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Michael Cohen Claims President Trump Knew of Meeting Between Donald Trump Jr. and Russians; President Trump Denies Knowledge of that Meeting; Interview with Ian Bremmer; Trump Denies Knowledge of 2016 Trump Tower Meeting with Russians; Deadline to Reunite Separated Families Expires. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: But to summarize what Michael Cohen says that he's prepared to tell the special counsel Robert Mueller is a number of things. One, that the president did know in advance of that 2016 Trump Tower meeting of Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Michael Cohen says that he knows this because he was present in the room when Don Junior, the president's son, let the president know, or then candidate Trump know about this meeting. We're told that Michael Cohen is also prepared to testify the that the president when told of this upcoming meeting approved of the meeting going forward.

The final detail, and this is an important one, is that we're told Michael Cohen says there were other people in the room besides then candidate Trump and his son and Michael Cohen, providing investigators if they are interested in this line of inquiry, other witnesses to question to if possible corroborate Cohen's versions of events.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Jeffrey Toobin, legally speaking, what does this mean?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's highly significant at many levels. First of all, it's relevant to the question of, what was the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia, which is the core issue in this investigation. Donald Trump and the people around him, certainly his son, have said that Donald Trump, Senior, the candidate, didn't know about this Trump Tower meeting, was never informed of it in advance or not even immediately afterward. This suggests that that's not true. Is Michael Cohen telling the truth about this?

CAMEROTA: But if he is, then what is President Trump guilty of? What crime?

TOOBIN: Well, I don't know what he is guilty of. It certainly raises the question of whether the Trump campaign and the president and the people around him are guilty of the conspiracy that has been charged by Robert Mueller at least on the Russian side to interfere with the campaign illegally, the social media case, the hacking case. The question is, did the Trump campaign aid and abet and assist the Russians in trying to get Hillary Clinton defeated in 2016.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And Josh, again, as I'm reading this latest statement from the president, this is now clearly a he said, he said. This is as stark as you can get. We are told Michael Cohen wants to tell the special counsel that Donald Trump, the president now of the United States, did know, the president of the United States saying I did not know.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. And this he said, he said, involves two people that have questionable motives and don't have necessarily reputations of people who always tell the truth.

Can I say, this doesn't matter in the sense of Mueller's investigation when it comes to the president denying something in an official statement on Twitter, because we've seen him tell lies before, essentially. What's going to matter is what is said to the special counsel maybe by him if that happens, or by others who were in his orbit.

Can I also say, none of us are the morality police. But most of us don't lie because it's wrong, it's not the right thing to do. But even if you don't believe that, even if you're someone who tells lies all the time, maybe every day or on the hour, this shows why people in high profile positions like politicians need to tell the truth, because someday they're going to find themselves in hot water. And if they haven't built-up this reservoir of trust with their constituents to look at them and say, you know what, I don't necessarily believe this bad stuff that people are saying about this person, that's why you need that reservoir of trust at these particular times. Now the president is facing serious allegations, it's going to be very hard for him to look the American people in the eye and say this is not true.

TOOBIN: Donald Trump, Jr. also has a particular problem here because he under oath in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee said that he did not tell his father about his Trump Tower meeting. If Michael Cohen is telling the truth and it can be corroborated and proved that Michael Cohen is telling the truth, Donald Trump, Jr. could have a perjury problem.

BERMAN: Just one point to that, and then I'll defer to you. Maybe Donald Trump, Jr. is the only one we believe or we know has testified about this under oath, and that's significant. Michael Cohen has yet to actually go to the special counsel to give this information. If and when he does, that will be significant because then he will be sworn on that issue. And also, the president of the United States, we know because we've been talking about it for months and months and months, has not agreed to testify under oath about this. So to an extent what they're saying doesn't matter.

CAMEROTA: But Josh, help me understand that. Why wouldn't Robert Mueller already have talked to Michael Cohen? Michael is the gatekeeper. He knows about everything. Why wouldn't Robert Mueller's team have reached out to Michael Cohen yet?

CAMPBELL: That's a good question. There's obviously so much about the Mueller case that we don't know. We read the tea leaves, right, as their new filings and as we kind of get information from sources, but there's still a lot we don't know. What we can surmise, and I know this being in the FBI, Jeffrey knows this being former assistant United States attorney, is that a lot of times in an investigation you're going to try to compile as much information as you can before you sit down with a major subject like Michael Cohen. You want to build that case so you can confront them with everything you know.

[08:05:02] CAMEROTA: You work from the outside in of the circle, so that is getting closer to the inner circle. Obviously it doesn't get any closer.

CAMPBELL: Correct, that's right.

SCIUTTO: Jim Sciutto, do you have reporting on Michael Cohen's mindset? So what we've been reading is that he's been feeling hung out to dry over these past months as the southern district of New York has been closing in. He has sent up some flares hoping for I guess some sort of help from Donald Trump. I don't know what that would look like. And now to have his position diminished where Donald Trump has said he wasn't really that big a deal in my campaign, and things like that, and now Rudy Giuliani calling him a pathological liar, what is Michael Cohen thinking?

SCIUTTO: Our understanding from people who speak to Michael Cohen is it's two things. One, as you said Alisyn, that he feels hung out to dry. Here is someone that he worked for loyally, said he would take a bullet for for years, and now he feels that the president is abandoning him. But in addition to that, we're told Michael Cohen wants to do the right thing now, that he wants to show he values country over anything else, including his former boss, that there's a positive motivation there as well.

Whether you believe that or not, that is what people close to him say explains his change from being one of the president's defenders to saying, listen, I know what really happened here. And I'm willing to say that to investigators.

The other thing I would say is this, someone is lying here, right?


SCIUTTO: And that's the question and that's a question for investigators, perhaps juries, the American public to decide. But we also know -- we know that the president and his allies have given misleading accounts of this prior, right? Because remember their initial -- first of all, they said there were no meetings with Russians. Then we learned that there were several meetings with Russians, including one where the Russians were willing to offer this information and Trump's side was willing to take the meeting on that promise.

But, two, that after that meeting was revealed, the initial explanation in which President Trump himself was involved in gave a misleading account about what that meeting was about, saying it was all about Russian adoptions when e-mails then showed within hours that that explanation was false. So there have been lies on a lot of sides about this meeting prior to today. BERMAN: That's a great point. Someone is lying here, but all it

seems involved in this have lied before as well. So determining credibility will be crucial, Josh, in how will investigators go about credibility here.

CAMPBELL: That's right. A lot of this is going to come down to what we have in our reporting as far as what Cohen says happened in that meeting. He didn't say that he sat down with Trump on a one-on-one basis and learned that Trump knew that this Russia meeting was taking place. He said there were others. He said there were others in the room according to Jim Sciutto's great, excellent reporting here. The investigators are now going to be focusing on that. Who are these others? Are these people who can help corroborate that? We've talked a lot about how do you get at some of his information? There's witness testimony. There's electronic data, you can look at call records to try to figure out, did this really take place.

And then there's the question of these Cohen recordings, right. He recorded a lot of meetings. Is there a recording of this? So far we don't have evidence of that, but that would all come into play to determine is this person telling the truth? And again, sometimes it's proving a negative. The president may not be able to do so.

TOOBIN: There's also the issue of evidence that's already in plain sight. Why did Donald Trump announce that he was giving a big speech about Hillary Clinton when this meeting was planned, and then when the meeting turned out to be a bust, never gave the speech? Donald Trump, Jr., sends an e-mail to Rob Goldstone setting up the meeting saying if it's true, I love it. If he loves it so much, why didn't he tell his father about it in advance? Those are pieces of evidence that are related to the whole story. Do they settle the issue? No. But it's important to remember as we look for secret evidence that public evidence matters a lot, too.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for that reminder. Jeffrey Toobin, Josh Campbell, Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

OK, so Michael Cohen says then candidate Donald Trump knew about this meeting with the Russians. The president just doubled down on his denial on Twitter, so we dive into more of that.


[08:13:01] CAMEROTA: All right, President Trump is slamming Michael Cohen, his longtime fixer and confidante, just moments ago on Twitter. This is in response to sources telling CNN that Cohen says that president Trump did know in advance about that infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians. The president has just tweeted "I did not know of the meeting with my son Don, Jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out on unrelated jam. Taxi cabs, maybe? He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary's lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice."

Joining us now is Ian Bremmer. He's the president of the Eurasia group and author of "Us Versus Them, The Failure of Globalism." So, Ian, we need a big picture of this, OK? So it seems to me that since the Helsinki summit a lot has changed, a lot has come out. There's been breaking news on our watch every single morning. Can you imagine if you were Michael Cohen, OK, the president's long time devoted servant, and you watched that Helsinki summit where Donald Trump seemed to defend or support Vladimir Putin more than he ever has since Michael Cohen got in trouble, and now Michael Cohen is speaking -- yes, he's speaking publicly, though his --

BERMAN: Somebody.

CAMEROTA: Somebody.

IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: There's a lot of grist for the mill, but you asked me about the big picture. So you really want the big picture?


BREMMER: This has been a good week for Trump.


BREMMER: We get out of CNN lens for just a second.

CAMEROTA: Give it to us.

BREMMER: Four percent growth in the United States, the Europeans backed down on trade, he now looks like a winner on that front. The North Koreans, more progress with remains coming back. And stuff about Michael Cohen, is he credible? He was Trump's lawyer. If you are a Trump supporter, this is just blah-blah-blah. Now, the Helsinki stuff was really bad for Trump and he had to walk it back, and the Republicans were hitting him pretty hard for a day. And now he's basically said, OK, I'm not going to do the summit this year after all.

[08:15:02] I'm not going to recognize Crimea as a part of Russia. Nothing actually happened. We don't know what was in the two-hour private conversation, it's really weird. We'll talk about that, but nobody else is going to. So, I mean, seriously this has been a good week for Trump.

BERMAN: Let's continue this train of thought because I think it's fascinating. One of the things you do so people know is assess risk.


BERMAN: What is the biggest risk here from these last two weeks?

BREMMER: I guess the biggest risk is continually going to be what comes out eventually around Russia. Why is it that Trump has such a personal fixation on treating Putin well when even all of the members of his own administration, present and former that have left, are saying privately we don't know why he does this. Why wouldn't he include them in the meetings?

I do think especially with the midterms coming up and we are now getting the first public information about active hacking of the midterm elections, that's going to be a problem. People are going to talk about them being rigged, the Russian issue is going to become bigger. But again, if we're talking about just breaking news this week.


BREMMER: If I were talking to FOX, not in CNN, right now they'd be telling me to run a victory lap for the --

CAMEROTA: They are. Yes. In fact at the moment. And so the fact that it's been a very good week for President Trump, nationally -- domestically or internationally since Helsinki? How is he playing?

BREMMER: You know, I would say a pretty weak still because American traditional allies really don't like the guy. Now the German Foreign minister came out this morning and said, look, our relationship with the U.S. is going to stay strong. We are bigger than just dealing with the White House. He's going to be gone eventually, and that is a -- that is the more mature response that we're seeing from a bunch of leaders. But we're also seeing that when Trump decides, if he wants to go hard against you, you've got to throw him something.

And so on trade, even though these leaders don't like him, it's not just the E.U., it's been the South Korean, it's been the Brazilians, it's been the Argentines. Those are a lot of individual countries that have lined up and said OK, let's try to find a better trade deal for this guy. And even with NAFTA, the new president who won big in Mexico, Lopez Obrador, the initial back and forth with the Americans has been pretty positive. We want to make sure we get, too, to play.

BERMAN: It's interesting because they come in and they seem to say let's figure out a way so that Donald Trump can claim victory.


BERMAN: Even if it's not clear exactly what was achieved. You're talking about Europe. You're talking about the E.U.


BERMAN: Meaning it's unclear to me exactly what came out of the meeting, other than they decided not to make it worse right away.

BREMMER: Well, a couple of things. One is they've said they're going to buy more soybeans from the United States.

BERMAN: That's real.


BREMMER: That's significant. LNG, we don't have the details on it yet, but with the E.U., if they make a commitment like that, really hard for them to back away from it. And they're saying they're not -- they're going to resist the escalation against the United States, what we've already done. As the Japanese. The Japanese are unhappy, they haven't gotten an exemption. But they didn't hit the Americans back. Other countries like Canada, Mexico, did hit the Americans back.

China, China is the one to watch, right? Because the bad news that Trump got on the international front that the Chinese killed the Qualcomm deal, which is going to cost them an awful lot of money and implies that on the technology front the United States and China are two trains that are heading directly at each other.

But if we look at Trump's first year and a half, everything he's done in policy has been focused towards let's not hurt the economy short- term. We can blow out the budget and really hurt the American economy long-term --

CAMEROTA: And that's what is happening in your assessment?

BREMMER: On trade he kind of moved right up to the line and as soon as if felt like the markets were pushing him back then it was much more about rhetoric and not actually follow through. That's interesting.

BERMAN: You think he backed off? You think he backed off on trade in the last week?

BREMMER: I think he's backed off on China and on Europe a little bit. I think that if he felt like he could do more escalation without any damage to the U.S. economy, I suspect that conversation with the E.U. might have gone another round or two. I think with the Chinese he might be talking about already wanting to implement specifics around that additional $200 billion or $500 billion on goods, which is the entirety of the U.S.-China import relationship from China to the U.S. He hasn't done that yet.

So, yes, I think there's a lot more bombast around how bad this could get, but that also implies someone who wants to push these folks into a better place. And again in a number of instances we have to recognize that's been effective.

CAMEROTA: We've had several Republican congressmen and senators on this week who are quite worried about the tariffs and how they affect their states, in Iowa, Pennsylvania, et cetera. And as you know President Trump has proposed a bailout.

BREMMER: $12 billion.

CAMEROTA: $12 billion to farmers.

BREMMER: For farmers, yes.

CAMEROTA: So how does this all going to play out?

BREMMER: You know, again long-term the way you benefit the U.S. economy isn't by raising tariffs and then throwing cash to your domestic constituents. But short term you keep them happy, interest rates comparatively low, who cares where the money is coming from?

If you look at the way Trump has run his businesses historically, the beginning of the Trump Administration was about owning things and building a real business. After the bankruptcies it was about licensing deals, quick money for Trump with second, third, fourth, your people in weird parts of the world like Panama City, Baku and Batumi, Georgia. Right?

[08:20:12] I mean, there is a fear certainly that Trump as president is going to run the country like Trump as CEO of Trump Organization. When things get tough he moves from the real assets to vaporware, and I think long term you have to worry that some of the decisions Trump is s taking will be damaging for the American economy.

BERMAN: He'll have a summit that's not happening in the fall between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The president invited Vladimir Putin to come to the United States in the fall, and a lot of people look at this and say, hey, wait a second here, after what just happened at Helsinki you shouldn't be offering this invitation at all. And then the president backed off and said well, it's not going to happen now until maybe after the first of the year. What do you see going on there?

BREMMER: Well, maybe they'll do it by soccer ball since there's a chip in that ball.

BERMAN: I know. We talked about that.


CAMEROTA: Soccer ball.

BREMMER: They can scoot around this whole thing. No. I think the fact is that they weren't able to accomplish anything substantive in terms of policy. Everyone got so worked up that Trump was so embarrassing to American national interest during the press conference that he held in Helsinki, it was really weird. And yet if you look at concrete policy deliverables coming out of it, the U.S. is still spending a lot more on defense under Trump. They're not suspending any military exercises in NATO countries under Trump. Advance forces rotating in and out of the Baltic states, they're in Poland.

The United States isn't pulling out of Syria. They're not recognizing Crimea, and I suspect that we're going to see more sanctions against Russia from Congress this year. Really hard for Putin to want to come over to the United States and run another, hey, you're my buddy-buddy. So the fact that Trump said we're going to wait until -- this is after the witch hunt is over, which, you know, may imply that there aren't any more meetings that happen between Trump and Vlad. I suspect he'll change his mind on that.

But the fact is that as angry as everyone including mainstream Republicans were on the back of this Helsinki meeting, very little concrete that we know of has actually come out of it.

BERMAN: Of course that we know of part of it.

BREMMER: That's right.

BERMAN: We don't know what was discussed. We don't know what really went on --

BREMMER: But we do know what U.S. policy is.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

BREMMER: And we haven't seen a move on U.S. policy.

BERMAN: Ian Bremmer, great to have you here with us. I think a really important discussion to have today.

BREMMER: My pleasure.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

All right, the deadline has expired for reuniting immigrant families. How many children remain separated from their parents? That's next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[08:26:21] BERMAN: All right. We're going to stay on top of the breaking news, the president has given his first statement since sources told CNN that Michael Cohen claims that then candidate Donald Trump knew and approved of the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 between his campaign and Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Our Joe Johns live at the White House with the presidential response -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. A forceful denial from the president on Twitter to the CNN reporting that Michael Cohen is prepared to say that the president was aware of that 2016 meeting that has become so infamous over the last several months during the Russia investigation.

The president's tweet, "I did not know of the meeting with my son, Don, Jr., sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam," an apparent reference to the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen. He goes on, "He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary Clinton's lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice."

So that, of course, a reference to Lanny Davis, who happens to be one of the lawyers who worked for Bill and Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton during the impeachment phase back years and years ago.

Now of course, the -- what's very clear here is that the president is angry, according to the reporting from CNN's Jeff Zeleny, from Jeff last night. A Republican source telling Jeff, as a matter of fact, it's getting closer and closer to his inner circle. How do you think he feels? So, so far a forceful denial from the president of the United States. He's denied it before.

Back to you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much for all of that.

Now to this, about one in three children who were separated from their parents at the border are not reunited. They are still in government custody. And as you know there was this court ordered deadline to reunite them yesterday. That has expired. So the government offering no timeline now for tracking down those hundreds of parents who were deported or are now unaccounted for, and what happens to their children and where they are?

CNN's Rosa Flores has been following this for weeks. She is live in McAllen, Texas. What's the latest this morning, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, good morning. Well, the U.S. government is declaring that the reunification is complete. They are praising their work. But here is the bottom line, not every child who was separated by the U.S. government was reunified by deadline day. And let me take you through these numbers because according to the U.S. government they separated about 2500 children. By deadline day they had reunified about 1400 of those children. 700 of the children remain in the custody of the United States. So by definition they are not in the custody of their parents.

Now there's another subset. More than 300 of these children were released. So they were released to either sponsors who could be friends or close family members. Could be parents, in this case we know that they're not their parents. Otherwise they would have been in the other category. And then there's another subset of numbers that are very concerning to advocates and immigration attorneys.

And those are the parents who were deported outside of the United States. So those parents are now sitting in Guatemala, Honduras, grappling with the fact that they have not been reunited with their children, and they're trying to figure out a way to reunite with their children. So while the U.S. government is patting itself on the back for a great job, these parents are still trying to figure out how to reunite with their children -- Alisyn, John.

CAMEROTA: Rosa, I am so glad that you're staying on this and that we're staying on this --