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Secret Audio Tape of Trump and Lawyer Michael Cohen Surfaces. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 25, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- President Trump to that audio recording that the world heard first here last night on Chris Cuomo's show on CNN. Quote from the president this morning, "What kind of lawyer would tape a client?" The president writes. "So sad." More of that in a moment.

This tape was made in September of 2016 and that timing matters. Why? Because it was two months before the election by the president's long- time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. He recorded it. The same Michael Cohen who is now under federal criminal investigation here in New York and who has made it very clear that his loyalties no longer begin and end with the Trumps.

Candidate Trump is heard discussing how to prevent a former Playboy model from revealing an alleged affair years earlier. The plan is to buy the rights to her story from the "National Enquirer." Let's listen.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER PERSONAL LAWYER: When it comes time for the financing which will be --


COHEN: We'll have to pay --

TRUMP: Pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no.


HARLOW: All right. We'll play the entire recording start to finish in a moment so you can hear it firsthand. Let's get to the White House, though. Abby Phillip is there with more.

I was wondering when we were going to hear from the president directly on this. What else did he say?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. I mean, he's been tweeting about so many other things this morning, but now that we know why the president was so upset about this raid on his personal lawyer's office a few months ago, the president is now responding to the tapes that have emerged from this investigation into Michael Cohen. He says, "What kind of lawyer would tape a client? So sad. Is this a first? Never heard of it before. Why was the tape so abruptly cut while I was presumably saying positive things. I hear there are other clients and many reporters that are taped. Can this be so? Too bad," he says.

There are so many things in this tweet, Poppy, that raise a lot of questions, including why the president appears to be somewhat surprised about his own voice on this tape, a conversation that he himself had with Michael Cohen about this tape in which they're discussing a payment to an alleged mistress of the president by AMI and a friend of the president's. And President Trump here is suggesting that Michael Cohen might have taped other people, although we do know that Michael Cohen really has worked for President Trump and really only President Trump for quite some time now.

But Trump this morning isn't saying a whole lot more beyond this. He's echoing his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and questioning the motives of Michael Cohen in releasing this tape. And we will see him later today. He has plenty of meetings on his schedule, including one at 11:30 this morning that is close to the press, but it's possible that this will open up later in the day. We will have some time, potentially, to ask him more questions about this -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Abby, let us know if you get some answers. Thanks so much.

With more on the Cohen tapes, let's go to our national political reporter MJ Lee.

So I think it's important, people are waking up this morning, we didn't -- no one heard this until 9:00 last night on Chris' show. Let's just run through it for folks.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, and let's talk about the very last piece of the tape that we heard. First, keep in mind the quality of the tape is not very good, and that's already causing sort of a he said-he said situation here.


LEE: The explanations coming from the Michael Cohen camp and the Donald Trump camp are very, very different. You heard Donald Trump saying the words "pay with cash" and then Michael Cohen you can hear responding with "no, no, no, no."

Now the Cohen explanation coming from Lanny Davis, his lawyer, is that only drug lords or mobsters talk about cash and that person talking about paying with cash is Donald Trump, and that Trump was trying to disparage Cohen by accusing him of having suggested this.

Now Donald Trump's explanation and the White House legal team actually put out their own transcript of this audio recording, and they actually say that the correct explanation for this is that Donald Trump actually said, "don't pay with cash," and he suggested that they should pay with a check.

HARLOW: Right.

LEE: And, in fact, Rudy Giuliani is saying there is nothing to see here. This is not a bad tape. Here's what he said on FOX News.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: What I urge people to do is just go on -- go online, listen to your broadcast. You played the tape. Play it three times. The third time you play it, it will become pretty clear. I've played tapes even longer than Alan Dershowitz. About 4,000 hours of mafia people on tapes. I know how to listen to them, I know how to transcribe them. This tape is crystal clear when you listen to it. I've dealt with much worse tapes than this.


HARLOW: All right. If you're just waking up this morning, right, MJ, and you didn't hear the tape. We want to play the entirety. It's about a little over two minutes for people. So just listen to this.


TRUMP: Let me know what's happened, OK? Oh. Oh. Maybe because of this it would be better if you didn't go, you know? Maybe because of this, for that one -- you know, I think what we should do is get rid of this because it's so false what they're saying and such bullshit.

[09:05:16] I think -- I think this goes away quickly. I think what -- I think it's probably better to do the Charleston thing just this time. Yes. In two weeks it's fine. I think right now it's better. Yes? OK, honey. You take care of yourself. Thanks, man. Yes. I'm proud of you. So long, bye.

What's up, Mike?

COHEN: Great poll, by the way.

TRUMP: Yes, I've seen it.

COHEN: Great poll.

TRUMP: We're making progress.

COHEN: Big time.

TRUMP: And your guy is a good guy.

COHEN: Who? Pastor Scott?

TRUMP: I can't believe this. No. Pastor Scott -- what's happened?

COHEN: Oh no.

TRUMP: Can we use him anymore?

COHEN: Yes, hundred -- no, you're talking about Mark Burns. He -- we told him to --

TRUMP: I don't need that. Mark Burns, can we use him?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Lavrov -- I'm sorry. Mr. Lavrov just called. He just said we have an idea for you.

COHEN: So we got served from the "New York Times." I told you this.

TRUMP: Regarding what?

COHEN: To unseal the divorce papers with Ivana. We're fighting it. Kasowitz is going to --

TRUMP: And you have a woman that doesn't want them unsealed.

COHEN: Correct. So --

TRUMP: Who you've been handling.

COHEN: Yes. And it's all --

TRUMP: This has been going on for what?

COHEN: For about two, three weeks now.

TRUMP: All you have to do is delay it for --

COHEN: Even after that, it's never going to be opened. There's no purpose for it. I told you about Charleston. 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 --

TRUMP: Give it to me.

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

TRUMP: So what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?

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

TRUMP: Yes, I was thinking about that.

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

TRUMP: You never know if he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct. So I'm all over that. And I've spoken to Allan about it when it comes time for the financing which will be --

TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay for this.

TRUMP: So pay with cash.

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

TRUMP: Check?


HARLOW: OK. All right. So you heard at the end there the Trump team is saying, don't pay with cash, is what the president said. The Cohen team is saying the president said pay with cash.

LEE: Right.

HARLOW: You listen, you decide for yourself. The big picture and the important thing here is what did this have to do with the campaign?

LEE: I mean, the big picture is that we now get to be a fly on the wall on a conversation that was supposed to be private, and I think we need to keep in mind that this is a conversation between Donald Trump and his personal attorney talking about paying off a woman in order to try to keep her silent about her alleged affair with Donald Trump --

HARLOW: Before the election.

LEE: -- very shortly before the election. And keep this in mind. When the campaign was asked about the payment that AMI made to Karen McDougal, this woman, during the campaign, this is what Hope Hicks says. She said, "We have no knowledge of this. We have no knowledge of any of this," is what she said. So --

HARLOW: And she was the spokeswoman for the campaign at that time.

LEE: That's right, and that's a pretty strong denial just essentially saying we don't know about any of this and not really commenting further. We now know through this recording that Donald Trump --

HARLOW: They did.

LEE: -- did know about it and in fact did had a discussion with his lawyer about it.

HARLOW: Yes. OK. MJ, thank you very much.

There is a lot to get through on the legal side of this. With me now, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates and Paul Callan.

Nice to have you both? When you look at this Rudy Giuliani, Paul Callan, to you, says, quote, "There is no indication of any crime being committed on this tape." What do you legal ears hear?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's a very embarrassing and humiliating tape for the president, and I think ironically Giuliani says I can understand what's on this tape because I've listened to mob tapes. You know what -- HARLOW: Yes. That was odd.

CALLAN: The president is similar to a mob tape? And in a sense it is because it's describing a payoff. And clearly what you see in the tape is first the context. Trump knows that a company is being set up to funnel funds, whether they're in cash or whether they're by check, for what purpose? To catch and kill a story at the "National Enquirer." And clearly from the context, it sounds like this isn't the first time this has happened.

HARLOW: Well --

CALLAN: You don't hear an elaborate explanation as to why I have to set up a company to do this, so I think it's very damaging for the president.

HARLOW: So, Laura, here's an important point, though, and I wonder legally how you think it matters. There is no evidence that the money, the payment being discussed here to keep a story under wraps, was ever paid. And Giuliani, the president's lawyer, insists it was never paid. End of story?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, no, because remember, the reason that they're actually going on this preemptive strike against Michael Cohen, why they said we're not even going to argue the privilege basis of this attorney-client conversation, maybe because they don't want to have a crime fraud exception litigation debate about it.

[09:10:03] But also they're trying to set you up for thinking about the long-term game about Stormy Daniels and the Essential Consultants payoff, and whether that was intended to be a campaign finance go around in many ways. And so he's trying to have a he said-she said credibility battle and to wage the war at this point in time. And what he's trying to do is banking on people saying, well, there is a seed of doubt here as to whether the president meant paying by cash or by check.

But Paul is absolutely right. While they're having the whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, the point is they bought the tomato. They were trying to do that. It's part of a pattern of overall behavior, and certainly we know one thing, Poppy, that he had every knowledge about these payoffs, about the idea of trying to suppress stories before the election.


COATES: Which is not what Hope Hicks or anyone ever said.

HARLOW: So it's a fruit, right, Laura?


COATES: Well, it's a fruit --

CALLAN: It's a tomato, yes. COATES: They treated as a vegetable. I hear. I don't know. We'll

ask Giuliani.

CALLAN: So ask -- yes. Right.


HARLOW: OK. I think I'll ask him other things if he calls in. But let me ask you, Paul Callan, though, Adam Schiff who is the ranking Dem on the Intelligence Committee but also a former prosecutor, tweeted, and I don't have time to get through all of it, but his second point in this is, quote, "The goal was to kill a story before the election so campaign motivated."

Talk to me about the legal ramifications and if you agree with his point.

CALLAN: Well, the way the Federal Elections law is set up is that when contributions are made over a certain amount of money, you have to list those and report those. However, there have been a number of cases that had involved the purchase or gift of goods that enable or forward the objectives of a campaign. They have to be listed also. So here a payment --

HARLOW: But no money was exchanged here, Paul. That -- I guess that's my question. Does that change things if no money traded hands?

CALLAN: Well, I think -- I think if no money traded hands, you'd have a hard time making out an election law violation. I think, on the other hand, if the "National Enquirer" killed the story because a deal was made with President Trump or his campaign representatives, then I think you would have an argument that that's an unreported campaign contribution.

HARLOW: One other thing, Laura, to you that I do want to get to. Another part of this recording that's not getting as much attention but I think it should is, quote, "All this stuff."


HARLOW: So the president says, so what are we going to do? And Michael Cohen responds, yes, and it's all the stuff, all the stuff, because, you know, you never know where that company -- meaning AMI, you know, the owner of these publications. You never know where he's going to be, meaning David Pecker. That's what is assumed, the owner of the company. So all this stuff raises all the questions, right, Laura?

COATES: It does because you're talking about the idea of what type of asset do they believe David Pecker was? Was he somebody that it was their boy? He was in, they had to capitalize on this existence there for as long as he would be there, to kill any other stories or to impress institutional knowledge about a pattern of behavior that would suggest he tried this continuous amount of times?

And so what they're trying to suggest there and what they're actually alluding to, which needs to be pointed out, and you're right to do so, Poppy, is the idea that this is not an isolated one-off. The idea of Karen McDougal.

HARLOW: Right.

COATES: The president was not shocked by the conversation. He didn't ask any -- other than what financing, he wasn't asking about why a corporation, what story are you talking about? This is part of an overall pattern and the idea that they had to try to secure the silence on a wide variety of issues, and based on their presumed asset, tells you that perhaps AMI was acting as more of an in-kind contributor which should be covered under campaign finance.

CALLAN: And, you know, Poppy, just following up quickly on Laura's observation.


CALLAN: I think when you look at the context to the whole thing, the president has answered his own question as given in the tweet this morning when he says, what kind of a lawyer would tape his client? The kind of a lawyer that the president hired to be his personal attorney. So the president has had a lot of experience with Mr. Cohen and that's the kind of lawyer. That's the answer to that question.

HARLOW: He also raised the question of whether, you know, the taping of this conversation was illegal. Well, no, New York is a one-party consent state.

COATES: Right.

HARLOW: So if Cohen taped it in New York, he's the one-party consenting to the taping, it's not illegal. Thank you both very much. Paul Callan, Laura Coates, nice to have you.

COATES: Thank you.

CALLAN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Still more come, much more on this tape. We're going to take a closer look at the potential political fallout from the secret recording now out there between President Trump and his self- proclaimed fixer, Michael Cohen.

Also the president giving a $12 billion bailout to farmers whacked by his own tariffs. That has Republican lawmakers even crying foul.

An Iowa farmer who is a big supporter of the president calls this purely political. He joins me ahead.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right. The president is firing back at that audio recording of a conversation that he had before the election with his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

With me now to discuss all of this are editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza; CNN contributor, Bianna Golodryga; and Alex Burns, CNN political analyst and national political reporter and correspondent for "The New York Times".

Chris Cillizza, this is not just about a salacious alleged affair back in 2006. This is about the campaign for the president of the United States and the fact that this discussion of a payment was had two months before the election and that four days, Chris, before the election, the president's spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, said this. Let's pull it up on the screen.

Hope Hicks, the Trump campaign spokeswoman, said of this agreement with Karen McDougal, "We have no knowledge of any of this." She went on to say that the alleged affair was totally untrue.

Big picture, why should the American people care so much about this this morning?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: OK. So, big picture point number one. Donald Trump either didn't tell the whole truth or didn't tell any of the truth to his staff, because two months prior, he had clearly had knowledge of this payment. So, that's point one.

Now, people say, well, who cares? Everyone knows that Donald Trump doesn't tell the truth. OK, but he's still president of the United States; and when he doesn't tell the truth, in the past, presidents have at least been put up there as moral paragons. They certainly haven't always delivered on that and it's worth noting when they don't. So, that's point one.

[09:20:13] Point two, and I think this is more important, Michael Cohen was a guy that fixed problems that no one else would fix for Donald Trump. We now know of two instances, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels.

My guess is, in terms of things no one else would do, this is probably not the only things that Michael Cohen fixed for Donald Trump, which now means, if you have a situation in which they are adversarial, in which a guy who once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump is now in a position where he is looking out for himself, where that loyalty is now gone, and that certainly seems to be the case with the audio tape and what Lanny Davis, Cohen's lawyer, said last night to Chris Cuomo, that is more problematic for Trump, if not legally, because we don't know if there is any legal implication, really, here yet.

Just in terms of embarrassment in terms of being sort of publicly shamed and sort of what he knows, I think that would make anyone nervous if you had a relationship like Donald Trump had with Michael Cohen.

HARLOW: Let's listen to what Lanny Davis said to Chris last night.


LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN'S LAWYER: What do they fear, Chris? Why am I representing him? They fear that he has the truth about Donald Trump. He will someday speak the truth about Donald Trump. The truth is that, when Donald Trump said "cash", which Rudy Giuliani knows that only drug dealers and mobsters talk about cash, you heard Michael Cohen, you heard Michael Cohen say what? No, no, no, no.


HARLOW: I mean, it is, Alex Burns, a he said-he said now, cash or check or whatever. That's sort of not the big picture issue here.

When credibility comes to the fore here, as it is now, who has more credibility in this, Michael Cohen or Donald Trump?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, to me, that reminds me of those sort of logic problems about two people, one of whom always lies, the other one always tells the truth, but in this case you're not dealing with either of them being a person who obviously tells the truth, right?

So, this is a situation where I think it's unbelievably difficult to parse out sort of whose account to take seriously. One does hope that we get to sort of see a more in-depth, intensive analysis of what was actually said on that audiotape.

I do want to piggyback on something Chris said and go maybe a little bit further. The underlying story here is not just about Michael Cohen turning on Donald Trump in a moment of legal duress.

He made this tape when he was ostensibly a guy who would take a bullet for Donald Trump.

HARLOW: It's a great point and you have to wonder why.

BURNS: It tells us something about the culture of this organization and the kinds of people that surrounded then-candidate, now the president, and sort of the depth of the peril that the president may be in if that is the level of loyalty that's actually attached to these relationships.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And you reminded what's been reported that the president ultimately did not want to bring Michael Cohen with him to Washington, D.C., right?

He thought that maybe he had been too in the know with the dirty laundry and that reportedly really hurt Michael Cohen's feelings. It does give you a sense of what kind of relationship they had when a conversation like this would be recorded.

HARLOW: Chris Cillizza, one of the key reasons why people can hear this tape this morning, not only did Chris get it live on his show last night, but the Trump legal team waived - waived! - the right to keep it private, waived attorney-client privilege, and I am still scratching my head about why here.

Do you think we have any more answers to that really this morning?

CILLIZZA: Well, no, not based on the audio. I mean, it is somewhat inconclusive because the transcript the White House put out in response to the tape seems to me to be sort of your best-case scenario of what he said in terms of cash or don't pay cash.

But, again, I do think we are missing - if we focus on its cash or check or money order or my dad's traveler's checks when we used to go abroad, the point is that - that's not the point. The point is what Alex is mentioning, what Bianna is mentioning, it's about a culture that Donald Trump surrounds himself with.

It is unbelievable to me - well, actually not given that it's Donald Trump. But Donald Trump tweeted this morning, what kind of lawyer would tape his client? The answer to that, of course, is the kind of lawyer that you hired for years to be your personal lawyer!

He surrounds himself with these sorts of people. He has created, in business and in the political world, a climate of - I don't know if it's distrust, but a lot of the people who work for him feeling uneasy. You know he keeps a mental list of who is up and who is down.

This is the result, in some ways, of that. He is harvesting the seeds he himself has planted. I think that's the key here. I think we get a little too caught up, but I'm not sure why Lanny Davis focuses so much on "Rudy Giuliani said that Trump didn't say cash and he did." Sure.

HARLOW: Not really it.

CILLIZZA: But the bigger point here is the culture and what Cohen clearly breaking from Trump means, I think, going forward.

[09:25:11] GOLODRYGA: And how nonchalant this whole conversation was.

CILLIZZA: It's clearly happened before.

GOLODRYGA: My takeaway was not, "oh, wow, the president has been caught and now he's panicked." It was, "OK, this is something we talk about every Thursday," or what have you. As I ask somebody to get me a coke, I'm talking about payments.

He didn't seem to be stressed. He didn't seem to be panicked.

HARLOW: Alex, do you remember that day in October when the "Access Hollywood" tape came out? I was anchoring. It was a Saturday. And people on my show were saying, this is it, this is over, the president is not going to get elected, no way, no way, this is in the bag for Hillary.

No, that wasn't the case. And I bring that up because, I mean, what does this really change for the Trump base, for the Trump voter, for those that look at the president and look at the economy and say, well, I don't really like hearing this, but whatever.

BURNS: I don't know that it changes anything for those voters. But the reason why the president won that election was that he won people in addition to those voters, right? The people who are total believers in Donald Trump as a good man who is the victim of a conspiracy, they're not going to be persuaded probably by a tape like this, but about 20 percent of the people who voted for him on election day were people who voted for him and didn't like him, right? So, there are people who sort of rationalized the vote as the responsible thing to do because of Hillary Clinton or because of other things that they knew about the president, and that's the group that the president and his party are so concerned about right now in the midterm elections.

HARLOW: And risk something else.

GOLODRYGA: If I can make a bet, if people and voters that support him are willing to stomach his relationship with Vladimir Putin and willing to stomach tariffs, I would bet that they would probably be willing to stomach tapes like this.

HARLOW: Yes, it's an important point. Thank you, guys, very much. Chris Cillizza, thank you, my friend.

Still ahead for us, they helped get Donald Trump elected. Now, farmers across the heartland are hurting big time. Why? Because of the president's tariffs. So, what does he do? He gives them a $12 billion bailout. What do they really think of that? Is that a long- time fix? Not so much.

First, though, let's a quick before the bell with our Christine Romans. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, "CNN MONEY" CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Poppy. And it's exactly that trade drama that is really front and centers in the markets today.

The president is going to be meeting with European trade officials later today. And really, it all hinges on whether the US Is going to get tough on US imports of European cars. They've threatened a 20 percent tariff there.

Now, the Europeans are preparing 20 billion in counter tariffs. This thing is starting to get messy and that could hold back trade at the opening bell. We'll know for sure in about 3 minutes. We'll have that after the break.