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Michael Cohen: Trump Knew about Trump Tower Meeting in Advance. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:6] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, July 27, 6 a.m. here in New York, and we do begin with breaking news.

For those of you who have not paid much attention to the Russia investigation, today would be a good day to start doing so.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed.

CAMEROTA: Sources tell CNN that President Trump's longtime former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has begun spilling the beans. One of the bombshells he reportedly wants the public to know is that then- candidate Donald Trump knew in advance and approved of that June 26, 2018, Trump Tower meeting in which Russians promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. And these sources say Cohen is prepared to make that claim to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

BERMAN: Now if -- if -- this is true, it means the president lied about it publicly. It means that Donald Trump Jr. lied about it under oath. And it means the current president of the United States had knowledge of and approved of accepting Russian help during the campaign.

By CNN's count, President Trump and his team have denied he had contemporaneous knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting on more than 15 occasions.

Now to be clear, there are serious questions about Cohen's credibility and motivations here. Overnight, the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told CNN that Cohen was a pathological liar who has lied, quote, "all his life." But remember, Cohen spent years as Donald Trump's fixer and once said he would take a bullet for his boss.

This is a major development with so many new angles to discuss. Let's go first to CNN's Jim Sciutto, part of the team that broke this exclusive story. Jim is live in Washington.

Jim, lay it out for us.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Sources tell myself and Carl Bernstein that President Trump's long- time lawyer, Michael Cohen, is willing to tell the special counsel, Robert Mueller, that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about his campaign's June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians who were promising dirt on Hillary Clinton and that the president approved of that meeting.

Our sources tell us that Cohen claims that he was there, present, at a meeting when Mr. Trump was told about the Russians' offer along with others present there and that it was Donald Trump Jr. who told him. This account, of course, directly contradicting repeated denials from the president, Donald Trump Jr. and their lawyers and allies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting. It must have been a very important -- must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never even heard about it.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you tell your father anything about this?

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: No. It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Let's focus on what the president was aware of. Nothing. He was not aware of the meeting, did not attend the meeting, and was only informed about the e-mails very recently by his counsel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: We counted, and Trump and his allies repeated those denials at least 15 times over the course of the last year.

Now, to be clear, Michael Cohen does not have evidence such as an audio recording to corroborate this claim and a source familiar with Cohen's testimony on the Hill earlier this year says he did not tell the House Intelligence Committee that Trump had this advanced knowledge of that meeting with the Russians.

Now, going forward, President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, he was on CNN last night talking to our colleague Chris Cuomo. He is denying Cohen's account, as well as attacking Cohen's credibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: He didn't know about it. I know that. I've been over this in great detail. I've talked to the corroborating witnesses. There is no way you're going to bring down the president of the United States on the testimony, uncorroborated, of a proven liar. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: You will remember that Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year that he would not have wasted his father's time with news of this meeting.

In response to our story, Trump Jr.'s attorney standing by Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony, saying they are confident in the accuracy and reliability of the information that they've provided so far.

That Trump Tower meeting has long been at the center of questions over the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. When news of that meeting first broke, Donald Trump Jr. initially said that the focus of that meeting was primarily on Russian adoptions. But just days later, Trump Jr. publicly released e-mails from publicist Rob Goldstone, who set up that meeting, and in those e-mails they show that, in fact, it was proposed to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and as part of its -- Russia, rather, and its government's support for Trump.

You may remember that Donald Trump Jr. replied to that e-mail, when he learned of this offer of this meeting, he replied, quote, "If it's what you say, I love it." And four days later, and two days before the Trump Tower meeting, then-candidate Trump, himself, said that he'd be revealing information about Clinton. That speech never happened -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Jim Sciutto for us in Washington, laying it all out for us.

Let us try to understand what this all means. Jim's going to stick around. Also joining us, legal analyst Carrie Cordero is here in New York. Michael Zeldin is here with us, as well.

As Jim has noted and as we will note, there are questions about Michael Cohen's credibility here.

CAMEROTA: Oh, I've got a million.

BERMAN: We are going to pause on that for a moment to understand the legal implications first of what this means. So Carrie, you are here with us. Michael Cohen, apparently, willing to say that Donald Trump, the president now of the United States, knew about the Trump Tower meeting beforehand and approved of it. How does that change things legally for the president?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: OK. So the indictment that came down a couple weeks ago, in addition to the prior indictment that the special counsel's office has had on the overall Russia investigation, the major theory is conspiracy. So when we say "collusion" in the news, what we're really talking about legally is conspiracy to defraud the United States. And in the indictment a couple weeks ago, the hacking of the DNC and trying to access voter rolls and voter registration information, it's conspiracy to hack into computer systems and steal information in furtherance of the Russian activities.

[06:05:33] If it turns out -- one of the major questions has been -- if it turns out that individuals in the Trump campaign, or now the president himself, had advanced knowledge of that hacking activity, for example, or of the Russian intelligence efforts to access these computers, then individuals associated with the campaign or potentially the president himself could be implicated in that conspiracy.

CAMEROTA: But that's not -- never what the Trump Tower meeting was supposedly about, I mean, about the hacking. It was about, you know, adoption and the Maginsky -- Magnitsky Act --

BERMAN: That's what Trump -- that's what Trump has said after the fact, but Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton that was dug up. So he was told --

CAMEROTA: You're saying he knew that it was from the hacking.

CORDERO: Right, it was about obtaining information to help the campaign in the -- in the election. I mean, that was at the heart of it.

CAMEROTA: A promise.

CORDERO: The reason, I understand the Trump campaign then tried to come up with other reasons of what was discussed at that meeting and it may be that adoption was one of those things. But the picture that is emerging is that they took that meeting, and this is according to Donald Trump Jr.'s statements, they took that meeting to try to get information. And one of the ways that's a question mark of how they were obtaining information was through the separate Russian intelligence activity.

CAMEROTA: Michael Zeldin, on a bigger picture, do you think that today is a day that we need to stick a flag in this date on the calendar, because the idea that somebody as close to Donald Trump, his long-time fixer, personal attorney who knew everything, is willing to cooperate with Robert Mueller and spill whatever beans he knows, does that kick this into overdrive for you?

ZELDIN: Well, maybe, I guess, is the answer. If it's true what he says, and can be corroborated, then yes. If it is not true, obviously, no. If it can't be corroborated, it's a little bit more problematic for the prosecutors.

I also wanted to add one thing, if I may, in addition to what Carrie said about the conspiracy to defraud the Federal Election Commission theory of liability here.

There's also a straightforward coordination theory under federal election law. That is, if you knowingly and willfully coordinate with a foreign national to receive a thing of value, that is a campaign violation. And that may be the more straightforward prosecution theory applicable to this case, if they can show that the parties at this meeting at Trump Tower knew and coordinated with foreign nationals to receive a thing of value, which they did, it seems, at that meeting. Then all those people who participated in that, as well as the Trump campaign civilly, could have liability.

BERMAN: And of course, Donald Trump Jr. testified flat-out that his father did not know. He never told his father beforehand.

And Jim Sciutto, your reporting is that Michael Cohen now says he was in the room, in the room when the president was told, and that there were others in the room, as well. Do we know exactly who those others are? And do we know if they have been questioned? What's the status there?

SCIUTTO: We don't know. We don't know yet, but it does provide an opportunity, if Mr. Cohen's account is true, for investigators to corroborate Michael Cohen's take on events. That was very key to us in this story, that Cohen, of course, we asked our sources how did Cohen know, and he said because he was present there when the son told the father about this meeting. And he noted that there were others in the room. So that's up to the investigators then, if they're interested, not only to question Cohen but to question and find out who those others were in the room.

And the other point I would make, and it is this. And of course, Carrie and Michael know the legal ramifications better than me. But it is our reporting and has been for some time that the special counsel is interested in two tracks on the issue of this Trump Tower meeting. One, what happened at the meeting? Does it indicate possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russians.

But two, the follow-up to the meeting. That famous crafting of a misleading statement on Air Force One, which the president himself was involved in, which initially said that this was all about adoptions before proof was presented.

Remember, the story only changed when those e-mails came out in which it was shown in those e-mails that Donald Trump Jr. knew in advance that this was about the possibility of providing dirt on Hillary Clinton, that he welcomed that possibility. He wrote in that response, "I love it, if this is true."

So you have those two potential tracks there, both the -- what does it say about communication, cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia. And two, what is the follow-up, an attempt to, it appears, cover up the true function of that meeting mean for obstruction of justice?

CAMEROTA: So Carrie, I want to get back to the significance of Michael Cohen.

ZELDIN: May I -- may I add one thing?

BERMAN: Hang on a second, Michael.

CAMEROTA: Real quickly, you can add that. Go ahead, Michael.

ZELDIN: I was going to say, that which I found most important in Jim's reporting is not only that Trump was present at the meeting, but that he approved the meeting.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ZELDIN: Meaning that they said to him, "What do you think about this meeting?" And he said, "Let's go for it." That is what is, I think, more of a decisive piece of evidence, if provable, that this is an illegal coordination between the Trump campaign and foreign nationals.

CAMEROTA: OK. I want to get back to --

ZELDIN: Proof of prior approval by Trump himself.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. I want to get back to Michael Cohen, because I just don't think that this can be overstated. This is the man who said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump. This is the man who devoted his adult life, his career, to being the fixer for Donald Trump.

Something has changed, and it's our reporting that Michael Cohen has felt hung out to dry. That he had been sending out various flares, saying, "Hey, man, I'm struggling over here," and that Donald Trump and Donald Trump's new legal team had responded by basically denigrating, marginalizing, diminishing Michael Cohen's role.

So Michael Cohen now, the keeper of secrets -- I mean, doesn't it stand to reason he's already spoken to Robert Mueller?

CORDERO: Well, so this is the big question, right? Is if Michael Cohen has information of value to provide to the investigation --

CAMEROTA: How could he not?

CORDERO: Then -- then let's get on with it already. I mean, why -- the question is why isn't he cooperating already if, in fact, he has information of value?

And so he's doing this public back and forth. From most former Justice Department individuals' perspective, tis public display and this public sparring with the president's team is counterproductive to his own interests if he really intends to cooperate with the government.

So there's a couple things going on. Either, No. 1, the government doesn't need his cooperation. The government has enough other information.

CAMEROTA: It does seem possible, right?

CORDERO: It's a possibility that they have enough other information that they don't need his information. Or on the other hand, he has been delaying, for some reason, that we don't know. And at this point, though, it would be time.

If he's going to cooperate, it's time to do it. And you would think that his lawyers would be talking in a quiet channel to the prosecutors. You know, the people that I suspect are cooperating the most are the people who are the quietest in the public arena, not the people who are in the news every single day.

BERMAN: Yes. This isn't quiet at all, Jim Sciutto.

There's a couple things that are interested about this to me. One, this is Michael Cohen, according to your sources, Jim, making clear that he's willing to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller about this.

That isn't who was investigating Michael Cohen right now. Right now, it's the Southern District of New York that is Michael Cohen's big problem.

SCIUTTO: That's right.

BERMAN: Is Michael Cohen trying to make an end run around here to the special counsel, and once again, just to highlight another part of your reporting here, which is meticulous -- and I know you worked on this for a long time -- it does not appear -- you know, Michael Cohen was -- did not testify to the House, to the Intelligence Committee, under oath that this happened. So this is kind of a new story.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Well, first, let's talk about who's investigating him. Remember, Robert Mueller referred Michael Cohen's case, in fact, to the Southern District of New York, because the bulk of that case is really about business practices, right? In New York, not at the center of Robert Mueller's investigation, which began, of course, with Russian interference in the election.

So -- but if Michael Cohen's gambit here is, in effect, "Listen, what I'm willing to talk about here, you know, set aside the business practices, I'm willing to talk about something relevant to your investigation, which is, of course, Russian involvement, cooperation, et cetera."

So he's, in effect, our sources are telling us, throwing up this balloon, right, saying I have this information. I'm willing to talk.

The other point I would make is this, and this has been consistent, and I know that my colleagues have heard the same from Michael Cohen's lawyers and others who speak to him, is that Cohen has undergone a change here. Not only does he feel hung out to dry by the Trump campaign, but also that conscientiously, he is now placing country over Trump.

A man who's been loyal to Trump for more than a decade is saying that "I feel compelled to tell the truth now, because I feels that that's my duty," and that from their perspective, explains why for year -- he didn't talk about this before. For years, he has defended the president. That's what's happening now, and that's what they say is responsible for this change.

[06:15:13] BERMAN: All right. I have about a million and a half more questions.

CAMEROTA: Me, too. I have two million.

BERMAN: We have much more to discuss. No. 1, I'm fascinated by the strangely worded response from Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer. I'm fascinated by the credibility issues -- the credibility issues about Michael Cohen. And again, I'm also dying to know how the president is going to respond to all this.

We're going to talk much more about this. We have questions. Tweet us your questions, too. Because I know this is breaking as you're all just waking up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: All right, sources tell CNN that President Trump's one-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, says the president knew in advance about that 2016 meeting in Trump Tower where Russians had offered campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. And he approved it.

We're back with Carrie Cordero, Jim Sciutto and Michael Zeldin.

So, Carrie, Michael Cohen knows everything. The idea that he is saying this is, I mean, the term "bombshell" is sometimes bandied about too much, but this is a very big deal.

However, he says that he has no audio tapes. For a guy who taped everything, we now know, OK, he did not tape this meeting, for whatever reason. So the fact that it's just his word against all of these other people -- Don Jr., the president, Hope Hicks, Sarah Sanders -- how does that play in the mind of investigators?

[06:20:03] CORDERO: Well, from the perspective of investigators, they're going to look at what they can assemble through a variety of witnesses. So anybody who was potentially involved in that meeting, plus documents. So to the extent that they have e-mails about the purpose of the meeting being set up, or maybe reports afterwards.

CAMEROTA: Or a guest list of who was invited to that meeting.

CORDERO: So we don't know the complete realm of text messages or other electronic data that the investigators might have that might reveal more about what the substance of what took place at that meeting was.

But to the extent that, then, if it ever would come to, actually, witnesses and what witnesses would say, Michael Cohen's testimony would be one thing, and individuals affiliated with the campaign would be another.

Now, that's where credibility comes into play. And this administration, the president specifically, other individuals who have made public statements on his behalf, have a poor record of credibility. So other than information coming from the Trump camp, Rudy Giuliani last night saying that Michael Cohen is unreliable, I'm not sure what other information is out there that damages his credibility. But that would be up to investigators to evaluate.

But it also speaks to this point of how public he's being. Investigators don't want to be working with somebody who they can't control, in some way, if he's going to be cooperating or that they think is untrustworthy.

BERMAN: They need evidence. They need hard evidence. Michael Cohen apparently doesn't have tapes, according to Jim's reporting.

But Jim, you talked to Democrats in particular on the various House committees investigating, and they point to phone calls that Donald Trump Jr. made around the time of these e-mails, phone calls to an unlisted number -- not an unlisted number.

CAMEROTA: Blocked.

BERMAN: A blocked number, right? Why might that be important?

SCIUTTO: Because it's believe that Donald Trump Sr. has a blocked number. That is not exclusive information, because many people have a blocked number, but that's one issue there.

And then the other issue is that Democrats on the committee will say that they want to subpoena Donald Trump Jr.'s phone records so that they can get information to see who was behind that phone call, and they weren't allowed to do that by their Republican colleagues on -- on the House Intelligence Committee.

Now, we know that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, he would have the ability, presumably, to get such phone records, if he was interested in them. Perhaps he has them already. As Carrie and Michael were saying, it's possible that the special counsel has gone down this road already and either discovered wrongdoing or eliminated the possibility of wrongdoing.

We also know, to our knowledge, Michael Cohen has not been interviewed by the special counsel yet. So either he's not interested in talking to him or has already found enough to reach his own conclusions without his testimony.

BERMAN: Or is very, very interested in him, and he may be a target of the investigation.

SCIUTTO: True.

BERMAN: That's the other reason why you don't talk to someone.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Michael Zeldin, so to Carrie's point about credibility, and if it came down to a "he said/he said" argument about what Donald Trump, then-candidate knew. So last night, Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's lawyers, was on Chris Cuomo's show and really going after Michael Cohen's credibility in the harshest terms. He called him a pathological liar. So let me just play for you how they are now attacking Michael Cohen's credibility.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GIULIANI: I expected something like this from Cohen. He's been lying all week, I mean, or for two weeks. He's been lying for years. I mean, the tapes that we have demonstrate any number of very serious lies by him back a year and a half ago, including his fooling people, lying, hiding tape recordings, telling them they weren't recorded, lying to their face, breaking faith with them, taping his client, which is a disbarable offense. I don't see how he has any credibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Michael Zeldin, President Trump must have terrible judgment in people to use that person that Rudy Giuliani described last night as a pathological liar, as his personal attorney and fixer for more than a decade.

ZELDIN: Well, that's right. And if he was lying all those years, he was lying on behalf of the president, presumably.

The irony, of course, is that, in respect of this story, Trump's lawyers, Jay Sekulow and now Rudy Giuliani, have twice come on television, at least twice, come on television and said categorically, "My client knew nothing of this meeting. My client knew nothing of the Air Force One misstatement of this meeting," both of which have been proven to be untrue. So it's not really a great cast of characters here that are, you know, known for their veracity.

What will be key is, in Jim's reporting, it says Cohen was present with others when the meeting was discussed. If the others include just Manafort, Kushner, and Don Jr., that's a problem for Cohen's side of the argument. If there are other third parties in addition to those who participated in the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, then you have the possibility of additional corroborative witnesses who may be inclined to tell the truth, rather than lie under oath.

It seems that Don Jr. has great liability if Cohen's testimony is proven to be correct.

BERMAN: Let me just read the denial --

ZELDIN: Because he lied -- he would have lied, then.

BERMAN: Let me read the statement from Don Jr.'s lawyer here, because it's different in tone, decidedly, than Rudy Giuliani. This is Alan Futerfas, who is attorney for Donald Trump Jr.

It says, "Donald Trump Jr. has been professional and responsible throughout the Mueller and congressional investigations. We are very confident of the accuracy and reliability of the information that has been provided by Mr. Trump Jr. and on his behalf."

CAMEROTA: What's so weird about that?

BERMAN: It's not what Rudy Giuliani said, which is Michael Cohen is a liar and has lied all his life. This is a carefully-worded statement that doesn't provide -- at least to me, and I applied to law school but didn't go, Carrie -- this is not an airtight denial from Donald Trump Jr.'s lawyer to a story that was pretty clear last night.

CORDERO: It's not -- it's, look, it's what the lawyer is going to say. It's saying, "My client is telling the truth." We have to remember --

BERMAN: It doesn't actually say that. It say, "We're confident," "We're confident of the accuracy and reliability." That's not "My client is telling the truth."

CORDERO: Well, all of these statements that the lawyers are making, we have to remember, they're advocating on behalf of their client, and they're doing it through the media. So what really matter is what they say when they're under oath, to whether that was on the Hill or whether that is -- if they ever end up before investigators. That's really the information that matters.

CAMEROTA: One last point, did you have one, Jim?

SCIUTTO: The other point I would make is some of this goes to style. That Alan Futerfas, in CNN's interactions with him, has tended to be straightforward, not bombastic in his statements, headline making. More traditional, you might say, in the way lawyers respond to issues and stories like this, whereas as you have seen, Rudy Giuliani is willing to go an extra inch or an extra mile in the way he makes these statements.

So a little of it, form my impression, goes to the style of the way they respond. But that both are saying, "We stand by Don Jr.'s and the president's previous testimony."

CAMEROTA: That's very helpful, Jim. I'm not sure if you can use Rudy Giuliani as the bar for what is now the acceptable lawyer speak.

BERMAN: I think one is being a lawyer-layer. The other is being a political lawyer.

CAMEROTA: There you go. Panel, thank you all very much for all of your expertise with this.

Meanwhile, North Korea returning possible remains of some U.S. soldiers who were killed during the Korean War. We have a live report and an update for you, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)