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Tapes Reveal Private Trump-Michael Cohen Conversation about Pay-off; Interview With Sen. Mike Rounds. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 25, 2018 - 07:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY. About 18 hours ago, the president said what you're seeing and reading is not what's happening. But this morning, what you are hearing is happening. It's a recording exclusively obtained by CNN.

[07:00:13] You hear President Trump as a candidate talking with his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, about how they would buy the rights to a "Playboy" model's story about an alleged affair that Trump had with this model, allegedly, years earlier.

The recording seemed to concern that the president knew about the proposal to buy the story of Karen McDougal. Something that Hope Hicks denied days before the election.

Here is part of the tape, the part that is getting the most attention.


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


COHEN: -- Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up. With --

TRUMP: So what are we going to pay for this? One-fifty?

COHEN: -- funding -- yes. And it's all the stuff.

TRUMP: Yes, I was thinking about that.

COHEN: All the stuff. Because -- here, 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: Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay him something.

TRUMP: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pay with cash.

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


COHEN: Hey, Don, how are you?


CAMEROTA: OK, we will explain all of the different nuances that you're hearing there in that conversation.

Meanwhile, Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, says it is clear that President Trump says, "Pay with cash" in that recording. However, the Trump Organization disputes that in a statement. Here is the statement. I'm going to read it in full, though I warn you, some of it is hard to understand. So listen closely. Here it is.

"Whoever is telling Lanny Davis that 'cash' in that conversation refers to green currency is lying to him. There's no transaction done in green currency. It doesn't happen. The whole deal never happened. If it was going to happen, it would be a payment to a large company that would obviously be accompanied by an agreement of sale. Those documents would be prepared by lawyers on both sides. The suggestion that the cash in that conversation refers to green currency is false. Not just ridiculous, it's false. The word 'cash' came up in the context of the distinction between financing, which is referenced, and no financing, which means a full payment, a total one-time payment. That's the context in which the word 'cash' is used. Anyone who knows anything about the company or how the president does business knows there is no green cash. Everything is documented. Every penny is documented." End of statement.

Joining us now on the phone, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, I'm not going to ask you to parse the difference between green cash and cabbage or --


CAMEROTA: -- purple cash.

HABERMAN: I appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: What I am going to ask you about is what you alluded to yesterday. When John -- when you were on the set with John and me, we asked you about how the president was feeling. You explained he was feeling unsettled, and he was sort of trying to, you know, stage some diversions. We asked if it was about Helsinki. You said, "In part, yes, but also about Michael Cohen."

Is this what you were referring to?

HABERMAN: I mean, I wasn't referring to the fact that -- you know, that I had a sense that this tape was going to be given to Chris Cuomo at 9 p.m. last night, but certainly, that the president is aware now of what exists. He is aware that these recordings have been turned over to federal authorities.

And that recording does not do what Rudy Giuliani, Trump's lawyer, said it would do. He told "The New York Times" when we broke the news of this existence of this tape on Friday, he told us it was, quote unquote, "exculpatory." There's nothing exculpatory there.

Now, it's not clear exactly what is happening. You know, each side claims something else. And it's a little hard to figure out, because there are inaudibles there, which Giuliani did say there would be. We hear very clearly Trump say the word "cash," but it's not clear whether he's saying don't do that or asking a question. It's not clear. It is clear that Cohen did not raise the prospect of cash, which people close to Trump had suggested he did.

But yes, I think that this is something that is concerning to the president, because it is -- it is an audiotape, and as you eluded to earlier, he's gone even further now, as he did yesterday, and essentially say to people "Believe me over your lying eyes." This is a tape. Tape has proven not to be Trump's strength.

BERMAN: He said, "What you are seeing, what you are reading, is not what's happening." Well, now we are hearing this tape, and Maggie, as you say, it's not exculpatory. It's not exculpatory as Rudy Giuliani told you --

HABERMAN: Not at all.

BERMAN: -- on Friday. Not at all. What new questions does it raise?

What I see here, sentences from the now president saying, "So what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?" That seems to be knowledge that there is some kind of interaction with David Pecker at AMI, which owns "The Enquirer."

[07:05:12] I hear Michael Cohen saying, "All the stuff," which maybe to me indicates there's more than just this Karen McDougal thing.

And I also hear the president saying of David Pecker -- again, the guy who controls "The Enquirer" -- maybe he gets hit by a truck. In other words, he's concerned about what happens to this information if Pecker loses control of it.

HABERMAN: That's exactly right. I mean, I think that the biggest question that this raises is -- not question, the biggest issue this raises is Trump did not sound unfamiliar with this transaction. He doesn't sound like he's learning of this for the first time, which is what Giuliani had said.

There was a lot of things Giuliani said about this that were unnecessary. They should have just let this stand on its own. Because there are questions. There are things that are not clear.

But he does not say, "Michael, what are you talking about? Our friend David? What do you mean?" Very obviously, he knows what this is, what this is about. You know, it certainly indicates that he had known about it before. Remember, AMI had paid Karen McDougal, this "Playboy" model who had claimed an affair had happened earlier with Donald Trump. They had paid her in August. This conversation was taped on September 6.

So again, it's not clear-cut as to who said what about how this money should be dealt with, but I'm not even sure that's the point --

BERMAN: Right.

HABERMAN: -- of this recording. There's other stuff there.

CAMEROTA: So Maggie, on the bigger picture about reality. You know, I'm curious what you think about the people around the president, because you know, this comes at a time, as we know, that the president is saying, "You can't believe your own eyes. You can't believe your own ears." And they're actually deleting things that we had seen.

So from the official transcript, the White House transcript, they're deleting the portion where Vladimir Putin seemed to confirm that he -- well, did confirm that he wanted President Trump to win. So they deleted the question, "Did you want President Trump to win?"

They deleted that from a Reuters reporter. And so that, you know, you don't exactly know what Vladimir Putin is saying when he says, "Yes, I did. Yes, I did."

And so the people around -- and they're also not going to give the public any more readouts of the president's conversations with world leaders. So the transparency, if it ever did existed in the Trump White House, is gone; it's evaporating.

And are the people around the president OK with changing reality? Are they OK with going along with this?

HABERMAN: No, they do not seem to be particularly OK with it. (AUDIO GAP) insists that we are not understanding things, that there's nuances or we're getting certain things wrong. And I'm sure there are things we are getting wrong, because, you know, every -- every account that we have we are human, and we are basing our information on sources. I mean the collective "we" in the media.

But I think that, overall, we get a lot more right than we get wrong. And the president has clearly been saying things that he then says the opposite of a short time later.

Trump has this habit of pulling people into his different view of reality and sort of forcing them to make a choice between what they might be seeing and what he's saying. And I think right now you have a lot of White House officials who are moving toward what he's saying.

BERMAN: Maggie Haberman, thank you so much for joining us by phone. Again, we were really interested in hearing Maggie's take on it, because of what she said yesterday and the way she foreshadowed, I think, the complications, the new complications that have arisen today with the president of the United States. He has reason to be concerned about Michael Cohen. And we now hear for ourselves why.

One other thing I want to point people to, Maggie's article this morning, where she talks about the president and his relationship with truth. Maggie has a great line in that piece where she says the president is essentially asserting that black is white. And that is what is happening.

CAMEROTA: Day is night. Up is down.

BERMAN: Let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.

David, I want to start with you and pick up on a conversation that we were having one hour ago about this and have you expand on it just a little more. And to some people, this might seem pedantic.

But Hope Hicks gave a denial, a denial that anyone in the campaign knew anything about this AMI story. Let me read this for you. "Hope Hicks, a Trump campaign spokesperson" -- this is a "Wall Street Journal" article on November 4, four days before the election -- "said of the agreement with Ms. McDougal, 'We have no knowledge of any of this.' She said that Ms. McDougal's claim of an affair with Mr. Trump was totally untrue."

"We have no knowledge of any of this." We, all of us, the campaign, the candidate, we have no knowledge. That appears to be flat-out untrue based on what we have now heard with our own ears on this tape.

Why does it matter that a campaign is caught lying like this four days before the election? Why should that concern us?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because it ultimately goes to the credibility of the candidate and those around him. Whether, in this case, Hope Hicks knew what the truth was, or whether she was told by the candidate, Donald Trump, that "this is what the truth is, and go out and say that."

[07:10:05] And if she found out at some later point that that wasn't true, how that affected her relationship with then-president of the United States Donald Trump. So it does matter.

It matters what you say as an employee of the campaign, as a spokesperson for the candidate or the president, because you've got to be able to stand up and say, "Look, I have a relationship with the press, as well as a relationship with you. My credibility is important as a spokesperson."

You know, Ari Fleischer, who was a spokesman, press secretary for President Bush, would always say that he felt like he had -- he was serving two constituencies. He obviously worked for the president, but he also had an obligation and a responsibility to the press corps, as well.

And this kind of -- these kinds of untruths, whether she knew it at the time or not, really undermines that, that credibility. And it's important for most White Houses, for most presidents that there's credibility with the press covering them.

CAMEROTA: Legally speaking, Laura, we've talked a lot about how it's not illegal to lie to the American public. It's not illegal to lie to the press. Legally speaking, when you hear that tape, that confirms that Donald Trump did know two months before the election about this payment and about the attempt to silence Karen McDougal, legally speaking, is there -- is it problematic?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, when you hear the term "lying," you think to yourself, well, has the credibility been tarnished for the American people?

But whenever I hear somebody who is speaking on behalf of the president or on behalf of somebody who is the subject, perhaps, or target of any investigation, if there may be one, I hear deposition. I hear testifying witness. And I hear why was there some discrepancy? Is it something that you knew, Hope Hicks, that you were not telling us and not revealing? Were you somehow deceived in some way? Or was there a concerted effort, of conspiratorial nature in some way, to try to get one particular narrative out, and use the media as a vehicle to suppress any of my agent as a prosecutor in this case? That's what I'm thinking about when I hear about this issue.

And you know, the issue of credibility, again, he's laying the foundation. We keep talking about the consulting company, the payment made to somebody who was a playmate or a former model of some sort. And our eyes and ears all go to the current case, as well, of Stormy Daniels. And you hear about this.

And I think what the Trump Organization and what the president's attorney is trying to do is trying to discredit anyone's viewpoint on that other case, as well, by saying, "Look, here's -- here's what he does. This is a matter of course. He's taking care of a lot of things." But I think that Hope Hicks has now set herself up. And anyone else who has made a statement that is contradictory to what we've now heard, as a testifying witness, perhaps.

BERMAN: Yes. Everyone is paying attention to one word in this, David, which is "cash." I think there are three other words here that are equally as important, which is "all the stuff." Michael Cohen says "all the stuff." That seems interesting.

GREGORY: Right. There's a lot of stuff. But there were secrets that they wanted to try to keep secret and pay people off. And this was happening before the campaign at a critical juncture. September of 2016 of the election year.

And the president and his team have said the president didn't know about any of this. This tape certainly suggests otherwise.

And it's indicative, too, of the fact that this president now has something to fear in Michael Cohen, his consigliere, his fixer, someone who is so sycophantic on that tape, talking about what a great CNN poll there was, and is speaking fast. You can sense his nervousness, Cohen's nervousness that "I'm all over this. I've got this covered." Because he's got a very demanding client.

Well, now as Lanny Davis has said, he has made a turn and he's no longer going to take a bullet for the president. So what else does he know? What else is on these tapes? How might he be relevant to the Mueller investigation?

I don't know the answer to those questions, but it's a significant enough threat that either Cohen is playing -- positioning himself for a presidential pardon or he -- or he wants to go to war with the president because he fears the president will come after him.

And we know enough about this president to know that this will be a significant distraction, and for good reason, by the way, too. To have a lawyer, you know, audiotape you without your knowledge is pretty sleazy.

CAMEROTA: Yes. So let's talk about that, Laura, because what is in it for Michael Cohen to release this to Chris Cuomo and CNN? What's the play here? Why would a lawyer go along with this? Why would Michael Cohen go along with this? What's the behind-the-scenes strategy here?

COATES: I don't think he's seeking presidential pardons. I don't think you take your gloves off and have your lawyer come on and talk about how they're disparaging you, and they're -- and you're hurt by what they're doing, et cetera, in an effort simply to get into the good graces of the president, who seems to, at his whim, decide who gets a pardon, who does not.

[06:15:00] I think what he's trying to do is -- the new audience of one is no longer Donald Trump. Perhaps it's the chief prosecutor who's overseeing the probe of his own case and any -- any pending charges, if there are any coming forward in New York. Or perhaps Robert Mueller.

I think he's trying to allude to the fact that, "Listen, if you need somebody who is credible, who can give information and comprehensive, and may have access, not maybe to a recording but to the insight of the president of the United States, I'm your guy. He abandoned me long ago."

BERMAN: We have so many more questions about this. We're going to stay on this all morning. Laura Coates, David Gregory, thank you so much for being with us.

As I said, we have much more to ask. We're going to talk to a Republican senator, see what he thinks --

CAMEROTA: That's a good start.

BERMAN: -- about all this. Seriously, if you had to ask the president a question, if you were a Republican senator and wanted to ask one question about this, what would you ask? Think about that.


BERMAN: We're going to ask a Republican senator right after this.


BERMAN: It is a recording, I think, that has stunned the country, shaking up Washington. Audio of then-candidate Donald Trump talking to his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, about a payment to buy the rights to Karen McDougal's story about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump ten years before the campaign.

[07:20:03] The president has denied any knowledge of a deal with McDougal, but we hear him talking about said deal on this tape.

Joining us now to discuss this, plus some serious new economic questions, Republican Senator Mike Rounds. He's a Republican from South Dakota.

Senator, thank you so much for being with us. I am sure when you went to bed last night, you did not expect to have this tape come out and to be asked about it this morning. But I do think it is something we have to talk about.

I would like to know, if you could ask the president one question about what you hear on this tape, what would it be?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Time with the president is way too valuable. My questions would immediately go to the tariffs and to cyber security. In the Senate right now, we're focused on the policy side of things.

BERMAN: I get that.

ROUNDS: And the critical things in front of us.

BERMAN: I want to talk about the tariffs, because I agree. I think they're very important. I think they're having a big impact on your state.

But when you hear this tape, you hear the president talking about this deal with Karen McDougal, with AMI, the parent company of "The Enquirer," to buy this information with McDougal. And this is something that the Trump campaign and the Trump White House denied having any knowledge of. But clearly the president knew about this.

Does this raise any questions at all for you about his honesty?

ROUNDS: There was no surprise. There's no expectation that that wasn't the case as far as I was concerned.

And so once again, look, in D.C. right now, I think when we talk about what the issues are and what we're talking about here, the Senate is focused on policy right now. We're in the middle of a couple of days before the end of the year, in which we're doing budget. We're doing cyber activity. We've got flood insurance on our minds right now, along with an FAA reauthorization.

I mean, we literally are focused on policy right now. And some of the stories on the side, the sidebars, as this one is for us right now, it's not an issue that we spend a lot of time on.

BERMAN: And I will talk about tariffs very shortly. But should I take it to men, then, that you're OK that the president was discussing buying the silence of someone before the campaign and then lied about it? You're OK with that?

ROUNDS: Look, it's just simply, for us, not news. It's --

BERMAN: Not news? I just want to know, is there a difference between not news and being OK with it?

ROUNDS: I don't think we're OK with it. It's just simply not an item that is of surprise to us. It's not something that caught us by surprise. It's an item of interest in the gossip columns, probably --

BERMAN: Right.

ROUNDS: But for us, look, we've got our jobs to do on a daily basis, and that's what we're focusing on. So while we've got these side issues that are going on right now, in the meantime, we've got critical issues in front of us that are worth billions and billions of dollars --

BERMAN: Right.

ROUNDS: -- to our country.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

ROUNDS: And that's been where we've been focused.

BERMAN: And I'll only note, though, that I do think it does speak volumes if we're no longer surprised by evidence of dishonesty by a campaign or administration.

But I do want to ask you about tariffs.

ROUNDS: And I think you make a good point there.

BERMAN: Good. Tariffs. The president writing about these tariffs, which have had such a big impact on your state and your constituents. The president writes this morning, "Every time I see a weak politician asking to stop trade talks or the use of tariffs to counter unfair tariffs, I wonder what can they be thinking?"

You've questioned these tariffs, which have hurt your constituents, have hurt farmers in South Dakota. Is he calling you weak?

ROUNDS: He may be. But at the same thing, we're going to stand up for our constituents and we're going to ask the same questions we have in the past, which is what's the game plan? What's the strategy? What's the end result going to be? And recognize that we have different types of commodities that are

being produced in the United States. Some of them are durable. Some of them are perishable. Food grains are perishable. And the markets are being impacted on those products right now.

And so while we have these trade wars going on, we're having battles right now with Europe, with Canada, with Mexico. We didn't do the TPP, which is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, where over a half a billion people who wanted to buy our products. And now we're having a battle with China. And by the way, China buys, basically, more than 25 percent of all the soy beans that are produced in the United States. Sixty percent of everything that's being -- that's being exported today.

And right now, if you take a look at the value of soybeans from March 1 until now, it's down over $2.18 a bushel, which in South Dakota alone is close to $600 million in value. And that's real money, because we're getting really close to the harvest. We're already into the winter wheat harvest. Spring wheat harvest is on us right now. Soybeans are next.

And those farmers are going to be asked by their banks, "When are you going to get the money so you can pay us for the operating loans to put that in?"

We've had five years in a row of declining income on farms in South Dakota. We're down 50 percent from five years ago. And so it's not like question we could be on the tip of a spear when we have a trade war and not have constituents at home asking the same questions.

[07:25:03] These are people that believe in President Trump. They think he really does have the best interests for them at heart, but they're questioning his tactics, and so are we.

BERMAN: Do you think these tariffs have the best interests of your constituents at heart?

ROUNDS: I think the president truly believes that what he's doing is right, and that he's doing battle to try to clean up trade plans right now or trade agreements that are not fair. And he makes some really good points in that respect.

But at the same time, the tactics that he's being -- that are being used right now are not helping our producers. And all we're saying is -- is look, wouldn't we have been better off if we would have made a deal with TPP or perhaps have strengthened our NAFTA agreement first before we'd go after China? Why is it that right now, we're fighting without any allies against the entire world, when it comes to trade?

And this is not the first time we've raised it. We've been discussing this with the White House, and communicating with the White House on a regular basis.

BERMAN: This -- this $12 billion -- this $12 billion in relief, Depression-era relief, when the economy is booming. He's going, using a Depression-era program, which tells you something about the effect of the tariffs on, again, your constituents. Is this the right way to handle it? I heard, I think, it was Ben Sasse say, essentially, he's breaking our farmers' legs and now giving them crutches.

ROUNDS: Yes. I think most producers will tell you they'd much rather have a fair trade deal than to have aid coming through, but I think the good thing on this is it clearly shows that the president recognizes that there is an impact back in the Midwest for these producers.

He's recognizing that. I think that's the first step in maintaining, or at least modifying, the direction that we're going with regard to trade.

So this is a good step. Whether or not that $12 billion is the right move or not probably better than nothing. And for those folks at home who might very well -- this might mean the difference between keeping a farm or not keeping a farm, it's hard to tell them that we would, on principal, vote against that. So in this case, I think the president is trying to do something to send a message, but it's also something that might be very helpful for some of our folks back home.

BERMAN: You don't have to vote on it. You don't get a vote on it.

ROUNDS: That's right.

BERMAN: It's something he'd with with his presidential authority.

Senator Mike Rounds, I do appreciate you coming on and talking to us this morning. And I know this tariff issue and your constituents, the farmers, is something you care deeply about. I do appreciate it.

ROUNDS: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So John, if you want to the kill a story in "The National Enquirer," how do you do it?

BERMAN: What are you suggesting about me?

CAMEROTA: I am suggesting that I'm about to tell you how it works, because the man who knows how to catch and kill is joining us next.

BERMAN: Oh, my.