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CNN Obtains Bombshell Cohen-Trump Audio; GOP Lashes Out at Aid to Farmers; Mega Millions in San Jose. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 25, 2018 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:13] MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I need to open up a company for the transfer of -- no, no, no, no.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A CNN exclusive. Audio of Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, despite past denials it seems the president knew about a possible hush payment to a playboy playmate.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Twelve billion in emergency aid for farmers caught in the president's trade war. Republican lawmakers are lashing out at one calls a Soviet-type of economy.

BRIGGS: And somebody in San Jose is $522 million richer this morning, before taxes. One jackpot winner in last night's mega millions drawing.

As evidence by the fact I'm here, it's not me. I'm not regretting the $10 I spent on that, my financial analyst.

ROMANS: All right, if it makes you happy.

BRIGGS: Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, July 25th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Michael Cohen's flip on Donald Trump is all but complete this morning. A CNN exclusive breaking overnight. The attorney for Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, has provided eye-opening audio to CNN.

Candidate Trump and Cohen discussed buying the rights to a Playboy model's story of her alleged affair with Mr. Trump years earlier.

BRIGGS: Just before the election, the Trump campaign denied any knowledge of a planned payoff to Karen McDougal, but the 2016 recording seems to confirm Mr. Trump knew at the time about the proposal.

Listen now as Cohen tells Trump about his plans to set up a company to purchase the story rights from American media run by Trump ally David Pecker. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAYWER: 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 funding.

TRUMP: So what are we going to do?

COHEN: Yes. And it's all the stuff, all the stuff, because, you know, you never know where that company -- you never know where he's going to be.

TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

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: (INAUDIBLE) What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay --

TRUMP: We won't pay with cash?

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

TRUMP: Check --


ROMANS: The audio at the end is muddled and it's unclear whether Mr. Trump suggests paying with cash or not paying.

The president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has said no payment ever came from his client. Giuliani tells the "Washington Post" it sounds to him like Cohen is explaining something to Trump that he doesn't understand. And now, Giuliani disputes that the recording shows Mr. Trump knew about the McDougal deal at all.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY (via telephone): I don't think anyone can suggest that this represents anything where the president did anything wrong. I question the strategy of doing this, of trying to make a tape say what it doesn't say, or of putting out a tape in which you're kind of proud of the fact that you're a lawyer taping your client, and then thinking you could cooperate with the government? You know to cooperate with the government, you've got to have credibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Cohen's decision to have his lawyer, Lanny Davis, provide the tape to CNN highlights the breakdown in the relationship that once saw Cohen say he would take a bullet for this president.


LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY: This is about honesty versus false disparagement of Michael Cohen. Why is Giuliani out falsely disparaging Michael Cohen? Because they fear him.

What do they fear, Chris? Why am I representing him? They fear that he has the truth about Donald Trump. He will some day speak the truth about Donald Trump.


BRIGGS: CNN legal experts say the tapes released indicates Cohen's side believes it is time to stop playing nice.


LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a credibility campaign going on right now, and in a game of he said-he said, he wants to prevail. Particularly, although it seems to people that although the idea of whether he said cash or did he say check may seem like a very nominal matter, what he's trying to establish is there was some awareness on behalf of Donald Trump at the time.


ROMANS: The timing of the recorded conversation provides more evidence Cohen was busy squashing embarrassing stories about his client before the election. That effort now a central focus of the investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

BRIGGS: A reporter for "The New York times" says President Trump raged at his staff on air force one after seeing the first lady's television tuned to CNN. According to an e-mail obtained by "The Times," the president on a recent overseas trip blasted staffers for violating a rule that the White House entourage should begin each trip with televisions tuned to Fox.

[04:05:04] The report points to how the president appears to be increasingly living in an information bubble and attempting to wrap supporters in that same bubble.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump plans to help farmers hurt by his trade battles, giving $12 billion in federal aid, but he's facing major pushback from GOP lawmakers. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says the government will help the hardest hit products -- soybeans, corn, dairy, pork, likely using funds from a depression-era program to boost farm prices.

Perdue calls this a short-term solution, but Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says what farmers in Iowa and throughout rural America need in the long term are markets and opportunity, not government handouts. Senator Ben Sasse even more critical, calling the aid gold crutches, and said that tariffs and bailouts is going to make America 1929 again.

They aren't alone. GOP lawmakers with few exceptions expressed concern about the plan. Senators John Thune, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, they say farmers need trade deals, not welfare.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: This $12 billion announced today suggests that this is going to be a longer-term problem than the president said, you know. Trade wars are easy to win, not so much.


ROMANS: An admission that the president's trade policies will hurt American farmers. The aid to farmers kicks in in September. Many notice that's just in time for elections.

But the "Wall Street Journal" editorial board says that fixing a problem of his own making won't fool voters. Trump may think that his farm tariff bailout will get Republicans past the November election, but sooner or later, bad economic policy becomes bad politics.

BRIGGS: President Trump drawing comparisons to George Orwell after turning his appearance at a VFW Convention in Kansas City into a campaign rally. The president used the event to defend his tariffs on U.S. trading partners, telling his supporters, we don't apologize for America anymore. Then he took a page straight from Orwell's classic "1984".


TRUMP: What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.

Just stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.



BRIGGS: That is the VFW.

Afterward, the VFW released a statement, saying it was disappointed in its members who booed the media and that it was happy to have all the networks attend as invited guests.

ROMANS: Don't believe what you see. Don't believe what you read. Don't believe what you hear with your own ears.

BRIGGS: Gaslighting.

ROMANS: Gaslighting in America.

All right. Seven minutes after the hour.

CNN has learned the White House is no longer releasing summaries of the president's phone calls with world leaders. That ends a longstanding practice by both Republican and Democratic administrations. The move is raising concerns that the only narrative on the president's calls will come from foreign governments.

President Trump has had at least two calls with world leaders in the last two weeks with the White House confirming the calls took place after they were reported by foreign media. The administration will not say whether the suspension of presidential phone call summaries is temporary or permanent -- certainly not transparent.

BRIGGS: This afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will publicly grill Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about President Trump's closed-door meeting in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin. Now, details about that face-to-face encounter are still unknown nine days later. President Trump now insisting he is very concerned the Russians will be fighting hard to interfere in the upcoming election.

Here's the twist. You see there, the president claims Russia will be pushing for the Democrats because they definitely don't want Trump. That's not what Putin said in Helsinki.


REPORTER: President Putin, did you want president Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yes, I did. Yes, I did.


ROMANS: The Russians have now accepted the president's invitation for a meeting in Washington at the end of this year. In a just-released Quinnipiac poll, voters called the Helsinki summit a failure by a nearly 2-1 margin over those who felt it was a success. And when asked if the president was acting in the best interests of the United States, voters said no by a 54 percent-41 percent margin.

BRIGGS: A federal judge says he expects the government will meet tomorrow's deadline to reunify eligible immigrant families. Judge Dana Sabraw on Tuesday commended the government for its remarkable progress reuniting families, but he also says the original policy that led to separations at the border, quote, deeply troubling.

The Justice Department lawyer said just over 1,000 parents have been reunited with their children out of more than 1,600 eligible. Judge Sabraw said 1,900 parents who were found ineligible or whose status is undetermined likely cannot be reunited on time.

[04:10:06] ROMANS: Meantime, a New York pizza delivery man who was turned over to immigration officials after trying to drop off food at a military base, he has been released from detention. Legal aid society lawyer who helped win Pablo Villavicencio's release says they are proud to have him reunited with his girls.

BRIGGS: CNN projects Georgia's Secretary of State Brian Kemp has won the Republican nomination for governor. It marks another victory for President Trump. He backed Kemp over Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle in the final week of a heated primary runoff. Kemp now faces Democratic nominee Stacy Abrams in the general election this fall. Abrams bidding to become the nation's first black female governor. Both parties are looking at the race to determine whether Georgia could be in play in 2020.

ROMANS: All right. Singer Demi Lovato awake and breathing this morning after an apparent drug overdose sent her to the hospital.


[04:15:12] ROMANS: The Georgia lawmaker who was pranked by Sacha Baron Cohen, we're told, is resigning. Jason Spencer yelled the "N" word, dropped his pants on "Who is America," which is that program, a Showtime program. Spencer came under fire for his appearance on that show, where he repeatedly yelled the "N" word.

Cohen in character as an Israeli terrorism expert told Spencer those were effective ways to deter a terrorist attack. Spencer claims the show took advantage of him for profit and notoriety.

BRIGGS: Officials say singer Demi Lovato is in stable condition in a Los Angeles hospital this morning after an apparent drug overdose. A rep for Lovato says in a statement, she is awake and that her family thanks everyone for their love, prayers, and support. The 25-year-old singer has struggled with substance abuse and just weeks ago, she revealed in a new song that she had suffered a relapse. Lovato has spoken candidly about her use of cocaine addiction and an addiction to alcohol as well as mental health issues and an eating disorder.

ROMANS: A Trader Joe's assistant manager who died during a shoot-out on Saturday was killed by a police officer's bullet. Suspect Gene Evin Atkins crashed his car outside the Los Angeles store, fired at officers while running inside. Police returned the fire, accidentally hitting employee Melyda Corado as she was leaving the grocery store.

BRIGGS: Flooding concerns from the mid-Atlantic --


CHIEF MICHEL MOORE, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: I know that it is every officer's worst nightmare to harm an innocent bystander during a violent engagement. I spoke with both these officers this morning. They're devastated.


ROMANS: The district attorney's office is charging Atkins with the murder of Melyda Corado.

BRIGGS: Flooding concerns from the mid-Atlantic up to the Northeast. Let's get the latest forecast from meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

Yes, the soggy situation really going to remain firmly in place across the Northeast here as we've had the constant bout of moisture streaming in from the South. And, of course, you look at how things have played out in the past 48 hours, we're talking about portions of western areas just west of Philly into eastern PA, talking about places such as Harrisburg, York, out towards Lancaster, upwards of 6 to 8 inches of rainfall have come down.

Baltimore, certainly in and around Washington as well, tremendous rainfall has been coming down in the last couple of days. In fact, the National Weather Service still watching some 30 million people across this region underneath the flood concern, and notice the areas indicated in that maroon color. That is right across that region of eastern Pennsylvania where we have the flood warnings in place, meaning flooding is either imminent or occurring.

And unfortunately, the rainfall still looks pretty high over those regions over the next several days. In fact, look at rainfall totals. Really, the good news for New York City is they stay out of the vast majority of the heavy rainfall, but again, just west of town into eastern PA, some heavy rains in store. Boston could see heavy rainfall as well.

And temperatures as a result of all this little bit cooler again -- 76 in New York, only 82 in Washington.


BRIGGS: All right, P.J., thank you.

He may be leaving the Senate, but Utah's Orrin Hatch wants the world to know he's not dead yet, despite what the Internet says. Hatch on Monday posted a screen shot of his own Google search result that said he died on September 11tht, 2017. The 84-year-old had some fun with the fatal error, telling Google, we might need to talk. And with a nod perhaps to conspiracy theorists, the longtime Republican produced proof of life, exhibit A, Hatch in his office reading "Salt Lake Deseret News".

Google apologized, fixing the result telling the senator, you are very much alive and sporting a great sense of humor. Touche.

ROMANS: It is really a reminder that there is a lot of garbage on the Internet and a lot of dumb people who fall for it.

All right. We're here this morning, so you know what that means, right? It means we did not hit the mega millions jackpot.

One person did, though. One winning ticket was sold in San Jose, California. California lottery officials say the golden ticket was purchased at Ernie's Liquors on South White Road in San Jose. Jackpot $522 million. Those winning numbers, if you're still checking or you're just crying,

1, 2, 4, 19, 29, and the mega ball 20.

BRIGGS: Congratulations to one very wealthy Californian.

All right. Ahead, the death toll rising in Greece as wildfires engulf the seaside area. Residents and tourists forced to run into the sea to avoid the flames. We're live in Greece with the latest.


[04:24:05] ROMANS: At least 79 people have died, more than 150 others injured in the worst wildfires to engulf Greece in more than a decade. CNN's Melissa Bell is live there for us in Greece reporting from the hard-hit seaside resort area of Mati.

And, you know, we're hearing stories from survivors of dashing into the sea to escape the flames. What can you tell us?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was simply, Christine, the only way out of this seaside town on that dreadful night, the death toll now up to 79. It keeps on rising with so many people still missing.

And here in this field, which was really the site of one of the greatest tragedies, Christine, 26 people were found still holding on to one another, exactly what you would do with your loved ones if you felt that the flames were getting too close and you were finally surrounded. Their bodies have now been removed, but still, this field, 24 hours after they were found, smolders in places, the earth is still hot.

[04:25:04] And it is strewn with objects that belonged to the mobile phones that were not picked up, keys, charred shoes, the remains of dogs that would have run around this field.

And at the very end of it, Christine, that door that they never reached and that might have saved their lives. It gives you an idea of how intensely and how quickly these flames came, that they never managed to make it to the door that might have led them to the sea, the escape route for so many people that night, but not sadly for the 26 people who lost their lives here, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Melissa Bell, thank you so much for that. Just a tragic story there in Mati. Thank you.

BRIGGS: It is indeed.

OK, ahead, a CNN exclusive -- despite denials, new audio shows the president appeared to know about efforts to pay a mistress for her silence at a critical point in the campaign.