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Manafort Jury Nearing Verdict?; Former Trump Fixer Michael Cohen Expected to Make Plea Deal. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired August 21, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump. I'm obviously very loyal and very dedicated to Mr. Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So, let me bring in CNN's justice correspondence, Shimon Prokupecz, in Washington. Brynn Gingras is outside that federal courthouse there in New York. Ryan Nobles is at the White House for us.
So, Shimon, starting with you. You're the one breaking the news that he's in FBI custody and these counts that he's going to plead guilty to.
Give me the ticktock of what to expect.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, quite -- moving, unfolding quite quickly here, right, Brooke?
So, excuse me. He surrendered within the last hour. He was met by FBI agents from the New York field office there in Lower Manhattan, by agents and the main guy running this investigation from the public corruption unit of the FBI there. They greeted him. He went in and he's now being processed, fingerprinted and photographed by the FBI.
What we're told is that he's expected -- and, of course, keep in mind this can all change -- is that he's expected to plead guilty to several counts. Let me go ahead and read some of that to you, the multiple counts of campaign finance violation, tax fraud and bank fraud.
And this is according to three sources. We're told that the deal that he has struck with prosecutors will include jail time. He's facing up to three years or so in prison. Keep in mind it would ultimately be up to the judge how much jail time he would face.
And the other issue here, Brooke, is that we're told was money and how much money Michael Cohen would have to forfeit, that is, give to the government in exchange for this plea deal. It was a huge concern for him because of his family. He wanted to make sure that there was money that was left for them.
So it seems that they have come to terms on that. There's also a substantial fine that he's expected to pay. And, of course, we expect this all to start unfolding after 4:00. We also expect that we will learn more perhaps maybe this hour from court documents which will be unsealed at some point that will tell us exactly what Michael Cohen is pleading guilty to, what that involves, the nature of the charges, the nature of the crimes that prosecutors are alleging he committed here.
So, hopefully, more details, more information here soon as to exactly what the government is saying Michael Cohen did here.
BALDWIN: Shimon, thank you.
You teed Brynn up perfectly.
Shimon mentioned those court documents that will be unsealed. We will also be listening very closely to the language that Michael Cohen uses. Tell us what to listen for in about an hour.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and really from Michael Cohen himself, right?
When usually someone pleads guilty, they have to lay out for the judge, answer to the judge all the questions of exactly what he's pleading guilty to. And so I think that's going to be the most interesting part of all of this is hearing from Michael Cohen himself what he is admitting to, possibly hear names of companies.
We're really not sure. But that's what is expected to unfold at 4:00. And, like you said, Shimon did tee it up perfectly. We understand right now Michael Cohen is still here at the FBI building, the New York field office, which is really about a 10-minute walk from where we are.
We believe he hasn't left there yet in a car to come here to the federal courthouse, again, for that court appearance at 4:00. We are expecting to hear from the U.S. deputy attorney in this, Robert Khuzami.
I'm hearing that it's only going to be about a five-minute news conference for all our cameras after that 4:00 court appearance, although I don't know if he's going to be taking any questions. It might be just a short sort of detailing statement from the U.S. attorney's office here.
We also don't know a big question, is Michael Cohen allowed to leave? I'm assuming so, but we don't know, according to this plea agreement. We have been here, Brooke, for four-and-a-half months covering this case as things have unfolded with all the privileged documents and seeing Michael Cohen going in and out of court really just to where I'm standing.
And he's always left, never made a comment. But we're -- we will have to see if he will actually be able to leave this courthouse, if he himself will make a comment to all the media that is still filing in here for this 4:00 court appearance -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: I can only imagine all of the cameras right there with you, Brynn, in Lower Manhattan. Thank you so much. We will come back to you as soon as we see any movement there.
But let's go to the White House to our correspondent Ryan Nobles on the Michael Avenatti piece of this whole thing, because, of course, as we talk about campaign finance charges, Stormy Daniels and payments, I know Avenatti is responding. What is he saying?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brooke.
So, Michael Avenatti, who obviously represents Stormy Daniels, tweeted out not too long ago that he believes that the resolution of the Michael Cohen case is going to allow him to unseal documents that are connected to his lawsuits and he believes expedite what he's calling the deposition of President Trump.
You remember that Avenatti has for many weeks said that he would like to depose the president in his lawsuit involving Stormy Daniels and the president. And that's been turned back at every different situation.
So Avenatti obviously likes attention and he likes bringing himself into these conversations when given the opportunity, but there's no doubt that the fact that Cohen is a central figure in the Stormy Daniels saga -- of course, Cohen is the one who is said to facilitate that payment from the president to Stormy Daniels -- the fact that his legal situation is going to be resolved, that's why Avenatti believes that now this opens the door for him to take that next step.
And, Brooke, we should also point out here at the White House, it's been radio silence from the president.
BALDWIN: I was wondering. Nothing.
NOBLES: Yes, but he -- the president had a meeting with labor leaders this afternoon in the Roosevelt Room just outside the Oval Office when this story was breaking.
We have had no statement of any kind from the White House, but he is scheduled to leave here at about 4:00 to head to rally in West Virginia in support sort of Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey.
The president usually never holds back in these rallies. And then there's always that opportunity that he may speak to reporters as he leaves the White House. So, at this point, the White House not reacting, despite the fact that not only you're going to have this plea deal from a top Trump associate, Michael Cohen, but also the fact that the Paul Manafort jury could come back at any moment. The president connected to all of these, but so far not commenting.
BALDWIN: Yes, Ryan, thank you so much at the White House.
Let me turn to my four wonderful, brilliant people sitting to my right.
And, Kara Scannell, Kara, you have been out front on this Cohen reporting. And to you when we envision in an hour Michael Cohen walking into this great big federal courthouse in Manhattan and pleading guilty to X, Y and Z. What language -- what will you be listening for?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think this is really going to be something to listen to, because the judge is going to say to Cohen, I want to hear in your own words what crime you committed.
And in that allocution, how detailed does Cohen get, especially as it relates to campaign finance charges? Does he say he did it at the direction of anyone? Is that person the president? Does he say it more vaguely, and does the judge accept that in more vague terms?
BALDWIN: Could the judge push him?
SCANNELL: The judge could push him. The judge could say, I really want to know that you know what you did was a crime and I want to hear in your words every step you took that was an element of that crime.
I think that's going to be the wild card. And what does Cohen say about the campaign finance charge? Who told him to do it? Did he do it on his own? I think we will learn a lot from that, which might also help understand is he going to cooperate in some way?
Our reporting is that this deal is not including that, but I think an element of that is also the Justice Department says, you can't indict a sitting president. And the U.S. attorney's office follows those guidelines.
So in the instance of where you would flip, you have to kind of deliver the big fish. And if that fish is not on the table and they already feel, the prosecutors feel that they have a locked case against Cohen on bank fraud, on tax fraud, on campaign finance charges, then they are just going to go full steam ahead on that.
But I think the key thing is, how does Cohen describe the campaign finance violations?
BALDWIN: And does he directly link it to this president?
Let me -- I want to hear from all of you, but I have got our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, on the phone.
And, Jeff Toobin, this is the first time I have heard your voice weighing in on all of this huge news that we have been breaking today.
What are your thoughts? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I -- the fact that
Michael Collins pleading guilty is just an enormous development in the history of the Trump presidency.
No one is closer, was closer to the developer pre-President Donald Trump. No one knows more -- or almost no one knows more of his secrets. And the fact that he's pleading guilty apparently to a wide range of felonies in many different areas suggests that Donald Trump placed his trust in someone who was a very elaborately -- a extensively credentialed criminal.
And obviously the question we are all going to want to know is, will he cooperate in a way that is at all damaging to Donald Trump? And I wouldn't want to presume that one way or the other.
But given the breadth of these crimes he's apparently pleading guilty to, the question of, what was the president's involvement in any of them is certainly one that we're all going to want to know the answer to.
BALDWIN: So what about Kara's point in terms of the president's involvement? When Michael Cohen is standing there today before this judge, and he is pleading guilty to the campaign finance piece of this whole equation, and there is that possibility that he could be specific and say -- and, again, a possibility, we don't know -- but he could say he was asked to do this by the now president of United States.
That is a direct connection.
And the process of pleading guilty varies somewhat by judge. Judges sometimes ask defendants to say in your own words what did you do? Because they don't want to be just tools in a plea bargain. These judges want to know that someone is pleading guilty to something that is genuinely a crime.
And I have been before many judges who say, tell me in your own words what did you do? And sometimes they ask questions, and sometimes they say, well, who asked you to do it? And who did you do it with?
So, the act of pleading guilty is not just a legal formality. The act of pleading guilty often involves some actual explanation, especially in white-collar cases, of what happened here.
And so it will be very important to hear what goes on in this courtroom. It will also be important to hear when the spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office talks about what sort of cooperation is agreed to.
We're mostly getting spin here, it sounds like, that there is no cooperation. I'd like to hear what the government thinks about that. I'd like to hear a more specific... BALDWIN: Is it possible they're keeping that close to the vest, the cooperation piece, and they're doing that on purpose?
TOOBIN: I actually don't really think that's possible.
There will be a document filed in court in connection with the guilty plea called a cooperation agreement, if there is one. And that's a public documents, so we will see that.
I don't believe you can keep a secret at this point about whether someone is cooperating. I think we will know. And I think it's very hard to believe that the government would agree to a scenario where Michael Cohen walks into court today, pleads guilty, and then never speaks to prosecutors.
I certainly -- I suppose that's possible legally, but it just seems like something that is not likely to be agreeable to prosecutors.
BALDWIN: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks for calling in and lending your voice here to what has been a wild past hour.
And, again, we are now less than an hour away from seeing the man who once said he would take a bullet for this president now pleading guilty to campaign finance, tax fraud, bank fraud, and depending on how the judge feels could face up to three years behind bars.
We're told a lot of what he was concerned about was money and his family in making these decisions. How does he describe this to this judge inside the federal courthouse? So much to happen in the next hour.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
We will continue to breaking news coverage after this quick commercial break.
BALDWIN: We are back on our breaking news here.
At the top right-hand corner of your screen there, you can only imagine the media presence waiting to see the man of the hour, Michael Cohen, the president's former personal attorney. They have had a relationship that goes back a decade.
Now to this moment where we now can report that Michael Cohen is in FBI custody and he is going to walk through those doors and speak with a judge and officially plead guilty to campaign finance, to bank fraud, to tax fraud charges officially there.
And we will be listening to the language, and if at all he specifically mentions President Trump.
As we wait for that, the political reaction is pouring in from Democratic lawmakers. Congressman Eric Swalwell says the clouds of corruption around the White House are darkening, telling the president to come clean.
That's the tweet from that congressman.
And also from Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, saying, "One by one, all the president's men are going down."
So on the politics side of this, let's go to CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston.
And, again, Mark, it is so important to take five steps back and now and relating to this campaign finance charge, that is the direct link to the president, the president's campaign.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, we certainly think it is, I mean, from everything that we have learned so far up to this point, and Michael Cohen and, of course, Michael Avenatti and his client, Stormy Daniels.
So you would have to suspect, based upon what we know, that that's what the connection is, is the payments to Stormy Daniels, as well as another woman that President Trump allegedly had an affair with prior to becoming president, of course, paying hush money to keep her quiet.
But I do think you're right. When you look at this, you can't look at it as a singular event. We can't look at the 4:00 event with Michael Cohen in solitude. You have to look at what's going on all around us right now.
You have Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman for President Trump, the man who was with him for four-and-a-half months and got him through an extremely important time during the presidential campaign, and that was during the convention, you have him facing 18 counts right now in Virginia.
You have President Trump's personal lawyer right now copping a plea right now within the next 45 minutes up in New York. That has got to cause some concern and raise some red flags, even amongst the supporters of President Trump.
Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to see those red flags. But this really is a moment in history I think that we're going to look back on and it's going to be a very dark day.
BALDWIN: We haven't heard a peep from this White House in the wake of this news.
PRESTON: Not surprised, right? I mean, they only seem to come out when they have to come out, Brooke, or they come out on the offensive or they have to come out when President Trump comes out and actually says something without them knowing.
That's when we usually get from Sarah Huckabee Sanders or others. BALDWIN: Mark, thank you.
Back to my lawyers. John Lauro and Paul Callan are with me here in New York. I know Jennifer Rodgers is with us as well, former federal prosecutor.
And, John, welcome to you.
And you have been listening all these conversations and I want to hear your voice for the first time. And when we were talking before, your key question is on cooperation.
JOHN LAURO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, I try cases in this courtroom.
And it's shocking to me that there's not a cooperation agreement in place, because, for Mueller, Cohen is the gold standard. And he wanted Cohen's cooperation. And the fact that there's not a cooperation agreement, apparently, as part of this plea deal is very surprising.
And it can only mean one of two things. Either he didn't have something to give the prosecutor or they weren't convinced that he was completely honest with them. But it's very unusual not to have a cooperation agreement.
BALDWIN: Let's take three steps back, because for people who are just joining us, they are trying to wrap their heads around what's happening with Michael Cohen.
So Michael Cohen is going to roll up to this courthouse. He is in FBI custody right now and fingerprinted process, et cetera. He goes into this courthouse and he stands before this judge and he is going to say, yes, I did it, essentially, to these counts of campaign finance violations, bank fraud and tax fraud, right?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
So, that's the reporting we have on it so far.
BALDWIN: So then what? And how -- why -- connect the dots for me on this is what he's doing. And we still don't know whether or not he's cooperating.
LAURO: We're going to find out about it very soon, because the judge is going to ask him, what did you do to bring yourself into my courtroom?
And then under the agreement, which is -- the judge is going to read in open court, there's going to be cooperation or not cooperation. And that's the key story today.
BALDWIN: And it's this judge. You were making the point that in Southern District of New York, the judge is going to want to make sure he hears from Michael Cohen himself.
CALLAN: Oh, absolutely. He's not going to hear through the lawyer. He's going to be asking Cohen, the defendant, what did you do?
And he has to, through his admissions, indicate to the judge that he committed the crime he's pleading guilty with.
And only then does the court accept the plea. On the issue of sentencing, that's not going to happen and you won't see a commitment from the court on that today. That will get put off to a future time when -- after more reports are done on Cohen's background for the court.
BALDWIN: OK, Jennifer Rodgers, over to you.
As a former federal prosecutor, how big of a day is this?
JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Oh, it's a huge day.
I mean, if you take Michael Cohen on the one hand and the Paul Manafort jury seemingly hopefully reaching agreement on most of the counts, it's an enormous day. And there's a lot to be said about it, and I don't want to count my chickens on the Manafort side.
But, to me, this is a huge day for justice and a huge day for the rule of law. It shows that when you're inside the courtroom, that's what matters, evidence, facts and truth. And at least these jurors in the Manafort file, hopefully, will show us that they haven't been paying attention to what's going on outside, they have been paying attention to the inside.
And, similarly, Michael Cohen he's going to go in there and swear under oath what he did to commit the crimes that he's charged with, swear to tell the truth, and he will do it under oath. And so then we will have something tangible that we can rely on, instead of all the noise and nonsense that we have been hearing for months and months.
BALDWIN: Again, we should see Michael Cohen any moment now walk through those doors, presumably front door, gentlemen? Front door.
BALDWIN: Quite -- that'll be quite the show. So he will walk through those doors, with the FBI agents in tow, and have that conversation with the judge, plead guilty to those counts, and we will be listening to the language he uses, and if he name-checks the president at all or anyone in the campaign.
So we will wait for that. That's happening momentarily.
Also, as Jennifer just mentioned, Paul Manafort, his tax fraud, bank fraud, that's been going on, day four for this jury deliberating. They have had a couple of questions for this judge. They have been back holed up for the last couple of hours. What about that verdict?
Might the judge except a partial verdict there? We're going to take you to that courthouse coming up next.
Stay with me. You're watching CNN.
BALDWIN: As we await the arrival of former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who is expected to announce his plea deal in that federal court in New York, also breaking this hour, the jury is deciding the fate of Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
They could be close to a verdict after asking the judge this question today. I will read the question for you. "If we cannot come to a consensus for a single count, how can we fill in the verdict sheet?"
The judge in this trial, Judge T.S. Ellis, instructed the jurors to give -- quote -- "deference" to each other, but to keep deliberating.
Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is outside that federal courthouse in Alexandria.
And Jessica, what's the word?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No word, Brooke.
The jury has been silent for about three-and-a-half-hours now, ever since they went back into the deliberation room. So it's assumed that they're working through this, that if they had one count or others, they're working and taking the judge's instruction to heart here, maybe working with each other more, showing more deference, listening to each other.
Those were all things that the judge said that they should do.
So, they went back into that jury deliberation room at 11:58, after asking the judge that question: What should we do if we cannot come to a consensus on a single count? How should we fill out the jury form or -- sorry -- the verdict form?