said "don't pay cash" or "pay cash", but, you know, the real question is what the hell was going on here? And what was Donald Trump's involvement?

That's what we want to know. The tape tells us something, but it's just the beginning of a longer story.

COOPER: And just in terms of the context, I believe it was AMI that made the deal with Karen McDougal in August 2016. This conversation was in September. So that deal with AMI had already been done. They are clearly trying to or talking about paying back David Pecker for making this sweetheart deal to kill a story.

TOOBIN: Correct. The issue, the very specific issue, and this much is clear, is they are talking about whether Trump himself can pay David Pecker and sort of own the contract.

COOPER: Right.

TOOBIN: For Karen McDougal so that Trump controls her silence, not the magazine.

COOPER: Right. In case David Pecker gets hit by a truck, in the president's words, or something happens to the company, and then who knows gets that file.

TOOBIN: Right.

COOPER: Professor Dershowitz, I mean, the tape makes it pretty clear that the president and Cohen are trying to get the rights to Karen McDougal story from David Pecker, as we've just been discussing. He has already bought the rights, killed the story. But they're worried about AMI having it in their files, and David Pecker getting hit by a bus or a truck.

That may not be illegal, but it sure seems sleazy, and the campaign lied about it. I mean, doesn't it seem sleazy to you?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AUTHOR, "THE CASE AGAINST IMPEACHING TRUMP": Well, I think the big picture is we shouldn't know any of this conversation. All this conversation was decided by a former judge to be lawyer/client privileged information. It's a lawyer and a client talking to each other about whether to pay by cash or check, whether to make this deal, whether to not make the deal.

That's the kind of conversation I have every day with my clients. I don't tape the conversations, and I certainly don't leak them.

I think the big question that we need to know the answer to is who leaked this tape? In who's advantage was it to have this tape --


COOPER: You don't think the big question we need an answer to is why did Hope Hicks lie about it and why did the president lie about it and why has nobody fessed up that they lied about it?

DERSHOWITZ: Those are political question.

COOPER: No, no, those are human decency questions.

DERSHOWITZ: And people have a right to judge those questions. You've asked me to come on to talk about the legal implications.

The legal implications are conversations like this should never be disclosed to the public. Do you want your conversation with your priest, your doctor, your wife, your psychiatrist, your rabbi to be disclosed because the professional decides to tape it? [20:15:06] And then we don't know who leaked it, but it's very

important to know that, because the privilege is -- who leaked it? Do you know that?

TOOBIN: Lanny Davis gave it to Chris Cuomo.

DERSHOWITZ: No, no, no. You're missing the point. That happened after it was leaked.

Here is the chronology. Very important. It gets leaked while it's privileged after the judge makes a decision it's privileged, it gets leaked. Then, Rudy Giuliani says because it's been leaked, I'm going to waive this privilege to make sure that other privileges and other tapes if there are any aren't waived.

Then Lanny Davis discloses it, but the question is who did the original leak? That's the key question we must know the answer that to protect all of our privileges.

TOOBIN: I think you the chronology wrong. This tape was seized in the search warrant.

DERSHOWITZ: That's right.

TOOBIN: For whatever reason, Rudy Giuliani waived the attorney/client privilege on behalf of his client Donald Trump.

DERSHOWITZ: No, no, you have the chronology dead wrong. You are dead wrong.

Let me tell you the chronology. This is not questionable. It was deemed to be privileged, then it was leaked by somebody, then Rudy Giuliani saying because it was leaked, I'm waiving the privilege. He in fact went further and said I never would have waived the privilege.


COOPER: But you don't know -- it could have been Rudy Giuliani who leaked this. It could have been the president's team who leaked this.

DERSHOWITZ: I never would have waived the privilege -- it could be. Let's find out. It could be Cohen's team. It could be that team. It could be anybody.

But let's find out. That's a crucial question because that involves all of our rights.

TOOBIN: This is a classic, classic demonstration of how we are talking about precisely the wrong subject, which is --

DERSHOWITZ: This is the right subject.

TOOBIN: -- you know, who leaked what and the attorney/client privilege. What we should be talking about is why did Donald Trump lie about his involvement with this transaction? And why -- and is there any illegality here? Because all of this was happening under the pressure of a presidential

campaign. All of this money was changing hands about -- during -- you know, the heat of the presidential campaign. Was any of it an illegal campaign contribution? I don't know.


DERSHOWITZ: No, no. Because no money changed hands.

TOOBIN: But it certainly looks like it's worthy of investigation.

DERSHOWITZ: You're -- of course it does. But no one changed hands. This deal never got made.

TOOBIN: That deal never got made.

DERSHOWITZ: And it's not illegal. That's right. That's what we're talking about on the tape here.

But I have to tell you, what affects all Americans is not whether there were distortions or lies or what the tape says. What affects all Americans is whether we can rely on what we tell our lawyers, our doctors, our rabbis and our priests. That's the crucial question. We must learn the answer to that.

COOPER: Right.

DERSHOWITZ: To prevent it happening in the future.

COOPER: But the great thing about TV is we can ask many different questions. While I think that's certainly a valid legal question for everybody, there are also other questions which I think deserve answers which we've been talking about as well.

DERSHOWITZ: I agree, I agree.

COOPER: I do want to ask you, Jeff, about the breaking news, Congressman Meadows and Congressman Jordan have introduced a resolution to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

What's your reaction?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, the reason they want to impeach him is he hasn't turned over all the records of the pending investigation, Russia investigation that these House Republicans want to see. What Rod Rosenstein is doing is following the long-standing policy of the Department of Justice through Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

This is a political stunt by the house Republicans. Even they know it's going nowhere, even in a Republican House of Representatives. And Rod Rosenstein has done nothing but the right thing under this circumstance, and that is an idiotic stuff.

DERSHOWITZ: You're absolutely right. I'm going to have to write a new book called "The Case Against Impeaching Rod Rosenstein." I don't want to impeach anybody. I don't want to criminally charge anybody. I don't want to weaponize the criminal justice system or impeachment.

Let's have this discussion. Let's let the American public decide who's lying, who's not lying. But no crime is apparent from this tape. The only crime, it's not a technical crime, but ethical violation is who leaked the tape.

If it was the White House, let's find that out. That really would be a very, very negative mark on that. If it's the Cohen team, we need to find that out as well. That's very serious.

COOPER: Lying to the American people repeatedly is not a crime, it's just sleazy, and unfortunate.

DERSHOWITZ: It's even worse than that. It's even worse than that. It undercuts democracy to have lies like this told. And we're entitled the make that judgment. But from a legal point of view --

COOPER: I hear you.

DERSHOWITZ: The key questions are still who leak and whether any crime was shown on this tape. I think the answer to that second question is no.

COOPER: Alan Dershowitz, always a pleasure. Jeffrey Toobin as well.

Coming up, how is the Cohen recording playing on Capitol Hill? Manu Raju had the unenviable job of trying to get reaction from the Republican lawmakers. That's next.

Also ahead, in the aftermath of the Trump-Putin summit, the secretary of state refuses to answer questions from senators about what the two presidents discussed. Not even clear he actually knows what the two presidents discussed.

A follow-up meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin that President Trump proposed, you may have heard, has been delayed.

[20:20:06] Their reasoning behind that, next.


COOPER: The Michael Cohen recording shows that the president lied about not knowing about a payoff to a former "Playboy" model who said she had a ten-month affair with him. But do Republicans on Capitol Hill even care at this point?

CNN's Manu Raju has been getting reaction today. He joins me.

So, what did you hear from Republicans you caught up with?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, not a whole lot, Anderson. I talked to Republican after Republican about the Michael Cohen tape, about whether they had any concerns about the president and his campaign not telling the truth to the American public, about any legal risks that may be hovering over this presidency in light of this new revelation, but Republican after Republican declined to comment.


RAJU: Do you think the White House has been honest to the American public about what's happened here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I don't know enough about this to evaluate that.

RAJU: Do you think, though, the White House explained what happened here with this Cohen deal right before the elections?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I have no knowledge of any of that.

RAJU: Did the president, I mean, the White House explain what happened here?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: That's up to them. I don't -- we have enough to worry about with tariffs and everything else.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I really don't know anything about that. So I don't feel like I'm competent to talk about that.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I don't want to talk about smarmy kind of stuff.


RAJU: So even some critics of the president like Jeff Flake, Bob Corker did not want to touch this story at all. And that's not unusual.

Oftentimes, Republicans don't want to talk about the controversy after controversy coming out of this White House, some because they're allies of the president. They don't want the anger the base of the party. They don't want the spark any sort of revolt.

Others, they want to stick to territory they're more comfortable criticizing the president over like Jeff Flake said about tariffs. But that was a universal response today, Anderson. Republicans did not want the go anywhere near this unfolding scandal. They don't know where it's going to go, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Manu, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Congressman Mark Sanford, Republican from South Carolina.

Congressman Sanford, thanks for being with us.

What do you make of this tape? And also, your Republican colleagues' almost collective silence on the matter?

REP. MARK SANFORD (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I'm not going to speak for other colleagues, but what I would say, at least from my perspective, is that it's incredibly disturbing, because leaving the legal issues and the federal election issues and all the other issues that people have been talking about, I think in the last segment you pegged it, which is fundamentally what we have going on is that the president has institutionalized, if you will, the idea of it being OK to tell a lie.

[20:25:04] People don't bat an eye, and there is not strong pushback from the Hill. There is not strong pushback from the American public. But in essence we've institutionalized at the presidential level continuous lies one after another.

And I think as Alan Dershowitz just alluded to, this is an incredible problem in a trust-based system, which is ultimately a democracy.

COOPER: I mean, it's -- a, I think it's brave of you to say that. It's incredibly depressing, also, just to hear you say that. The reality of that is just incredibly depressing.

SANFORD: It is what it is.

COOPER: One of your Republican colleagues on the Senate side, Mike Round, said this morning while he is not OK with this quote, it's simply not an item that is a surprise to us. I guess if this were a Democrat, if this were a President Obama or President Hillary Clinton, would there be more outrage by Republicans voiced? I assume the answer would be yes?

SANFORD: I mean, yes. You know the answer to the question before you ask it on that one. And that's the way it works up here. And if it's a Democratic thing and Republicans are outraged and vice versa.

But I think to his point, I think he is probably accurate in a political sense. It has been baked into the cake of what's acceptable or what's OK, and that's the bigger problem. In a trust-based political system, the idea that you institutionalize lying is a real problem.

COOPER: It does seem to me, and we sort of heard this from folks on Capitol Hill that it seems like one tactic people are taking is just ignore what the president is tweeting, ignore the kind of stuff he comes out with, and just focus on what the actual policies are. And that's a safer place to react to because that's what's real and often the actual policies are different than, you know, the incendiary rhetoric in a tweet.

SANFORD: That's fair enough, on issues like this. But if you look at what's happening concurrently on the whole tariff and bailout issue, are you kidding me? I mean, I was the first governor in the nation to turn back then President Obama's stimulus package which were bailouts. And, you know, I made a fairly long argument as to why I didn't think they made sense.

We now have a Republican Party that is muted and silent on the issue of a bailout package which is what is being proposed in consequence to the tariffs that the administration itself imposed.

COOPER: The thing about this is, it's not just the fact that the president and Cohen talked about this payment, it's that the campaign put out a statement denying any knowledge of this. And maybe they were lied to too. I mean, that's entirely possible.

But even if they were, I don't know. I know it's naive or just dumb to expect at this point, you know, the White House to come out and say you know what? A year ago we were wrong, and that's just a fact.

SANFORD: Well, I think it's all long been observed this White House doesn't apologize, and I get it. Again, it is what it is on that front.

COOPER: I want to get your reaction to the president's comment today with the European Commission president. He declared it a, quote, a very big day for fair and free trade and said they worked toward eliminating tariffs and barriers on trade. I mean, is it a big day for free and fair trade? I mean, you just were referencing this.

SANFORD: I don't think so because we don't know what comes out of the negotiations with the European Union. Meanwhile, we have tariffs in place and counter-tariffs that have been imposed from real allies. I mean, the idea of Canada being a national security threat is something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense in anybody's book.

And we see consequences back home in South Carolina. Zodiac boats are produced in Summerville, South Carolina. They are on the hit list, if you will from Canada, and their ability to hire folks has now been impacted. You can go down a long list of other industries in other states in this country that have seen similar retaliation.

So, what I'd say is it's a diversion because we'll see what comes next with the European Union. But at the end of the day, what you've really got to watch are the Chinese, and the Chinese take a very different approach to negotiations than the Europeans do, and we don't know what come there's next.

COOPER: Congressman Sanford, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

SANFORD: Yes, sir.

COOPER: The president tried to shift the focus today, including with an Oval Office photo op with the president of the European Commission, as we just mentioned. But the questions about the Cohen recording kept coming all day long. We'll get more from Gloria Borger and Julia Hirschfield Davis, next.


[20:32:54] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We've been talking that recording of a conversation between the President and his former fixer Michael Cohen, a recording released to CNN by Cohen's own lawyer. On it Cohen and the President are heard discussing buying the rights to a former "Playboy" model's story from the "National Enquirer" which already bought the rights a month before about the affair she said she had with Mr. Trump that lasted she says for 10 months.

Now this is a conversation that happened in September, right before the election. Here again is part of it.


MICHAEL COHEN, FMR LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up --


COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --

TRUMP: So where are we --

COHEN: Funding, yes. And it's all the stuff, all the stuff. Because, you know, you never know where that company, never know what he is doing.

TRUMP: Gets it by.

COHEN: Correct. So I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay.

TRUMP: Cash?

COHEN: No, no, no, no. I got -- no, no, no.


COOPER: So with me now CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and political analyst of the "New York Times," White House correspondent Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

Gloria, you spoke to Michael Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, today. What did he say?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he tried to explain the fact that Michael Cohen tape records a lot by saying he did it in lieu of taking notes, and that -- it's something that was so normal for him that he never -- he never even thought about it. But in a million years, Lanny Davis says, he never thought that anyone would misuse that tape, and, you know, he, again, as he did yesterday on CNN points out that they released this because of the Giuliani strategy which he says is to disparage and undermine Michael Cohen.

And then, of course, he raises the question, which is he said it makes me wonder why they, meaning the Trump people, are so intent on harming Michael Cohen. Is it possible that Donald Trump fears Michael Cohen because he knows too much and is determined to tell the truth?

COOPER: Julie -- interesting.


[20:35:05] COOPER: I mean Julie, if this were any other President, the story would likely be in the headlines for weeks, possibly months. The President lied. The campaign lied. Hope Hicks didn't tell the truth. But now stories like this, I mean they come and they go. It's just a whole -- it just seems normal now.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes. It's hard to know whether this will have any more impact than any of the other stories along these lines that we've heard. I mean there was a time when the notion that there would be a story out about the President of the United States having paid off a former "Playboy" playmate for her silence about an affair with him would in and of itself be a huge thing. That's sort of baked this is the cake now and there doesn't seem to be a lot of reaction.

But I do think what Lanny Davis told Gloria is kind of the crux of the issue for Donald Trump now which is that it is really potentially damaging and should instill a lot of fear and I think is instilling a lot of fear in him and people at the White House to have a former fixer, somebody who was so intertwined with all of Donald Trump's business dealings and his personal dealings before he was President in a situation where he feels like he is in a defensive crouch, and he has a lot of potentially damaging information that he can leak out and trickle out however he wants. And it's a precarious position for the President to be in.

COOPER: Well Gloria, it's also interesting because Michael Cohen, who, you know, had kind of an odd role within the Trump organization, I mean he was, you know, he described himself as Mr. Fix it. But he references another attorney for the Trump Organization in that tape and basically says that he was consulted about how to set up this corporation that would pay the money to David Pecker to reimburse them for killing the story and paying Karen McDougal. That, then -- that guy who's referenced probably may even know more about the Trump business.


COOPER: Because he was actually there longer and more integral to a lot of deals. And so now he's part of this as well.

BORGER: Yes. I think it's safe to assume that Donald Trump didn't just have one fixer. I think there were probably many, and I think they operated at different levels, and I think Michael Cohen was somebody who had worked for Trump for a long time, who was very loyal to him. I think Trump trusted him. But I think Michael Cohen also knew that he had to consult other people when it came to making payments. And there was probably a hierarchy at the Trump Organization.

COOPER: Right. BORGER: And, you know, I think Michael Cohen was part of it. Where he actually fit in is kind of unclear.

COOPER: Well, Julie, it also kind of puts the lie to Michael Cohen and all his supporters who said Michael Cohen did this all on his own with Stormy Daniels independent of anybody in the Trump Organization, even though as Michael Avenatti has pointed out, you know, on his letterhead and talked about the Trump Organization, there was a Trump Organization attorney involved in the arbitration hearing in Los Angeles. And on this tape, which is regarding Karen McDougal, he is talking about a Trump organization employee who he is consulting to set up this corporation for this payoff.

DAVIS: Right. Well, to the degree that the White House or anyone around Donald Trump has acknowledged that any of this ever happened, it's always been the case that they've argued that, you know, this is just Michael Cohen acting on his own. This was something that, you know, President Trump had nothing to do with. That has long since been dispensed with now. We now know that President Trump knew about it. He directed it and he had a big role in it.

And I think what you're hearing is because Michael Cohen now has essentially taken different stance, he feels attacked by Trump and he wants to make public what he knows. We're not going to hear that line coming from him anymore.

COOPER: Right.

DAVIS: That oh, it was all of my own accord, I did it all without consulting my client. He is going to -- it's in his interests now, it's obviously he believes it's in his interests to illustrate as much as possible that the President knew and told him to carry out some of these things which may have legal implication.

COOPER: And that the Trump Organization was part and parcel of this.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

COOPER: And, you know, part of the whole operation of payoffs to silence people, you know, who had made allegations. Gloria Borger, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, thanks.

Coming up next, one of the senators who questioned the secretary of state today, as they tried to do what we've been trying to do for more than week now, get answers about what actually happened behind closed doors at the Helsinki Summit.


[20:43:08] COOPER: It's been nine days since the President and Vladimir Putin met face-to-face, one-on-one in Helsinki. Nine days without an official account of what was said in that room let alone what if anything was agreed to. Nine days with the Kremlin and Russian Foreign Ministry telling the world about what happened between the two presidents, but nothing of substance from the President himself or the White House except for largely content-free claims like this one.


TRUMP: Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago.


COOPER: The President also then later in an interview complained that reporters weren't reporting on the meeting behind closed doors. We'd love to report on it, just for the record, Mr. President. We just have no idea what to say about it because there is no record of it. That was nine days ago. Hard to see what's changed since then when it comes to knowing if there is any basis for what the President said. Today Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and had few answers, frankly.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D) RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Did the President discuss relaxing U.S. sanctions on Russia, including Katza (ph) sanctions?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Senator, the U.S. policy with respect to sanctions remains completely unchanged.

MENENDEZ: So the President did not -- is what you're telling me -- that I asked a very specific question. Did the President tell you that he discussed relaxing Russia sanctions or not, yes or no?

POMPEO: Senator, President is entitled to have private meetings. I'm telling you what U.S. policy, as I came here today.

MENENDEZ: No, but you told me that he had a conversation.

POMPEO: That's right.

MENENDEZ: In which he told you what transpired. I think the nation and so all of us who are policy makers deserve to know so that we can fashion policy accordingly. Did he tell Putin that I'll release or ultimately relax sanctions?

POMPEO: Senator, what you need to conduct your role, your appropriate role, I will provide you today that is United States policy with respect to the issues you request.


[20:45:05] COOPER: What's missing there is the actual answer. Secretary Pompeo largely declined to speak in any detail about how Helsinki or discussions with North Korea. He had this exchange with Committee Chairman Bob Corker over the President's public statements and the potential harm the senator believes they do.


SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) CHAIRMAN, RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I notice that you are not responding to what I'm saying.

POMPEO: I think I responded to everything that you said, Senator.

CORKER: No you didn't. And the fact is that you just didn't, OK.

POMPEO: We agree to disagree.

CORKER: No, we don't disagree but, the hell, let's run the transcript again if you want to talk about it.

POMPEO: We'll let the world decide.

CORKER: The fact is it's the President's public statements that create concern among senators on both sides of the aisle.


COOPER: Secretary Pompeo did use the hearings to roll out a renewed commitment rejecting Russia's annexation of Crimea. Also today the White House pushback what was expected to be a fall visit by Vladimir Putin until, I'm quoting National Security Adviser John Bolton here, the Russia witch-hunt is over, meaning the Mueller investigation.

Joining us democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon who questioned Secretary Pompeo today.

Senator, do you think Secretary Pompeo knows what went on in that meeting? Because he never said -- I mean the White House said that the President met with Pompeo among -- and Mattis, among others and talked to them, but the White House never said that the President explained in detail what he and Vladimir Putin talked about. Was it clear to you if Mike Pompeo even knows? Because he doesn't seem to give any details. He didn't seem to have any answers.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY, (D) OREGON: Well, the secretary said the President had informed him about the details, but, of course, that means the President only shared what he wanted to share. So I don't think anybody knows for sure what was discussed in that meeting.

COOPER: Secretary Pompeo argued, though, that the President's entitled to private meetings. I mean, I guess isn't the President allowed to conduct foreign policy as he sees fit?

MERKLEY: Well, I must say we're in a very strange space right now because the President is under investigation, or his team is under investigation for potentially having collaborated with an enemy. And so to then have a private meeting with that enemy, with Russia, with no accounting, no public knowledge of what was discussed is pretty disturbing.

COOPER: So when -- when Pompeo acknowledged that the President did brief him on the private meeting, it's not clear to you at all what the President was relying on besides his own memory for that, if in fact he even was recalling specific things that were said. I mean, the President has not proven himself to be all that reliable a narrater. He has told things to his own press secretary that were not true which she then went out and went on record with.

MERKLEY: That's absolutely right. I'm sure Secretary Pompeo is not at all confident he knows what went on in that meeting, but it's his job to defend the President. That's what he did. He basically played dodge ball for some three hours, confiding almost nothing except the very interesting disclosure that he's been unsuccessful in getting any sort of a detailed agreement with North Korea in regard to the nuclear weapon effort. Not an agreement on doing an inventory. Not an agreement on reducing the weapons. Not an agreement on verification.

So that was the only really -- really about the only thing of substance that came out after that three hours.

COOPER: Which, I mean, it seems like maybe North Korea, the summit was long time ago, but that's actually pretty stunning admission, because when the President came back from the, you know, the summit, he said everybody can sleep well at night. Things are moving along, you know, there is peace, everything is great.

MERKLEY: Yes. I quoted that very phrase to him today, and said can we really sleep well at night? Because it doesn't appear that we have an agreement. And essentially and kind of a round of about way, Secretary Pompeo acknowledged that they are still -- they still have the capabilities that they had before these conversations began. So that there has been no significant progress in reducing anything yet.

COOPER: And it's interesting because the President himself, just I don't know fit was yesterday or two days ago, time is sort of truncated now. But the President said words the effect of, well, there is not really a timeline for denuclearization. There is no real rush.

MERKLEY: That's right. Suddenly, you know, after he declared that we can all sleep well at night, there is no urgency, what we have right now with North Korea is the beginning of a conversation in which they have not done another nuclear test. So that's a positive. They haven't done another ballistic missile. That's a positive. But that type of freeze is the sort of thing they have done before with other administrations. Other administrations actually did get a detailed plan worked out. And so to claim that we're something new or different has occurred here, no, North Korea's played its normal game in which it agreed to a concept of its own definition of denuclearization, whatever that means, and then freezes activity to let the heat go down. And apparently from his commentary, the President is happy to let North Korea slow-walk this now.

[20:50:03] COOPER: And just in terms of the White House postponing this meeting with Vladimir Putin which is the White House is the one who brought this

MERKLEY: A decision not to -- not to meet?


MERKLEY: Yes. No, absolutely. I think it's such a meeting is completely inappropriate at this point. Not just because the President's completely unprepared and you have a very sharp KGB agent in President Putin but while the President's under investigation it just -- it doesn't sound or feel right. And we need to have the President be a watchdog for America. He essentially started putting forward the Russian talking points. He hasn't held Putin accountable on Crimea, on the Ukraine, on the assassinations in Britain, on the conduct of the Syrian government, which has dropped barrel bombs and gassed its own citizens, and certainly not on the cyberwarfare attack on our elections.

COOPER: Yes. Senator Merkley, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

MERKLEY: You're welcome. Thank you.

COOPER: I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "CUOMO PRIME TIME" at the top of the hour. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: How are you doing, my friend? We're working on the truth. You know, we were very happy to bring this secret recording of Trump and Cohen's to our audience. It's a little disappointing though not surprising that it's becoming a Rorschach test for partisans. And I don't think that's really necessary. I think that we can bring you a better accounting of what's on the tape and then get into its implications.

So tonight we're going to give people the best reading that we can of what's actually on there and who said it, and then we're going to get into what it means with a couple of great legal minds and also we have Senator Tim Kaine on with his take.

COOPER: All right. That's about eight minutes from now, Chris. Look forward to it. Thanks so much. And great get on the tape last night. Really --

CUOMO: Thank you.

COOPER: -- amazing.

Coming up next, more on the now postponed Putin summit, a look into why. Right after this.


[20:56:00] COOPER: As we reported, that proposed meeting in Washington between President Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin is being postponed at least until after the first of the new year. As to why, National Security Adviser John Bolton cited the ongoing Russia investigation. He says in a statement "the meeting would be better after, "the Russia witch hunt is over." Meaning the Mueller investigation.

With me now is Max Boot, a CNN global affairs analyst and "Washington post" columnist.

So, Daniel Dale, a reporter for the "Toronto Star" summarized all of this today in a tweet saying Trump gets mad about coverage of Putin summit orders Bolton to invite Putin for second meeting, they announce second meeting Putin's like don't know that's a lot of commitment, sorry. Second meeting is delayed indefinitely. They blame Mueller. Does that sound about right to you?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, I saw that tweet by Daniel Dale. I thought that was a very succinct summary of what happened. The only thing that I would add to that summary is that remember, Bolton was the guy who before he became national security adviser said that the Russian attack on America was an act of war.

COOPER: Right.

BOOT: And now he's saying that the investigation of this act of war is this rigged witch hunt? I mean, this is so unseemly. We are so used to this in Washington under the Trump administration, but let's remember how improper this is, that the Mueller investigation was appointed by the deputy attorney general, a Republican. Robert Mueller is himself a Republican. Decorated Vietnam veteran, a former FBI director. Universally respected and now the national security adviser to the President is calling what he's doing, this lawful investigation into an attack on America, a rigged witch hunt? I mean, give me a break.

COOPER: Yes and we had Colonel Peters on the program a little while ago and I think one of the things he said and I'm paraphrasing and I don't want to misquote him, but it was words to the effects of, you know, it will be interesting to see what Bolton does because people, you know, in order to get close to power maintain, you know, position like that sell themselves for trinkets essentially, and it does seem like Bolton, who, you know, people used to resign out of honor and resign when they -- it doesn't seem like that happens anymore.

BOOT: Very little honor in today's Washington, sad to say. And you're right. I mean, Bolton used to be this fire-breathing opponent of appeasement, critic of Russia, critic of North Korea, and now he seems to be defanged by being national security adviser. And you saw Mike Pompeo being put in a similar position before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. I mean there was actually a kind of comical moment there where Jeff Flake tried to praise him for the State Department rejecting this absurd proposal from Putin to question the former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

And, you know, Pompeo reacted with horror because he didn't want to be congratulated at the expense of Donald Trump. He was saying oh, of course, we were just carrying out the President's direction, everything we're doing is in line with the President's policy, he can't stand to have, you know, an iota of separation between himself and the President no matter how offensive and absurd the President's policy actually is.

COOPER: Yes, I mean they're all scared. I mean --

BOOT: Yes, they're terrified.

COOPER: -- it's really -- I mean I laugh but it's not really funny. I mean, it's -- you know, it's sad. BOOT: It's not like an American Republican -- Democratic administration, this is like a court of an ancient Roman emperor or, you know, a French king from the 18th century where you have everybody's trying to keep the emperor in good temper and they're afraid if he is displeased they will lose their heads. I mean that's essentially where we are.

COOPER: Or like the inner circle of one of the Stan countries. I mean I don't want to, you know, insult any particular Stan country.

BOOT: Yes.

COOPER: But you know, some of the ruling families of these countries and like their inner circle. It's -- yes.

BOOT: I mean, these Republicans are reducing us to kind of a banana republic.

COOPER: How do you think Putin -- actually, we're almost out of time. So, Max, always good to have you. Thank you very much.

BOOT: Thanks Anderson.

COOPER: Appreciate it.

Before we go quick reminder, don't miss our interactive daily newscast on Facebook, still lot of fun. We get to pick -- you get to pick I should say, the stories we cover. You can watch "Full Circle" weeknights at 6:25 p.m. eastern at I know it just flows off the tongue. Follow that page to get posts from the show. I'll see through tomorrow at 6:25 p.m. eastern. And again at 8:00 p.m. of course here right here on CNN.

[21:00:02] The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris. "CUOMO PRIME TIME" starts now. Chris?

CUOMO: More you. I love it. Can't get enough. Thank you, my friend.

All right, everybody. I'm Chris Cuomo. Welcome to "Prime Time".