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CUOMO PRIME TIME
Michael Cohen Says the President Directed Him to Commit Felonies; Paul Manafort, Trump's Former Campaign Chair, Convicted on Eight Counts; Michael Cohen, Trump's Former Personal Lawyer, Pleaded Guilty to Eight Federal Crimes on Tuesday. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired August 21, 2018 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, Anderson. Thank you.
I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.
We have new information and key players for you in the big breaking story. Michael Cohen says a candidate for federal office, aka, the president, directed him to commit felonies. Those hush money payments to women before the election, Cohen says, they were made at the direction of Trump himself, and they were crimes.
This is uncharted territory. A president directly implicated in criminal behavior in open court by his lawyer. We're going to have Cohen's counsel joining us for what lies ahead.
And what does this exposure mean for the president going forward? That's where Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, one of the recipients of those payments -- that's where he comes in. He is here with a message to Trump. You are a liar, and we're coming for you.
Also, now a convicted felon, the president's former campaign chair, Paul Manafort. Look, any way you look at it, this is a bad day in Trump world, and it may be a bad day for America.
Lots to figure out. What do you say? Let's get after it.
CUOMO: All right. So, just minutes ago the president finished up a rally in West Virginia, and, boy, could he use the support. This afternoon, a jury of Americans said, Mr. President, you are wrong to call the Manafort case a witch-hunt. They convicted Trump's former campaign chair on eight counts and his former personal lawyer, the man who once said he would take a bullet for the president, pleaded guilty on the exact same day.
And this is unprecedented. He admitted that Trump directed him to commit crimes for the principal purpose of influencing the election. In the world of Trump, this might seem like just another day of headlines that all blend together in the noise.
No. This is different. These are charges and claims by Michael Cohen that could put Trump right next to him in court or indicted but for his being president right now. Lucky guy.
But this is not over for the president. Cohen has information. Manafort may. And right now, they have no reason legally to stay quiet.
And you know what? The president knows that. So does Mueller. So does the New York attorney general who is investigating the Trump foundation, and so does Michael Avenatti.
It's probably the reason why when asked about Cohen today, the president responded in a way he rarely does. He said nothing. Not a tweet. Not a word even at the rally in West Virginia. He just dummied up.
Now, if you've been following this, it all started with a story that I broke here, the Cohen tape of Trump acknowledging his efforts to make those payments. And all along, my first guest has said, Cohen would flip on trip, and Trump would be exposed as a liar in this matter.
And you know what? He was right.
Michael Avenatti is here, and he says this is only the beginning.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: How are you, sir?
CUOMO: Thank you very much.
What's right is right. You saw this coming. Why?
AVENATTI: Well, Chris, because I think the handwriting was on the wall. I mean, Michael Cohen, as you know, served as the right hand of Donald Trump for the better part of 10 to 12 years. He was the guy that Donald Trump used to clean up mess after mess.
And ultimately, Donald Trump made a fatal mistake, and that is when he was elected to the presidency, he didn't take Michael Cohen with him. He didn't take care of him. Above all else, he should have kept him in the tent.
He should have shown loyalty to Michael Cohen, and you know and I know that he shows no loyalty to anyone other than Vlady Putin, and ultimately, that's going to come back, and it's going to hurt this president, and it should. You know, you can fool people for a long period of time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.
And I think what you're beginning to see is this make-believe world that the president has created, as you does from day in and day out, based on lies and fabrications -- this is falling apart, and people like Michael Cohen, people like Paul Manafort, they're going to disclose what they know because they're interested in saving themselves and their families.
CUOMO: So you say don't see today as an end, that, yes, you got a guilty plea from Cohen on a bunch of counts. You have Manafort being found guilty. But you don't think it's the end. Why?
AVENATTI: No. I think we're in the first quarter or maybe the second quarter of a four-quarter game, and the reason is because both of these men now are going to seek to reduce their sentences at the criminal level. They're going to want to cooperate. I know for a fact that Michael Cohen is cooperating and providing information to federal prosecutors.
There's no reason why they would have entered into this plea agreement that they did were he not cooperating. Michael Cohen has a lot of information.
CUOMO: So you don't need a cooperation deal to be cooperating?
AVENATTI: Exactly. I think that point that you just made is critical. You don't have to have it in writing in the documents in order to have an agreement in place. I'm highly confident -- in fact, I know Michael Cohen's been providing information. Prosecutors in SDNY are expecting him to continue to cooperate, because if he doesn't, they have the ultimate hammer, and that is at the sentencing stage, which for Michael Cohen is going to take place in December, they can ask for either an upward departure or the maximum. They have a significant hammer in their toolbox in the event Michael Cohen does not cooperate.
CUOMO: Same with Manafort?
AVENATTI: Same with Manafort. But let me say this: you know, it's one thing -- it's a multi-step process, Chris. It's one thing for Manafort and for Cohen to provide the information to prosecutors. Then they have to decide what, if anything, they're going to do with it.
And then we go back to the issue that I know you have talked about a lot on this program, which is, can a sitting president be indicted or not? Does Mueller believe a sitting president can be indicted? And now, do the attorneys in the Southern District of New York believe an individual can be indicted who is president?
CUOMO: No, it's interesting. One of the reasons I needed your help tonight is in looking at what would ordinarily be the indictment, the charging document -- they call it the information --
CUOMO: -- when you cut a plea deal in the Southern District -- they don't use Trump's name anywhere. They also don't use the parent company of the "National Enquirer." They don't use the "National Enquirer." We don't see David Pecker's name in here.
Why? And why did Michael Cohen say a candidate for federal office? Why ignore the obvious?
AVENATTI: Because normally if you have an unindicted co-conspirator at a stage like this -- and that's what Donald Trump is. He's an unindicted co-conspirator, make no mistake about it based on this plea agreement -- you won't necessarily insert their name into the document.
But we all know that the candidate is Donald Trump just like we all know that the individual relating to the $150,000 payment is Ms. McDougal and the individual relating to the $130,000 payment is my client, Ms. Daniels.
CUOMO: The idea of hearing someone's attorney stand in open court, yes, during an allocution of their plea deal and say, I committed crimes, and I was directed by the president of the United States, how big a deal?
AVENATTI: Well, it's a huge deal. I mean it's unprecedented in American history. I mean think about everything we've been through in this nation -- hundreds of years of precedents, including Richard Nixon and that debacle, the outrageous illegal conduct that occurred during that presidency. Who would have thought -- and remember, we're only what, 20 months in at this point? I mean, we're --
CUOMO: Now, people will say it's been too long. What is your experience with federal investigations?
AVENATTI: No. Look, I agree with them that it may be too long for their liking. I understand that. But the wheels of justice unfortunately spin or turn very, very slowly.
It really hasn't been that long when you look at how long this investigation has gone on. It's not unusual for these investigations sometimes to take three, four, five, six years in fact in some cases, or even longer. And so, I think what is shocking to me is that we're only 18, 20 months in, and here we have the campaign chairman, Manafort, being convicted. And we have the president's right-hand attorney for 10 to 12 years pleading guilty to some very serious charges.
CUOMO: And the president's argument is none of it has to do with Russia or collusion or me. It's all stuff they did.
AVENATTI: Well, I mean, look, that's just absurd. I mean if you look at what Michael Cohen has pled to, there's no question that Donald Trump is at the center of this. His fingerprints, Chris, are all over the crime scene. The only question is whether he's going to be charged and whether there's going to be accountability associated with it.
CUOMO: Another finesse point you gave me once and I want to know if you believe it now, is that it's somewhat of a mystery, the do they have a cooperation agreement? And you've explained that. They don't have to have one outright. OK.
Why hasn't Mueller -- why hasn't the New York A.G., you know, why haven't people approached and interviewed Cohen, which to our understanding, our best information, is it hasn't happened. You once told me, hey, you're assuming that those people wouldn't want him as a witness, you told me once, and that sometimes if they see someone as a potential witness, they don't bring them in early because then they would have a duty to give any exculpatory information that came up in their interview.
Explain that to the audience.
AVENATTI: Well, sometimes you have to weigh your desire to -- well, first of all, you have to determine whether you're going to actually be able to acquire information from a prospective witness or not. And I imagine that as soon as the warrants were executed on Michael Cohen's hotel room, office, and residence, the likelihood of him coming in voluntarily and sitting down for an interview or a statement under oath for Bob Mueller basically went out the window until his counsel and he were able to make a determination as to whether it made sense for him to cut a deal or not. So that window, if you will, closed as it related to being able to get Michael Cohen's statement under oath.
Furthermore, sometimes if you bring a witness in and you interview them, you are also, while they are giving you information, you are giving them information relating to the areas of inquiry that you're interested in, what topics you may be interested in. And keep in mind that up until recently, it was fairly clear that Michael Cohen was firing flare gun after flare gun as it related to Donald Trump. I mean, he was begging for help. He was begging for air cover -- whatever metaphor you want to use.
And those -- that begging went unanswered.
AVENATTI: So, up until that time, prosecutors would have wondered if they brought him in or attempted to interview him, even if they were successful, whether the content of that interview would have gotten back to Donald Trump because they would not have known where Michael Cohen was lining up in connection with the investigation. So, there's a lot of factors that go into considering whether you're going to bring somebody in to actually interview them or not.
CUOMO: So -- but now everything has changed, and you are here to say that on two levels. One, you think everything has changed in terms of the assets that Mueller has to play with in his probe and to look for, but also in your own case.
So, let's take a break. When we come back, Michael Avenatti is going to tell you why what happened today is not just bad for Trump when it comes to the Mueller probe, but what it means for his own case.
Also, the counselor for Michael Cohen is here to share what comes next for his client, and you are not going to want to miss either of those interviews.
Stay with us.
CUOMO: All right. You got lucky tonight. We're back with Attorney Michael Avenatti. He is a main player in what we learned today from Michael Cohen and what it means going forward. He stood in open court today and said, yes, I committed crimes. Two
of them, felonies, campaign finance. I did them at the direction of a candidate for federal office, also known as Donald Trump.
What did you think when you heard that?
AVENATTI: Well, I thought that we made a giant leap forward relating to our civil case in multiple ways. First of all, there's little doubt now that we're going to get a deposition of Michael Cohen in connection with our case. You know, on September 10th, we have a hearing where the judge is going to make a determination as to whether to lift the stay or the pause in the case that Michael Cohen had demanded while this criminal investigation played out.
Well, now, it's basically been resolved. So we would expect the judge on the 10th of September to lift that pause, allow the case to proceed. And we have a pending motion to depose Michael Cohen and Donald Trump.
I think there's zero chance we don't get a deposition of Michael Cohen, and I think there's a significant likelihood that we're going to get a deposition of Donald Trump. And so, what that's going to mean is that I'm going to have an opportunity to ask Michael Cohen and Donald Trump questions under oath, under oath.
You know, it's one thing to lie to you or other members of the press. It's an entirely different thing to lie under oath. I'm going to get a chance to did some very difficult questions of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump about what they knew, when they knew it, what they did about it, and what they did to cover it up.
CUOMO: Cohen, much more of a straight line analysis. He asked for the stay. We've all read -- you know, those who are following this, we get what that was about. That may be over.
I don't see anything in the plea deal that stops him from being in action. In fact, they say the opposite, which is it doesn't forestall any other legal activities that are out of the bounds of this agreement.
Not a straight line analysis for the president. Not easy to get him for a deposition. What precedent do you point to? Do you believe that Clinton is any analogy for you?
AVENATTI: Yes, absolutely. The Supreme Court's decision, Jones v. Clinton, we believe is on all fours with this case, meaning it serves as solid precedent for the idea that you can seek and get an order allowing you to depose a sitting president for conduct occurring before he or she was sworn into office. And that's exactly what we're talking about here.
CUOMO: What is the chance that if you have President Trump in the chair, he is able to avoid acknowledging that he knew about what was going on with Stormy Daniels, that either it was what Stormy Daniels says it was during the pendency of the actual relationship and that the arrangements that came thereafter is something he was aware of at the time?
AVENATTI: Well, I mean I think as we've witnessed over the last two and a half years, I mean, this is a man that will say or do anything, literally anything, even if it has no basis in the truth. But I will tell you that I think one of the last things that Donald Trump wants to have is me sitting across the table from him asking him questions under oath. I would also put Bob Mueller in the same category.
This president, who is a habitual liar, wouldn't know the truth if it fell off a building and hit him in the head, would have a very difficult time in a sworn deposition where he's asked very pointed questions and is forced to answer questions and provide the truth.
CUOMO: If Michael Cohen is telling the truth today in court -- and I know people say, well, he's an admitted liar. Yes, he also has tons of motivation to not lie about this right now because they'll pull this deal from him. It's very tenuous and attenuated to his complying in every way, including telling the truth today in court during his allocution. It's actually mentioned in the plea deal as one of the bases for the agreement.
That would mean that this president lied to us again and again and again about criminal conduct. Relevant to you?
AVENATTI: A hundred percent. I mean, all you have to do is go back and look at the president's statement aboard the people's plane, otherwise known as Air Force One not long ago. He was pointedly asked questions by the "Associated Press" reporter relating to what he knew about the payment, and he basically said he didn't know anything about it. And he pointed everybody to Michael Cohen and said, talk to my attorney. Basically said if you want to know the facts, go talk to my attorney.
Well, guess what? Today in open court, in the Southern District of New York, we heard from his attorney. We heard the facts from his attorney, and those facts are directly counter to what Donald Trump told America aboard Air Force One.
They are completely contrary. You cannot reconcile what Donald Trump has stated publicly and what Michael Cohen said in open court today. And that is a fundamental problem for Donald Trump because I would submit that even though neither one of these individuals, in my view, have substantial credibility -- I mean, they're both damaged, let's be clear. I think push comes to shove, the American people will believe Michael Cohen over Donald Trump. I really do.
CUOMO: Well, we will see. One thing's for sure, this did not end today, but what a day it was.
Michael Avenatti, thank you.
AVENATTI: So, now I'm going to go back in the room here, and I'm going to watch Alan Dershowitz try to put lipstick on this very, very big pig. I'm going to enjoy that.
CUOMO: Well, you have history with him on this because Dershowitz at the time pointed out something that was true. You were putting a lot of chips on what was going to happen with Michael Cohen and what it would mean for your case. But today your stack's looking a little higher.
AVENATTI: A little higher.
CUOMO: All right. Michael Avenatti, thank you very much.
AVENATTI: Thank you.
CUOMO: Appreciate it.
All right. So, the president was just incriminated when Michael Cohen made his allocution in court, made his statement to the judge. That's what Avenatti says. That's what Michael Cohen says.
Do the great debaters agree? And do they think that Michael Avenatti has a shot at advancing his case with the president being put under oath?
Look at who we got for you. "Cuomo's Court" is in session, next.
CUOMO: Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, found guilty by a jury of citizens. Not a witch hunt.
His former attorney, the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty and implicated the president as directing some of his crimes. What does this mean for the president himself?
"Cuomo's Court" is now in session.
Jennifer Rodgers, former prosecutor in the office that prosecuted Cohen, and Alan Dershowitz, author of, apropos of this discussion "The Case Against Impeaching Trump".
How strong is that case now, Professor Dershowitz, in light of what Michael Cohen said about his former boss today?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, let me be very clear. I don't have a dog in this fight. I don't have a client. I'm not trying to put lipstick on anybody. I'm here to defend civil liberties and to talk about the Constitution and to talk about the presumption of innocence.
CUOMO: So talk about it.
DERSHOWITZ: What we have here is not even -- is not even an indictment. What we have here is an allocution and a guilty plea, inadmissible in court.
Today was not a good day for the president or the White House, but the funeral bells are tolling a lot too early.
First, we have a very, very vague law that's being admitted to by Cohen, namely campaign contribution rules. It's not clear that they apply when a president himself or a candidate himself makes the contribution or when a third party makes it as an advance. These are very, very, very close questions.
CUOMO: All right. So, hold on. Let's go one point at a time. Let's go one point at a time. Professor, let's go one time at a time.
DERSHOWITZ: Sure. Sure.
CUOMO: I don't want you to flood the zone. Jennifer Rodgers, you get in here. You worked in this case. One -- in this office.
One thing we know for sure. We have never heard someone of the standing of Michael Cohen connected to any kind of politician, let alone the president of the United States, stand in open court and say, yes, I committed some felonies, but he directed me to do it.
What is the impact from your perspective?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to know what the legal impact would be. I mean as the professor points out, we're probably not going to end up in court with an indictment against Donald Trump on this, in large part because of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a president can't be indicted.
But it is unprecedented. I mean never before has someone stood up, sworn under oath that the president directed them to commit a crime, which means, of course, that the president also has committed a crime. And I don't agree that these laws are vague or there's some reason that this contribution to the campaign, which is clear is what it was, is somehow unenforceable.
If the president were not the president, he would be indicted very soon if he hadn't been already.
DERSHOWITZ: No, that's not true.
DERSHOWITZ: Any candidate has the right to contribute unlimited amounts to his own campaign. Any candidate -- it may sound terrible, and it may be terrible. But any candidate has the right to pay hush money to somebody to influence the outcome of the election. The problem is that if a third person does it.
RODGERS: Not if it's unreported.
DERSHOWITZ: But if -- well, that's the next question is whether it has to be reported, and is that a technical violation? How many technical violations the Obama campaign committed and every other campaign committed. Failure to report a contribution by the candidate itself is essentially jaywalking.
Now, then, you have the credibility issue -- CUOMO: Yep.
DERSHOWITZ: -- when you have somebody who himself admits that he is a liar. And remember as Judge Ellis said, what you have is when you squeeze somebody, when you tell somebody, you have two choices. You can die in prison or you can give me evidence that we can use somebody else. The temptation not only to sing but compose is very great.
And it's so easy just to add a little bit of embellishment saying, and the president directed me to do it.
By the way, that is not an admission. That is an accusation.
CUOMO: Why do you believe that's an embellishment? Why is it an embellishment?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, that's the point. It's an easy embellishment to make if it didn't happen. Remember, it is not something he admits.
CUOMO: But how it could not have happened? How could it not have happened?
DERSHOWITZ: Of course, it's very easy for it not to have happened. It's very easy for not to have happened.
CUOMO: For Michael Cohen to have cut deals with women that he wasn't involved with, the president was, and the president never knew anything about it. You heard the tape that we broke on this show, right?
RODGERS: We have a recording that says otherwise.
DERSHOWITZ: The question is not whether the president knew. It's when the president knew, whether he directed him to do it.
Now, the president may have had a standing situation with him. Take rid of all these problems. Get rid of all these problems. Pay them, and I'll pay you back. That would not be a crime.
So a lot depends on the nuances, and that's where you can easily compose and elaborate and embellish. I'm not saying that happened. I'm just saying that with the presumption of innocence, we don't even have a grand jury indictment here.
CUOMO: Right --
DERSHOWITZ: All we have is a statement at allocution in open court that's not admissible --
CUOMO: Understood, understood. But hold on, let's not get carried away with the forum --
DERSHOWITZ: The idea of naming somebody as a an unindicted co- conspirator --
CUOMO: I understand.
DERSHOWITZ: -- is something I complained about even when Nixon was named --
CUOMO: Although, by the way they were pretty good today to the president.
DERSHOWITZ: Very unfair if you can't defend yourself.
CUOMO: They actually didn't name him at all today which I thought was bordering on the absurd.
DERSHOWITZ: That was a big -- oh, come on. That was so absurd.
CUOMO: But they might as well --
DERSHOWITZ: Did you notice too that the -- did you notice too that the U.S. attorney, when he went out there and described the entire crime, never mentioned, as far as I can remember, never mentioned the fact that Cohen, in his allocution, said "and the president directed him to do it."
DERSHOWITZ: It's not clear to me that the U.S. attorney's office actually credits that part of it. We'll wait and see --
DERSHOWITZ: -- if they depend on Cohen's credibility on it.
CUOMO: Let's not miss something a little bit bigger. I know it's called "Cuomo's Court" and I know you are also prestigious litigators.
However, the idea of a felony, Jennifer, being the bar for when political conduct is good or bad is also absurd. And if it is true that the president of the United States lied to the American people again and again to their face on Air Force One and many times otherwise, saying in fact, go to my lawyer, Michael Cohen, if you want to know what I knew and didn't know. Now, if Michael Cohen's telling the truth, we know the president has been lying to the American people about criminal conduct.
Do you think that would meet -- if most politicians -- we all remember President Ford saying an impeachable offense is what Congress says it is? But what do you think about that in terms of the scale of impeachment? DERSHOWITZ: And that's wrong.
CUOMO: I know, but that's what he said.
RODGERS: That's a political question --
DERSHOWITZ: But it's wrong.
RODGERS: Not a legal question. But I'm not willing to give up on the notion that there are serious crimes being committed here and they've been committed by the president if you credit what Cohen said today.
And let me make one other point that the professor raised. This was not a cooperation agreement. I mean, he wants to talk about people who have an incentive to lie because they want to get out of a charge or get a lesser sentence. That's not the case here.
DERSHOWITZ: Oh, come on.
RODGERS: He pled guilty --
DERSHOWITZ: Be serious.
RODGERS: -- he is not a cooperator.
CUOMO: Professor, he got more time than anybody else I've seen connected to a president. If he serves the time they want him to serve, we've never seen anybody get as much time as he got. Fair point?
DERSHOWITZ: Of course --
RODGERS: Well, he hasn't been sentenced yet. But he pled guilty without a cooperation agreement.
DERSHOWITZ: Let me make the point. That's the point.
DERSHOWITZ: It is a cooperation agreement. It's just not in writing.
What -- it's clear that if he cooperates and tells them what he wants to hear, he'll get a shorter sentence. If he doesn't, he'll get a longer sentence. This is so clearly an implicit cooperation agreement. Just, you know, it's so obvious that every criminal --
RODGERS: He's now accusing my former colleague of serious misconduct.
CUOMO: Yes, you are.
RODGERS: Without any basis at all.
DERSHOWITZ: Oh, come on. Everybody knows --
RODGERS: -- entirety of the agreement, Michael Cohen stood up and swore to that, and that's what the prosecutors in that office do. There is no basis to believe otherwise.
DERSHOWITZ: That is total nonsense. We know that if he cooperates, he will get a lower sentence. And if he doesn't cooperate, he'll get a harsher sentence.
Welcome to the real world of 53 years of experience of doing this --
CUOMO: All right.
DERSHOWITZ: -- so many times. You cannot look me in the eye and deny that fact. Do you actually --
CUOMO: She is staring you dead in the eye right now by the way just in case you can't see her.
RODGERS: I'm doing best.
DERSHOWITZ: -- that he won't know that he won't benefit if he cooperates? And he won't --
CUOMO: Right, but that doesn't mean he is lying or that they are suborning perjury.
Jennifer Rodgers, final word.
RODGERS: If they decide to sign an agreement with him, a cooperation agreement, that's what they will do. At this time, the only agreement is not a cooperation agreement. It's a plea agreement.
He doesn't have a deal. He doesn't have an incentive to lie. At this point he might even just be subpoenaed to testify. He has no incentive to lie at this point.
DERSHOWITZ: He has --
RODGERS: So, there's no basis to call him that (ph).
CUOMO: Well --
DERSHOWITZ: He has every incentive to give them a story they want to hear. That's the way the game is played.
CUOMO: We know this.
DERSHOWITZ: Don't believe me. Listen to Judge Ellis. He knows it too. CUOMO: We know this.
DERSHOWITZ: Every defense attorney knows that.
CUOMO: We know this: if Michael Cohen lied today in front of that judge about being directed by the president to commit those crimes, he knows he's going to get more time than he could ever possibly handle.
DERSHOWITZ: Nonsense. If he's court lying --
CUOMO: That's right.
DERSHOWITZ: If he's court lying.
CUOMO: That's right.
DERSHOWITZ: Not if he lies. People lie all the time and get away with it.
CUOMO: Well, we're seeing that in real time every day here, aren't we, Professor? And it's coming from on high.
Thank you very much for this legal debate. Appreciate it from both of you.
So, what does this mean politically? Jennifer Rodgers, fair point, saying some of this is political. So let's bring one on.
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, what does he think today's verdicts mean? A lot. Mark Warner is putting out a warning for the president, and the top Republican has his back, next.
CUOMO: The president's longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleading guilty to eight counts including campaign finance violations, and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, found guilty of eight felonies in his fraud trial. What will this all mean for the Russia probe?
Nothing says the president of the United States. Poppycock says the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He says it will mean plenty.
Senator Mark Warner, thank you for joining us on PRIME TIME.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Chris.
CUOMO: So your committee and you on it put out the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence statement on Paul Manafort, saying in part, the verdict makes it absolutely clear that the Mueller probe is not a witch hunt. What is the significance first, on this monumental day, of Manafort to you?
WARNER: Well, you've got the president's campaign manager convicted of eight counts of serious federal crimes, and that's just his first trial. There's another trial that's scheduled in September, and this is one of those days that we may look back on, not only the president's campaign manager guilty, the president's personal lawyer guilty. The Microsoft, one of the technology companies, acknowledging further Russian intervention real time this year, with efforts to split our country and potentially impede with the 2018 elections.
And then earlier today in our Banking Committee hearing, the -- four administration officials in an administration where there's nobody in the White House in charge of election security, stumbling over answers of how they can say they've done enough to take on Russia with the individuals that have been sanctioned from the Internet Research Agency, questioning whether they're going to sanction some of the Russian GRU spies, the Russian spy agencies. All of those individuals who same out of the Mueller investigation, and we pressed those individuals from the White House, how can this be a witch hunt when the Mueller investigation are finding out these individuals who are attacking our country?
So, it was a wild day even in Trump world.
CUOMO: The president says Manafort verdict is proof of a witch hunt because none of it has anything to do with Russian collusion or him. What's your argument?
WARNER: My argument is these were indications of illegal activities that Mr. Manafort involved with frankly Ukrainians and others. The question will be as we move into this next trial, will Mr. Manafort start to cooperate with Mr. Mueller? And I can only imagine there's a lot of questions to be answered there. I don't know what that cooperation might lead to, and I don't know if it's even going to take place. But I believe you will see a nexus.
CUOMO: Well, we haven't seen one established yet. That takes us to Michael Cohen. Now, this is something that I don't think we've ever seen before. Correct me if I'm wrong.
But the president's personal attorney standing in open court, pleading guilty and implicating then-candidate, now-president, as a co-felon, saying that the crimes he committed, he did at the direction of Trump.
WARNER: Pretty remarkable. And that was just crimes that were related to the late stages of the campaign where it appears Mr. Cohen was saying he was doing this to hush up witnesses and potential bad stories. Again, in the Cohen plea, there's nothing that precludes Cohen from again cooperating with Mueller, and those questions around the potential Trump Tower deal in Moscow and other business transactions that the Trump organization had with Russia.
We've got a lot of questions. I hope Mueller will have a lot of questions. And one of the statements we made about Mr. Cohen's guilty plea today was, I hope it will not interfere with his ability to come back and re-testify before our committee.
CUOMO: You want him back?
WARNER: We've got questions that still need to be answered.
CUOMO: So, on another topic, just while I have you, even with everything that happened today, the speculation is still that you won't get the votes to pass the protection that you want to put into place that would just codify the existing 13 bases that exist within the executive, obviously headed by the president, to remove someone's security clearance. That even after today, you will lose that partisan fight.
WARNER: Well, Chris, I actually think it's more likely I won't even get a vote. We don't control which votes go up on the floor. This has been constantly the problem in the United States Senate, and it's the rules of the road. It was the other way when the Democrats controlled.
WARNER: The majority leader controls what amendments come up and which ones don't come up.
I wish we'll get a vote. I've got a bipartisan sponsor. I know I've got other Republicans that will vote for it.
But there are a number of my colleagues that don't want to be on the spot, actually placing this president in judgment even though we saw in this last week over 100 former intelligence and defense officials, including George Bush's secretary of defense, Bob Gates, come out and say this kind of action of creating an enemies list, not just John Brennan but the other individuals named and the idea that this president or this White House was going to roll out taking away other people's security clearance on a bad news day is frankly reprehensible and should not stand in our American system.
CUOMO: Senator Warner, thank you for coming on PRIME TIME.
WARNER: Thank you. Thank you, Chris.
CUOMO: Not even get a vote on something like protecting security clearances. What does that tell you about where we are?
But Michael Cohen's lawyer is going to be with us when we come back. All those questions that you heard from Avenatti and you heard from Senator Warner about what else Cohen knows, this is the man who knows the answers.
He helped with today's plea deal. He knows where this situation goes next. Lanny Davis, after the break.
CUOMO: Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes. But with the campaign finance, he said in front of the judge he did what he did at the direction of the president.
We're joined now by Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis.
Welcome back to PRIME TIME, sir.
LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN'S LAWYER: No tape tonight, Chris, but we'll have something else to talk about.
CUOMO: We'll talk an allocution in open court over a tape any day. Why did your client decide to plead guilty?
DAVIS: Well, I think he had a very difficult decision to make and decided to take responsibility. And he's been through a difficult time. His family is obviously suffering.
But there's also a sense of relief when I talked to him today and a sense of liberation since when he first brought me in to help him, it was about telling the truth and about telling the truth about Donald Trump. And you saw in court today he not only implicated, he specifically, under oath, stated that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime, making Donald Trump as much guilty of that felony as my client, Mr. Cohen.
CUOMO: Now, the pushback will be, well, Cohen is an admitted liar and he's going to say whatever he has to to get the best deal that he can.
Do you believe that he could prove that he was directed by then- candidate Trump?
DAVIS: So thank you for asking me that question, and I once asked everybody for Donald Trump watching your show to listen to a tape that Rudy Giuliani mischaracterized. So, now, I'm going to say to everybody for Donald Trump, the word "directed" came from Donald Trump's lawyers, who wrote the special counsel and said that Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to make that payment.
And Rudy Giuliani, who threw his client under the bus and said, it doesn't matter that on Air Force One, that Donald Trump denied knowing about the payment. He in fact reimbursed Mr. Cohen, throwing his client under the bus and I think waiving attorney-client privilege.
So there is no factual dispute. Mr. Trump's lawyers said he directed Michael Cohen to make that payment. He is as much guilty of a felony. He just hasn't owned up to it.
But what he did do is try to hide by asking his lawyer to do something he wasn't willing to do because he feared the electoral consequences of what was being done was to pay hush money involving two women.
CUOMO: Did Michael Cohen agree to a cooperation deal with the government?
DAVIS: So I'm not able to answer that. My colleague who should be credited with the work on this matter, a very well-known criminal defense lawyer, Guy Petrillo, can explain that one. But I will be able to say categorically, I am saying categorically
that Michael Cohen is committed to telling the truth, and nothing but the truth. And if asked by any authority, including Senator Warner and any congressional committee and including anybody in Washington investigating President Trump, he will tell the truth. Of that I am certain.
CUOMO: Would he sit for a deposition with Michael Avenatti in the Stormy Daniels case?
DAVIS: Well, if he's subpoenaed, he will comply with the subpoena if it's an appropriate subpoena. I don't know what he could add to Mr. Avenatti's case. But he's a good lawyer, and he knows that if he's subpoenaed, if it's an appropriate subpoena, he would have to comply.
CUOMO: He doesn't have to be subpoena. He just has to offer his services. But we'll see how that goes.
Let me ask you something else.
CUOMO: Do you believe -- you say he will tell the truth. Do you believe that Michael Cohen has anything to offer, that he has any new information for the special counsel or maybe the New York attorney general of wrongdoing or even potential criminal activity by then candidate or now President Trump?
DAVIS: I do believe he does. The New York attorney general has the jurisdiction, for example, to look into the Trump Foundation. Michael Cohen being a lawyer for Donald Trump for many, many years knows almost everything about Mr. Trump.
And we'll see whether the level of corruption, alleged, concerning the Trump Foundation is a topic of concern for the New York attorney general. We know that the pardon power wouldn't apply in New York state.
CUOMO: Right. But do you think Cohen knows things?
DAVIS: I do believe that he has information about Mr. Trump that would be of interest both in Washington as well as in New York state, yes.
CUOMO: To Mueller as well as New York?
DAVIS: I do believe so, but we'll see. I know that he -- putting aside the word "cooperation", I know that he wants to tell the truth about Mr. Trump, and when he first came to me, we had long conversations about his views, about the suitability of Mr. Trump to be president of the United States and I believe that Michael Cohen is motivated for his country, as well as concern about his family and he will tell the truth. CUOMO: Well, Lanny Davis, you would know what he says he knows and
what he can show. So, we'll see what happens, next. Thank you, sir, for being on the show.
DAVIS: We'll see. Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me.
CUOMO: All right. So, a lot happened today. What the does it mean? Probably more than you think for better and worse. The closing argument, next.
CUOMO: I tell you often that we are living through history right now, and today is another piece of proof that we've never seen anything like this. And while some of have reason to see the day's developments as positive, I argue it may be a bad day for all of us as well.
All right. Let's go from easy to hard in making the case.
Easy: bad day for Trump. His campaign manager, his personal attorney admitted or convicted felons.
We know you by the company you keep -- we know that expression, and now Trump waving away the Manafort verdict as bogus only makes it worse. Why? Because he's accusing the citizens who took the time away from work and family and spend all that time considering the mountain of evidence and delivering a very nuanced verdict, guilty on some counts, mistrial or hung on others, that they are part of a witch-hunt? Shame on him and thank you to those jurors for their service.
The silence on Cohen by Donald Trump. That speaks volumes as the saying goes. A president's personal attorney pleading guilty, admitting to the judge that crimes he committed were committed at the direction of Trump.
Now, the president's supporters will say Cohen is an admitted liar but you heard Lanny Davis. He made a good point. The president's current counsel says he directed Cohen to do what he did and that was all OK. Now, those are felonies.
So, about Trump's involvement or anything else that was said today, you have to look at it for what it means to Cohen. If he lies about the president directing him, his freedom goes bye-bye. He has little reason to lie, remember that.
So, if he's correct, that would also mean the president has been lying to all of you again and again about criminal conduct, and now we know why Trump would have been lying. If he weren't in office right now, he might be standing right next to Cohen in that court.
Trump refers to people like Cohen as a rat, but that only shows you what he thinks of telling the truth under oath. Not the reality of Cohen's statements under law. Truth is a virtue.
So, this is a bad day for Trump, Cohen and Manafort. Granted, just look at all of the people that Trump -- this is just some of them, by the way. We were all haggling over this list. The list gets so big. They will never absorb all the names.
These are the people and the president who have been fired, proven as frauds or liars or both. Look at the list, and it's just a fraction. The man who coined the phrase "drain the swamp" added the biggest varmints we've ever seen on it.
Now, many on this board may be players in the Russia probe, maybe Manafort and Cohen, well within reach. What else will they say?
So, why could this be a bad day for all of us?
Here's the simple argument. This kind of lying and disorder and fraud is disruptive to the business of making your lives better in government, but there's a grander concern. What if despite all that came out today, especially the lying to your face by Trump about criminal conduct -- and, remember, this isn't about judging his personal life. I don't think what the president does in his personal time is your place or my place to judge, but lying to you about potential crimes, that matters. So, with all that, what if today does not change the president's polls?
You heard the crowd in West Virginia tonight, right? Not a boo in the house. What does that tell you?
Could be a bad day for America. Why? Because we want to see the president do poorly? No.
Even though he doesn't have half the country with him, he does have a lot of people, millions and millions, and all of us need to agree on certain things like fraud, felonies surrounding and involving a president, those are bad things. And if we don't all see that, then the truth has been politicized.
That means our institutions have taken a hit, just as Trump wants. Respect for law stains. We're in silly silos, ugly notions of us versus them. Divisions like that is toxic. Today will be the test.
If what we learn today doesn't matter to people, what will?
CNN with Don Lemon for "CNN TONIGHT" starts right now.
Today has to matter. It doesn't mean it's the end for the president. It's nothing like that, but people need to agree, Don, these types of lies, these types of fraud, it's wrong.