Return to Transcripts main page

NEW DAY

Hundreds of Separated Children Not Reunited with Parents by Deadline; Cohen Claims Trump Knew about Meeting with Russians Beforehand. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: But gang violence is a form of persecution. Why would they deny that asylum request?

[07:00:05] EILEEN BLESSINGER, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING MIGRANT WOMAN SEPARATED FROM CHILD: The problem is that they're not giving any reasons for denial. They're just checking off boxes and saying, "See question and answer," and there is no reason for the denial.

When we went to the court proceeding, the judge also failed to give a reason. He just said, "I'm denying your case."

CAMEROTA: Eileen Blessinger, we really appreciate you giving us a reality check of what's happening with these kids, and their parents, and how the Trump administration has not lived up to the court-ordered mandate to reunited all of them. Eileen, please, please keep us posted on the situation with that mother and her daughter, as well as all of the others who have yet to be reunited. Thank you for being here.

BLESSINGER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We do begin with a major development that could -- I repeat, could -- change the course of the Russia investigation.

Sources tell CNN that Michael Cohen is ready to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that then-candidate Donald Trump was aware and approved of the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 in which Russian officials promised the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Now, the president, his team, his family, have repeatedly denied he knew anything about that meeting before it took place. They denied it more than 15 times, by CNN's count.

CAMEROTA: Now, the president's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was very quick to attack Michael Cohen during an interview last night with CNN's Chris Cuomo. He said that Michael Cohen has been lying for years. Now remember, Michael Cohen spent years as Donald Trump's personal attorney and fixer, and he once said that he would take a bullet for his boss.

We have so much to cover. Let's bring in CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. He was part of the team that broke this story. Give us all of the news, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Thank you, Alisyn.

Of course, the other member of that team, Carl Bernstein. A lot of headlines in this story. One, Cohen is saying the president, then- candidate Trump, knew in advance of this meeting with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Two, Cohen says he was present for a meeting, in person, when then- candidate Trump was informed about this meeting by his son, Donald Trump Jr. And crucially, Cohen says that the president approved of the meeting, said, "Let's go forward," in effect.

Now, of course, this is Michael Cohen's story. No one else is saying this at this point. But Cohen says he is willing to tell this story to the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Sources tell myself and Carl Bernstein that President Trump's longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, is willing to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about his campaign's June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. And that he signed off on it.

This account directly contradicting the repeated denials from President Trump, his lawyers and allies.

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.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: 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.

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

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

SCIUTTO: Sources tell us that Cohen alleges that he was there when Donald Trump Jr. told his father about the meeting but does not have evidence, such as an audio recording, to corroborate the claim.

President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, flatly denying Cohen's account in an interview with CNN and attacking Cohen's credibility. 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's no way you're going to bring down the president of the United States on the testimony, uncorroborated, of a proven liar.

SCIUTTO: A source familiar with Cohen's testimony says that he did not tell the House Intelligence Committee that Trump had advanced knowledge of the meeting. And Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year that he would not have wasted his father's time with it.

Trump Jr.'s attorney standing by his testimony, saying they are confident in the accuracy and reliability of the information they provided.

The Trump Tower meeting has long been at the center of questions over potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. When news of the meeting first broke, Donald Trump Jr. initially said that the focus was primarily on Russian adoptions.

Days later, Trump Jr. publicly released e-mails from publicist Rob Goldstone, who set up the meeting, showing that, in fact, it was proposed, quote, "to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary as part of Russia and its government's support for Trump."

Trump Jr. replied to the e-mail within minutes, quote, "If it's what you say, I love it."

[07:05:04] Four days later and two days before the Trump Tower meeting, then-candidate Trump said that he'd be revealing information about Clinton.

TRUMP: I am going to give a major speech on, probably, Monday of next week, and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.

SCIUTTO: That speech never happened.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: The other important detail in our reporting is that Michael Cohen is prepared to say that there was others present in that meeting when he said he was there and that Trump Sr. was told by Trump Jr. about that meeting with Russians.

The other point I would make is that we know the Trump Tower meeting has been of interest to the special counsel in two lines of inquiry. One, the questions about whether there was cooperation or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, but two, also obstruction of justice. The misleading statements that the president took part in a year after that meeting, claiming, of course, that it was initially about adoptions when, in fact, we know what the Russians were actually offering when they came in that room -- Alisyn and John. CAMEROTA: All right, Jim. Stay with us, if you would, because

joining us now, we have CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin, raring to go, and CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI supervisory special agent Josh Campbell.

Jeffrey Toobin, this is your first appearance since hearing the news. For people who think this has been drip, drip, drip of the Robert Mueller investigation --

BERMAN: This is gush.

CAMEROTA: -- this is a good time today to tune in for that.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Right.

CAMEROTA: So what does it mean that -- if Michael Cohen is now spilling the beans?

TOOBIN: Well, let's, of course, posit that his credibility is in question. But if Cohen is telling the truth about this, it completely changes our understanding of what Donald Trump's role was -- Donald Trump Sr., the president of the United States -- in the relationship between his campaign and Russia. Because this meeting in Trump Tower is the clearest example we have so far of a direct connection between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

The -- the party line has been, as Jim's report said, that there -- Donald Trump did not know about this meeting. Now, that's always been somewhat suspect. I mean, you know, we have the famous e-mail quoted in Jim's piece, Donald Trump Jr. saying, "If it's true" -- that is, this offer of help from the Russian government -- "I love it." Would he really not have told his father about that? Would his father really have announced a major speech about Hillary Clinton if he had not known that this information is coming? If he -- would he have canceled the speech if the meeting had not turned out to be a bust?

Cohen squares that circle in this report. He says, "Of course Donald Trump knew." Is Michael Cohen lying? We'll see. I mean, there's -- this raises a lot of questions. Is there any corroboration of Michael Cohen?

CAMEROTA: Right, but just on -- on another larger issue, Michael Cohen knows everything. He's the longtime fixer. He's been at the president's side. So the idea that he is ready, he says, through sources, to cooperate with Robert Mueller, is this a game changer?

TOOBIN: Well, it could be. I mean, it all depends whether Michael Cohen is telling the truth, which is obviously hotly in dispute, and it always also depends on whether he has any corroboration: any other witnesses, any tape recordings, any e-mails, any texts that corroborate what he's saying.

BERMAN: All right, Special Agent, someone who has investigated matters before, this information comes out overnight. You know, Michael Cohen makes this public revelation, or CNN reports Michael Cohen's mindset on this. So what happens now? If you're Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the lawyers and investigators on his team, what do you do?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So I think at the outset, what this all tells us is that, for a group that is so tightknit, they are terrible at colluding, if there was collusion. If you think about it, despite their best efforts, it doesn't look like they got information from the Russians. They haven't been able to keep these hush payments quiet. They haven't been able to keep Cohen quiet. And that's the big issue now.

And I think now that he's out there, you know, essentially singing like a canary, that's going to come to the attention of Mueller. That's going to come to the attention of the Southern District.

So where does that lead us, to your question? The fact that Cohen mentioned in our reporting that there were others in the room is a key fact that stood out for me in this report for two reason.

First of which being, again, as Jeffrey mentioned, I mean, his credibility, it's not golden, right? It's in question right now. But the fact to me as an investigator that he didn't come out and say, you know, "I met one-on-one with the president, and I -- we discussed this about this Russian meeting," the fact that he's opened this aperture now to other people, to say that there were other witnesses, why would he do that if he wasn't telling the truth? If it was a one-on-one meeting, it would be a "he said/he said." There would be no one else.

Next issue here, what does Mueller do with this? What does the Southern District do with this? They're going to start trying to find out who these witnesses are.

[07:10:06] This possibly presents exposure to them if they've already been interviewed by Mueller, if they've already been interviewed by congressional committees. Because if they've locked in their testimony and said that the president didn't know, and Cohen or, you know, someone else can come up with one shred of corroborating information, game over. That could be the spark that burns a whole house down.

CAMEROTA: Jim Sciutto, do you have any more reporting on who else might have been in the room?

SCIUTTO: We don't know yet. And that's, of course, a key question, because it provides -- it would provide an opportunity, if the special counsel is interested, to find someone willing to corroborate what we're told is Michael Cohen's version of the story here.

The other point I would make is this. You know, been covering this story, this investigation for really, nearly two years now, and very early on in it, a source said to me that a lot of the evidence is hiding in plain sight. A lot of the evidence is in public, or at least the clues, I should say, is in public.

And when you think of President Trump's offer of that speech, which was then canceled, you think of the reporting yesterday from, whether it was "The New York Times" or "The Wall Street Journal" about how Robert Mueller is interested in the president's tweets, you know, you have to wed what has been said in public, the timing of what was said in public in and around this Trump Tower meeting, tweets, et cetera. That is part of the bigger picture. What folks in intelligence would call open-source information. In other words, stuff is out there.

And that is something that we know that investigators as they look into this, they try to connect those dots here. Does it prove anything? We don't know to this point. But remember, you've got to keep in mind what's in public and what you're learning in private and what picture that tells you.

BERMAN: You know, we've heard from Rudy Giuliani already that Michael Cohen is a liar.

CAMEROTA: Pathological.

BERMAN: Pathological liar, lied all his life, even though two months ago, Rudy Giuliani was vouching for the honesty and credibility of Michael Cohen.

CAMEROTA: And this is the president's longtime attorney, so what does that say if Rudy Giuliani says that he's always been a pathological liar?

BERMAN: And I also want to know, when we're talking about credibility, and we're talking specifically about this meeting, credibility about this meeting, people surrounding the president have spread lies about it.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BERMAN: Purely and simply, they have spread lies. Now what they knew about it or not, I can't say for sure. But Jay Sekulow, the president's attorney, said the president did not dictate the response to "The New York Times." We now know he did. That was not true.

Sarah Sanders from the White House podium said the same thing. We now know the president did. So what Sarah said was not true.

So their credibility on this also very much in question.

SCIUTTO: And John, just on that point, I would make this. An essential part of Trump world's defense of this Trump Tower meeting -- You listen to Donald Trump Jr.'s comments on FOX just afterwards -- is not that taking the meeting with the Russians offering dirt was wrong, right? I mean, they lied about that before it was exposed that that's why they took the meeting. But that the Russians didn't deliver that information, right? And that's what Donald Trump Jr. says in that interview on FOX: "Well, it was a big nothing, and therefore, it was a waste of time."

Not that, "Listen, we would never consider sitting down with foreign nationals offering our campaign help, which laws prevent," just that they didn't bring to the table what they said they were going to bring to the table. And that has always -- that has always struck me, not a denial that that's why they took the meeting, but just they should not have taken the meeting, but that they didn't come away from that meeting with what they were hoping for.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, I'm interested in Michael Cohen's mindset, and we have some reporting about that. That he has felt hung out to dry over these past months, that he has sent up various flares for help from Donald Trump, and he -- they've been met with either silence or a diminishment of his role publicly. Now all of these insults from Rudy Giuliani, calling him a liar.

But what really could Donald Trump, who is a subject of the Mueller investigation, not a target a subject of the Mueller investigation, what lifeline could he have thrown to Michael Cohen?

TOOBIN: It's a good question. You know, he could have given him a pardon. He can still give him a pardon.

CAMEROTA: Before anything -- before anything, he could have pardoned him?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. You know, Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon before he was charged with anything. You don't need to be charged with a crime or convicted to get a pardon.

Cohen is operating at several different levels here. At one level, he is concerned about being charged himself. After all, the Southern District did raid his offices. On another level, he's trying to defend his reputation. And he's one lawyer, Guy Petrillo, who is doing very much the inside game; and he has Lanny Davis, and the famously outspoken Clinton defender who is doing the public game, and he is -- Lanny Davis is trying to protect Michael Cohen's reputation, trying to show his independence, trying to show that he is not Donald Trump's plaything any more.

But those two tasks do seem in some tension with one another. It is certainly the case that prosecutors and FBI agents, like Mr. Campbell over here, prefer that the people involved in their investigations don't say anything to the press. That's obviously not what Michael Cohen is doing, but -- through Lanny Davis, but he's also protecting his reputation, which Michael Cohen cares about. So --

[17:15:21] BERMAN: Right. Boy, I still have a million more questions.

CAMEROTA: Me, too.

BERMAN: You guys are going to be around later in the show. We will wait and we will ask you then. Stick around.

CAMEROTA: Luckily, we have two more hours here.

What does Michael Cohen claim? What does all this mean to Capitol Hill? We're going to speak to a Republican congressman about these revelations, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: Sources tell CNN that President Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, claims that then-candidate Donald Trump knew about that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in advance and approved it. A Kremlin-connected lawyer, you'll remember, had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton ahead of that meeting, which the president's son, son- in-law and then-campaign chairman all attended.

[07:20:07] Joining us now to talk about this and more, we have Republican Congressman Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Nice to be with you.

CAMEROTA: So the president's longtime confidant, fixer, personal fixer, attorney Michael Cohen, says that Donald Trump new of and approved of that meeting with four Russians in Trump Tower. Does that change anything in your mind?

COSTELLO: Well, I think what it's going to change here is that the playing field has now shaped a little bit differently. When you have Lanny Davis, a former Clinton operative, who is very well-experienced in P.R. crisis management, and now you're starting to see the dripping of information on behalf of Michael Cohen, adversarial now to President Trump, I think that this is just the opening salvo.

I think, largely speaking, Trump supporters are going to look at this and say "Oh, you know, it's Michael Cohen covering for himself. He has Clinton -- the Clinton apparatus around him."

On the flip side, though, this is the kind of information which is consistent with those who have been critical of the president and who have raised concerns about the Mueller investigation and Russian interference and this issue of collusion, which the president continues to deny but which this kind of information, as it drips out, would -- would clearly contradict.

CAMEROTA: And I'm just curious. If -- since we know that the Trump campaign was open for business for dirt on Hillary Clinton, even if it came from an adversary like Russia, if Donald Trump knew that, as Michael Cohen is alleging, and approved of that, does that change Republicans on Capitol Hill and how they look at this and what action they want to take?

COSTELLO: No. Look, I'm not running for reelection. Most of my colleagues are. My colleagues are going to focus on the fact that we have historically low unemployment, very successful economic growth, a regulatory reform package. We have a very tough foreign policy. There are a lot of good things happening in this country. Although if we do talk about trade, there are some serious concerns about what's going on in the trade and tariff aspects of our economy with the president.

By and large --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

COSTELLO: -- this is an independent investigation. And frankly, Republicans and Democrats really should step back and just -- it's tough to do, but let the investigation take its course. That's why many such as myself supported a special counsel, because those on Capitol Hill cannot be viewed and will not be viewed as objective as it relates to any investigation into any -- over the -- over presidential campaigns.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I think we have seen with the House Intel Committee that objectivity --

COSTELLO: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- is not their defining characteristic.

Meanwhile, I do want to talk to you about trade. You're in Pennsylvania. The president, as you know, the tariffs, the byproduct, and the ramifications, I guess, from the tariffs are already being felt by some voters and Americans. You are not a fan of them.

Here's what the president says to you and to anyone who is not a fan of his tariff plan: "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? Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off? Lost $817 billion on trade last year. No weakness."

Are you weak on trade?

COSTELLO: No. Many of us have consistently said tariffs amounts to a tax on the American consumer. And when we export more, and the president categorizes that as a trade deficit, what we're doing is getting more of our product into marketplaces around the globe.

And listen, let me also say this, though, in the president's defense. I want to try and call balls and strikes fairly here. If the president is trying to renegotiate trade deals to lower barriers, that's a good thing. Understandably, there's going to be some short- term pain, but it is for us as members of Congress to point out what that short-term pain is. Listen to our constituents and say that there is a better way of going about trying to lower trade barriers.

If you look at the statement by the -- coming out of the E.U. yesterday, they promised that they will now try to buy more soybeans. Nothing has been done with the tariffs that they have instituted as a consequence of our tariffs. So while they're going to now continue to negotiate, nothing has changed.

And that's a deep concern, because if you look across the Midwest, particularly, it's going to be felt in Pennsylvania, as well. We are not in a good -- our agricultural sector is not in in a good situation right now as a result of these tariffs.

[07:25:03] CAMEROTA: Congressman, as you alluded to, you're retiring. You're getting out of this political racket. What are you going to do next?

COSTELLO: Well, I'll -- I'll try and continue to make my voice heard, but I don't know yet. I still have another four or five months in Congress. I'm going to run through the tape. And -- but I don't know what my future plans will be at this point.

CAMEROTA: All right, Congressman Ryan Costello, thank you. We appreciate you being on NEW DAY.

COSTELLO: Thanks.

BERMAN: So what will the legal fallout be of Michael Cohen's claim that President Trump knew and approved of the Trump Tower meeting? We will debate. Jeffrey Toobin, Professor Alan Dershowitz join us. Two will answer, one will leave.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So sources tell CNN that Michael Cohen now says then- candidate Donald Trump knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer before it happened. Will his word be enough to create legal trouble for President Trump?

Here with me now to discuss, CNN chief legal analyst, former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin; and Harvard Law professor emeritus and author of "The Case Against Impeaching Trump," Alan Dershowitz.

Gentleman, between us, we have two law degrees, so I'm going to try to stay out of this to the extent that I can and let you have at it.

Professor, let me start with you. And I want to pause for a second on the issue of Michael Cohen's credibility. Pause on that, Professor.