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Michael Cohen in Court Soon & Plea Deal Announcement Expected. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired August 21, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The most important thing to watch for is, you know, they may or may not disclose whether he's a full cooperator for different jurisdictions or perhaps there's maybe some incentive for the Mueller team to keep things close to the vest if he'll be a cooperator on certain aspects of it. But most assuredly, they're going to have information from him about what he's pleading guilty to and whether or not he will, after being convicted of a crime at that point in time possibly, be held in jail until then. And that's unlikely to happen in this case. Most people who plead guilty to a crime and are cooperators will actually leave and go home until they have their pending case. Case in point, Michael Flynn. But we'll learn a lot from this open public hearing.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hang on a second. I hear you on we may or may not know if he's fully cooperating. There was all that nuance and what he's pleading to. My friend, Paul Callan, saying earlier, typically, cooperation proceeds a plea. If he's pleading today, would that not infer cooperation?
COATES: It could infer. The distinction is it's not the routine course. If you walk in as a prosecutor, have a plea offer for a defendant and say, this person's going to provide information in the following cases for us and be a cooperator in that sense. But you are absolutely right and so is Paul that incentive is going to underlie this entire thing. There's an incentive on the part of the prosecutors to give you a plea offer. It's not just handed out because they don't feel like working. It's handed out if there's some reason they don't want to go through the grand jury experience, a full trial, to save tax dollars, to save their resources and focus on other things. If there's an incentive on behalf of the prosecutors to give him a plea offer, then there must be information he can offer them. There has to be something they cannot get anywhere else or he's cooperating in some capacity. But incentive, information, these are the things to be key to figuring out why they would want to extend the plea offer because not every defendant gets them -- Brooke?
BALDWIN: Right, right.
Laura Coates, you have been excellent. Thank you so much.
COATES: Thank you.
BALDWIN: I'm going to pull away from you because our justice correspondent, Shimon Prokupecz, I hear, has some breaking news.
Shimon, hit me.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Brooke. Things developing. Michael Cohen has turned himself in to the FBI in New York. There was video of him going into the building.
BALDWIN: Here we go.
PROKUPECZ: I'm told that by sources, yes, in fact, he is there. He is now with the FBI. And then we should see him in court, you know, here soon in the next few hours. The FBI will likely take him to court after he's processed. And obviously, the process of the arrest of Michael Cohen is now under way and then appear in court as we have been reporting around 4:00 for a presentment and what we believe will be a plea deal.
BALDWIN: OK. Shimon, thank you.
Caroline, Paul, FBI's got him.
CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL & WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: They got him. I'm in shock. Quite frankly. This is not what we saw coming like Paul said. We were all assuming. And certainly, Michael Cohen gave every indication that he was ready, willing and able to cooperate. But the typical course would have been cooperation prior. He's going to go into that courtroom. He's going to stand before the public and he's going to say exactly what he did, the crimes he committed and he's going to say, I'm guilty of them. The way the SDNY works is they charge you with every single crime they can. It's kind of a confusing to call it a plea deal. There's no deal involved. It's just pleading to the crimes --
BALDWIN: Pleading guilty.
POLISI: Correct. Pleading guilty. So the deal aspect connotes a cooperation, which a plea doesn't exclude cooperation, but at this point there's no cooperation.
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know the mechanics of this whole thing, it's off. Something's -- something strange is happening because usually when there's a voluntary surrender for processing, he is having the fingerprints taken and they run a criminal record check and all of that in place before you appear in front of a federal judge.
BALDWIN: Is that happening now?
CALLAN: Yes. That's when they say surrendering to the FBI. They're doing preliminary processing on him.
CALLAN: Now, if you have a deal worked out with prosecutors, you can usually set this up so you're doing this surrender the first thing in the morning. You know? Might get there at 8:00, 8:30 when the office opens to make sure it's all done before -- so you can get the arraignment done in the same court day so he doesn't have to stay in jail overnight. I don't know what time he was spotted going into the FBI building but it sounds like it wasn't early morning because we're only finding out about this story now.
BALDWIN: Why does that matter? I feel like what's --
CALLAN: I don't know. If there's a plea deal in place with cooperation, everything is set up in advance. So it goes smoothly. Surrender early in the morning, the processing is done, and you can appear in front of a judge at a certain time. It doesn't sound like those things were all in a row and lined up in this case. So, it just feels odd for a plea deal or a cooperation situation. It doesn't -- it doesn't ring true to how these things usually work.
BALDWIN: Laura Coates, your read?
[14:34:53] COATES: It's certain that one thing is sure. You don't surrender to the FBI for a misdemeanor, Brooke. You surrender for a felony. There's a felony conviction in Michael Cohen's future. It's likely coming at 4:00 p.m. That's a very serious charge. It's well over a year in prison for you if you're facing that. A felony conviction. Otherwise, they wouldn't have this.
On the second point of it, there may be some incentive again on behalf of the prosecutors if you have a waffling defendant who may change their mind. There's some reason to put that person on the hook and have them sign the deal right now. The deal being you will agree to plead guilty to particular charges. Still, there may be some things not going to put on the indictment that he's in front of the court for having him arraigned on. They may have things that are still over his head as a carrot to have him cooperate later if he fails to be an informant, if he fails to give us information useful and valuable to the investigation. We'll still hang that over your head. When you're seeing haste, it may be the strategy of the prosecution to say, listen, we have you here, the hook needs to go in before you have an opportunity to pull away. And that's quite typical.
BALDWIN: What might one waffle on?
COATES: Well, they might waffle on the idea of -- the idea of having your name at the other end of "United States versus" and trying to fare in court. Look at Paul Manafort. Right now, he is restless and anxious, thinking, what do they mean by one charge is why they can't agree on something. It's very anxiety riddled situation. So he may say to himself, I'll test it. And by the way, there was a period of time when I think Michael Cohen believed that he was at the -- not at the mercy but at the pleasure of the president of the United States as a protector and backer, and he may have thought to himself, well, do I now get the opportunity to plead guilty and set myself up to be the enemy of the president of the United States if it's about him? Do I wait and hold out like Paul Manafort? This is very difficult, especially if you know you have to go into the custody of the U.S. government to pull this off. You may be facing jail time immediately. And he has children.
BALDWIN: She hit on exactly what I wanted to ask you guys about. We keep talking so much about the machinations of what happens. But also, just personal, the family, what he's weighing. The waffling, understandable. Did this person he thought he had his back and that person, the president, had his. Perhaps it's almost like now -- just wondering what to do.
POLISI: Yes. Well, unlike other normal criminal investigations and prosecutions, we have this looming pardon in the air. And we know that the president has been really sending some signals in the people for whom he's pardoned recently and the language that he's used. He feels they have been treated unfairly. A lot of people were speculating that Michael Cohen, his behavior, was a cry for a pardon. So, I mean, who knows? You're right. Depending on what they worked out with prosecutors, he may go to jail tonight, Brooke. He may be there until sentencing. So, you know, I find that unlikely. The government's going to make arguments if they want him behind bars, that he's a flight risk, that he's not going to show up for sentencing. If I had to guess, I'd say they let him out on probation prior to sentencing.
CALLAN: On that point, about the pardon, Giuliani has been sending messages, very clear messages, that Cohen is the enemy. He's been disparaging all of his descriptions.
BALDWIN: The tide turned.
CALLAN: That's gone. Whereas, Manafort, even though he's on trial, and the president's been very, very complimentary about him.
The other thing I wanted to circle back on, and I think we consider a point that Laura Coates raised, and I think legitimate. While most of the time cooperation agreements are in place before you go into court and plead guilty, there are exceptions to that rule. You know where the exception is? Look at the Manafort trial and Rick Gates. Gates was indicted along with Manafort and cut his deal post-indictment. They wanted to put pressure on him and that's how they did it by indicting him. That could be going on here, too.
BALDWIN: I think we are getting -- they're getting in my ear.
Shimon Prokupecz, we'll put you back on TV?
You are the one that broke the news that Cohen is in FBI custody. What do you have now?
PROKUPECZ: Right. He is with the FBI now. He's greeted there at the FBI by investigators by the Public Corruption Unit at the New York office. They've been investigating him for quite some time now. He did surrender to them and he's being processed. We're also getting word on some of the charges that Michael Cohen will be pleading guilty on and that's just handed to me. So we're told that as part of the deal, he's expected, Michael Cohen is expected to plead guilty to multiple counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud, according to three sources. The deal we're told will include jail time and a substantial monetary fine. Cohen, we're told, was a little concerned about forfeiture. He's concerned that he's going to lose a substantial amount of money that would have potentially affect his family. So he wanted to protect some of the money for his family. He was also -- there was discussions over the amount of jail time. Obviously, he wanted less jail time. So it looks like he may get that. He may also be able to keep some of the money that he was concerned about he was going to lose.
[14:40:23] The whole idea here, Brooke, keep in mind, if the U.S. attorney there was to indict him, it would be much harder for Michael Cohen to plead guilty to a lesser crime. Right? Sometimes you get multiple charges in indictments. There's a process of the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan where if you plead guilty they want you -- the policy is that you have to plead to the top count. And it would have been much harder for Michael Cohen to get a sort of a better deal had he allowed prosecutors to go ahead and go with their indictment, which was expected any day now. So it looks like he was able to negotiate a better deal for himself, which is appears may land him in jail for up to three years, again, a substantial fine. He'll lose some other money. But really, the point here, we're told, is that he wanted to protect his family in all of this.
BALDWIN: What we were just talking about, the family piece of all of this for anyone.
Shimon, thank you so much for those key pieces of information.
Laura Coates, let me just go back to you on now we know, pleading guilty. Multiple counts of campaign finance, tax fraud, bank fraud. In jail up to three years. And to your point on family, worried about the money and protecting his kids and his family.
COATES: I mean, the art of self preservation here. That's what every defendant has to think about when you're an island of one and see the sharks of the prosecution circling around you. He experienced that and knew there's nowhere to turn. Think about there's a connection now. Campaign finance, whose campaign was he talking about? The campaign finance connection could only be to then-Citizen Donald Trump and candidate for the presidency of the United States. We know that this particular person had a hand in the Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, a/k/a, Stormy Daniels non-disclosure agreements where it had a discussion of having information about alleged extramarital affairs prior to the November election of the presidency of the United States. We know he has a connection there. We know that he had shell corporations essentially that were formed to process the payments. And we know that the president of the United States on the back of Air Force One said I knew nothing about it, although that's belied by his introduction in the California lawsuit filed by Michael Avenatti. You are seeing a direct connection. And this is probably why the campaign, the slanderous campaign perhaps from Rudy Giuliani on behalf of the president of the United States, began because they were afraid that the very things that connect Michael Cohen to the president of the United States would be the very thing that the SDNY prosecutors were most interested in.
BALDWIN: Just as you were talking, I was thinking, too, about the president in the back of Air Force One saying, I know nothing. Talk to Michael Cohen. You're precisely right.
Laura, stand by.
David Chalian is our CNN political director.
David Chalian, campaign finance. This is a direct link to the president.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Laura just took the words out of my mouth. This is now a direct link to President Trump's campaign. There's no doubt about that.
But also step back here, Brooke, and just --
CHALIAN: -- imagine you understand how much the president consumes what is happening and the headlines and on cable TV throughout every day. And imagine being the president right now and observing what's happening as we're awaiting a Manafort trial verdict out of Virginia. He's watching perhaps someone -- that there are few people who have been closer to this president than Michael Cohen over the years in his business. A personal lawyer. You've heard the recordings of their conversations that Lanny Davis put on the air. This was somebody intimately involved with President Trump and now the president is observing him surrendering to the FBI and pleading guilty to some crimes that is related directly to his presidential campaign. That would be a lot of pressure ratcheting up I would imagine that the president is experiencing as he watches this. As much as he and the team want to distance the president from this, there's no distancing anymore. And I think that is made crystal clear in this news that we are getting right now about Michael Cohen's plea deal.
BALDWIN: Listening to you, talking to the control room, guys, do you have that sound bite pulled up of the president in the back of Air Force One? Roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why did Michael Cohen make it? (INAUDIBLE)
TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael's my attorney and you have to ask Michael Cohen.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: I don't know. No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:45:16] BALDWIN: It was -- David Chalian, back to you. Laura was speaking and I was thinking about this. The direct connection to the campaign. Will you remind everyone the significance of that moment?
CHALIAN: Well, it was not a believable moment as it occurred and then, of course, you will recall in the days after Sarah Sanders was asked time and again in the briefings about it. She was unable to sort of shed additional light on it without getting herself twisted into knots. We know that right there in that question on April 5th that was he says Michael Cohen is my attorney. Just remember, that's not that long ago, Brooke, about how much this relationship has taken a turn. Right? Because it was not there long after Michael Cohen was not his attorney and in fact turning on him. And you could see the president choosing his words so deliberately there in describing Michael Cohen and his relationship to him at that moment. It was just I believe a couple of months before that they were dining together down in Mar-a-Lago. Michael Cohen was clearly seeking a way to stay in the president's good graces and how their relationship may be able to continue through this legal scrutiny. That did not happen here. And what we know as all the facts have come out since that it seems impossible that the president did not know that payments were involved to keep these stories at bay.
BALDWIN: David Chalian, stand by.
Everyone, stand by.
What a massive, massive news day. We have live pictures as we wait for the president's once personal attorney and now a who's in FBI custody as we speak, about to head to that courthouse and plead guilty, according to our reports, to multiple counts of campaign finance, tax fraud, bank fraud. Facing up to three years.
Do not miss a beat. We'll be right back.
[14:51:19] BALDWIN: Back to our breaking news here. Live pictures of that federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan where we're waiting to see once the president's good friend, fixer, personal attorney, Michael Cohen, he is about to plead guilty to multiple counts of campaign finance. You have the direct link to the president's campaign here. Tax fraud, bank fraud and could be spending a couple years behind bars here. This is all happening in mere moments as we're discussing the fallout, the implications, potential cooperation here.
We've got Evan Perez, our senior justice correspondent, over at the Paul Manafort trial.
But I want to talk about Michael Cohen. Listening to your colleague, Shimon Prokupecz, how he's in custody at the FBI. My goodness. What a difference a couple of months make. Your reaction, Evan?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPNDENT: Absolutely. It's a huge difference. I can tell you that one of the things in making phone calls on this story and Shimon doing reporting in the last 24 hours, we were trying to figure out how to report some of this. We were checking in with the President Trump's own attorneys and they were closely monitoring the rumors that these talks were under way. Obviously, there's a huge implication for the president. The idea that perhaps some of these charges that he's going to plead guilty to will relate to the payments to these women that were done back in 2016 in the run-up to the election. So the question is, how does this relate to the campaign? I think everybody is waiting to see the final language that Michael Cohen pleads guilty to.
The other question is what type of agreement does this involve? This morning, we were hearing that there was some discussion of how much cooperation he would offer. Obviously, Brooke, we know that Michael Cohen is not exactly the world's greatest witness anymore after what we've seen in the last few weeks. I'm not even sure that prosecutors would want him to cooperate against anyone in particular because it's not clear that he's exactly a great witness to use in another case -- Brooke?
BALDWIN: Evan, thank you.
Evan, still no verdict where you are, correct, sir? Still no verdict?
PEREZ: Still no verdict. We're still waiting. That's right.
BALDWIN: All right, Evan, thank you so much.
I want to bring in David Priess into this conversation, former CIA.
David, your point is that Robert Mueller must be watching this whole Michael Cohen situation very closely.
DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Absolutely. Let me set this up for a little bit, so bear with me.
PRIESS: Bob Mueller is looking at the mainline issues having to do with the Russian information warfare on the campaign and its interference in the election. This has been shipped off to SDNY to deal with. But to the extent that Bob Mueller is working out trying to figure out the president's intent of the Trump Tower meeting, which is the meeting that established the most direct evidence we have of some kind of Russian interference with knowledge of people in the Trump campaign, to the extent he's trying to establish the president's credibility on saying, I didn't know anything about it, in this case, with Michael Cohen, you now have a case where Michael Cohen is pleading guilty to campaign finance irregularities of some kind. We'll find out the details. The president said, I didn't know about that. If he's pleading guilty to this in New York, that implies the investigators have the goods to back it up. They don't need his cooperation. They have phone calls or e-mails or something behind it. That establishes that the president may have lied about whether he knew about those campaign finance issues, which then gives Mueller the ability to establish this has happened before in that case, what do you think it means about that Trump Tower meeting?
[14:55:00] BALDWIN: And that Trump Tower meeting, according to our reporting from a little while ago, it was Cohen who said that the president did know, signed off on the meeting, right, which, of course, the president and the White House have denied. But the important piece of that is Cohen said it wasn't just he who was in the room who heard the president say that. It was other eyewitnesses. So presumably on your point about the Trump Tower, Team Mueller could corroborate with those eyewitnesses.
PRIESS: Yes. It's that level of combining the tactical information they're getting from the Cohen deal, if there's a deal, or at least the guilty pleas, getting that tactical information and then going to the strategic level to say, well, what does it say about Trump and the campaign? This is something where Bob Mueller has probably known about this information for a while but we are finally, yet again, being exposed to something that he has been putting those puzzle pieces on together for months.
BALDWIN: Michael Cohen in FBI custody waiting for him to arrive at this courthouse where he will plead guilty on multiple counts. It is major day here in America.
We'll be right back.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Here's the breaking news this afternoon. President Trump's former personal lawyer and self-proclaimed fixer, Michael Cohen, has just surrendered to the FBI. Cohen is due in federal court in New York one hour from now where the government is expected to disclose a plea deal on multiple counts. According to three sources, Cohen is expecting to plead guilty to campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud. The deal will include jail time and we're told a substantial fine.
Don't forget it was Cohen linked to those secret payments, including one to porn star, Stormy Daniels. So should the president be worried about the man who once said he'd take a bullet for him?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I will use my legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability.
I would do anything to protect Mr. Trump.
I'm obviously very loyal and very dedicated to Mr. Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So let me bring in CNN's justice correspondent, Shimon Prokupecz --