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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republican Congressman Indicted on 60 Counts of Misusing Funds; Interview With Virginia Senator Mark Warner; President Trump Responds to Michael Cohen Plea Deal. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: That there are subjects that Michael Cohen could address.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Davis also offering Cohen to testify to any congressional committee regarding the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians without immunity.

One reason? Cohen's longtime support of the president's private has wavered in recent months.

DAVIS: There has been an evolution in his loyalty to Donald Trump, many things that he has said he would like to redo and has regrets about

GINGRAS: Cohen's regrets played out in Tuesday plea agreement, where it's clear just after Trump announced his candidacy in 2015 Cohen was already working on a plan to quash any bad press about Trump -- quote -- "The defendant and one or more members of the campaign offered to help deal with negative stories about Individual One's relationships with women."

Individual One is Trump, two of those women, Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels, who Cohen admitted to paying off in 2016 just weeks before the election.

Cohen told a judge he did the 2016 hush money payments for "the principal purpose of influencing the election" and stunned the courtroom by admitting he took part in the payments "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office."

A major contradiction to when the president told reporters he had no knowledge of any payments.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No.

GINGRAS: Davis says Collins quarter moment was a turning point.

DAVIS: He has stepped up to the line and he can now speak again. And he feels liberated. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GINGRAS: And Trump's team is saying Cohen's admissions are on him and him alone, and that the president didn't do anything wrong here and hasn't committed a crime -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Brynn Gingras in New York, thank you.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. He's the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: As you know, Michael Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, claims that Michael Cohen has evidence that the president knew about the hacking of the DNC e-mails before that even happened.

He also says that the president -- and that Michael Cohen might know about more about possible collusion with the Russians. Do you have any evidence, do you know of any evidence that might back any of that up?

WARNER: Jake, I'm not going to comment about what Mr. Cohen has testified to our committee.

As the chairman and I said yesterday, we have reconnected with Mr. Cohen. We had to clear up some of his earlier testimony, and we hope that his plea deal would not preclude him from coming back before our committee.

So I'm anxious to hear if he's got information about the collusion or knowledge of the Russian hacking before the leakage of that information. I'm -- we have also got questions for him about his involvement in the proposed Moscow Trump Tower. There are open questions on that issue as well.

So if Mr. Davis going to make him available to Mr. Mueller, I hope he will make them available to our committee as well.

TAPPER: How can you rely on what Michael Cohen says? I mean, hasn't he contradicted publicly or his lawyers have contradicted publicly things that he said behind closed doors to your committee under oath?

WARNER: Well, clearly, you're going to have to take some of Mr. Cohen's comments in context, just as you have to take Mr. Trump's comments in context.

I still remember that video of Mr. Trump saying, I believe on Air Force One, that he had no knowledge of any payments to the adult porn star. But clearly there was some evidence that maybe not only did he have knowledge, but he may have instructed now.

So, obviously, any of Mr. Cohen's comments would have to be taken in that context, and what other substantiating information. Remember, we -- and much more than we -- the Mueller team has literally thousands and thousands of other individuals' testimony and the ability to then corroborate or deny what Cohen might say.

It might be a missing piece.

TAPPER: Senator, Michael Cohen, as you know, implicated President Trump in federal court yesterday, telling a judge that the payments he made to Karen McDougal and to Stormy Daniels, these women who alleged affairs with President Trump, were -- quote -- "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office for the principal purpose of influencing the election."

It's obvious that the candidate for federal office is President Trump.

Do you think that President Trump committed a crime? And if so, what will or can you do about it?

WARNER: Well, again, I think that's for a court of law to figure out or another process to figure out.

But it does seem, of at least what I have seen in the public press about the timing of these payments and the fact that then candidate Trump was under a great deal scrutiny about the so-called famous "Hollywood Access" tape, it seems like the timeline and logic at least follows.

But, as I said earlier, with both Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump, neither one of these have been exactly people that are always on the straight and narrow in terms of the truth.

[16:35:10]

TAPPER: Here, take a listen to your fellow senator, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, this morning. He was asked about what these charges say about the type of people the president surrounds himself with. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Naturally, it makes you very concerned.

But the president shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of the people that he's trusted. 3 (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "The president should not be held responsible for the actions of people he's trusted."

Your response?

WARNER: I have a great deal respect for Senator Hatch, but I can't think in my lifetime -- and I remember Richard Nixon -- when there's been this many people that have either been indicted or guilty pleas. We have got the president's campaign manager, we have got the

president's lawyer, we have got the president's first national security adviser all pleading guilty. We have got potentially family members and others still under investigation. We have got Mueller with over 30 other indictments now, other presidential appointees like his foreign policy adviser Papadopoulos, pleading guilty, who clearly acknowledges the Russians reached out to him with compromising information.

I think you are judged by the company you keep.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question, Senator. Based on what you know -- and you know a lot more than the rest of us -- did America have free and fair elections in 2016?

WARNER: Jake, I'm not here to relitigate 2016.

TAPPER: You have -- but you have a very knowledgeable take on what happened. We're all talking about -- I mean, Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, Russian collusion, all of this is about 2016.

It's pretty simple. You know more than the rest of us. Did we have free and fair elections?

WARNER: Jake, our committee is going to finish this process. We have already finished on election security. We have also confirmed that the Russians intervened to help Trump and hurt Clinton.

We have got elections in 65-odd days. And as we have seen in the last 24 hours as well from Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter, our foreign adversaries are still using social media and the Internet to try to interfere in our political debate and our election cycle.

TAPPER: Senator Warner, vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, thanks so much.

WARNER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: A congressman going on a nice European vacation, not a big deal, but spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on trips to Target, flights for Peter Strzok, tequila shots from campaign funds, now, that lands you in legal problem.

We will explain why and who.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:55]

TAPPER: Another early Trump supporter on Capitol Hill has been accused of living a corrupt lifestyle, this time Congressman Duncan Hunter of California.

According to charging documents, he and his wife were essentially broke, but they were living large off of campaign money, taking trips around the world, buying gifts for friends and a plane ticket for a rabbit.

The indictment even alleges that Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran, also bought clothes for himself and tried to pass off the purchase as golf balls for wounded warriors.

As CNN's Laura Jarrett reports, Congressman Hunter is dismissing the claims as a political hit job.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: What I am is a representative to you. And the campaign finance stuff, I -- I was not watching it close enough.

I have fixed it now. I have fixed it now. It's all straightened out.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For nearly two years, Congressman Duncan Hunter has maintained that any misuse of campaign funds was accidental.

HUNTER: When I start explaining it, it sounds like excuses. The buck stops here.

JARRETT: But a 60-count federal indictment against Hunter and his wife, Margaret, paints a stunning portrait of the couple's spending habits, allegedly using campaign cash to pay for family trip to SeaWorld, 30 shots of tequila and a steak at a bachelor party, Hawaiian shorts purchased at a golf pro shop, so that they could falsely describe the purchase later as some golf balls for the wounded warriors, and roughly $300 worth of goods at Target, including a white duck, two Punky Brewster items and a ring pop, all disguised as used for teacher-parent and supporter events.

HUNTER: I'm running as -- you could call me the right, conservative wing of the Republican Party.

JARRETT: In an effort to justify a family trip to Italy, Hunter allegedly tried to set up a tour of the Naval base there, but when officials said they couldn't make the date work, Hunter told his staff, "Tell the Navy to go F themselves."

When campaign staffers and the treasurer tried to raise concerns, Hunter lashed out, allegedly saying they were trying to create some kind of paper trail.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will be out there campaigning for him, standing in for him.

JARRETT: Now charged with campaign finance violations, wire fraud and filing false campaign reports, the Hunters claim the charges are politically motivated, pointing to the fact that prosecutors on the case attended a Clinton campaign event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they can cloud his name before the election, they take his seat, a Republican seat, they put in the Democrat column. That's the reason they have done the late hit. JARRETT: But multiple sources familiar with the case tell CNN the ultimate charging decision was made by U.S. attorney Adam Braverman, a career prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

A founding member of the Trump Caucus in the House during the 2016 campaign, Hunter now marks the second early backer, along with Republican Congressman Chris Collins, facing criminal charges heading into November's election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JARRETT: Congressman Hunter's Democratic opponent has already seized on these charges in a new ad, saying this just shows he was all in it for himself.

But Congressman Hunter maintains he did nothing wrong and the DOJ is just an arm of the Democrats. He makes his first appearance in court tomorrow in San Diego -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Laura Jarrett, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this.

The Department of Justice is just an arm of the Democrats? The Justice Department of Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump?

MONA CHAREN, SENIOR FELLOW, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: They're so devious, these Democrats. Even a Republican administration they manage to get their people in there. Look, here's the good news part of this is that it is the system working kind of a story. I mean, this is the guy, the second member of Congress who endorsed Donald Trump at a time when that kind of legitimacy was badly needed and that he is facing the law dispassionately applied, so that's the good news. The bad news, you mentioned before, all of the really tawdry examples of incredible selfishness on his part and indifference to the appearances.

TAPPER: And you used to work at the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and I remember in 2006 you all had a culture of corruption thing. You're getting Republicans which controlled Congress. This is after this is after the Jack Abramoff scandal, not to mention I think Mark Foley was around that time as well, and we hear the DCCC doing the same thing now.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. We look back. That was the last time Democrats won back the House. It was something that was effective not just in Washington or not really in Washington but really in districts around the country where we would pick a crony of the week and there would be above-the-fold newspaper headline in the Scranton paper. Literally, there was one, I remember. You know, and this is -- this is something that people can identify with because corruption and people living by a different set of rules is something that even if you're worried about putting food on the table matters and that's why Democrats are trying to get focus on this issue this year. TAPPER: Now, Chris Collins has is not running for re-election.

There's some weird way they're getting him out of running for that seat in New York but Duncan Hunter who represents a rather Republican seat, he's not stepping down at this it looks like. It looks like he's going to go forward. Paul Ryan has removed him from his committee but otherwise, he's enjoying all the benefits of being a member of Congress. And again, these are just charges. He hasn't -- he hasn't been indicted -- I mean he hasn't been convicted of anything.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean look this is -- this is a not a good story. It's a -- if he did anything near what approaches in that indictment I am speechless. I mean, when it comes to --

PSAKI: You were speechless --

SANTORUM: I was speechless -- I just -- you know, you just can't believe that that person in Congress today could think they could do this and get away with. I mean, just the stupidity of doing things like this is overwhelming. Now, having said all that, the timing of this stinks. And I say that I know people are going to go back and check that's true. When Jim Comey did the Hillary Clinton thing right before the -- I mean, I scream. I said this is wrong. He should not be doing this.

And to have these two indictments you know, eight weeks, nine weeks, ten weeks, whatever it is before the election, that stinks. I mean, the idea you can't wait until after the election and then have this thing come out to do it when people are stuck on the ballot, that is -- that is the Justice Department being political and it's wrong.

TAPPER: Well, the counter-argument might be that they're just bringing the charges when they have the charge. You don't agree with that.

SANTORUM: No, no, I mean, you don't -- you don't inject yourself. It's an allegation. There's no -- he has no chance to respond other than saying it's wrong. There's no trial of fact. There's nobody -- there's nothing -- there's nothing to defend himself in the face of these allegations, not the right thing to do.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, when you read through the indictment there is quite a bit. I mean, there's emails between the Congressman and his treasurer there are -- I mean, the day they cite all of this evidence and it really is quite damning.

SANTORUM: But it's accusations.

PSAKI: They are accusations but it's not like a he said she said situation right now.

SANTORUM: It's just the timing stinks.

TAPPER: So one of the most shocking charges I thought is them -- the Hunters, Duncan -- Congressman Hunter and his wife going to -- he needed a pair of shorts going to a golf store, to buy the shorts so that they could disguise the purchase as golf balls that they were going to say they bought for veterans. I mean, that is a shocking allegation. And also --

That is cynical --

TAPPER: And he said veteran. I mean, one would think that he would -- he would know better.

CHAREN: Yes. And you know, here's the worrisome thing is that there's always been corruption and it's always been on both sides of the aisle, but we have this tendency about it since we've become polarized. For Republicans just now be upping the ante for every bad act so you find people like Matt Schlapp of CPAC saying, well, you know, whatever they found about Trump perhaps having participated in a crime it's not treason and therefore nothing to see here. And you know, each one of these it becomes one more straw on the camel's back.

TAPPER: And also it's not exactly draining the swamp when you have all these things happening. I mean, it's -- people were already cynical about Washington D.C. This isn't going to help.

[16:50:01] KUCINICH: That's very true. And you know, to Paul Ryan's credit, he has he no longer has committee positions and I mean, they could vote to expel him. I don't think they're there yet. They're kind of hoping he goes away. But there's only so much they can do to get rid of this person at this point and they've started that process. So it's not that you know, everyone's kind of throwing up their hands and saying deep state right now but the hypocrisy of this, it really is. Because I mean, think about these donors, this is donor money, these are people who may give $100, $50 here and they're not paying for their Congressman to you know, work for them. They're paying for his vacation.

SANTORUM: As someone who you know, collected campaign contributions from people who didn't have the money to give it to me, but they gave it to me anyway, that was something that -- I mean this was treasure to me. This was like more than my own money. And to see someone do things like this is disgusting and very upsetting to me. And so -- but to get to Jen's point because I happen to be on the ballot in 2006 when the DNC was -- and we had Mark Foley and Don Sherwood, we had Curt Weldon an FBI raid a week before the election, so it can have trust me, a cumulative effect. And Jen is right. There's nothing that cuts across party line like smarmy corruption. And if this continues, I'm not saying this isn't bad enough, but if this continues with other members, this is going to be an ugly election for Republic.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. Coming up next, new information coming out in court about the suspect in the gruesome murder of a college student. Why he didn't raise any red flags with his employer? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: A judge just set bail at $5 million for the man accused of killing 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts as the case becomes a talking point in the immigration debate. Cristhian Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico confessed to abducting the 20-year- old college student last month in Brooklyn, Iowa. After news of Rivera's arrest, President Trump quickly cited the case as an example of why tougher laws are needed to combat illegal immigration. CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins me live in Montezuma, Iowa where Rivera just appeared in court. And Dianne, Rivera, he worked at a dairy farm owned in part by prominent Iowa Republican. How was Rivera able to get through the screening process?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Jake, just in the past couple minutes here, we've gotten a little more clarification on this. The owner of that dairy farm coming out and saying basically he gave a different name. This is not the man that we thought he was. It's not the name on his paperwork and they didn't use the DHS e-verify system, instead using this older Social Security verification system. Now, still a lot of unanswered questions here that isn't stopping the politicization of Mollie Tibbetts' death, something that people here in Iowa wish they wouldn't focus on right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER: The outcome no one wanted but so many in this close Iowa community feared the disappearance of Mollie Tibbetts now a case of murder. 24 year old Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico charged in the twenty-year-old University of Iowa students death this afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have been charged with murder in the first degree.

GALLAGHER: After more than a month of searching, investigators say Bahena Rivera led them to a cornfield Tuesday where they found a body believed to be Mollie Tibbetts.

RICHARD RAHN, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: He tells us that at some point time he blacks out and then he comes to near an intersection in which he believe he then placed Mollie.

GALLAGHER: Investigators say the Bahena Rivera worked at Yarrabee farms owned in part by Craig Lang, a prominent Iowa Republican. In a news conference this afternoon, the farm said it believed it was doing due diligence but was using the wrong system.

DANE LANG, CO-OWNER, YARRABEE FARMS: What we learned in the last 24 hours is that our employee was not who he said he was. And just within the last four hours we have come to learn that the Social Security Administration employment verification service is not the same as e-verify within hours of the arrest.

GALLAGHER: Within hours of the arrest, politicians began using Tibbetts' death as a rallying point for the right. Iowa's Republican senators released a joint statement blaming "criminals who broke our immigration laws" adding, "we cannot allow these tragedies to continue." The President weighed in even further into politicizing her murder at a rally in West Virginia blaming Democrats for weak border security. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman. The immigration was such a disgrace. We're getting them changed but we have to get more Republicans.

GALLAGHER: In a statement, the Tibbetts' family thanked the nation for the love and support while asking for privacy as they grieve. Friends say they hope the politics now surrounding her death won't overshadow her life.

Do you fear that the whole illegal immigrant part of this conversation now will take over?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all keep from immigrants.

GALLAGHER: Yes, but this isn't about being political.

MARY JO COLLUM, RESIDENT, BROOKLYN, IOWA: No, no, no. This is about Mollie being a smart, beautiful --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very intelligent.

COLLUM: -- intelligent young woman.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER: Now people here in Iowa are going to be remembering her tonight. Mollie Tibbetts should have been starting her sophomore year of college at the University of Iowa. They're going to hold a vigil Jake at about two hours there on campus, the fellow students and professors can remember her.

TAPPER: Such a horrible story. Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER, you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage now continues with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."