Return to Transcripts main page


Report: Mueller Is Examining Trump Tweets in Obstruction Probe; Trump Organization Financial Chief Subpoenaed in Cohen Case; Trump's Silent Treatment Fueled Cohen's Betrayal; Feds Have 100+ Cohen Tapes Related to Trump; Cohen's Tape Leak May Complicate His Legal Troubles with Mueller; Pompeo Won't Answer Senator's Question About Content of Putin And Trump Meeting; Mystery Deepens into Details of Trump and Putin Meeting. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 26, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right, Wolf, thank you so much for joining me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Two massive stories breaking right now. Number one the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is now interested in reviewing the president's Twitter feed as he contemplates whether President Trump obstructed justice. This is coming out in "The New York Times." first this explosive report from "The Wall Street Journal." here's what they have.

A major financial player in Trump's private life has just been subpoenaed in another investigation. This is a man by the name of Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg is considered to be the gatekeeper to Trump's personal finances. He is being asked now to testify in the Michael Cohen case. The criminal investigation. Now Cohen, the president's former personal attorney, just released one of the secretly released conversations with the president to CNN where we hear him mention by name Allen Weisselberg about the payment when they're having that conversation about the former playboy model. Here is a clip. Listen for his name.


MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: 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 spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding. Yes. All the stuff. Because you never know where that company -- where he's going to be.


COHEN: Correct. I'm all over that. I spoke to Allen about it.


BALDWIN: Spoke to Allen about it. With me now CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, Berit Berger is with us, a former federal prosecutor is for the

eastern and southern districts of New York where Cohen -- the Cohen case is taking place, is playing out, and Jennifer Taub is back with us, professor at Vermont Law School.

Ladies first. On Weisselberg piece, people talk so much about Cohen and how he knew where the bodies were buried. This is the financial gatekeeper to all things Trump. He would know where the financial bodies were buried. The fact he's getting subpoenaed, how significant is this?

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, EASTERN AND SOUTHERN DISTRICTS OF NEW YORK: I would think it would be surprising if he was not subpoenaed at this point. They are doing a very fulsome investigation they have to speak with everybody. They're doing a grand jury investigation obviously, especially since we hear him on this tape, it would be incredibly surprising if he was not being called to testify in front of the grand jury.

BALDWIN: We should mention that "The Wall Street Journal" says it's not clear if Cohen spoke to Weisselberg about the plans to buy the rights of Karen McDougal's story, just a little asterisk for you on the audio we played. What do you think, Jennifer?

JENNIFER TAUB, Professor at Vermont Law School: I think he's in real hot water himself.

BALDWIN: Which he?

TAUB: I'm sorry, Allen Weisselberg, the CFO. If you remember CFOs do go to jail. Andy Fastow from the Enron era spent quite a bit of time to jail and

obviously he's the detail guy. He's been around this organization for many decades. I think it will be interesting what he has to say not just for this case but also in connection of the problems that the Trump charitable organization is facing in New York.

BALDWIN: Not the money, Paul Callan. In reading this "Wall Street Journal" piece, of course he goes back with Trump for a while. We know Weisselberg is heavily involved in Trump's finances. This whole Stormy Daniels story and this $130,000 payout, right, that Trump had said never knew anything about. Ask my attorney, Michael Cohen. We know it was Michael Cohen who paid the $130,000. Guess who paid Michael Cohen back according to this piece? It was that $35,000 retainer to Cohen from, you guessed it, Weisselberg.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's obviously no surprise that he's now an important witness in the Mueller investigation. He goes way back in the Trump organization. I believe he goes back to as far as Fred Trump, Donald Trump's father, as an accountant for Fred Trump and the president reportedly has some kind of a personal trust fund. Weisselberg may have a connection to that. We'll have to see where the $150,000 that eventually was paid in connection with the Karen McDougal case came from, from the president's personal funds or out of the Trump organization? Weisselberg is the person who could answer those questions.

BALDWIN: I want to put a button on the conversation. According to the paper, for years Mr. Weisselberg prepared Trump's tax returns. So, we know he's being subpoenaed. Let me move on to this new reporting out of "The New York Times" that Mueller, the president's tweets, "The New York Times" writes this. The prosecutors who lack one slam dunk piece of evidence in obstruction cases often search for a larger pattern of behavior. Explain how that works.

[14:05:00] BERGER: Certainly. I think sometimes when people think of witness tampering they have an image of some big guy with a crowbar coming to your door saying you'd better not testify.

BALDWIN: Not the case.

BERGER: That's not going to be the case here. You can look to more subtle ways. Threaten to go fire somebody even by a tweet can be as significant as coming to somebody's front door with a crowbar. This could be an important piece of evidence in an obstruction case.

BALDWIN: There's a high bar. To your point it's not about having a crowbar, it's about finding the pieces of evidence, showing a narrative to prove your argument as a lawyer. If they try to put this larger pattern of behavior together, this is how "The Times" writes it, it has to clear two hurdles, Paul Callan. One, needs credible witnesses and, two, Trump -- they would have to show criminal intent. How do they lock down an argument if somebody doesn't have a crowbar saying, I'm committing a crime?

CALLAN: If you look at the witness tampering statute, the federal statute, it outlines a number of ways you can intimidate a witness to obstruct justice. You can use a crowbar. You can kill him. You can call them on the phone and threaten them. What gets confusing about this case and will make it difficult for Mueller, Donald Trump is president of the United States and is in charge of the Justice Department and of the FBI.

So, you, in order to make a case against him, would have to show this has nothing to do with the politics of running and operating the justice department and the FBI. The president was taking these actions on his Twitter feed or in other places to obstruct an investigation of himself. He would have to be personally affected and the tweets would have to be an attempt to obstruct that. That's what will be a difficult thing for Mueller to prove.

BALDWIN: Stand by, everyone, on that. Ladies hang on. I want to move on to this. To the war between President Trump and the man who knows his secrets, Michael Cohen. We are learning about the isolation Cohen felt leading up to the release of the secret audio of the man he served more than ten years. The details leave you wondering who betrayed whom from Trump Tower to the campaign trail, Cohen was Trump's die-hard cheerleader who warned what could happen to opponents of Mr. Trump.


COHEN: Mr. Trump truly cares about America. He loves this country. He cares

about the American people. He knows what it's going to take to fix it.

Donald Trump is this uber billionaire real estate developer, possibly the greatest negotiator in the history of the planet.

I don't see any other scrutiny being throwing at anybody to the extent that you are throwing it against Donald Trump.

You attack Donald Trump, he will come back at you twice as hard.


BALDWIN: So, with that, CNN White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond, is with me. Talk about your new reporting that Michael Cohen was apparently in agony over the deafening silence from the building behind you with regard to the treatment from his former boss.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Brooke. Well, to understand that agony Michael Cohen was feeling from this wall of silence he began to experience from the president, it's important to go back and understand that Michael Cohen has been one of the president's closest advisers going back more than a decade. He has been at his side through politics, through business, through pretty much every facet including handling some of the cases where people were making allegations against the president and facilitating allegedly some of the hush money payments.

And so, over the last several months Cohen began to feel that he was completely walled off from the president. Last month he told a close friend of his, Bo Deitl, who spoke with me yesterday, that he felt essentially, he doesn't understand why no one's communicating with me. Why the president isn't talking to me. He began looking for a sign from the president, from the man he defended for so many years that he would also come to his defense.

He started sending out these flares. He began to signal that he would perhaps not be loyal to the president but more loyal to the country and to his family. He also said he was considering cooperating perhaps with the special counsel's investigation. All of this generated nothing from the president. It was silence instead that he received.

That's where we get to this moment where Michael Cohen authorizes his lawyer to release this audio recording of him discussing these payments to the rights of Karen McDougal's story and this is where we end now. This kind of ultimate betrayal for Michael Cohen to the president over the course of a lengthy relationship. This it seems is where the road ends for them two.

[14:10:00] BALDWIN: Jeremy, stay with me. I want to bring in one more great voice, Tom Hamburger, an investigative reporter for "The Washington Post."

Tom, that dovetails into your reporting and reading your point you write about how "in Cohen's gravest hour as one associate described it, Trump was leaving him out in the wilderness."

And you also report that the government seized more than 100 of Cohen's recordings. Do you know what they have?

TOM HAMBURGER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So, we don't know entirely what they have. We do know there are over 100 recordings. We have indications that the most significant or substantive recording that has the president exchanging information with Michael Cohen is the one that was publicly released by Michael's lawyer, Lanny Davis, the other day.

The other tapes we know, among other things, include conversations that Cohen had with journalists. He had, as Lanny Davis described to us yesterday, a habit of recording people and so it was almost by rote when he was having a conversation that might relate to work rather than take notes he would hit the record button and there are now hours and hours of audio records that prosecutors are sifting through.

BALDWIN: Gentlemen, thank you so much. Staying on Michael Cohen. Did this tape that Lanny Davis shared with CNN, did it hurt Cohen legally? New reporting on why this may damage any potential cooperation deal with prosecutors.

And ten days later now, why can't this president or his administration tell us what really happened inside his meeting with Vladimir Putin. We'll talk about why the Secretary of State got quite defensive when he was asked about it up on the hill yesterday. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me here. Michael Cohen released a secret recording of President Trump putting these two men on tape talking about the hush money payment that a spokeswoman said the Trump campaign had zero knowledge of.


COHEN: And I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the finances, which will be --

TRUMP: What finances?

COHEN: We'll have to pay --

TRUMP: Well, pay cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no.


BALDWIN: Now we are learning that the newly revealed audio may complicate any deal Cohen could cut with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. They did not know that Cohen's attorney was going to go public with this clip according to multiple sources.

Back with me, Berit Berger, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, and Jennifer Taub of Vermont Law School, professor. So Berit, your former stomping grounds, if you weren't given a heads up and they put this tape out there for everyone in the world to hear. How does that complicate things legally for Michael Cohen?

BERGER: That's not a good thing as far as considering him as a potential cooperator, I mean from the prosecutor's perspective, this is not how you want to prosecute your case. You want to have the evidence in a controlled fashion, you want it to be presented within the four walls of the courtroom, you do not want evidence being leaked to the press, discussed on Twitter. This is not how a prosecutor wants to do their case. I do not think they would see this is a good development. I think this would hurt Michael Cohen's chances of cooperating if in fact that's what he wants to do.

BALDWIN: So, on the cooperation peace just staying with you. We know the feds when they raided his home office, apartment, they found 1.3 million pieces of evidence. Tom Hamburger over at "The Washington Post" told me they have 100 recordings. That's a lot that they're working with. You were telling me and commercial break it can sometimes work against you as a prosecutor if you're trying to cross- examine someone with so much out there.

BERGER: Of course and look. On the other hand, it's great, you have all these recorded conversations. So, you're not just having to take Cohen's word for it if he was a witness. On the other hand, though, you have all of these conversations. The defense would have so much material to work with.

BALDWIN: To take it apart.

BERGER: Exactly. To potentially impeach him, cross-examine him with. So, I think sometimes as a prosecutor having a witness that's made hours and hours of recordings is not always a great thing.

BALDWIN: Totally interesting. To you, Jennifer, if they have so much evidence on him, there have been all these questions, will he flip, will he turn against his former long-time boss? Would he need to flip if they have all of this already?

TAUB: Well, it depends on what else he knows that he might not have recorded. So, on the one hand we have this witness, you know, you take them like you find them. He is complicated. A lot of recordings. On the other hand, if there's more information that he has in his mind, conversations that weren't taped and such, then I think it's worth it for them to get him to flip. It really depends on what value he can bring.

[14:20:00] How much he knows about what really happened in the campaign with Russia.

BALDWIN: Do you agree?

BERGER: I do. I will see I think for prosecutors generally, they like to be in control of a situation. Especially with the cooperating witness. There are provisions in cooperation agreements that say, you're not supposed to talk about this. You're supposed to keep this just between you and the prosecutors. From my perspective, Michael Cohen would be a very challenging cooperating witness because none of this is private. It is playing out in such a public fashion I would find that worrisome as a prosecutor.

BALDWIN: All right, Berit and Jennifer, thank you. Coming up next, this.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D), SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS RANKING MEMBER: Has the president told you what he and President Putin discussed in their closed-door meeting in Helsinki?

MIKE POMPEO, Secretary of State: Presidents have a prerogative to choose who was in meetings or not. I'm confident you've had private one-on-one meetings in your life as well and have chosen that setting as the most simple way --

MENENDEZ: I just asked a simple question. Did you -- I can't eat up my 7 minutes, Mr. Secretary.


BALDWIN: Fire on capitol hill. Michael Pompeo and the senator spar over what he does and doesn't know about the meeting between the two world leaders and why no one in the administration seems to be able to say what really happened, that's next.


BALDWIN: The Senate hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was, in a word, testy. Both Republicans and Democrats tried to question him often, grill him, often a defiant Trump cabinet member. Questions on Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un went largely unanswered during the more than three-hour senate hearing. These exchanges between Secretary Pompeo and Democrat Bob Menendez were especially contentious.


MENENDEZ: Has the president told you what he and President Putin discussed in their two-hour closed-door meeting in Helsinki?

POMPEO: The presidents have a prerogative to choose who is in meetings or not.

MENENDEZ: You can't eat up my seven minutes. Did he tell you what happened in those two hours?

POMPEO: The predicate of your question implied there was something improper about having a one-on-one meeting. I disagree with the premise.

MENENDEZ: I asked you a simple question.


BALDWIN: Frank Bruni is here, CNN contributor and op-ed columnist for "The New York Times." a pleasure. First of all, just watching all of that yesterday, did you get a sense that he knows anything about what transpired in the closed-door meeting between Putin and Trump?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think he knows very little. I think the president has given him some sort of briefing. He saw what we all did not that long ago. Dan Coats on that stage in Aspen learning for the first time from a journalist that Donald Trump had invited Putin to come to the U.S. for a second meeting. I think Mike Pompeo is a very smart man and knows whatever the president has told him is not the full story and that's why you see him bobbing and weaving like that. He knows he' in the dark.

BALDWIN: One of your most recent columns on Trump and Republicans and tribalism made me think what we saw with Pompeo yesterday, defending him at every twist and tern. And so even when you saw Senator Corker basically say, no, some of what Trump has done is not OK, you cannot defend what Trump did last week full stop.

BRUNI: No, he can't. He has to by the nature of his job or feels like he has to. You mentioned our partisanship. A thinking has taken hold that whatever mistakes the president is making. You have to wonder if he's jeopardizing the security of the country, he's on my team. I have to defend him when the other team has occasion to pounce. It takes off the table the merits of the argument and the real concerns about what is baffling foreign policy.

BALDWIN: You point out the polls, granted maybe not a lot had sunk in by the time Trump's approval rating around 40 or 45, and Republicans responding even greater may be in 80 something percentile. Still though last week to me and you tell me how you felt, felt like something felt different, almost like a turning point. Did you sense that?

BRUNI: I did. I do think to see the president of the United States on the world stage standing next to the leader of a country that tried to compromise our elections and to hear him vouching for that person over our own intelligence community I think even in the context of all of the outrages of this presidency, that was something new and something newly scary.

[14:30:00] Yes, for me it felt like it should be and might be a turning point. I'm out of the prediction business when it comes to this electorate right now.

BALDWIN: Do you think Trump is compromised?

BRUNI: I think it's a question we have to ask, and I don't have the answer. And I don't want us to rush to judgment. The question is fair. That's why every time he calls the Mueller investigation a witch-hunt, it's ridiculous. It's an investigation into that very question. And we need to have that answered because that strikes to the very security of this country.

BALDWIN: Why do you think that Trump ultimately said we'll wait on Putin coming to Washington after the whole Mueller probe has wrapped up? What's the real reason? BRUNI: I think he was getting pressured by the people around him

saying this coziness with Putin is not working well for you. And we see time and again with Donald Trump, he gives into his own desires. Time passes and sometimes not much time and the people around him appeal to his better judgment.

BALDWIN: He doesn't always listen.

BRUNI: He goes back and forth. That's why we have these walk backs and more walk backs because he listens some of the time but not all the time depending on the time of day, if he's on his Twitter feed. He's all over the place.

BALDWIN: Frank Bruni, thank you so much. Just ahead here, the president blinks again for the man who has long called himself the ultimate deal maker. President Trump seems to be back tracking on a number of issues lately.