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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Michael Cohen Set to Be Indicted?; Brennan vs. Trump. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUESTION: Mr. Cohen, how are you today?

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: Doing great. Yourself?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Federal prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against Michael Cohen, President Trump's former fixer, and those charges could come in the next 10 days.

This morning, Cohen spotted in the lobby of his lawyer's office only hours after "The New York Times" broke the story investigators are looking at $20 million in loans stemming from Cohen's taxi business.

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: When you're talking about anything over a million, it's significant and you're definitely at jail time.

GINGRAS: Cohen's been under a microscope by federal prosecutors ever since the FBI raided his home, hotel room and office in April. It's not just possibly lying about loans for his taxi business. Investigators are also looking at Cohen's involvement in the Stormy Daniels payout.

Just weeks before the 2016 election, Cohen arranged a $130,000 hush money payment to the porn star who allegedly had an affair with the president.

WU: The one most dangerous for the president is actually the campaign finance issue, because that can lead to the president's knowledge or direction of Cohen to do this.

GINGRAS: Cohen has signaled he'd be willing to talk to investigators to protect himself and his family, telling ABC News his family and not his former boss is his priority -- quote -- "My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first."

The shift in tone from the man who once said he would take a bullet for the president heightening tensions between Trump and Cohen. The president's lawyers continue to fire back.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The guy is unethical. He's a scumbag. He's a horrible person.

GINGRAS: But, as of now, what Cohen can actually offer investigators is unclear.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GINGRAS: And sources tell CNN the Southern District of New York is keenly aware that midterms are approaching, and we could see that indictment or perhaps even a plea deal soon because prosecutors don't want their decision to influence politics, Jake.

It's also possible the SDNY wants to wait until after the November election to make their move -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Brynn Gingras, thanks so much.

Let's talk about it with our experts.

First of all, let me just ask you as somebody who has worked for -- or you were tasked down from the Manhattan DA's office to the Southern District of New York. Do you think it's in their nature to wait until after the midterm elections, or do you think that they might do this sometime in the next few days before Labor Day?

A. SCOTT BOLDEN, FORMER D.C. DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: Despite the DOJ manual, the DOJ manual really covers specifically candidates, not affecting political outcomes.

The president is not up for reelection. The midterms may affect it. But this is really discretionary on the decision-makers' part. What Michael Cohen is trying to do now, though, now that this has been leaked out, that he wants a deal.

Look for a deal in the next 15 to 20 days, because if he can deliver Trump to the feds, then he's going to get a deal on this $20 million or $30 million of loans that may have been inflated and may have been misleading to the banks and what have you. That's really what this is about.

His credibility is an issue, but that's why he released the tapes. That's why he said that Trump knew about the Russian meeting beforehand, because he's showing the feds that he's willing to share without a deal on the table. Look for that deal, whatever he gets, for them to say I shared even without a deal, that adds to my credibility.

TAPPER: Speaking of the tapes, let's go back a few days to when CNN got a copy of the secret Trump-Cohen tape.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

COHEN: So, I'm all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be.. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN: Well, I will have to pay him something.

TRUMP: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no, no. I got it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, it was after that the Trump team -- the Trump team was sending negative signals towards him to begin with. And then after that, they just went nuclear.

Was that smart, you think?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can see why they were so angry when President Trump has been so angry about the Michael Cohen stuff all along ever since back in April when they first raided his house, office and hotel.

And it's because of things like what Michael Cohen has been saying lately, that the president knew about that meeting with Russian officials beforehand, and that Michael Cohen would be willing to tell that to the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

The White House has been really struggling with how to control this, what to say about the Cohen-Trump relationship, but Trump himself has been so angry about this, angrier about this than he has been about the special counsel himself and that investigation because he knows that he and Cohen have a relationship that goes back so long and that Cohen does know a lot about the president and about his family, about his business dealings and such.

And that's why we have seen such anger come from them. It's likely why we have seen Michael Cohen signal that he's willing to testify against the president and he's saying he's going to put his family first. It's clear that they are both sending signals here and why we see President Trump so angry when people have asked about Michael Cohen, as I and several other reporters have done, and whether or not he would pardon him.

TAPPER: And obviously some of the issues going on here is how much Michael Cohen has been involved in paying off women with whom President Trump has allegedly had an affair, well, not during his presidency, but during the time he was married to Melania.

[16:35:05]

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Paying off women is a campaign finance violation potentially.

But I think the bigger thing here is like what does Cohen know about 2016, Russia, any connection -- he to me potentially knows a lot about what kind of collusion, was there collusion, how did it work. It seems to me that Cohen and McGahn are hugely important people. And the fact that we're knowing -- that we now learn that both of them will talk and maybe have talk is hugely threatening to the president, because they know a lot of details they worked on with him during the campaign at the White House in important decisions he made and potentially illegal things he did.

TAPPER: And these are -- these are close associates.

And it does seem like when it comes to McGahn, when it comes to Cohen, when it comes to other people, the walls are closing in. I can understand why President Trump would feel stressed.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

And what's interesting to me are the different paths that Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort are staking out. Paul Manafort essentially seems to be rolling the dice, waiting for a pardon, didn't mount a defense to any of the 18 counts in Virginia court. He will go to D.C. court on additional accounts after this suit concludes.

But Michael Cohen, on the other hand, as soon as they raided his office, he seemed to say, hey, I have got information, I need a deal, which is strange, considering that Michael Cohen seems much closer to the president than Paul Manafort.

TAPPER: Yes, although...

BOLDEN: Yes, but he's not going to go down for the president.

CARPENTER: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes, but also, I mean, Michael Cohen has been cast aside more by the president and his team than Manafort.

They haven't -- they haven't really said anything negative publicly about Manafort. They have kind of distanced themselves and lied about how big a role he played on the campaign. But, I mean, you heard Rudy Giuliani in that piece earlier calling -- calling Michael Cohen a scumbag on national TV.

BOLDEN: But he called him a very credible person two or three weeks before the tapes came out. So that's another hypocrisy.

But here's the deal. Michael Cohen has decided that he's going to be for Michael Cohen. Lanny Davis is his lawyer. That's a purposeful decision on his part, not to send a message. But Lanny Davis is a well-known Democratic fund-raiser and a Democratic lawyer.

And since he's hired Lanny Davis, he has taken an independent approach. As they begin these negotiations, there will be a proffer. And Lanny is going to proffer what Michael Cohen knows.

The reason Michael Cohen wants to cooperate right away once they raided his office, because he knows the best of Trump, but he knows the worst of Trump.

TAPPER: And that's the other thing is, we combine this with Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who was also taping the president, who also has tapes.

I mean, what kind of people is President Trump surrounding himself with?

COLLINS: That's a great point. I was just going to make that.

All the people that President Trump is willing to surround himself with. Michael Cohen was never known as the stellar attorney that everyone had to have because he can get you out of whatever or help defend you in anything.

It was President Trump who hired him. And a lot of people didn't know why and didn't understand their relationship. And President Trump, also, it wasn't the coziest relationship that you have ever seen. President Trump was actually quite cruel to him in some cases.

And now we're seeing how the power dynamic there has changed. The same with Omarosa. When she was in the White House, the president liked her when she was saying nice things about him, something he himself has admitted why he kept her around, even though everyone else said that he should get rid of him (sic).

But then it's also Paul Manafort is someone the president chose to surround himself with. These are all crises that the president has made for himself because he hired these people, he kept them around.

And now these are people who are turning on the president.

TAPPER: They can't be true, Kaitlan, because he only hires the best people.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: He only hires the best people, so you really need to think about what you just said.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: President Trump now daring a former CIA director to sue him over stripping his security clearance. And he's not the only one taunting John Brennan.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:48]

TAPPER: President Trump responding furiously to former CIA Director John Brennan's threat to take legal action after Brennan's security clearance was revoked. President Trump tweeting -- quote -- "I hope John Brennan, the worst

CIA director in our country's history, brings a lawsuit. It will then be very easy to get all of his records, texts, e-mails and documents to show not only the poor job he did, but how he was involved with the Mueller rigged witch-hunt. He won't sue."

And the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani also egged Brennan on, tweeting -- quote -- "To John Brennan, today, President Trump granted our request, Jay Sekulow and me, to handle your case. After threatening it, if you don't like it, it would be just like Obama's red lines. Come on, John. You're not a blowhard."

Brennan was backed up today by more than 175 former State Department and Pentagon officials in a new letter to the president also objecting to Brennan being fired.

So, Perry, why is the president sending this message of bring it on to John Brennan? Does he really mean it?

BACON: I'm sure he does.

I think if they depose Brennan, I'm sure he would have to say something in a lawsuit. He may have enough to talk about things maybe Brennan doesn't want to talk about.

But this is among the more authoritative -- authoritarian things Trump has done, the idea of attacking someone this way, trying to threaten their livelihood by taking away their security clearance, and now having Giuliani pile on.

This has been heinous, one of the more -- this is one of the more aggressive behaviors they have done. And you can see the reaction to that where you have seen people who were like senior people in the military who generally don't get into politics being like, this is the line that is way too far has been crossed.

But Trump is obviously not backing down. There's probably a better fight than whether he used the N-word, I guess, if that's what he's trying to change the subject. But this is really, very, very troubling, alarming behavior.

TAPPER: That's right. He brought this out as an issue to distract from Omarosa saying that there was this N-word tape.

They seem to like John Brennan as a foil. There's all this stuff in Brennan's past that they're able to take and put out of context, and they're painting him as a crazy left-winger.

COLLINS: Which raises the question of how the White House will move going forward if they revoke anyone else's clearance.

What will they say? Because, with John Brennan, they can point to things he has said on television, most notably after the summit with Vladimir Putin, when he said that it was nothing short of treasonous.

But all these other officials that are on this list don't necessarily have said anything that publicly, so vocally critical of the President. So that will be -- that raise the question of what they're going to say going forward as it means to justify it. They're revoking anyone else's which the President said on Friday.

They're going to revoke Bruce Ohr's clearance next. That little known Justice Department official. It's unclear if they're actually serious of moving forward revoking these clearances but what the President is making clear is that this is not about national security but as a personal fight that he's having with John Brennan and he's more than happy to use his presidential powers to punish.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Does Brennan have any sort of the legal case? I thought it was up to discretion of the President of the United States whether or not somebody has security clearance.

SCOTT BOLDEN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, he certainly has the discretion but he can't violate the constitution or the rights of anyone. Vis-a-vis a security clearance. Now there are 14 requirements on how you qualify for a security clearance, right? OK and none of the other 13 or 16 on the list have violated those. This hasn't been tested in court. But here's what the lawsuit would look like.

And by the way, if he does bring the lawsuit, whatever they have on John Brennan, they get on Donald Trump. And all of his businesses. It works both ways. So this is really false bravado. But the lawsuit would look like this, it would say, you vi violated the first amendment right because you took my security clearance base on what I said about political disagreement and you don't have a right to pull a license just based on my public rhetoric or my first amendment.

Secondly, I did nothing to disqualify myself for security concerns in order to pull my license. And they would ask the Federal judge perhaps here in D.C. to either restrain the -- restrain the White House from taking his license, right? Or to give him his license back based on the first amendment as well as the Federal regs that would bar which I think what I would argue with bar. Those are the two points.

TAPPER: Amanda, I want to read part of the letter, more than 175 former government officials signed disagreeing with the President's decision to revoke Brennan's security clearance. "Former government officials have the right to express their unclassified views on what they see as critical national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so." I mean, and we should point out again that, you know, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn who was retired.

And also has security clearance in 2016 was out there criticizing President Obama and really harshly criticizing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama did not revoke his security clearance. How does this letter strike you?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, when President Trump was threatening to take away John Brennan's security clearance, there high-ranking Republicans like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who dismissed it as trolling. Now, we know that the President is no longer trolling. And the reaction is provoking among the security community, listen, Republicans could have a problem with John Brennan.

But what about the hundreds of other people coming out of the woodwork and telling the President I will not serve you, I will not give you my expertise, take away my clearance, if you continue to strike out at us this way. This is making America less safe. People have to stop dismissing it as trolling. Going along with it because you think it's kind of funny. Because these people are saying we will not serve you anymore.

And that's a huge problem not for Trump, not for Republicans but for America.

TAPPER: For America. And, Kaitlan, I asked former CIA Director General Michael Hayden if the attacks President Trump has been making against these intelligence and national security officials has destroyed the President's relationship with the national security community, what he said was striking. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: It's interesting close to being permanently broken. It is badly injured right now but has to be harder and harder each day as the administration takes these kind of actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, that's rough. He obviously, General Hayden, who worked at the NSA, who worked with the CIA, has a lot of friends who work still in government. He didn't say to us what any of the things they had said but he's reflecting the concern of people who are in government right now trying to keep us safe. We might disagree with some things they do and say sometimes but this is -- these are people who work for President Trump.

COLLINS: Right. And the question is how does President Trump recover a relationship like this with the national security community? And it's likely that he can't after he's done things like this. I mean, these people are people who could easily be in Kohn Brennan's position one day and they don't want to have this type of retribution back at them.

And it's also just so unusual. It's really hard to understate how unusual it is that they are coming out and this public statement of the President. We never see this from people of this -- in this position. Certainly not CIA directors and we have a collective group of them coming together signing a statement rebuking what President Trump is doing. That is so incredibly unusual to have them come together.

These are people who had the world's secrets, they are typically very quiet. They typically do not make a public criticism of the President but the fact that they are so concerned about what President Trump is doing, that they're all getting together to put this out, it's not just to be showy or to do whatever. They're sending a warning signal that they are truly concerned about what's happening. TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We got more to talk

about. They live under the same roof. But I'm starting to wonder if Melania Trump and her husband always see eye to eye.

[16:50:01] MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning. It is great to be here with all of you today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Got a warm smell of colitas rising up through the air? The money lead now, fly, Eagles, fly. No, I'm not still talking about the Super Bowl champions, the band, the Eagles, they now have the top selling album in the history of the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:55:06] TAPPER: The recording industries of America today told the A.P. that the Eagles' greatest hits, 1971 and 1975 has passed Michael Jackson's thriller on the list with 38 million in sales and streams of the album. Eagles actually have two of the top three spots on the list with Hotel California in third place. And our politics lead, CNN is crunching the numbers. It turns out President Trump has directly insulted attacks or maligned 97 people on Twitter since taking office.

That's 75 men and 22 women from celebrities such as actor Robert De Niro and NBA Stars LeBron James to politicians such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even though -- even tonight show host Jimmy Fallon and we should also add in this (INAUDIBLE) disclosure me.

Despite the fact that Donald Trump might be the biggest cyber bully of all time, his wife first lady Melania Trump has decided her platform is to combat online bullying. And after giving a rare speech today, her husband then launched a series of insults on Twitter against former CIA Director John Brennan. CNN's Kate Bennett reports on this split screen marriage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: When first lady Melania Trump unveiled her Be Best initiative in May.

M. TRUMP: Now, it is my pleasure to call my husband to the stage.

BENNETT: It appeared her husband President Donald Trump was onboard.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today we pledge to Be Best. Best for our families, best for our communities and best for our nation. And now, I am proud to sign the Be Best proclamation and I think you all know who's going to get the pen.

BENNETT: She might have gotten the pen but she also got the message, this was a platform she would be pushing forward independently. Because she would be acting alongside a president who doesn't always use social media for good. In fact, today, as the first lady gave remarks at an anti-cyber bullying summit in Maryland --

M. TRUMP: It can be used in many positive ways but can also be distractive and harmful when used incorrectly.

BENNETT: And stayed to listen to a panel about kids and kindness online, her husband was tweeting, calling John Brennan the worst CIA director in history. The New York Times reported the President wasn't necessarily on board with his wife's decision to combat cyber bullying as part of her platform but she did even in the face of what some view as the peak of hypocrisy, Melania Trump acknowledged the elephant in the room and she's doing it anyway.

M. TRUMP: I'm well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing this topic.

BENNETT: The First Lady has said before that she has tried to control her husband's bad habits.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you tell Mr. Trump to not tweet so much?

M. TRUMP: Yes. But that's his decision. He's an adult. He knows the consequences.

BENNETT: Her spokeswoman has told CNN the First Lady is now focused on the next generation. Hoping children will Be Best and learn that social media is not for bullying.

M. TRUMP: Let's face it. Most children are more aware of the benefits and pitfalls of social media than some adults. But we still need to do all we can to provide them with information and tools for successful and safe online habits.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BENNETT: Now the First Lady is branching out with her independence even more. This afternoon it was announced she will be traveling to Africa, this fall in October. Taking a trip and probably taking her Be Best message there, as well. It's her first big solo trip as first lady to the continent of Africa, a country (INAUDIBLE) that her husband criticized if we remember several months ago using a particularly --

TAPPER: Be Best, Kate. Be Best. Be Best.

BENNETT: Particularly challenging word that's starting with an S.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Kate Bennett, appreciate it. And today's Faith Lead. The Pope is finally weighing in on the Pennsylvania sex abuse scandal expressing shame for abuse allegations against predator priests stating back decades. A Pennsylvania grand jury released its report last Wednesday accusing the church of covering up some 70 years of abuse by priests.

After saying nothing about this in his sermon in Rome yesterday, today Pope Francis released a letter saying in part "no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening," he went on to say, "we showed no care for the little ones, we abandoned them."

The pope did not call for any specific actions against predator priests or those who helped cover up their crimes nor did he anything about the powerful archbishop of Washington, D.C. Donald Wuerl who faces pressure to resign given the many examples cited in the grand jury report of Wuerl's ignoring or helping cover up abusive behavior back when he was bishop of Pittsburgh.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper.

[17:00:00] You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He is back and better than ever in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, extensive cooperation.