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Cohen Will Testify To Congress; Trump Feels Bad For Manafort; Tibbetts Body Found; John Duncan To Face Federal Charges. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 6:00   ET

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


[06:00:00]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: States as an unindicted co-conspirator of a Federal crime.

Cohen testifying under oath that the president told him to make those hush money payments to two women who accused the president of affairs for the quote, "principle purpose of influencing the election."

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Now the words that Michael Cohen used under oath, mind you, are that he broke the law, quote, "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for Federal office." Now if that sounds legalistic and innocuous, it is anything but.

The president told him to break the law, Michael Cohen says. And this has huge implications and the White House knows it. In just a few minutes, star reporter for "The New York Time," Maggie Haberman, will tell us that people to the president are now worried about impeachment as a tangible possibility.

Also, if what Cohen says is true, it means that the president was just lying when he said this on Air Force One.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen say this if there was no truth to the allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael's my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

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

TRUMP: I don't know. No.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Also, Michael Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, is hinting that Cohen has information about the Russian attack on the 2016 election and the president's knowledge of it.

We're going to speak to Lanny Davis this morning as well. And on top of all of this, the president's one-time campaign chair was convicted of eight counts in his financial fraud trial and could face decades in prison.

The president says, he feels bad for Paul Manafort. Bad enough to pardon him though, that's the question.

CAMEROTA: There are many questions, so let's bring in now, CNN Senior Political Analyst, John Avlon. Laura Coates, a former Federal prosecutor and a CNN Legal Analyst and Shan Wu, a defense attorney, former lawyer for Rick Gates and a CNN Legal Analyst. It's great to have all of you here on this important morning.

Okay Laura, let me start with you and I'll just read to you the statement, part of the statement from the U.S. Attorney's office. Cohen, the defendant caused and made the payments described herein in order to influence the 2016 Presidential Election.

In so doing, he coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls about the fact, nature and timing of the payments.

I'm curious, why in his guilty plea did he have to go the far? Why did -- why couldn't Michael Cohen just have said, yes I made the payments. Why did he have to say it was to influence the 2016 election and it was directed by Donald Trump?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Because the campaign finance laws do not say that you can't make personal expenditures, perhaps, it's more so that it has to be linked to influence a campaign. That's the nature of the actual beast. So, he had to have that component in there to have the legal hook for him to have a crime charged against him.

More importantly, he was trying to ensure that they knew that he was acting at the direction, he was not by himself, although he is a man on island right now, he was not acting by himself.

He was acting at the direction of a particular campaign, not simply as a personal friend fixing an issue about an alleged extramarital affair, as at one point in time Rudy Giuliani tried to say when he was talking about this issue, that this is a matter not about the campaign, it was simply about a personal matter between a husband and a wife and shielding her from information that was unsavory.

Well, now he has that hook that says, no, no, this was not simply about a personal connection. This was done to not be transparent to the American people, to try to circumvent campaign finance law. That's the legal hook and by the way, that had a lot to do with the word conspiracy, if somebody tried to orchestrate the commission of a crime with you. BERMAN: I am struck, Shan, that we really haven't heard a legal defense from the president and his team yet. Yes, Rudy Giuliani put out a statement. Let me read it to you here, because it doesn't actually address the issue.

He says, "There is no allegation of any wrong doing against the president and the government's charges against Cohen. It is clear that as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen's actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time."

There's nothing in the charges that is different than Michael Cohen standing up in court, under oath, and saying the president told me to break the law, which is exactly what Michael Cohen did.

No defense, yet, on that point from the presidents legal team. I suppose they could just say that Michael Cohen is just lying. I suppose they could just say that the president ordered this but it wasn't a campaign issue. But both of these things might be hard to prove.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And I think Giuliani is trying to rely on the technicality of the president not being named in the charges. But, of course, he is what we refer to as an unindicted co-conspirator really here. And it's quite obvious that he's linked to it.

I think, in terms of their defense, they're probably going to be left only with saying that Cohen's lying. I don't think they're going to have too much else of a defense and they're probably scrambling a lot this morning, in terms of exactly what to respond to.

Because Cohen is very, very dangerous for the president, not only on what he's already now, but also just in terms of his overall knowledge and this hint now that he may, indeed, offer some information on the Russian probe, obviously would be very, very alarming to them.

[06:05:00]

CAMEROTA: John, the significance of all of this today?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a historic moment. It's easy to loose sight of in the scrum, but within minutes at two separate federal courthouses, the campaign chairman and the personal lawyer to the President of the United States both getting guilty pleas, where they are now criminals.

And that is extraordinary. It is extraordinary, also, because Cohen, as we've discussed, implicates the president directly and there really is no answer to that. It's extraordinary because it comes after months of strenuous denials by Cohen and the president.

In March, Michael Cohen, called the reporting about these payments fake news. Yesterday, he said it was done principally for the purpose of influencing the election. So, this is a big deal and the implications, the president's legal team and the president himself, are not simply going to be able to spin their way out of it. BERMAN: No, and not to diminish the Manafort trial here, but the fact

that Michael Cohen said again, under oath, that the president broke the law, has huge political implications. If you buy into the notion that a sitting president can't be indicted, which is what two different justice departments have said, this is a political issue.

Will Congress step in and take action here? We have yet to really hear from Republicans on this issue. Do you care, Chairman Goodlatte, of the House Judiciary Committee, that the president is accused of breaking a campaign finance law? Do you care, outgoing oversight Chair, Trey Gowdy, that the president is accused of breaking the law?

I'll look at the camera.

AVLON: Yes.

BERMAN: Do you care? Tweet me. Tweet me Trey Gowdy. Do you care that this happened?

AVLON: You know what we do -- we know they do care about is yesterday, Senators Warner and Burke, from the Senate Intel Committee, said they are going to re-exam and talk to Cohen again about anything he might have to offer about the Russian investigations.

CAMEROTA: That was represented in the past?

AVLON: So, that opening is there for the Senate to ...

CAMEROTA: So, Laura, what is the legal -- legal, not political, legal jeopardy for the President of the United States today?

COATES: Well, you know, Michael Cohen, the crimes that he has admitted to committing, for the campaign finance violations alone you're talking about five years in prison and $250,000 for a fine for these DOJ felonies.

You're talking about the exposure of one alleged co-conspirator can actually be that particular crime and the only thing that stands between the president being accused and having that same legal exposure is this DOJ policy that says that you cannot indict a sitting president.

Now we all know, in Washington, D.C. and everywhere else, a policy does not have the same weight as law, let alone Supreme Court presence. So, there is some flexibility in that notion of whether or not that truly will stand.

But also, the statute of limitation on campaign finance violations don't actually run past the next election, which means that, it may be a sitting president who can't be indicted, but if this charge is still out there and anything else, you could have a possible outgoing president and the irony is not lost on anyone that have eight charges being brought and convicted from Paul Manafort.

Eight is the number for Michael Cohen and his allegations against him and then you have a president who's trying to get eight years in office. One of these eights are going to have to fail and it's not the first two.

BERMAN: You know, and Shan, not to get, again, too legalistic here, but as you dissect this case, there needs to be supporting documents for what Michael Cohen is saying. One might think that the Southern District of New York has some evidence to back up what he says.

"The Washington Post" has looked at some of the documents and notes some transfers, some payments that made by the Trump Corporation to reimburse Michael Cohen for these payments to Stormi Daniels here.

The bouncing ball here is a real problem for the President of the United States. As Laura was saying, you can indict a former president. You can charge a former president, so how would the government make the case against a former President Donald Trump on this campaign finance violation?

WU: Well, they would make the case the way they always make the case. It's going to be a paper trail case and in this case, as you suggested John, they're going to have lots and lots of paper, because they raided his office and they have been able to access any bank documents, as we know, they don't have any valid assertion of privilege over that.

So, they will have plenty of evidence to bring against him and I think the other thing to keep in mind too, is when you look at the actual plea agreement, what Cohen's protected from is further prosecution by the Southern District of New York and the tax division, but he's not protected from the rest of DOJ, he's not protected from the Special Counsel. So, they still have lots of leverage on him.

CAMEROTA: Lanny Davis went on last night to say more things that have really gotten people's attention. So last night -- I'll just read it, he said that he believed that Cohen had knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump, ahead of time, knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.

We know that he publically cheered it on, did he also have private information? Well, that's a whole other can of worms.

AVLON: That's the whole other can of worms. That's also the big question, right? Yesterday at his rally in West Virginia, the president was sort of mocking, said, no collusion, no collusion. That's the defense. This has nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do with the president, says Rudy Giuliani.

[06:10:00]

CAMEROTA: Well, that's a whole other can of worms.

AVLON: That's the whole other can of worms. That's also the big question, right? Yesterday at his rally in West Virginia, the president was sort of mocking, said, no collusion, no collusion. That's the defense. This has nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do with the president, says Rudy Giuliani.

That information, if they have corroboration, would be (inaudible) goes to the heart of the question of Russia's involvement in the election and what the president knew and when he knew it when he was ...

BERMAN: It's an open question about whether he does have said information ...

AVLON: Open, of course.

BERMAN: And Shan, let me put this to you, because in the process of getting that from Lanny Davis and hearing from Chairman Burr and Warner on the Senate, they said they went back to Michael Cohen's team and said, do you, in fact, know anything about the Trump Tower meeting?

Did you -- were you told by the president beforehand that he had knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump, Jr.? He testified that he did not, last year, to the Senate Intelligence Committee and Michael Cohen's legal team says, no, we don't want to change our testimony here.

So, Lanny Davis now says, it's not about the Trump Tower meeting. Is he just floating the notion that he has more to try to mitigate the sentence? If Michael Cohen had anything to say, wouldn't he have said it already?

WU: He might have or he could have been prepared to carefully, only address what he was being asked. And particularly, I mean, the big danger for Trump now, is if he does know more, he can be given immunity to come forth and be forced to disclose what he does know in full, not just in small pieces.

COATES: And if can just weigh in that too?

CAMEROTA: Yes.

COATES: It's so important to think about. The president is focused on Russia, but Michael Cohen is being prosecuted by the Southern District of New York, which means that if there are other charges of other members of the Trump family or the corporation, and presumably Michael Cohen was always in the room, his exposure on areas outside of the collusion investigation, which means that, as an U.S. attorney in New York, you are bound by duty to prosecute the other crimes you see and you will not have the advantage Giuliani is saying, this is about obstruction or collusion or Mueller going too far, you will not have that protection because these will be cases that arise out of this particular prosecution.

So, the focus on Russia alone, if the president's thinking about that, he's sadly mistaken about his great exposure.

BERMAN: All right, Laura, Shan, John, don't go anywhere. We're going to have you come back in a little bit and talk much more about this. There are just huge political implications. We're only beginning to scratch the surface.

Joining us next hour, we're going to have Michael Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, he's got a lot to answer for this morning, because he keeps on adding to this story.

Also, Stormi Daniels attorney, Michael Avenatti, he will join us as well.

CAMEROTA: All right, so how will President Trump respond to all of this today? We'll get insight from -- on the president's state of mind with "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: President Trump's former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty in Federal Court to eight felony charges, including campaign finance violations that he says he committed at the president's direction.

Now, "The New York Times" White House correspondent, Maggie Haberman, who has been covering every angle of this for some time, she noted yesterday that the president's allies, Trump insiders, are now discussing impeachment as a tangible possibility.

Our Maggie Haberman, who's also a CNN Political Analyst, joins us now by telephone. All of a sudden, Maggie, the I-word is taking on new significance among the people close to the president, explain.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right John, this morning is a line that has been crossed. It is very different than where we were at this time yesterday.

Yesterday was a theoretical, since then you have had somebody in a Federal Courthouse, under oath, implicate the president in a crime. That just changes things. Now, we don't know how significantly it will change things. We have seen over and over again that either his voters certainly don't care. I don't think they'll care about this either.

The question becomes, whether voters need suburban districts that are up for grabs, in the House this fall, that the Republicans are the most worried about, whether voters there do care and whether candidates face a lot of pressure to answer to this and explain it.

The president's White House aides were caught off guard because they tend to land in a bit of a news bubble. They are used to, frankly, all of us talking about problems for the president. They see the news coverage as overstated and breathless and they have tended to tune it out and become desensitized to it.

So, they really were caught off guard, but Trump's legal advisors and some of the people closest to him had known that a Cohen plea was a possibility for quite some time and it was clear by early yesterday afternoon where this was headed.

CAMEROTA: And Maggie, when you stay the stakes seemed to have changed today, are you saying that Republicans have their, sort of, finger in the air and testing the winds of how their voters feel or are you already hearing some Republican leaders say that they're processing this very differently today?

HABERMAN: I'm certainly hearing Republican donors and some strategists say that they think this is a change. They do think there is a strong possibility that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will try to whistle past the graveyard as long as possible in the lead up to the midterms and we've seen that work before, it might work here. There's 11 weeks left.

They think it makes it harder for Republicans to hold onto the House, which was already pretty close to gone, definitively, and if the Democrats take the House, then Trump is certain to face impeachment. And it's not -- look, a GOP Senate is not going to vote impeach the president, that, I think, is clear.

But what will happen if the Democrats take the House, is you'll get subpoena after subpoena, do people really believe that Democrats are not going to try to subpoena Michael Cohen and also try to subpoena the president's son about the Trump Tower meeting.

This has the potential, this isn't just about e-mails within the White House, this is going to be pretty broad.

BERMAN: Yes, and Michael Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, has made crystal clear that Michael Cohen is willing to testify to Congress about just about anything. So, if the Democrats take the House, you can expect to hear a lot more from Michael Cohen.

Maggie, you are not with the president, but you were charting his mood over the day, yesterday, how would you describe it?

HABERMAN: His mood was great in the morning, according to people who spoke with him and were around at the White House and then by the afternoon, he had turned quite snappish, when it was clear where things were headed with Michael Cohen.

[06:20:00]

And remember, this all broke simultaneously, if you were writing a novel, and editor would tell you this was too over-the-top in a chapter, that you would have had the Paul Manafort's verdict come in around, literally, the moment that Michael Cohen was pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York in Federal Court. And then a few minutes after that, the president walked out of the West Wing.

He knows what this means, he is not happy about it. He was noticeably subdued at his rally last night. He -- we've rarely seen him look like he has the wind knocked out of him. He did yesterday.

Michael Cohen has always been one of the few people who could do what he did, which is say things that he know, who could implicate the president where it was going to be very hard for the president to spin him off as, I barely knew him, he worked for me for a brief period, it had to have been honestly hard to stand in court and say what he said yesterday, knowing how aggressive the president can be at people who come at him, and yet, here we are.

CAMEROTA: And despite that, I mean, despite the fact that Michael Cohen has flipped, is there talk of a pardon for Michael Cohen to try to make some of this go away, and or, Paul Manafort?

HABERMAN: I really don't see how -- look, the talk of a pardon came up several months ago, according to our reporting, between a lawyer for Michael Cohen and a lawyer for the president and it didn't really go anywhere.

It's very hard to see how that comes now after what we saw yesterday, but you are correct, that that looms out there and we don't know how much more Michael Cohen has to share.

It is really important to remember that prosecutors would not have accepted that guilty plea if they did not believe that Cohen's statements about the president were credible.

BERMAN: I'm so glad you made that point, because the legal side of this, and I understand there are those who say a president can't be indicted, is very important. Michael Cohen, under oath, yesterday, with the agreement of Federal prosecutors, basically said the president told me to break the law.

Presumably there is evidence to back this up, evidence that the Federal prosecutors were confident of. We're learning more information about the transfer of money from the Trump Corporation to Michael Cohen here, that could be used as evidence.

But, this idea that the president directed him to make these payments would just fly in the face of everything the White House and President Trump have said over the last two years.

HABERMAN: No, that's exactly right. This is not -- this is not spinnable. I mean what they're going to try to keep doing is saying, Michael Cohen is a liar, Michael Cohen is a liar, he's lied before and he's certainly has said things that clearly were not true about all of this, before he claimed that all of this wasn't true.

But under oath, he said the opposite. You are correct that the Department of Justice guidelines suggest a sitting president can't be indicted, does not mean a president cannot be indicted after he leaves office, that still seems to be an open question, does not mean that prosecutors can't hand their findings over to the House.

We have not seen something like this involving a president as an unindicted co-conspirator since Nixon and we are in uncharted territory. We are still in uncharted territory because Nixon did not have a Congress that was very unwilling to challenge him when things became clear that there was a legality going on.

We will see how this goes, but it is really important to know that Trump turns everything into a he said, she said, one of them said something under oath and one of them has not. CAMEROTA: Maggie Haberman, thank you very much for you reporting. It gives us great insight into what's happening in the White House today. Great to talk to you.

BERMAN: Yes. Meanwhile, Chairman Gowdy, Chairman Goodlatte, call us. We're in ...

CAMEROTA: Have they tweeted you yet?

BERMAN: They have not tweeted me yet.

CAMEROTA: You put out an open invitation.

BERMAN: Trey Gowdy, Bob Goodlatte, let us know what you're going to do in the House with this new information, these new accusations against the president.

All right, about 30 minutes past the hour now almost.

A body found in the disappearance of an Iowa woman, Molly Tibbetts, as police arrest an undocumented immigrant in her death. The details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:25:00]

CAMEROTA: Facebook has removed 652 fake pages, groups and accounts, for being part of a coordinated disinformation campaign. Many of those accounts originated in Russia and Iran, they say. The Iran linked pages also targeted the U.K., Latin America and the Middle East.

Some of them posed as a group called Liberty Front Press. Facebook says, it found no evidence that the campaigns by Russia and Iran were connected.

BERMAN: Another Trump ally facing legal trouble. Calls are now growing for Republican Congressman, Duncan Hunter, to resign after he and his wife were indicted for allegedly using a quarter of a million dollars in campaign funds to pay for personal expenses.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capital Hill with the latest here. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning John. Duncan, he actually faces some charges, Federal charges and he joins this Trump caucus, one of the few friends in Congress that Trump had initially with Chris Collins, who also faces Federal charges.

He and his wife, Margaret, now are charged with such things as wire fraud, falsifying records, campaign violations and conspiracy and what this indictment says, a 47-page indictment, unsealed yesterday by the Justice Department, that this couple spent $250,000 or so on lavish expenses, some simple expenses. But personal ones that they took out of the campaign funds, including

a $14,000 Italy vacation, $11,300 run at Costco, more than $2,000 on Steeler tickets and $1,500 on video games and they say they concealed these expenses, according to the indictment, they say, by disguising the personal nature of many of their campaign expenditures by either falsely stating the expenses were campaign related or by falsely reporting the item when providing information to the treasurer. One of those examples, John, was they purchased