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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Trump Changes Story On Payments As Cohen Drops Bombshell; W.H.: Trump Isn't Concerned About Cohen Despite Guilty Plea; GOP Lawmakers Try To Avoid About Cohen, Manafort. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Alex, thanks very much for that report. That's it. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room." "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT "starts right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Out front next, President Trump comes out swinging with a new defense that defies the facts. Is Trump his own worst enemy?

And even the President's allies think the Cohen allegations are damaging to Trump's presidency. Trump's former Adviser Michael Caputo is one of them and is my guest tonight.

Plus, new details about just how closely the National Enquirer worked with Trump's campaign to squelch bad stories. And it wasn't just Michael Cohen working with the tabloid, who were the others in the campaign that were involved. Let's go out front.

Good evening, I'm Poppy Harlow in tonight for Erin Burnett. Out front tonight, President Trump not letting the facts get in the way of his defense. The President admitting today he knew about the hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, payments made in the days and months leading up to the election, payments that central to the charges against Michael Cohen. Here's the President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you know about the payments?

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: The President's explanation today directly contradicts what Trump himself said on board Air Force One on April 5th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

TRUMP: No, no. What else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did Michael Cohen make this if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney, and you will have to ask Michael Cohen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Trump's statement today is also completely inconsistent with the fact that the President was recorded on tape with Michael Cohen discussing whether to buy the rights to McDougal's story of an alleged affair. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: When it comes time to the financing which will be --

TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?

COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay him something.

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) pay with cash.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Yet despite the tapes, the White House still claims Trump did nothing wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So how can you not explain something the President said today, on the grounds at the White House, that seems to contradict an audio that has been confirmed that it is of the President saying that.

SANDERS: Once again, I have addressed this a number of times. Just because you continue to ask the same questions over and over, I'm not going to give you a different answer. The President has done nothing wrong, there are no charges against him. There is no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: He did nothing wrong. This was a line repeated seven times today during that White House briefing. Abby Phillip is out front tonight at the White House. And Abby, what is the President's strategy at this point?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Poppy. Not a whole lot of answers from Sarah Sanders as you just pointed out in that briefing today. And from the President, we have a lot of misleading statements as well. The White House strategy right now has really centered on discrediting one person and that's Michael Cohen.

According to our sources, they are going to say that Michael Cohen can't be trusted to give the fact that he can't be trusted as a witness, and anything that he has to say about President Trump. But of course you also have President Trump mischaracterizing the charges against Cohen. He said in that interview today that what Cohen did was not a crime. He claimed that if it didn't come from the campaign, it also wasn't a crime, and he also compared it to President Obama, facing fines for his campaign making some reporting errors in the 2012 race. Those cases are very different. President Obama has never been accused of intentionally concealing campaign contributions for the purpose of concealing information that could damage him in the election.

Now, meanwhile, President Trump could face some huge problems from Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen has pled guilty and he has committed to giving something of value to prosecutors, otherwise they would not have accepted his plea deal. So it's unclear what exactly that is but it's also is clear that Michael Cohen remains a problem for this White House and they are struggling to answer questions about what the President knew and when, and why he acted the way that he did, Poppy.

HARLOW: And that question, what did you know, and when did you know it, is a key question in situations likes this. As history has taught us. Thank you. Abby, I appreciate it.

With us now, John Dean, former Nixon White House Counsel, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, New York Times Reporter for the White House, and David Gergen, former Presidential Adviser to four administrations. Nice to have you all. John Dean, let me begin with you. You heard the President out there trying to defend himself today. Did he do himself any favors?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Every time he opens his mouth he seems to conflict with a prior statement, so I don't think he did himself any favors.

[19:05:04] They have not developed a clear strategy or approach or answer or response to any of this. And it's reminiscent of other people in high places who've got themselves in trouble. But some of them kept a better message than Trump has.

HARLOW: David, to you, the defense from the President again and again is, you know, the payments didn't come out of the campaign. He said and I quote, they being the payments, came from me. If what he said on Fox is true, that statement, then at the very least he admitted to a payment that was not disclosed on the financial disclosure forms, which very well may be illegal, but how does the court of public opinion see it tonight?

DEAN: That's a really good question, Poppy, because the President now on the day after has doubled down and he is making an argument that you're hearing now on the right that Mark Levin for example on Hannity has been pushing, that Breitbart has been pushing, and that is that if the payment didn't come out of the campaign organization, there's no law broken. That is not what most lawyers believe. The widespread view, the conventional wisdom is it doesn't matter whether the money comes out of the campaign, it matters whether money is spent on the campaign.

HARLOW: Right.

DEAN: In this case, if you make a large payment, it has to be disclosed. Doesn't make a difference where it comes from. If it comes from Trump, Trump has to explain it or has to file. And what makes this a serious crime is not only that you do it but you do it with the intention to deceive, to -- and hold back for the purposes that are stated here and that is a crime which is a felony.

HARLOW: That's a conspiracy.

DEAN: And it's punishable for up to five years in prison. It's conspiracy and it's punishable by up to five years in jail. So it's a serious crime. And what the President and Mark Levin and others are trying to do is say, no, no, no, there was no real crime here, because it didn't come out of the campaign.

I think it's -- And if the President is able to sustain that argument with his base, he will, you know, work to discredit as he does every time, he work to discredit the whole charge. But I think if people understand the law and its complex to be sure --

HARLOW: Yes.

DEAN: -- but I think if people understand this is a felony, punishable up to five years, then it takes on a real meaning.

HARLOW: So Julie, I mean, you cover the White House day in, and day out, really 24 hours a day now which is the case. The White House is saying today again the President is not concerned by what more Cohen may have to say. Is that what you're hearing?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS; WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Not really. I mean, Sarah Sanders did say that at the lectern today, she didn't offer a lot of answers on questions we were asking, but that was one thing that she answered pretty definitively was, no, the President isn't concerned with what Michael Cohen has to say because he knows that he didn't do anything wrong. The fact is, people around President Trump and President Trump himself know that Michael Cohen worked for him for a long period of time. He saw a lot of things. Certainly, these payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal for sure, but a lot of other things that Trump did in private business and in his campaign as well. Let's not forget he had a very substantial role in President Trump's campaign, and he could if he is willing to cooperate as he seems to be tell Mueller and tell prosecutors a lot of things that would be of interest to them about President Trump, and Mr. Trump does not know what those things might be.

And he is facing this actually on two fronts. There's also the White House Counsel, Don McGahn, who we now know has cooperated extensively with Bob Mueller, he also has had a lot of access to what's gone on in the White House ever since the President was sworn in. And that's another place where the President just doesn't know what Don McGahn has told Bob Mueller, and so you have these two people in positions to know a lot, that could implicate the President potentially and they have no insight into what those men are willing to say.

HARLOW: I would say just the latest reporting on McGahn on the post is, you know, that he doesn't believe he said anything that would implicate the President or have negative consequences for the President. But look 30 hours of interview, that's significant.

John Dean back to you on the person you've been talking a lot to and that is Lanny Davis, Michael Cohen's Attorney. He's been reaching out to you. You two have been speaking, I think, just a few days ago even most recently. Here's his message to Mueller. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANNY DAVIS, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: I can tell you it's my observation that what he knows, that he witnessed will be of interest to the Special Counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: It may be of interest, John Dean, but the issue of credibility is one. Do you think that Mueller would consider Cohen a credible enough witness now? And on the flip side of that, there is no question, because there's no formal cooperation or plea at least that's been unsealed in terms of a deal here. Does Mueller even need Cohen?

[19:10:10] DEAN: Well, we don't know the answer to that. First of all, is he credible? I think a person who is telling the truth ultimately shines through that that is truth telling. It's hard to mess up a witness who is staying on the straight and narrow, and telling it the way it was. So that's the first thing.

Secondly, whether Mueller needs him or not, it's not clear. He was not deeply involved apparently in some phases of the Russian operation that they initially thought. He can obviously provide something that very few people can provide, and that is context in which this all happened. How did the Trump operation proceed? What did they do? What was standard operating procedure? This would help the prosecutor from a real insider. So, I wouldn't be surprised if indeed everything that Cohen is telling the Southern District is also going right to Mueller's office.

HARLOW: So, I mean, David Gergen, do you -- on Lanny Davis and about his credibility as the attorney for Michael Cohen, he's been all over the air waves in the last 24 hours, he had to correct a pretty big claim that he made on CNN and elsewhere. He told my colleague, John Berman, this morning on CNN this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVIS: Donald Trump's own lawyers are the best evidence. They stated in a letter to the Special Counsel that Donald Trump directed, that's the word they used, Michael Cohen to make these payments to hush up these two women.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: That's just not true because John Berman later after the show continued to press him for an answer and he admitted, David, to John there was no letter. He says he misremembered. In other words, no letter from Trump's lawyers admitting that Trump directed the payments. Any issues with his credibility at this point?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, I think they're clearly going to try to smear Lanny Davis here in the weeks ahead, you're going to hear a lot more about his relationship and friendship I think with both Clintons over time. And, you know, I'm sure things will be made of that by Trump and his followers. But I think one of the things that Lanny did which was smart was to admit right away he made a mistake.

HARLOW: Yes.

GERGEN: And you don't often see that coming out of the White House, I'm afraid. But it looks like, you know, what I'm intrigued about, and John Dean has been talking to him, he is delicately suggesting not only that Cohen knows a lot that he can give to Mueller but that he may have evidence that Trump knew in advance of the tower meeting. That would be very, very significant. We'll have to wait and see. But it looks to me increasingly we're going to have a Rudy Giuliani versus Lanny Davis fight out in the air waves.

HARLOW: Yes. I think you might be right about that. Julie, finally, today you were there in the briefing. And in the White House, Sarah Sanders was asked if the President lied to the American people, she said that is a quote, ridiculous accusation, OK? This for a president who The Washington Post fact checker says in his presidency has made false statements or misleading statements over 4200 times. Ridiculous accusation?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, certainly not in the context in which it was asked which as you pointed out earlier, we have video. I was on Air Force One the day that we asked about whether he was aware of this payment that Michael Cohen made to Stormy Daniels and he said no. And now he is, of course, he's changed that story, and he's completely changed his story several times on the context in which these payments were made, what his role was, and whether he knew about them. And so, of course, it's an obvious question to ask, whether the President lied to the American people about that, and it's pretty evident that he was not telling the truth there. So, I mean, she had no good answer she could give. It's in the public record that he misstated it or he willfully misrepresented it. So, it's not surprising that she said what she said, but it's a legitimate question, of course.

HARLOW: It is. Julie, thank you very much. David, thank you as well. John Dean, nice to have you all.

Out front next, the former top adviser to the President says the Cohen agreement is bad news for President Trump. Michael Caputo is my guest next.

Plus, leading Republicans go silent, pretty silent, mum, on the Cohen bombshell. How long can they dodge the cameras? And Duncan Hunter, the second Republican Congressman to be indicted in less than a month. His defense tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: This is the new Department of Justice. This is the Democrats' arm of law enforcement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:18:21] HARLOW: Tonight, the White House insisting that President Trump has no concerns about what his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen might say to the Special Counsel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the President feel betrayed by Michael Cohen? And is he concerned about what he might say to Robert Mueller?

SANDERS: I don't think the President is concerned at all. He knows that he did nothing wrong and that there was no collusion. And we're going to continue focusing on the things that Americans care about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: This is despite Cohen pleading guilty to eight charges including tax fraud and violating campaign finance laws to pay off women who claimed they have affairs with Trump. Cohen said under oath those payoffs were made at the President's direction.

Out front now, former Adviser to the Trump campaign, Michael Caputo. And Michael, good evening. Thank you for being with me.

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Hi, Poppy.

HARLOW: Hi, good to have you. You told Politico that Michael Cohen's statement yesterday is and I quote, probably the worst thing so far in the whole investigative stage of his presidency. Do you believe Sarah Sanders, that the President is not concerned at all about what Michael Cohen may share with Mueller?

CAPUTO: I'm not sure it's -- we're talking maybe about six of one, half a dozen of the other. I believe the President is watching. I believe nobody knows better than the President what knowledge he shares with Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen has implicated the President in a campaign finance law violation.

One that appears that the prosecution is going to throw it out like they did against Senator John Edwards in 2012 and it didn't end up well for the prosecution. Then I'm not quite sure they'll be able to stretch it to the President. But what I said in -- By what I said in Politico is this is as close as anything, any investigation has come to implicating the President.

[19:20:04] Of course, there is absolutely nothing to do with Russian collusion here. It is a campaign finance violation that we're about to dig into I think.

HARLOW: Do you think the President today Michael, did himself any favors, either with his tweets that were slamming Cohen and calling Manafort brave and praising him because he refused to, quote, break, or his explanation to Fox News, saying, look, nothing wrong here, nothing to see here, the payoff was my own money. Did he do himself any favors?

CAPUTO: I think the President spends time on Twitter trying to amplify his side of the story. And the media and a lot of people in the Democratic Party and Capitol Hill have been amplifying this whole idea that Michael Cohen is leading the President to his ruin. I don't think that's anything like that at all.

HARLOW: But what I'm asking, Michael, is -- I mean, the President put a lot of effort and energy into the tweets and into this interview with Fox. And what he said, his own words, did he help himself at all?

CAPUTO: I think he helped himself with his base. I think he is trying to hold together the support that he has today and the support he has gained through policies. I understand what you're saying. I'm not always in favor of every tweet the President sends. And the closer he gets to tweeting about the Mueller investigation, the more nervous it makes me. But at this point in time, if the President is confident that he shares no criminal information with Michael Cohen, I appreciate the fact that he wants to get it out there.

HARLOW: So Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah said something that struck me when I heard him speaking with Wolf. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's a mess. And look, I honestly don't know what to believe at this point.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: Is it a problem for the President to have members of his own party, Conservatives like Chris Stewart saying publicly they don't know if they can trust him any more.

CAPUTO: Well I don't know if that's exactly what the Representative said. But I do --

HARLOW: Let me read you the quote. It's a mess.

CAPUTO: OK.

HARLOW: It's a mess, and look, I honestly don't know what to believe at this point. He was asked about Cohen or Trump.

CAPUTO: Right. Understood. I get what you're saying. And I think that's it's going to be kind of a he said he said in this situation. It's going to be Michael Cohen who pled guilty to lying to investigators versus Donald Trump who many in the media believe is not honest with the American people.

HARLOW: No, the tapes prove it. He has lied. We heard it. Kaitlan Collins played that today. I mean, they both lied.

CAPUTO: I understand what you're saying, but this is not Donald Trump versus James Comey who has, you know, somewhat of a reputation for honesty at the Department of Justice. I don't believe he's an honest man. This is Donald Trump versus Michael Cohen. An entirely different kettle of fish here. And, you know, I'm not quite sure this is something that the White House should be panicking about, but I do know this, this is all they need for impeachment. If the Democrats take over the House during midterm elections, this, you know, indication coming out of the southern district of New York, this charge is enough for them to run an impeachment against the President, even in the first quarter.

HARLOW: It is interesting to listen to Democrats and Congress and Senate and the House today, you know, on with me and on with all of us all day, you know, not, you know, saying don't go so quickly towards impeachment, let's wait for the Mueller probe to play out. Let's wait for it to play out. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who is, you know, is a golf buddy of the President said today to McClatchy this, quote, too early to tell if Trump can be impeached. Concerning for you to hear that?

CAPUTO: I understand what you're saying. I have been kind of parting ways with some of the Republican consulting clients in Washington now for quite some time. I really believe that the vote that voters make on November 6th is going to boil down through if they vote for Republican, member of the House Representatives, they're going to vote against impeachment. And if they vote for Democratic members of the House of Representatives or, you know, a challenger, they're voting for impeachment. This is all about impeachment it always has been.

HARLOW: That's all it's about? CAPUTO: I think it always has been. And in fact, with this one charge that Cohen has made apparently at the President, we know that they have enough now to do it.

HARLOW: OK.

CAPUTO: So it's about impeachment in November.

HARLOW: I got to go. Quick yes or no to this. Is the President closer to impeachment today than he was 48 hours ago?

CAPUTO: I believe so. I believe we've got real problems in the House of Representatives. Look at Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, you see it's getting worse.

HARLOW: Thank you, Michael. I appreciate you coming on tonight.

CAPUTO: Thank you.

HARLOW: Out front next, new details about how closely Michael Cohen worked with the National Enquirer to help the President. The tabloid's tip line turned into a trip wire used to catch and kill negative stories.

And top Republicans that are lows (ph) for words over the news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, everybody. Thanks, everybody. Thanks, everybody. We have to go inside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any comments? Any reactions to (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks to all.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:28:19] HARLOW: Breaking news, Republicans dodging questions about the Cohen guilty plea and Manafort conviction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, everybody. Thanks, everybody. Thanks, everybody. We're going to go inside. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any comments? Any reactions to (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Let the legal process work out. Thanks.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Is it a wise strategy with the midterms just 76 days away? Out front now, Paul Begala, former White House Counsel to President Clinton and Scott Jennings, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. Gentlemen, good evening. And Scott, let me begin with you. Republicans not touching this. I mean, you saw Richard Burr like trying to run through there. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declining to comment, House Speaker Paul Ryan Spokesperson says, look, we need more information before we can weigh in. How long can leadership dodge?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I mean, I don't know what there is to say. I mean, they are watching the same facts that we are, and the facts have changed to some degree. You know, what we knew in the summer is different now that Cohen has pleaded guilty. So, I think they're wise to not get themselves in too deep, commenting on something when the story appears to be changing. The other thing they're wise to do, in my opinion, is to continue to focus on legislating and governing.

I do think there's a sense that this could lead us down to a path to gridlock in this country and has something that Americans do not want --

HARLOW: We're not already gridlocked?

JENNINGS: -- the power of the Republican leadership.

HARLOW: I'm sorry. Are we living in a different world?

JENNINGS: Mitch McConnell is moving bills through right now and just filed closure (ph) on '17 more nominations today. They're actually doing the job they were elected to do, which is probably the wisest thing they can do.

HARLOW: Paul, if you were a Republican right now, wouldn't you be kind of dodging and staying silent, too?

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Yes, I'd retire. And, in fact, the majority of Congress members who have retired are Republicans. I think they're sensing perhaps there could be a wave building.

The problem is the Republicans are damned if they do, damned if they don't. Here's the problem, we fixate endlessly and stupidly on the Trump base. They're important people, we love them, but they're not going to determine the election.

About 35 percent of the country, they'll always be with the president. And as he said, I could shot a guy in Fifth Avenue and not losing them. But look at independents, and I did today. I took a look at them.

Donald Trump won independents against Hillary Clinton, he won them by six or eight points depending which poll you looked at. Republicans running for Congress today are losing independents by 22 because in large measure, they turned against the president, independents, not Republican base.

So, those Republicans, there are 25 districts where Republican congressmen are currently in office that Hillary won, so they can't be as pro-Trump as folks at a rally in West Virginia are, but if they don't step out and defend him, then the base doesn't want to show up. So, either way they're in a terrible pickle.

HARLOW: We spoke, Scott, today, just an hour or so ago with a Trump voter, who -- and we asked him, what do you make of everything that has happened in the last, you know, a little over 24 hours? Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON ALISSA, TRUMP SUPPORTER: If he's not involved, it's OK, but if he is involved, this is a big problem. We all trust him. We believe him and it would be upsetting to find out he was involved with any of these.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: You know -- and, Scott, you have a fascinating CNN.com op-ed today, and in it, you write and let me quote, finally, the White House must now prepare for the reality that 2019 will be spent on impeachment. Do you think the White House gets that?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I hope they do because I was looking at a CNN poll from June, Poppy. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats in June wanted to impeach this president. What do you think the number is tonight?

Democrats can tamp down the talk of impeachment all they want or try to tamp it down, but their base is going to demand it. So, as Paul said, Republicans are in a bit of catch-22.

So are Democrats. They can't afford to discuss impeachment in the campaign but they're going to feel pressure to do it in January. I don't think the country wants to go there.

HARLOW: Paul, I think that's a really important point. I mean, it seems like you have more Democratic voters, the poll that Scott is talking about, than perhaps elected Democrats, Democrats in Congress who have the appetite for impeachment. Are they going to feel that pressure?

BEGALA: If you listen to talking points Scott is reciting, Michael Caputo, a former Trump aide in the previous segment who you previously interviewed, that's what they're trying to stay. They're trying to scare their base and motivate --

HARLOW: No, it's the polling number. It's two out of three Democrats.

BEGALA: Yes. But if you ask people, maybe sure, fine. But that's not where the Democrats are. That's not where the Democratic Party is. I have been all over the country campaigning for Democrats. Not one

is running on impeachment. You know what they're running on? 2019 is not going to be spent on impeachment, Scott. It's going to be spent on prescription drug reform.

(CROSSTALK)

JENNINGS: They're not running on it because they know it is a loser. But when they get into office, Paul, you don't think the base is going to demand action? They're blood thirsty. You have seen, talked to the voters, you know they want it.

BEGALA: That's just not true. I have talked to them. I have been across the country.

And, of course, if you ask them, they hate Donald Trump, but what they really want and Democrats better deliver on if they win is prescription drug reform, health care costs, cleaning up corruption in Washington, yes, Elizabeth Warren introduced some important legislation yesterday on that, not obsessing about impeachment.

There should be oversight. By the way, two-thirds of Americans think the Republicans haven't done a good enough job in oversight, that is policing this administration. So, there will be great talk about corruption, but not impeachment. This is just a Republican talking point to jack up the base.

HARLOW: Paul, cherry picking the polls a little bit there. You didn't like my two out of three poll, you know, that I just mentioned, you say two out of three Americans on the other point. I hear you. And polls as we all know do not tell the full story.

Quickly, before we go, Scott, the White House said even after all the Cohen and Manafort news, look, the president is going to be on the trail a lot. He is planning 40 days of midterm campaign travel. That's more than President George W. Bush, more than President Obama.

Given all of these developments, are all Republican candidates going to welcome him with open arms?

JENNINGS: I think Paul raised a good point about the districts. It's going to depend on where you live. We have two people, two kinds of districts in this country. Those that have significant suburban populations, and those that are more rural.

If you have significant suburban populations, say if you represent an area that Hillary Clinton won, you may want to distance yourself at this point based on the news. You may have already wanted to do that. But if you're more of a rural district, you may feel closer to the president today because rural Americans still feel like they're still with Trump.

So, I actually think you're going to see divergence based on the kind of geography that people represent.

HARLOW: OK. So, good to have you both. Thanks, guys. BEGALA: Thanks a lot.

HARLOW: New details tonight.

[19:35:01] How the "National Enquirer" and Michael Cohen buried stories that were embarrassing to the president. And it wasn't just Cohen involved but other campaign staffers as well.

And Democrats calling to suspend the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing in light of Cohen's guilty plea. The White House tonight is fighting back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a desperate and pathetic attempt by Democrats to obstruct a very highly qualified nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Tonight, we're learning new details about just how closely the "National Enquirer" worked with the Trump campaign, and it wasn't just Michael Cohen cooperating with the tabloid.

OUTFRONT now, Brian Stelter, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES", our senior media correspondent.

And, Brian, you have extensive reporting on this. How extensively did Michael Cohen cooperate with "National Enquirer" with the sole purpose of burying stories that will look bad for the president in the run-up to the election?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: It was more extensive than we thought. It started in August, 2015, according to the court documents, just two months after the Trump campaign began and it involved multiple members of the Trump campaign according to court documents. I mean, you can see for yourself here. We can put part of the documents on screen.

[19:40:00] It goes into detail, describing coordination.

Essentially, "The National Enquirer" was weaponized by the Trump campaign. As "The New York Times" reporter said to me, that "Enquirer's" tip line was turned into a trip wire. So, any tips that were bad news for then candidate Donald Trump were scorched, were caught and killed by "The Enquirer".

HARLOW: That's a big deal. And it's new, because we thought it was just Cohen.

STELTER: Yes.

HARLOW: And now we're talking about perhaps multiple members of the Trump campaign. STELTER: Right. One of the key lines in court filings, of course,

remember, this is Cohen pleading to all of this, admitting to all of this, and we also know the government that evidence it didn't have to submit because Cohen pled guilty.

One of the outstanding mysteries here is the court filing says one or more campaign members were also involved in this conversation, in this meeting. We don't know exactly who that might be, at least not yet. Hopefully, we'll find out soon.

But it speaks to the idea that there are mysteries to the relationship. It is extraordinary to think of a media company being involved with a Trump Organization, campaign aide or Trump Organization aide doing these kinds of deals.

HARLOW: Squelching stories like a payoff, $150,000 payoff to keep the story of an alleged affair with a Playboy playmate silent. I mean, those are the kind of stories we're talking about here. The president has not been shy about his love frankly for "The National Enquirer".

STELTER: Yes.

HARLOW: Let's jog everyone's memory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: "The National Enquirer" did a story, they actually have a very good record of being right.

I always said why didn't the "National Enquirer" get the Pulitzer Prize for Edwards and O.J. Simpson and all these things.

I mean, you can't knock the "National Enquirer". It's brought many, many things to like, not all of them pleasant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: That's true. I mean, this tabloid specializes in embarrassing other people. Now the tabloid has been embarrassed by this scandal. We know months ago some of the top executives were subpoenaed. They apparently have been cooperating.

That's David Pecker, who's the president's friend, chairman of the company and Dylan Howard, who's the chief editor there.

HARLOW: Are there any signs that laws were broken?

STELTER: Well, so far, Pecker hasn't been charged with a crime, but it is an active, ongoing investigation. It continues to be a problem for "The Enquirer", and embarrassment for "The Enquirer".

And the question about First Amendment rights as well, normally, if a media company was doing this, you would hear press groups saying don't mess with them, don't bring them to court. Not this time, because that's not what "The Enquirer" was doing. It was acting as a political organization. One famed First Amendment attorney said to me today it was like they

were burning newspapers rather than publishing. They were burying Trump's secrets.

HARLOW: Brian, thank you. Important reporting.

OUTFRONT next, top Democrats are calling Trump an unindicted co- conspirator to a criminal act. Will it lead to a call for impeachment?

One of the senators, Jeff Merkley, is my next guest.

And Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter fighting back after being charged with using campaign funds for a lavish life-style. He says he is being targeted just like the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: That's what's happened right now. It's happened with Trump, it is happening with me. And we're going to fight through it and win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:46:51] HARLOW: Democrats demanding that Republicans hold scheduled hearings for President Trump's Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, after Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws, acts that Cohen claims came at the direction of the president himself.

Well, today, the White House slammed that effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: This is a desperate and pathetic attempt by Democrats to obstruct a very highly qualified nominee. The hearing date has been set for September 4th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: OUTFRONT now, Democratic senator from Oregon, Jeff Merkley.

Senator, good evening and thank you for being with me, and let's start with that. Is the White House right that this is just a desperate last minute attempt to obstruct Brett Kavanaugh's nomination?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: The White House couldn't be more wrong. The first is there should be no hearing before documents have been provided on his background. This is a standard of transparency necessary for advice and consent. It is a standard of transparency Republicans insisted on with President Obama's nominees, and that the Democrats agreed with.

So, to proceed with a hearing with no documents or very few documents on his background is unacceptable. And that's before we get to the issue you're raising right now which is we have this massive conflict of interest with the president.

HARLOW: You're talking about documents from the time in the Bush White House. There are a lot of documents that have been released, but I hear you on the push for more.

MERKLEY: Yes.

HARLOW: Let's look at the numbers, though. I'm wondering where this gets you, where does this get Democrats, because today not even the most moderate Republicans that are on the fence about Kavanaugh himself see this as a problem, Senator Susan Collins, case in point, today, quote: I don't see any basis at all for postponing the Kavanaugh hearings.

So, if you look at the numbers, where does this get you?

MERKLEY: Well, we have to call upon our Republican colleagues to get off their enormously partisan position and take a stand for justice in this country. If this was a Democratic president who had this massive conflict of interest, of having just been tied into directing an individual to make an illegal campaign donation, a felony, then they would be saying, look, until this investigation is completed, for the president to have hearings on a nominee who has an extraordinarily unusual conception of presidential power, that a president is beyond the law, can never be indicted or investigated, they would say, that conflict of interest is just unacceptable, has to be resolved before hearings proceed.

So, take a stand for our nation, for our system of justice. Put that partisanship aside.

HARLOW: Let's talk about potential for articles of impeachment here, should Democrats retake the House in November. You said earlier today, President Trump is and I quote, now, the equivalent of an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal act.

Previously, you had said, look, it's premature to discuss impeachment at this point. Have you changed your mind?

MERKLEY: Well, it is absolutely clear the House should be having a robust investigation to answer the question of whether to proceed with impeachment. That's been true for some time.

HARLOW: But do you think it's still premature? Do you think it still needs to wait until the Mueller probe is wrapped up?

MERKLEY: Poppy, I hesitate to answer that question because when the House is responsible for impeachment, should the president be impeached, senators are responsible for being the jury.

[19:50:08] And so, I feel I need to leave that question with the House of Representatives where it belongs under our Constitution.

HARLOW: Let me get your take on something else we heard from Sarah Sanders at the lectern today during the White House briefing, because they seem to be trying to flip the script on Democrats here. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: The idea of impeachment is a sad attempt by Democrats. The only message they have going into midterms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Does she have a point? I mean, are members of your party, in essence, you know, the more you talk about impeachment and not about other issues like health care, et cetera, playing right into their hands?

MERKLEY: Well, it actually seemed to me the Republicans keep raising it as they try to turn out their folks' strategy, where Democrats are talking housing, and education, and healthcare and infrastructure, and living wage jobs and good stewardship of our beautiful planet.

So, fighting for thriving families, that's what we're talking about, and particularly health care. I mean, the Republican plans to destroy health care across the country raise the premiums, raise drug prices, take the insurance pool and tear it asunder. Those are real concerns to people, not to mention the preexisting conditions.

I think the Republicans are looking for kind of their strategy of terrorizing Americans so they'll turn out at the poll, their base. But we're talking about fundamental issues for families.

HARLOW: I would note that some prescription prices, as you know, have gone down under this president, some of them in direct reaction to threats against big pharma companies.

I hear some other points on that. Let me get you on this, your Democratic colleague Senator Tammy Duckworth tonight, here's what she wrote. The crimes Mr. Cohen pled guilty to are serious, and may have swung a close election by depriving the American people of critical information.

Do you agree with that?

MERKLEY: Well, I certainly do agree that critical information was prevented from being public. That it could have had an influence on the electorate. We know that an election is complicated. We know that the president deliberately -- well, according to what we hear from the personal lawyer, the president deliberately attempted to suppress that information because he thought it would affect the election. So, if the president thought it would affect the election, certainly that is a concern.

HARLOW: Senator Merkley, I appreciate you being with me tonight. Thank you.

MERKLEY: Thank you, Poppy. Good to be with you. HARLOW: OUTFRONT next, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter lashing

out at investigators and invoking Trump after being charged with stealing $250,000 in campaign funds for lavish trips and shopping sprees.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:56:38] HARLOW: Breaking news tonight: embattled Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter taking a page out of the Trump playbook and blasting the Justice Department, calling it the Democrats' armed of law enforcement after he was indicted by a federal grand jury. The allegations: using $250,000 of campaign funds for vacations, clothes, dental work, even his kids' school tuition.

Sara Sidner is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNTER: Duncan Hunter, Mr. President. Very good to see you, sir. From San Diego, California.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congressman Duncan Hunter of San Diego and Congressman Chris Collins of New York were the first two members of Congress to back Donald Trump.

Now, they have something else in common. Both have been indicted on federal charges.

Hunter is the latest. Federal prosecutors alleged he and his wife Margaret stole a quarter of a million dollars in campaign funds. In some instances, the couple claimed the funds they took were being spent on wounded veterans. In one instance, investigators alleged Duncan Hunter was planning to buy Hawaiian shorts but he ran out of money. His wife told him to buy the shorts at a pro golf shop so they could list the purchase as some golf balls for Wounded Warriors.

Prosecutors also say Margaret Hunter spent $216 of campaign funds at a sporting goods store and then falsely informed the campaign treasurer that the items were for an event involving Wounded Warriors. But that is chump change compared to what prosecutors say the Duncans spent on vacations using campaign funds, $2,800 at the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa, more than $6,500 for a family vacation to Hawaii, and a whopping $14,000 on a trip to Italy.

Prosecutors allege Representative Hunter tried to justify spending the campaign money by asking for a tour of a naval base in Italy. But when the navy said it couldn't accommodate his timing, he allegedly told his chief of staff tell the Navy to go F themselves.

Hunter, he's responding by taking a page out of the Trump playbook.

HUNTER: This is modern politics and modern media, mixed in with law enforcement that has a political agenda.

REPORTER: Your dad spoke with us --

HUNTER: That's the new Department of Justice.

SIDNER: The indictment has Democrats pouncing on a House seat that seemed unwinnable in the heavily Republican enclave.

(on camera): Is there any chance that a Democrat could flip the seat?

DAVE JACOBSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. Duncan Hunter has exploited his military background and frankly the military itself for his own personal political gain. It is disgusting. It's abhorrent.

SIDNER (voice-over): Hunter joined the Marines in response to the terror of 9/11. His father also a veteran held the seat before him.

For Brennan Fridley, an army vet living in this heavily military community near San Diego, the charges cut even deeper.

BRENNAN FRIDLEY, ARMY VETERAN: I can't trust you to do a simple thing like use taxpayer dollars in an efficient manner or in your own campaign, these campaign funds in efficient manner. It's going to be difficult for me to get behind you as a candidate.

SIDNER: Among Republicans, some are sticking with them.

RICHARD HALE, REPUBLICAN VOTER: I would still vote for him. I would.

REPORTER: Just because he's a Republican?

HALE: Yes. Yes.

SIDNER: Some aren't.

DEBBY DURLING, REPUBLICAN: I don't think I'd be inclined to vote for him again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now it is too late to change names on the ballot for the midterm. So whatever happens, Mr. Hunter will be on the ballot. His name will be there under the Republican candidate. Now, he does have a challenger, a Democratic challenger, a prolific, prolific fund- raiser, businessman Ammar Campa-Najjar, is hoping to unseat him and the chances may have gotten better.

HARLOW: Fascinating reporting tonight, Sara. Thank you.

And thank you for joining us. We'll see you here tomorrow.

"AC360" starts now.