Return to Transcripts main page


Recording of Phone Conversation Between President Trump and Michael Cohen Released. Aired 8-8;30a ET

Aired July 25, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So where are we on that.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Funding, yes. And it's all the stuff, because you never know what he's going to need. Correct. So I'm all over that. And I spoke to Alan about it. When it comes for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: What financing?

COHEN: I have to pay.

TRUMP: Cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, so the Trump campaign had repeatedly denied any knowledge of a deal with McDougal or involving her. In fact, former communications head Hope Hicks had said in a statement, quote, we don't have no knowledge of any of this and it was totally untrue.

BERMAN: Yes. It does appear that at least the president had some knowledge of it. The recording also raises questions about whether the president was trying to cover himself with cash payments. Cohen's lawyer Lanny Davis says it is clear that then candidate Donald Trump says pay with cash in that recording. You hear the word "cash." The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani claims that the candidate said don't pay with cash. One thing does seem certain. Really no turning back now for Michael Cohen. This is a big, glaring split.

We want to bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory, CNN legal attorney Renato Mariotti. David Gregory, you are married to a lawyer, but Renato, you are a lawyer, so we want to go to you first.

CAMEROTA: So you're both great.

BERMAN: You're both fantastic, but I want to go you first. I want to talk about the legal implications here. What legal questions, if any, does this raise?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Michael Cohen is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for a number of things, but one of those things is the potential campaign finance violations. When you are making payments or receiving money in relation to a political campaign, you need to report it to the FEC. And in fact, the president signed a form that actually it is a crime to lie on in which he said this is a list of the contribution to the campaign and expenditures and so on.

So here, I don't think it was in the part we just played, but there was actually discussion about timing relating to certain news about how we need to delay it past a certain point, suggesting that there is an importance of having some of this news delayed until after the election. That's, I think, a very important piece that prosecutors would look at.

Also, obviously a payment in cash, that will be hotly debated. One thing I would say is even if you believe the White House's take that the president is saying don't pay in cash, why would he think that Michael Cohen would make a six-figure payment in cash? The mere fact they're discussing that possibility is also potentially something that prosecutors are going to be interested in because you don't make very large cash payments unless you want to hide something.

BERMAN: I don't.


CAMEROTA: David, now there is a new wrinkle. We just had Stu Zakim on. He for many years worked at the "National Enquirer," their parent company, AMI, and he said is the way it generally works is neither cash or a check would have been made because it wouldn't have been necessary. David Pecker, the head of the parent company, is so in the pocket of Donald Trump, they had such a symbiotic relationship with Donald Trump, giving him tips, Donald Trump, that they are watching each other's backs. Maybe there never was that transaction. Maybe it never had to be made because they had such a long friendship. Still, the point is that the truth is now coming out. So payment or no payment, campaign finance law broken or not, the truth is coming out and the people around Donald Trump did not represent the truth to the American voters.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and the question is, did they know? Were they just going based on what he told them and not questioning it? Were they lied to? That's a piece of it.

The other piece is Michael Cohen on the tape, and what's captured in this conversation makes it clear that they were both familiar with this process and that the president was not naive about it. Michael Cohen making a reference to all of that stuff, so there were other relationships and other kinds of business related to this that was out there. And what may be germane here is the Stormy Daniels payment where there was a corporation set up and that payment was made. That may be what prosecutors are looking at for bank fraud that Michael Cohen could face as a charge as well as a violation of a campaign finance law.

And the bigger point even than that is, where is Michael Cohen's head? Is he, as has been reported, thinking the president is unfit for office. He clearly wants to brawl with the president. Maybe he thought he would be protected. And his lawyer, Lanny Davis, who has been hired as somebody who can go on television and do battle with Rudy Giuliani, wants to make it clear that Michael Cohen is not going to be pushed around anymore, and he says there's other tapes and there's other material. So does Michael Avenatti who represents Stormy Daniels.

[08:05:08] So the reality is there may be more to come that's embarrassing, or the other wild card is to what extent does Michael Cohen cooperate with Robert Mueller, the special counsel on the Russian investigation? Does he have anything to add there. We don't know the answer to that, but this is certainly going to poke at Donald Trump.

BERMAN: You talk about the way that Michael Cohen talks. He opens this conversation with "our friend David." That sounds "Godfather II," our friend in Miami, Hyman Roth, that's like a rip-off of "Godfather II" there to be sure. Then, Renato, he goes on, Michael Cohen, to talk about all the stuff, indicating there is more here. And David brings up the possibility that maybe Michael Cohen has more.

But devil's advocate on that, if you're making a case, a public case, either a P.R. case or a legal case, don't you lead with your best, biggest stuff first? Wouldn't you imagine this is the best, biggest stuff that Cohen has and he's trying to embarrass the president?

MARIOTTI: Potentially. It depends on what Cohen's angle is. Cohen may be trying to get a pardon here. Don't forget, if he's really trying to cooperate with prosecutors, they already have this tape. They don't need to get it from Michael Cohen. They don't need to watch CNN to hear the tape. It's really interesting for all of us to listen to it, but federal prosecutors already have it.

And they would prefer if Michael Cohen was talking to them in private. I generally, when I was a federal prosecutor, I did not want my witnesses going on television or anywhere else and getting themselves on the record where they could potentially have those words be used against them when they're on the witness stand. So he's not out here angling for a deal with prosecutors. He's trying to do something else, perhaps for the president to say, look, I have stuff on you, I can continue talking, but if I get a pardon, maybe I'll clam up.

CAMEROTA: So, David, put all of this into the landscape of Donald Trump yesterday saying to his rally, saying to his voters, don't believe what you hear, don't believe what you read, don't believe your own lying eyes. I'm paraphrasing that part of it.

BERMAN: What you're seeing, what you're reading is not what's happening.

CAMEROTA: That's a quote. That is the direct quote of what he said, because he is creating this alternative reality so that none of these facts seem to stick.

GREGORY: Well, and the truth is what rejects that claim from the president. And it's so sad that the president of the United States would say publicly, don't believe what you're reading, what you're seeing. He's taking criticism of the press and of the media generally, which is certainly fair, to a really dangerous level.

And the other point that undermines him is that it really is an indictment of himself, because what he says and what you hear from him is what cannot be trusted because it's contradicted by this tape. He contradicts himself. All you have to do in the latest example, he says publicly we're not going to apologize anywhere around the world, less than a week of apologizing for America, blaming America for the relationship with Russia. So it's an indictment of his own words and his own actions. I think that's what people need to take away from it.

BERMAN: He said Vladimir Putin going to help the Democrats a week after Vladimir Putin said he was trying to help Donald Trump. He said that he did not stand side by side with Vladimir Putin and blame America for the Russian attack on the U.S. election in 2016. He said he believed Putin's intelligence as much as U.S. intelligence and then denied that he said that. The truth is the truth here, and we all saw it and now we are all hearing it when it comes to the Michael Cohen tape.

And Renato, just one other sentence I want to highlight and talk about the legal implications. So, Donald Trump asks, what do we got to pay for this, 150? He again is talking about this knowledge in possession by AMI, the "National Enquirer." Donald Trump puts a price on this information, suggests it's worth 150. I imagine he's talking about $150,000, simoleons, as it were. What does that tell you? If there is value, a monetary value placed on what AMI has, does that not raise campaign finance possible violations?

MARIOTTI: For sure, and also this suggests once again that this was a fairly commonplace type of transaction for the president at that time. If I told you I had some information about you and I wanted a payment or you could pay to have it hushed up, I doubt you would just pull a number out of the sky and say, oh, sure, 150k? For most of us that would be hard to fathom. We would spend a lot of time figuring out whether we wanted to pay, why we wanted to pay, what that might be worth.

[08:10:02] It would be a different kind of conversation. For these two men, this seemed to be business as usual, the same way you and I would talk about getting coffee in the morning.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, David.

GREGORY: You brought up something earlier, Alisyn, that I was just thinking about. We've seen this movie before, the specter of the "National Enquirer" and affairs and covering up and lying about them. We say it throughout the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. And his defenders at the time said a number of things, including, yes, he lied. He was lying about sex and people do that. He was lying about affairs, and people do that. And it's important to note politically a lot of people will take all of this in and say -- and compartmentalize it. CAMEROTA: We just heard Senator Mike Rounds say that. Republican

Mike Rounds just said I can't really be focused on that because I have bigger fish to fry. I get that.

GREGORY: Right, and I think a lot of people are going to say that. And we don't know whether there's illegality here, we don't. But we know that this is now the president squaring off with his lawyer. And so it's intriguing and potentially leads to other things.

But what the president is doing in other facets, denigrating the press, talking about not trusting them, not listening, don't listen or pay attention or believe anything that's being said. Those things cannot be explained away. His behavior with Russia, with Vladimir Putin cannot be explained away. You can be critical of the press, you can be supportive of the president. You have to take a hard look at these things in isolation and not just be dismissive.

BERMAN: David Gregory and Renato Mariotti, thanks for being with us.

CAMEROTA: So these Michael Cohen tapes, what do they mean to Capitol Hill? How are lawmakers waking up and hearing these this morning? What do they plan to do? We have a key U.S. senator with us next.


[08:15:21] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news this morning, CNN has obtained a secret audio recording of a conversation between Michael Cohen and his then-client Donald Trump. The pair talked about payments to buy the rights to a Playboy model's story about an alleged affair with Donald Trump.

Let's get reaction from Capitol Hill. New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez joins us. He is a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, good morning.


CAMEROTA: What do you think when you list ton this audio tape that's now, thanks to CNN, become public?

MENENDEZ: Well, it appears the president knew what the whole transaction was about. It appears that this is not an unusual transaction from the language that's used in terms of how much you have to pay, 150. But above all, it just goes to show an administration that is not transparent, wasn't transparent during the course of the election, and what I worry about isn't very transparent now as we deal with an administration that six weeks after North Korea, we still don't know anything about what truly transpired two hours plus with Vladimir Putin alone.

We don't know what transpired. That's why I'm looking forward to Secretary Pompeo's appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon. CAMEROTA: We are as well. And I do want to ask you about that. But

first, I want to put up for our viewers, the lack of transparency is stunning. It violates norms and precedent.

Here are just a few examples of what has happened in the Trump White House. They've ended the summaries. They are about -- our Kaitlan Collins is reporting they will end the summaries of Trump's calls with foreign leaders. In other words, the American public will no longer know what is said between President Trump and foreign leaders on their phone calls.

There is a limited release of the White House visitor logs. We don't know who goes in and out of the White House. They have stopped releasing the president's tax returns, as we know and remember during the campaign. Top advisers used private e-mail for their government business. I seem to recall them having a problem with a different candidate who did that.

They have held -- he held one solo news conference in 18 months, had high-level meetings with foreign leaders. That is, of course, what you're referring to with Vladimir Putin. They obscured the president's bad golf habits and they've discussed ending the White House daily press briefing.

So, that leads us to today. Do you believe that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo knows what happened in that meeting with President Trump and Vladimir Putin? Do you trust whatever Donald Trump related to Mike Pompeo?

MENENDEZ: Well, Alisyn, that will be one of my lines of questioning. I clearly want to know. I'm concerned that a two-hour-plus meeting with Vladimir Putin one on one with an interpreter, what did the president agree to, if anything?

Did he agree to easing up on sanctions against Russia? Did he agree to change our military exercises with NATO? Did he agree to give up on the invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea? Did he say we're going to change our posture as it relates to Syria?

There is so much and so consequential that we don't know. While we don't get the president, we're going to have the secretary of state and we're going to ask him, were you debriefed by the president directly? Do you have any notes as it relates to such a debriefing? Were you debriefed by any other staff that may have talked to the president?

And this is one of the reasons we continue to press for the possibility of the interpreter to either come in a classified session depending on what she has to say.

CAMEROTA: Where are you with that? Is that going to happen?

MENENDEZ: Well, we don't have an agreement yet. We're pushing hard to get it. It's one of the issues that we'll raise with him today. You know, she's the only person in the room with President Trump for two-plus hours that knows exactly what transpired by virtue of the questions and answers that took place.

CAMEROTA: So, will you trust what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo relates to you today? How do you know that -- I mean, he wasn't in there. How will you know if he has an accurate reading of what happened?

MENENDEZ: Well, we're going to test the degree of what he knows. We're going to ask him how do you know? When you ask a question to me, did the president agree to ease up on sanctions with Russia, and whatever your answer is, if your answer is no, fine. How do you know that? How do you know that?

And so, the best that he could possibly know is if President Trump sat down with him and said, here's what the discussion was about and here's how it went. Of course, he could characterize that discussion any way he wants, which is part of the problem but not having somebody with you, like your secretary of state or your national intelligence director.

[08:20:06] You want somebody there to verify your side of the conversation. The president feels far more comfortable in not having anybody know what his conversation was.

CAMEROTA: OK, and that leads us to the bipartisan bill that you are sponsoring with Lindsey Graham. I want to go through some of the highlights and tick them off for everybody, of what you're hoping Congress can do about all of this. Number one, you like sanctions on Russian oligarchs, cyber actors, energy and financial sectors.

Don't we already have that, Senator?

MENENDEZ: Legislation will call exactly for that and these are going after key targets that can affect Putin. You know, you don't become an oligarch of Russia for Putin to give you the pathway to become that oligarch. The questions of energy, that's Russia's chief source of income. So, going after that --


CAMEROTA: Sorry to interrupt, but haven't we sanctioned these folks?

MENENDEZ: We sanction them by ultimately stopping the individuals from having access to financial institutions that are critical for them to be able to enjoy and use their money. On the oligarchs, we also look at travel abilities. They will be limited in their travel abilities, at least to the United States.

Thirdly, as it relates to oil, just as we sanction Iranian oil, we say to other companies, if you buy Russian oil at the end of the day, there is a sanctionable activity, or if you're private entity that does so, there is a sanctionable activity as well. So, we use the reach of the United States financial market and we use a reach on travel and other elements to try to constrain and affect those who surround Putin.

CAMEROTA: Let me go through the highlights again. You would like a national center to respond to Russian threats, authorize assistance to institutions to defend against Russian interference and Senate approval required for U.S. withdrawal from NATO since the president has threatened such a thing.

President Trump says that there is no one, no president, who has ever been tougher on Russia than he is. Is that true or false?

MENENDEZ: No. Look, President Trump came kicking and screaming to sign the bill, the CAATSA bill, the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. They have tough sanctions for Russia. He didn't want to sign it. It was only a 98-2 vote in the Senate that led him to understand that it was a veto-proof majority.

The reality is there are still about different critical elements of the law that supposedly are mandatory under the law that he has yet to invoke against Russia. He cannot even say one thing about President Putin and Russia and their undermining of our election, which is critical even as they seek to do it right now.

I would have stood next -- alongside to Putin in Helsinki and said, you know, Mr. President, here's what's happening. You interfered in our election, you're doing it now. Here's a list of sanctions I'm now going to invoke.

If you want to stop that, if you want to get out of Crimea and Ukraine, we can have a different relationship. Until then, we will make sure we defend our democracy.

CAMEROTA: All right. That would have been a different conversation.

MENENDEZ: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Senator Menendez, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.


MENENDEZ: Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The news, Hope Hicks, who was doing communications for the Trump campaign four days before the election, when she denied that any of them had knowledge of this idea of a payoff for this playmate who allegedly had an affair with Donald Trump, that appears to be a lie. What would that have done to the election?

We'll ask Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, next.


BERMAN: CNN has obtained audio for 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. The president has denied any knowledge of a deal with McDougal.

And four days before the election in 2016, "The Wall Street Journal" when writing an article about this wrote this: Hope Hicks, a Trump campaign spokeswoman, said of the agreement with Ms. McDougal, we have no knowledge of any of this. She said Ms. McDougal's claim of an affair with Mr. Trump was totally untrue.

We have no knowledge of any of this. We now have heard the president on tape talking about said deal.

Joining me now, CNN political commentator, former national press secretary for Bernie 2016, Symone Sanders. And joining us also, CNN political commentator, former campaign manager for Hillary for America, Robby Mook.

Guys, I actually have you here this morning to talk about the future of Democratic Party, but I want to do a little clean up the past.

Robby, we've now heard the president on tape discussing this Karen McDougal situation directly. Four days before election, Hope Hicks denied they had any knowledge of it. Had, in an imaginary universe, where the Trump campaign admitted that they knew about this, would that have had an impact on the election?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm sure -- well, I'm sure it would have had an impact if we had this tape. How much I can't say.

But I will say we knew the president lied. We knew that before Election Day. We knew that the Russians had some sort of bizarre influence over him.

But coming out of Election Day, there have been so many things -- meetings with the Russians, other lies that he's told that we've learned, and I think the most important lesson coming out of this tape and everything else is we've just got to start believing that the president is lying when we hear it the first time. The pattern here is so clear, and I just hope some people out there don't get fooled again next time.

This man is a habitual liar and all he cares about is his own fragile ego. And that's all there is to it. This is one of a long string of lies that he's told.

BERMAN: And yesterday, to the VFW, he said, don't believe what you see, don't believe what you read, it is not happening.

Symone, I do want to turn now to the future and I'm asking you this and not Robby because it's about James Comey and I don't want to give him heart palpitations here. But James Comey is commenting on the Democratic Party, which is rich in itself.

The former FBI director says, Democrats, please, please, don't lose your minds and rush to the socialist left.