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CNN TONIGHT

Paul Manafort Behind Bars Awaiting Sentence; President Trump's New Excuse on Hush Money Payments; Republican Lawmakers on Capitol Hill Silent Today; Donald Trump Backed into a Corner; Convictions of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 22:00   ET

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


[22:00:00] (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: You said that much more eloquently than I said it in just a couple seconds with you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: True.

LEMON: But you're absolutely right with that. Again, it's awful, our hearts do go out to those families. Can you, I mean, no one can imagine, even wants to imagine the kind of pain that they're dealing with right now.

CUOMO: Listen, it is the kind of thing that keeps any parent up at night. None of us are supposed to outlive our kids and when they are stolen from us, in a way that should not have happened, that could have been prevented, you have every right to be outraged and the community does as well. And we're seeing that in Iowa.

But that doesn't give people the right to abuse its significance. And use it to play to something else, and the president taking a moment like this to make a video where he says she was permanently separated, it's not a time to play politics about something that he did wrong. That's doubling down on doing the wrong thing.

LEMON: Well, you know what Newt Gingrich told Axios, right? He said if Mollie Tibbetts is household name by October, Democrats will be in deep trouble. If we -- if we can be blocked by Manafort, Cohen, et cetera, then GOP could lose House badly. That's it. That's an admission that is kind of a talking point, don't you think.

CUOMO: It's 100 percent. I mean, look, it's more proof of the obvious, my brother, people want to divide.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: You know where I am on that. Diversity is the strength of this place. Our unity, our interdependence, our interconnectedness, has always won out. They have to be careful about that.

LEMON: I do know that. You live it. You had a great show. I'll see you tomorrow. You're in tomorrow, right?

CUOMO: Yes, sir. LEMON: I'll see you tomorrow. Thank you, Chris.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

The White House is reeling in the wake of what may have been the worst day of the Trump presidency so far. OK? Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in a Virginia jail tonight awaiting sentencing on eight counts of financial crimes that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

"The New York Times" is reporting tonight that the president and Rudy Giuliani have discussed the potential fallout of a Manafort pardon. More on that in a moment. You want to stay tuned.

And it comes as Michael Cohen, Trump's former fixer and keeper of secrets, is out on a half million dollars bond after his guilty plea on eight charges including two about breaking campaign finance laws. Breaking campaign finance laws. Keep that in mind. It's important. And the president is desperately trying to spin that. But what he says is absolute nonsense.

I want you to listen to how he answered when he was asked today whether he knew about payments meant to silence Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal who both claim they had affairs with Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Later on, I knew. Later on. But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did, and they weren't taken out of campaign finance, that's a big thing. That's a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn't come out of the campaign. They came from me. It's not even a campaign violation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: What the president appears to be claiming there is completely untrue, which would mean it was false and a lie. You can't duck campaign finance laws simply by paying out of your own pocket. That's a crime.

A crime that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to yesterday. A crime Cohen says he committed at the direction of Donald Trump.

Here's what he said in if court yesterday. And I quote, "On or about the summer of 2016, in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office, I and the CEO of a media company at the request of the candidate worked together to keep an individual with information that would be harmful to the candidate and to the campaign from publicly disclosing this information."

So Michael Cohen is referring there to paying for the rights to Karen McDougal's story. And there's more. This is a quote. "On or about October of 2016, in coordination with and at the direction of the same candidate, I arranged to make a payment to a second individual with information that would be harmful to the candidate and to the campaign to keep the individual from disclosing the information."

That's a reference to the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. And if that is not clear enough, there's this. The judge asking, quote, "Mr. Cohen, when you took all of these acts that I, that you have described, did you know that what you were doing was wrong and illegal?" Cohen answering, "yes, your honor."

And as to the president's claim that he only knew about the payments later on, his own words prove that that's a lie.

[22:05:00] Listen to Trump and Michael l Cohen discussing payment to silence Karen McDougal.

(BEGIN VOICE CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Correct. So I'm all over that. And I spoke to Alan about it. When it comes time to the financing which will be--

TRUMP: Listen, what financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay--

TRUMP: Pay with cash.

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

TRUMP: With check.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: But I didn't know beforehand even though I discussed with my attorney and fixer beforehand. Confronted with the fact that Trump is heard on tape discussing the payment before it was made, Sarah Sanders simply refused to answer the question from CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: In his interview today the president said he found out about those payments Michael Cohen made later on, but he's on tape discussing how to make one of the payments with Michael Cohen. So before the payment was made. So how do you explain that?

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Once again, I've commented on this pretty extensively. What I can tell you about this is that the president did nothing wrong, there are no charges against him, there is no collusion. For anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president's outside counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Didn't he just say he didn't know about it them there's a tape of him during, before it happened, discussing it? OK.

Again, Michael Cohen is alleging that Trump committed a crime. And directing Cohen to pay to silence women who claim that they had affairs with Trump, paying them in order to influence the election. That is collusion.

Then you might think that Republican lawmakers would feel compelled to speak out in the face of all of this. Actually, it probably won't surprise you at all to hear that the response from the president's own party is pretty much this.

Crickets. Deafening silence. Nothing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell completely silent. Majority whip John Cornyn?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I don't know the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Don't know the facts. House Speaker Paul Ryan punting to his spokesperson who said, quote, "We need more information than is currently available at this point." And then there's this from the longest serving living senator, Orrin Hatch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Naturally, it makes you very concerned, but, you know, the president shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of people that he's trusted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Again, the point here is that Michael Cohen in his allocution said that Donald Trump directed him to make the illegal payments. We can and should hold the president responsible for that. It may not be much of a surprise, though, that Republicans don't want to do that, but the president has got to be wondering tonight what will happen if a blue wave crashes over Capitol Hill come November?

Let's discuss. I want to bring in now CNN White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, who asked that question. She's with us. Also Jonathan Chait of the "New York Magazine, "and also Susan Hennessey, CNN national security and legal analyst. Good evening to all of you.

Kaitlan, you were there today. You asked the question to Sarah Sanders. What's the mood inside the White House tonight?

COLLINS: Well, Don, you saw it their best, the White House is having a lot of trouble mounting a defense in response to the claims made by Michael Cohen. Essentially saying what they said in the past, that the president did nothing wrong, these charges aren't against him and then saying there is no collusion even though that's unrelated to what Michael Cohen said when he was in a New York courtroom yesterday.

So we're seeing a lot of struggle here on behalf of the White House, but a lot of that comes because of things the own president have said in the past to his press secretaries including Sarah Sanders, like when he told her he had no knowledge of those payments about Stormy Daniels. Something that she said definitively from the podium here in March, citing a conversation that she had with the president.

And then, of course, we found out later on from Rudy Giuliani that the president did, in fact, know about it.

But, Don, what we know is that the mood inside this West Wing, it goes two ways, a, we know the president is in a bad mood. He doesn't like that this happened. He wasn't expecting Michael Cohen to make that statement in court yesterday.

And his lead attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is currently out of the country. That's something that's irking the president. But then as far as those who work here in the West Wing, they don't know how to react to this because, of course, they don't know what the president says is correct or if he's right when he says he didn't direct Michael Cohen to make those payments.

But also, they've weathered storms like this before. Back with Rob Porter in the security clearances. With the Trump tower meeting. With the Stormy Daniels payment revelations. They don't know if this is a story that's going to be the one that breaks the camel's back, so they're kind of sitting back waiting to see what it is that's going to happen here.

[22:09:59] LEMON: Let's bring Jonathan Chait in. Jonathan, after denying knowledge of this hush money, these hush money payments in April, President Trump now says he did know about them.

I can't keep it straight. Whether he knew or didn't know, but he didn't know about them then added later on. Did he do himself any favors today?

JONATHAN CHAIT, WRITER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: No, because his admission was actually a confession. He tried to say, well, it only would have mattered if the much came out of the campaign but he actually got it totally backwards.

The problem, the violation, was that he took the money from the Trump organization and donated it to the campaign. That's the illegally and he just misdescribed the law, so I think he thinks he was doing himself a favor, but he was actually hurting himself.

LEMON: Yes. Susan, so, by saying on Fox, by the way, that he knew about the payments, is he creating even more legal problems for himself?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I think potentially he is. Look, at this point, you know, the question of whether or not the president didn't know, I think it's sort of -- it strains belief, right, not only was Michael Cohen willing to say this under oath, you know, he has tapes that essentially corroborate his account.

It's also significant that prosecutors allowed him to say this in court during his allocution. You know, prosecutors would not and could not have allowed Michael Cohen to make the statement which they would have coordinated in advance unless they had reason to believe that it was true.

You know, so the notion -- the notion here that we're not sure whether or not the president was aware or not, you know, I think it's relatively apparent at this point.

You know, to the point that Jonathan made, I do think that the president may have gotten himself into additional legal trouble in that interview today. He appears to be confused about the law. He's emphasizing that campaign funds were not used for these payments.

However, if campaign funds were used, he actually might have been OK. So long as they were reported. The actual violation here is that a private individual and a corporation made illegal campaign funds, so once again, I don't know if he's relying on bad legal counsel or he simply doesn't understand what they've explained to him, but I don't think he's doing himself any favors at all.

LEMON: I'm seeing head nods in agreement from both Jonathan and Kaitlan. But Susan let me ask you this follow up question here. Because I want -- this is a new report by "The New York Times" , all right?

This report says that Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have discussed the potential political repercussions of pardoning Paul Manafort. Giuliani tells the Times that Trump thinks Manafort has been horribly treated. What are your thoughts on this one?

HENNESSEY: So we know that President Trump is enamored with the pardon power. This is one of those powers in which Trump does get to act like a king, he's sort of above the law. This is his exclusive power.

I think he is concerned about Paul Manafort cooperating from this point forward. That verdict was just sort of the beginning for Manafort. He's facing an entirely different trial that's coming up here in Washington, D.C., in September.

You know, and I think what we're seeing through these statements is Trump sort of testing the waters. Seeing if he can talk about Manafort in sympathetic terms, what kind of pushback he's going to get from congressional Republicans essentially to see whether or not he's going to get away with it.

Now what we've seen in response has been pretty much nothing. You know, some sort of tease, teasing and shrugs from Republicans but they really are not drawing firm lines around, you know, the question of Trump pardoning individuals who are directly implicated in this investigation.

LEMON: I have to tell you, everyone is trying to figure it out. Because the Times is reporting that, no, they're not going to do it. Yes, you know, they talked about it but he's not considering it. But he told Ainsley Earhardt of Fox, well, there's a possibility.

So there is a disconnect there, Kaitlan, with the reporting on this. COLLINS: There is. That's what Rudy Giuliani says. His one account of

this. And then it's clear here's what the president is saying during an interview on the White House grounds today.

And of course, that also comes after Sarah Sanders in the briefing room today said there had been no discussion that she was aware of if a potential pardon for Paul Manafort here.

Of course, the president, himself, all you have to do is look at his Twitter feed, he's signaling that he could potentially pardon him. Essentially saying that he wasn't treated fairly by the justice system even though Paul Manafort got a jury, yes, a trial by a jury of his peers, and even his own attorneys said they felt that was a fair trial that he received over the last few weeks.

But the president is doubting the justice system today and signaling to Paul Manafort saying that at least he didn't break calling him a brave man. Obviously a stark contrast to what he thinks Michael Cohen has done.

But it does, Don, go to show you what the president is saying to his own staff including Sarah Sanders, that no, he's never considered pardoning Paul Manafort. What he's saying to his legal team, his lead attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and what he is saying to a cable news host about potentially pardoning his former campaign chairman.

LEMON: Boy. All right.

CHAIT: Can I add a point to this?

LEMON: Yes, quickly because I want to get to Michael Cohen. There's new information. Go ahead, Jonathan.

CHAIT: The big point -- the big point is it's wildly improper for the president to be floating a pardon of someone who could be testifying against his own criminal involvement.

[22:15:03] LEMON: Right. Right. Right.

CHAIT: Go on.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

CHAIT: That was never considered a proper use of presidential power.

LEMON: All right. So let's talk about this because when last we heard of the president speaking of Michael Cohen it was a flippant tweet this morning saying, you know, if you want to hire -- and I'm paraphrasing here, a competent attorney, don't hire Michael Cohen.

Have you, surprising that you would hear the president of the United States or see the president of the United States tweet something like that. But tonight, he is speaking about his relationship with Michael Cohen. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you considering pardoning Paul Manafort?

TRUMP: I have great respect for what he's done in terms of what he's gone through. You know, he worked for Ronald Reagan for years. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked, I guess his firm worked for McCain. He worked for many, many people. Many, many years.

And I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does. If you look at Hillary Clinton's person, you take a look at the people that work for Hillary Clinton, look at the crimes that Clinton did. With the e-mails and she deletes 33,000 e-mails after she gets a subpoena from Congress and this Justice Department does nothing about it? And all of the other crimes that they've done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: OK. So that was about Paul Manafort. We have the Michael Cohen. That deserves -- so much fact checking in that I don't have three hours to do when it comes to the 33,000 e-mails and the crimes that have already been discussed.

There were hearings held on all of this stuff. Hillary Clinton is the president in his head. And probably in the head of the folks who work for Fox News. But he's talking about Manafort.

And by him saying, Susan, that it's something every lobbyist in Washington has done, that's not true, either.

HENNESSEY: I think it's not true and there has been some confusion about sort of the scope of FARA enforcement, Foreign Agents Registration Act enforcement.

But you know, look, this is a man who stood up in front of the United States of America and swore an oath to take care that the laws be faithfully executed and now we have him in an interview, one, implying that breaking the law is not a big deal, it's something that everybody does and shouldn't be held responsible for it.

At the same time, we have him tweeting, actually praising someone for failing to cooperate and provide information with federal investigators. So, you know, just the brazen breach of the oath of office, it really is stunning to see something like this unfolding sort of in plain view.

LEMON: Did you want to say something about that, Jonathan?

CHAIT: No, I think she hit the nail on the head. Paul Manafort was much worse than other lobbyists and the main point is that he was working for Russia. He was working to advance Russian interests in other countries. He did it in Ukraine, he did it in other Soviet republics and it seems like he did the same thing in the United States. LEMON: So why this obsession with Hillary Clinton and her e-mails,

Kaitlan? I mean, I guess it's a strategy on his part and on the part of his supporters because every time there's something wrong that's not explainable, that hurts the president, Hillary, e-mails, Obama. Like, it's reflexive.

COLLINS: Truly, and it's not just a defense tactic for the president. He truly believes that Hillary Clinton has not been prosecuted in the way that she should. You see there at the end of that clip, he's saying this Justice Department.

He's referring to his own Justice Department with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions who the president handpicked, same with Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, Chris Wray, director, all these people are the people the president picked to run the justice system here in Washington. His justice system that he's in charge of.

But that goes back to all of his anger. He can only focus on that. The Jeff Sessions recusal which is one of the things that irritated the president the most the entire time he's been in office since last March when Jeff Sessions first recused himself. That's something he zeroed in on.

And then as the scrutiny heightened around the president, his aides, his former aides including Paul Manafort, his former allies including Michael Cohen, the more that that is in the news and the headlines, the more he thinks about Hillary Clinton and what she did and wants that the to be equally looked at and scrutinized as he is.

Of course, he's the one who is the president, not Hillary Clinton. He's the one occupying the White House right here behind me. But the president doesn't seem to grasp that.

He seems to think Hillary Clinton should be treated the exact same way that he is and she's guilty of the same things that anyone he's associated with has been as well. So you see that because the president doesn't like the scrutiny on him that he's getting from the Justice Department.

LEMON: Yes.

COLLINS: It's just something that has really consumed the president the entire time he's been in office, Don.

LEMON: OK. So, listen, I love having just the facts on this show. I promise the viewers, we'll give you just the facts. OK?

[22:20:00] Clinton staff received -- this is a PolitiFact. This is one of the fact checks. And if you read the fact checks, viewers, you will know what I'm talking about.

Clinton staff received a subpoena for Benghazi-related e-mails March 4th. An employee managing her server deleted 33,000 of Clinton's e- mails three weeks later.

The FBI found no evidence that the e-mails were deleted deliberately to avoid the subpoena or other request. Clinton's team requested for the e-mails to be deleted months before the subpoena came. They also argue that all the e-mails that would be relevant to the subpoena had already been turned over to the State Department.

So, there you go. Read it for yourself if you don't believe me. Use your Google machines. Thank you, all. I appreciate it. We will be back. We're going to talk about the president's relationship with Michael Cohen, among other things. David Axelrod is here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So here's the breaking news, President Trump speaking out tonight about his former fixer and keeper of secrets, Michael Cohen.

Let's discuss now, CNN Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod is here. David, good evening to you. We're getting something new in on the president talking about Michael Cohen. His relationship with his former attorney. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EARHARDT: Michael Cohen, tell me about your relationship with him.

TRUMP: Well, he was a lawyer for me for one of many, many, you know, they always say the lawyer and then they like to add, the fixer. Well, I don't know if he was a fixer. I don't know where that term came from, but he's been a lawyer for me. Didn't do big deals. Did small deals. Not somebody that was with me that much.

[22:25:00] You know, they make it sound like I didn't live with without him. I understood Michael Cohen very well. He -- what turned out, he wasn't a very good lawyer, frankly. But he was somebody that was probably with me for about 10 years and I would see him sometimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Why would he have a not very good lawyer working for him for 10 years?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a very good question, don, especially a guy who says he only gets the best and the brightest around him.

And of course, the reason he had him around was to handle assignments like the assignment of trying to get Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to step down. To stay silent.

I mean, that's the kind of assignment that Michael Cohen took up for the president. So he knows very well why he had Michael Cohen around and the kinds of things that he assigned to him.

LEMON: Yes. So, will you answer me this, David, you worked in the Obama administration, you've seen what it's like inside the White House on a day-to-day basis in times of crisis.

AXELROD: Yes. LEMON: What do you think it's like inside the White House right now?

AXELROD: Well, let me just qualify this by saying I don't think there's any -- there's ever been a White House quite like this White House. Maybe the Nixon White House at the end, but, you know, this is -- this is like nothing -- this is sui generis, OK.

But you know, when things happened, we never had ethical scandals like this but you certainly have events that happened, crises around the world or things like that. And you feel like its water is flowing in from everywhere. You feel like you're under siege.

And I can only imagine what they feel like in the White House now that they've had plenty of practice over the last couple of years. But it seems like this has reached a different kind of inflection point.

And, you know, I think it's interesting to watch Sarah Sanders try and parry these questions because there's no way to justify this set of facts and it's almost as if she's given up trying.

LEMON: Yes.

AXELROD: She just dismisses the questions and moves on partly because I think she's been burned so many times by asserting things that turned out not to be true.

LEMON: Yes. Well, you mentioned the unique nature of this administration, but, and the -- as I said in my open, David, the silence is deafening coming from Republicans, from lawmakers in Washington on the Republican side. Is this president going to pay any immediate political price for being implicated in a crime?

AXELROD: Well, I think that the immediate political price that he may pay will come in November at the polls. You know, I think his base is his base. I think when he said, I can stand on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and my people will still stick with me, I think that that was about right.

And he has a political base that is an implacable base. But the people who are going to decide this election in November are largely independent voters, people who don't have this kind of cult-like fascination with Donald Trump but might be open to voting for Republicans.

I think that he has placed a heavy load on the wagon of every Republican who's running in any of these swing districts. I have to believe that there's an enormous amount of concern about it and you will see, I think, in some of those districts some Republicans speaking out.

But the bulk of those Republicans in Congress they run in districts that are only -- that are dominated by one party, by the Republican Party, and they feel the president's power within that base and so they're reluctant to -- they're reluctant to speak out.

LEMON: It's always -- what's been perplexing to me is that he stands by and people stand by, at least supporters, can shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue as if that's some sort of badge of honor. Can you imagine being a supporter of someone and them saying that? Yes, you know, I would someone on 5th Avenue and you would stand by it. That would be insulting to me.

AXELROD: Don?

LEMON: Like, do you think I'm that stupid?

AXELROD: Yes, you know, I agree with that, although I think he's proven himself -- he's proven right about -- about that. But I just want to harken, I'm old enough to have remember -- to remember the Watergate days, Don. And you know, I don't know -- some of your viewers will remember how that ended. It ended because senior Republicans walked down to the White House and told the president it was over.

LEMON: Get out.

AXELROD: After he was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

LEMON: Yes.

AXELROD: And he did.

LEMON: Yes.

AXELROD: Now that was before the days of Fox News and social media and Breitbart and, you know, Hannity, and this kind of -- the sort of silos that we live in today, but, you know, you do -- you would like to see people stand up at some point and take a position on this because, you know, this is -- this is a major five-alarm constitutional crisis at this point.

(CROSSTALK)

[22:30:01] LEMON: It's huge. I got to play this from Fox News. But just to finish my point, is that, just that, he's basically saying to you, if you're listening and you're a supporter and you stand by on Fifth Avenue, that that he can tell you anything and you'll buy it. He can do anything and you'll buy it. That is an insult.

That's not respect when someone says I can do whatever, break the law, kill somebody, and you're still going to like me? I don't -- most rational people, no.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: Don, there's something -- go ahead. I am sorry.

LEMON: That's OK. Because I want to play this for you before we run out of time, OK. If you have time, we can respond. But this is a bit of the President's interview with Fox that's going to air in full tomorrow morning, where he suggests that President Obama also committed a campaign finance violation. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation, but he had a different attorney general, and they viewed it a lot different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: OK. So what do you think?

AXELROD: There were -- the Obama campaign had technical violations in 2008, for which they paid a $360,000 fine. They did not ask a -- they did not pay -- essentially pay up hush money to keep women from speaking out in a way that might damage the campaign. There's no corollary here. This is the difference between a parking ticket and a fundamental crime.

And to compare the two, I mean, but this moral relativism is what he does. Everybody does what Manafort did. No, everybody doesn't do what Manafort did. He was involved in bank fraud, and tax evasion, millions of dollars that he made working for a Russian apparatchik in Ukraine and then hid the money. He says everybody does what he did with Michael Cohen in this case.

That is not true. It is not true that everybody meets with Russians to get dirt on their opponent. That is not true, OK? And so when he says that, he's offensive to the facts, and to the truth, and to what all of us who've been involved if politics all of these years and in government know to be the truth.

LEMON: Yeah.

AXELROD: And so that is his out card, and his supporters do apparently accept that or some of them do. That is the line that's being pounded over there on Fox tonight. But there is truth and there are facts, and he's on the wrong side of them.

LEMON: But, you know, the thing you said, there was a clerical error and the Obama administration, not the administration, the campaign...

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: The campaign.

LEMON: But the amount was so high -- is because the number -- the amount of money they had received...

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: Millions of contributions.

LEMON: Guess what happened in November of 2016, the FEC hit the Trump campaign with 1,100 errors totaling roughly $1.3 million, similar?

AXELROD: Don, here's an important point. I know we have to go out. But the guy who was on the FEC at the time who he can talk to about this when the Obama fines were levied was Don McGahn, who is now his White House counsel. These matters weren't referred to law enforcement because they were technical violations that are common in campaigns.

LEMON: Yeah. We have more later in the show. Thank you, David. I appreciate it. Thanks for bringing the facts and the truth. We'll see you next time. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:35:00] LEMON: Republican leaders on Capitol Hill largely silent today on the convictions of Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, and what it could all mean for President Trump. So let's talk about it with CNN's Senior Political Analyst, David Gergen, who was an Adviser to four Presidents, and Mark McKinnon, the Executive of Producer of Showtime's The Circus, who is a former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain.

Hello to both of you. Mark, good to see you, I haven't seen you in a while. David, I see you all the time, and we love having you. So I'll start with you, David. Once again, the most vocal Republicans are the ones who are leaving office, David. Senator Orrin Hatch saying these are serious charges and they can't be ignored.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, good for him. I've known Orrin Hatch for decades and have high regard for him, and the fact he's starting to speak up I think is good. But the overall general Republican response of this has been extraordinarily weak. It's been very conscious. Some would say cowardly. And I think unless they wake up and smell the coffee. They're going to face massive losses in the political elections to come.

It's worth remembering, as Republicans what happened after Watergate. You know President Nixon left office that August of 1974 after some Republicans had stood up like Howard Baker, told him (Inaudible) he had to leave. But for a long time, the Republican Party was cautious then. Before, some people started waking up and what happened in the midterm elections after Nixon left just a few months later.

The Democrats picked up 49 seats in the House and won 5 Senate seats. They went on to win the general election with Jimmy Carter in 1980. So they paid a fearsome price -- I am sorry, in 1976, and they paid a fearsome price as a party. And this is going to hurt the party enormously, especially among millennials and women and minorities unless they address it more forcefully soon.

LEMON: Mark Mckinnon, several top Republicans did try their best to avoid the questions today. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All we know about it is that he's pled guilty, and everything else that you're asking me is speculation. And I don't think I should be speculating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know enough about it to, again, the process is just beginning, and I think we ought to let it... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Naturally, it makes you very concerned, but, you

know, the President shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of people that he trusted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Cohen's credibility's going to be challenged is my best guess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, Mark is Republican silence on these serious allegations at their peril, you think?

MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, SHOWTIME'S THE CIRCUS: Certainly so, and it's not going to hold as this evidence mounts, and there's going to be a lot more between now and election day in terms of what we know has happened. We're beginning to see some cracks in the Republican wall. Among even some of the Congressional folks like Tom Cole from Oklahoma, who used to run the Congressional committee as a pollster, very smart guy.

He's speaking up and advising other candidates that they need to speak up. What's happening now is that the Democrats are getting a clear and compelling message now about a culture of corruption. Not impeachment, a culture of corruption. The President's campaign manager, his deputy campaign manager, his national security adviser, his personal lawyer, and now have all either -- are either convicted or admitted felons.

So that's a powerful weapon for the Democrats. If I could just read you a very interesting statement by Trump right before the election last time. He said, a vote for Hillary is a vote to surrender our government to public corruption, graph and cronyism that threatens the very foundations of our constitutional system.

What makes us exceptional is that we are a nation of laws. Public corruption is a grave and profound threat to our democracy. Government corruption spreads outward like a cancer and infects the operation of government itself. If the corruption is not removed, then the people are not able to have faith in their government. That was Donald Trump. So it's coming back on him.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: What you said.

MCKINNON: And that's, again -- yeah. So that's a problem.

LEMON: Yeah. That is -- that is a problem. Do you think, David, that any Republican members of Congress -- I mean, seriously. Do you think that they will be frank with this President and tell him how bad his position really is?

[22:39:49] GERGEN: I think the numbers start to crumble for him, especially with his base. But let's say the overall approval rating and you see the gap widening for the midterms, preferences for the midterms. I think at that point, yes, there will be conversations of a more serious nature. But I think they'll be quite hidden.

I think what the Republicans really have to do, Don, is take it upon themselves in Congress to take some action. First and foremost, they ought to pass, you know, a bill which protects the Special Counsel. I mean this is ludicrous to leave him hanging out there.

LEMON: Right.

AXELROD: They ought to pass a resolution urging the President to be cautious about pardons, instead of dangling pardons (Inaudible) in the Fox interview with regard to Manafort. They ought to urge the President to go testify himself. Do this in a clean way and the Republican Party can survive it. But if they don't get their heads up, and it is right for the country, I mean they owe it to the country to be tougher on this.

LEMON: The -- David, yes. But, Mark, will that ever happen? And listen, I agree. Something should be done. But do you think that will ever happen, Mark?

MCKINNON: Well, no. I don't think it's going to happen. In fact, you know, Elizabeth Warren is the one that's filing that kind of legislation, which is a smart move on her part. But David's right. I mean there's a reason that David worked for four Presidents. That's good advice.

LEMON: It is.

MCKINNON: Get out in front of what's happening.

LEMON: Right.

MCKINNON: The ship is about to hit the iceberg. You know throw some missiles at the ice and some reform packages about protecting the Special Counsel like he suggested. Some of the stuff Elizabeth Warren has talked about, frankly, that tax reform, you know, candidates for President should have to disclose their taxes. That sort of thing should be, I think, the sort of thing the Republicans who are normally reformers in those sort of financial things should be out front, not leading from behind.

LEMON: Before you said iceberg, I thought you said something else. If you had said, hit the fan, I would be like, whoa, wait, what kind of show are we on here? Thank you, gentlemen, I appreciate it. We'll be right back.

MCKINNON: The iceberg is hitting the fan.

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[22:45:00] LEMON: President Trump backed into a corner tonight in the wake of the plea deal from the former attorney, Michael Cohen, or at least the guilty plea. And the conviction of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Let's discuss now. CNN Contributor, Frank Bruni is here of "The New York Times," and also CNN Contributor, Michael D'Antonio, author of "The Truth About Trump." Good evening. I said the reason I (Inaudible) some deal thing is

because Lanny Davis says there is no deal. He didn't make a deal. He pled guilty, and the only agreement is that he wants to tell the truth and wants to correct the record. So that's what he said. There is no deal. So Sarah Sanders today saying, well, someone who makes a plea deal. There's no plea deal.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No.

LEMON: Not bargaining with anyone.

D'ANTONIO: Well, I spoke with a lawyer today who's represented a lot of organized crime figures. And there's a good analogy here. I think that prosecutors are looking at the Trump organization as an organized crime operation. And there's a lot of speculation that the meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian attorney was likely bugged. Someone could have entered that meeting wearing a wire.

LEMON: Wow.

D'ANTONIO: So why would anyone need Cohen's cooperation on this? This is -- there's no deal left to be made because they have all the proof they need.

LEMON: I just want to get the reaction to something, Frank that they said, OK? As what I said, Lanny Davis says as of today there is no plea deal. Michael agreed to plead guilty to the charges until the truth to whoever asks. There have been no discussions thus far about lenient sentences or anything else. The only deal is Michael Cohen's decision to take responsibility, accept punishment, and tell the truth to everyone who wants to hear.

What Sarah Sanders said was false, and then he said I challenge her to come on your show with you, Don. And I would say to her we're not at the White House podium. We're on Don Lemon's show, where we have to tell the truth. So what do you know or what are you guessing? There is a difference. What do you say to that?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I want to say...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: That was on the record. Lanny told me I could use that.

BRUNI: Well, first of all, I mean Sarah Sanders, at this point, is saying so many ridiculous things that I wonder why we even talk about her. And I know that sounds terribly disrespectful. But I also - I've also talked to you about this. I wonder why people are even going to briefings anymore, because what she's saying from that podium is so irrelevant, you know, and it's all diversionary and all that.

But when it comes to Lanny Davis, there is no plea deal, but he is sending a thousand signals that Michael Cohen knows things that might be very useful to Robert Mueller. And so that chapter of this isn't over. I mean I get the impression, listening to Lanny Davis as he goes around town, and I get the impression kind of reading the tea leaves that there may be something Michael Cohen wants to talk to Robert Mueller about that it maybe of use.

And there some conversations that have taken place that we don't know about, that aren't formalized in the manner of a plea deal. But they do suggest there might be some trades to be made here.

LEMON: Speaking of conversations that we don't know about. There is also Omarosa who apparently recorded a lot of them. We'll discuss that when we come back.

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[22:50:00] LEMON: Frank Bruni and Michael D'Antonio, both back with me, so much to discuss. So it's not just Michael Cohen, right, who has had the recording. It was Omarosa who released several secret recordings, said to me had hundreds. James Comey took detailed notes of their private interactions. What is about -- he demands loyalty, but what it is about it him that people want to record and take notes, because what?

D'ANTONIO: Because he's a relentlessly predatory creature. He consumes everybody and exploits every situation to its maximum for himself. Nobody trusts him. If you learn to not trust someone and you're engaged with someone who is paranoid, you become paranoid yourself, so you record everything.

BRUNI: Donald Trump sows paranoia the way a preacher sews piety, you know. I mean you get near him. You see that he has no loyalty. You see that he's not steady. He's a relentless opportunist who surrounds himself with mirrors of himself, which means relentless opportunists. And thus, you have this sort of snake pit in which nobody trusts anybody, and recordings are the kind of evidence.

LEMON: This is John O'Donnell, was the President at the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino back in the 1980s. He told the Washington Post about the discussions at Trump (Inaudible). He said talking on the phone with Donald was a public experience. You never knew who else was listening. It all stems from (Inaudible).

D'ANTONIO: He's done to it me. I've been in his presence, and he's pressed the button. And I've heard people talking on the other end. Everything is for display with Donald Trump. And I think that this is what Omarosa and Michael Cohen were conscious of. And now they're the first two members of the cult to flee, and they're dangerous to him.

LEMON: Yeah. He's already so -- do you remember when Michael Cohen was a great man, his attorney. He claims they went in and raided whatever, and Michael Cohen said no. They didn't. They were very respectful, excuse me. But now he is disavowing Michael Cohen and just sidelining him like, oh, well, you know. He was kind of this sideline guy. No, Michael Cohen worked for him for a decade and was one of his closest allies in business.

BRUNI: No. And you're right. And I remember as you were saying that, I was flashing back to that -- remember that cabinet meeting, and he faced the camera. The raid had just happened. And he talked about it as an attack on America. I think he used those very words. He was so offended on Michael Cohen's behalf, because Michael Cohen was such a principled good man, that this was evidence, you know, of a Justice Department and a deep state gone mad.

Now Michael Cohen is like, don't hire him as a lawyer. He won't serve you very well.

LEMON: How do you, with a straight face, him and Sarah Sanders both get out there and say, the President didn't know anything about -- someone asks you about well, there is a tape of him speaking to Michael Cohen about the payments. Yet, he said he didn't know in advance about the payments.

[22:55:09] And then if someone asks if the President is lying or not, how can you, with a straight face, either not answer it or say no, he wasn't.

D'ANTONIO: Look. By this time, I think everyone who enters the White House in the morning to work, checks their dignity at the door. They check their sense of -- common sense. They check their pride. And they're now working in -- for a President who has lied more than 4,000 times. It is a lying shop. This is their product, deception.

BRUNI: I think at this point it's gone beyond, you know -- I used to say lying for Trump and the people around him reflects it. At this point, it is autonomic. It's like breathing. They open their mouths and it comes out, because they're constantly on the defensive. They're running away from the truth because the truth is going to slay them.

LEMON: Even Maggie Haberman was talking about the difference and, you know, she was tweeting about how this is different. This is even -- it appears his behavior is different and maybe even worse than after the Access Hollywood tape. Some have said they believe that, you know, this is the beginning of the end. Do you believe that?

D'ANTONIO: I do, but, you know, when you look back at what happened with Watergate, there were almost two years that passed between the first news of the break-in and Nixon's departure. I expect Trump to depart. I don't think that he's going to serve four years. I imagine that he's going to tell us that we don't deserve him.

He's going to say it is all very unfair, stamp his feet, and depart, and the country maybe all the better for it.

LEMON: Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Frank. Guess who is up next, someone who knows ball Watergate, Dan Rather. We'll be right back.

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