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Hunter Indicted for Misuse of Campaign Funds; Rivera Charged in Death; Cohen Implicates Trump; Meyers Fate to be Decided Today. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 06:30   ET

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


[06:30:00] SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: By disguising the personal nature of many of their campaign expenditures by either falsely stating the expenses were campaign related or by falsifying reporting the item when providing information to the treasurer. One of those examples, John, was they purchased personal clothing at a golf course and said it was for golf balls for wounded warriors. So you can imagine how disturbing that would be for many people to hear that.

Now, Duncan Hunter maintains his innocence. And through a spokesman said that they believe this is purely politically motivated. They've sent a letter to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, saying that at least two of the people involved in the investigation should have been recused because they had attended a Hillary Clinton fundraiser at the time. That was not done.

As far as Duncan is concerned, he is still running and he and his wife, Margaret, will be facing those charges in court tomorrow morning.

Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Suzanne, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

Now an autopsy will be performed today on a body believed to be that of missing Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. She vanished a month ago. The 24-year-old undocumented immigrant now charged in her death.

CNN's Ryan Young is live in Montezuma, Iowa, with more.

What a tragic outcome after so many people around the country searched for her, Ryan.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, just so tough. I think the headline here pretty much sums it all up, we've solved this sort of feeling around here of just despair. This is not the ending they wanted and you see the headline of murder. And you talk about Mollie Tibbetts, all around you can see her poster put up all around as people were looking for her. Cristhian Rivera has been charged, an undocumented immigrant.

But this is something that investigators told us they were actually able to crack thanks to a homeowner. His video surveillance system gave them the video they needed because they were able to search through it and they saw a black car that they decided then to go check to see who that car belonged to. And according to investigators, Rivera told them that he saw Tibbetts running, pulled alongside of her, and then at some point he got out of the car and started running alongside of her and tried to talk to her. She said he was going to call 911 and then he said he blacked out. At some point he put her in the trunk.

And I can tell you, when this was said yesterday by investigators, watch this video of the friends and sort of members from this community came forward (ph) who were just in tears as this was going on. It was shocking to be there to feel the pain in this community. So many people have said about this young lady, losing her life in a way where a lot of people just want answers to the question of why.

CAMEROTA: Why. That is so heartbreaking to hear those words and to watch the reaction.

So, look, as you know, President Trump has talked a lot about undocumented immigrants who he believes are violent. So what's been the reaction from the White House? And what's the reaction to the politicization of this in Mollie's hometown?

YOUNG: Yes, well, right after this happened, we know that Vice President Pence actually put a tweet out. And then last night Trump, at the rally, decided to talk about this case. Listen to his words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman. It should have never happened. Illegally in our country. We've had a huge impact. But the laws are so bad. The immigration laws are such a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YOUNG: We actually know that Rivera worked for Craig Lang (ph), and apparently he's a prominent Republican in this area. So a lot of questions about his employment. He worked for a dairy farmer. He had been in this area for four to seven years, so, still, guys, just a lot of questions about why, how this happened and apparently just how he got the body to the cornfield where he covered it with those corn stalks. I think people will be shook about this one for quite some time.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's terrible for that family.

Ryan Young, thanks so much for being with us. Do appreciate it.

YOUNG: Sure.

BERMAN: Obviously, this information that came out in just the last 24 hours, the president's former campaign chair found guilty, his former personal lawyer pleaded guilty saying the president told him to break the law. What does this all mean for the Mueller investigation? And what does this mean for the presidency? How will he react to this?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:38:19] CAMEROTA: Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, pleaded guilty to several crimes, including campaign finance violations. This marks the first time any Trump associate has gone into an open court under oath and implicated the president in a crime.

We are now -- back now with Laura Coates, Shan Wu and John Avlon.

So, Shan, let's read what Michael Cohen said in court. He said, the payment to McDougal was made in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office. He added that it was made for, quote, for the principle purpose of influencing the election. The Daniels' payment was similarly made in coordination with and at the direction of the same candidate, Donald Trump, and for the same reason.

So, legally, what is Michael Cohen, first we'll deal with him and then the president, what is Michael Cohen now facing?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he's facing a textbook case of campaign finance violations to try and influence the election. And with his additional reference to the unnamed person, who everybody knows is the president, he's basically simply made an open/shut case for both of them, that they have violated the campaign finance laws.

BERMAN: So the question now is, what's the president going to do about all of this? How will he react? There are people speculating he's backed into a corner now. He'll lash out. He can't take away Michael Cohen's security clearance, right? He can't even take away the security clearance of the Southern District of New York who prosecuted him. What's he going to do? He's got Paul Manafort now has been convicted of many crimes. He's got Michael Cohen who's pleaded guilty. Will he pardon Cohen? I wouldn't count on that. But what about Paul Manafort, John?

[06:40:01] JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, the Manafort -- the open question is this president's trump card power of the pardon, which he has already shown a willingness to use for very political purposes in contrast to other presidents. Manafort hasn't apparently flipped yet on the president in the same way that Cohen has publically rebuked him and floated an offer, now making him the only president really since Richard Nixon to be an unindicted co- conspirator in a document.

So the Manafort pardon, that's a possibility. There is, however, another trial coming up in September.

BERMAN: He can pardon him for that too beforehand.

AVLON: Yes. I mean, you know, that would be unprecedented and a whole new dimension unprecedented. But -- so that is the real question, does the president hold out the pardon power? Would he extend it to someone who's betrayed him so publicly, like Michael Cohen, or someone who's been a little bit more silent and taciturn, like Paul Manafort. But this is ongoing. But that stands -- and that pardon power stands behind all these convictions.

BERMAN: Yes, I actually think that Cohen makes the pardon of Paul Manafort way more difficult for the president if he was ever inclined to do it.

AVLON: Yes.

BERMAN: Now he's got an even darker cloud hanging over him. If he starts handing out pardons willy-nilly to former associates who have been convicted of crimes, that's a real political issue that I imagine --

AVLON: Oh, yes.

BERMAN: Trey Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte -- call us, call us -- I think they would pay attention to that (ph).

CAMEROTA: Wow, you are -- I'm going to hand you the drum to beat.

AVLON: (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: So, Laura -- Laura, campaign finance violation, typically do those carry jail terms? I mean, I don't know in the case of John Edwards, who also used an intermediary to pay off a mistress, if that is instructed in looking at this case. But what is Michael Cohen and/or the president facing in terms of penalties?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you do actually have a stated penalty in the statute of up to five years for these sorts of crimes and a corresponding fine. In the Edwards case, a little bit unique, because remember there was a hung jury on portions of that particular verdict on issues of campaign finance. So we're unclear as to how that would be directed in this particular case.

However, I will note that the rock and the hard place that we're talking about, about Donald Trump, not only -- do you remember Dinesh D'Souza, who only a couple of months ago was pardoned by the president of the United States, for what, a campaign finance violation, for personally contributing using a straw donor. The president is well aware of his pardoning power as it comes to terms with this particular sort of case. He has not been willing to extend it to this point in time to Michael Cohen, and perhaps his betrayal is the reason, but he has already exercised his power.

But, remember, there is one other aspect of it. Normally when the president of the United States -- well, I can't say normally, but if the president of the United States were to pardon somebody, it would have a dual impact on whether that person could now testify in other cases. It could have the effect of giving that person immunity. If the president is able to pardon Michael Cohen, well, then there's no reason why Michael Cohen would face legal jeopardy if he were to testify against the president of the United States. It would actually inert to the benefit of Bob Mueller and his investigation. If Bob Mueller were to give Michael Cohen immunity, it would have the same effect. Either way, you have basically Donald Trump between the rock and the hard place knowing that either way he turns, whether he wants to reward or condemn and punish Michael Cohen, he's still faces his right-hand man being able to talk openly, not only in a court of law, but at a congressional hearing.

BERMAN: John, one of the things that isn't being discussed, I think, quite enough here is that the president has been accused of being part of this criminal conspiracy days before the election to cover-up information before the election that would have been detrimental to his chances in the election. Again, so if what Michael Cohen says is true here, the president did something illegal to help him win.

AVLON: Absolutely.

BERMAN: And do we know whether -- you know, with certainly, that it did not help him win? That this criminal conspiracy the president's accused of taking part in did help him win the election?

AVLON: I think we could say, if the Stormy Daniels information had gotten out before the election, if the payout to Karen McDougal via AMI(ph) had gotten out before the election, it wouldn't have helped. It wouldn't have helped his case.

And so, you know, and, look, some folks may say or try to spin today that a campaign finance violation is nothing resembling the traditional standards of impeach. But we also know that impeachment is a political process.

What we do know is that this is serious and Cohen has laid it out very clearly. These payments were made, despite all their denials, specifically to influence the outcome of an election or to avoid a real problem. That's a problem for the president. Maybe a political problem, as well as a legal problem. Whether it raises to the standard of impeachment is something that --

CAMEROTA: And, Shan, I mean, by the way, it's not just Michael Cohen's word. You know, there are suggestions now, "The Washington Post" has seen things, there's a paper trail, there's water transfers, there's evidence of this payment. It's no longer he said/he said, you know? Now this is a court of law. There's evidence. And so that will, I assume, make it harder for the president to counter this.

WU: Well, absolutely. And there may be other audiotapes as well. There's just lots of potential evidence here.

It's a very, very strong case. I think it's very hard for him to present the legal defense. He's really going to have to rely on the notion he can't be indicted unless he wants to go back to a remark I think the president once made, which he thinks maybe even he can pardon himself. But legally here, I just don't see any really good defense for him. This is a pretty locked down case.

[06:45:12] BERMAN: Lawyers I've heard from say this is a stronger case than the John Edwards case for a couple of obvious reasons.

WU: (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: One is you have a witness now, Michael Cohen, who can testify. In the Edwards case, the witnesses -- I think one was deceased and one was 101 years old and not able to testify. You also have the timing. Again, weeks before the election, did it make a difference? You know, who knows? Was it the only thing that made a difference? Absolutely not. There were a lot of factors in the election. Could it have swayed a few votes if this had come up beforehand? Quite possibly. Quite possibly. We might never know.

Laura Coates, what's Bob Mueller doing this morning?

COATES: I suspect that he's putting his nose to the grind and he's actually getting more work done knowing that he has really two feathers in his cap. Number one, he's got the feather of having, although it wasn't a comprehensive victory, there are still ten counts that the jury was able to hang on in the Paul Manafort trial, but he's got eight counts that are under his belt going into a new trial where he has purportedly three times the amount of evidence against that person.

You've got somebody named Michael Cohen, who although there was not a corroboration language clause in this particular plea agreement, certainly could help in a global plea discussion or a global cooperation agreement. You've got Robert Mueller realizing that he has extended the time in which he has to sentence Michael Flynn, the national security adviser who was -- who was fired and also pled guilty who he knows as well. He has on the hook longer to help in other cases or the investigation. If you're Robert Mueller, I think that he's probably a little bit more -- a little more than quietly confident these days.

Having said that, however, you still have this very real reaction from the president. I think we know it's coming, it's forthcoming, because the president of the United States, the reason this case is so much stronger, it's not just the paper trail that you saw in the case like Paul Manafort with -- with wire transfers and documentary evidence. You've got the president of the United States confirming over Twitter that he, in fact, directed payments. You have his own attorney, who now will likely be a lawyer -- a witness in this case saying that the president has actually done what Michael Cohen said he did. This is a really big problem. And if I'm Robert Mueller, I'm probably smirking this morning.

BERMAN: I don't know that he has that in the various facial muscles that, you know --

CAMEROTA: In his repertoire.

BERMAN: Are afforded to him, but --

AVLON: Joe Friday (ph).

COATES: Maybe he's furling (ph) his brow a little bit more. A little more.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that's it.

Laura, Shan, John, thank you very much.

COATES: Thank you.

WU: Good to see you.

CAMEROTA: You, too.

President Trump picking a new fight over the national anthem during NFL games. The "Bleacher Report" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:51:48] BERMAN: Urban Meyer's coaching future at Ohio State may soon be determined. The university's board of trustees set to meet today.

Lindsay Czarniak here on set with us for the "Bleacher Report."

LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Great to see you guys.

Yes, that meeting this morning is set for 9:00. They will be discussing a lot of things.

This "Bleacher Report" brought to you by Ford, going further so you can.

So, Urban Meyer's fate, it will be decided by what comes out of those discussions at that meeting between the board and the university president. Meyer is on paid leave while Ohio State investigates what he knew about domestic violence claims against former assistant coach Zach Smith. Meyer said he knew about a 2009 abuse allegation Smith's wife Courtney made toward her then husband, but he said he was not aware of a 2015 incident until last month. Meyer then later said he did follow protocol by reporting it. Smith, who has denied the abuse allegations, was fired from the team last month, three days after his wife received a protective order.

Elsewhere, after months of attacks on the NFL and its players over protests, President Trump is now taking aim at ESPN. ESPN recently announcing the network will not air the national anthem before its Monday night football games. This is what the president said at a rally yesterday in West Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was just announced by ESPN that rather than defending our anthem, our beautiful, beautiful national anthem, and defending our flag, they have decided that they just won't broadcast when they play with the national anthem. We don't like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CZARNIAK: The NFL put its national anthem policy on hold last month while it continues to have discussions with the players on how exactly to handle it. So, in the meantime, that means, guys, there's still no punishment for players that do choose to demonstrate.

CAMEROTA: It was just interesting to hear the president bring it up again last night. There was other news that he could have spoken about.

CZARNIAK: I was going to say, not like there was a lot going on.

CAMEROTA: So it now seems as though this is a distraction.

BERMAN: Do you think that was a coincidence?

CAMEROTA: I -- no, I don't.

BERMAN: Then voting down -- voting on that.

CAMEROTA: No.

CZARNIAK: It seems as though.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

CZARNIAK: Correct.

BERMAN: Thanks, Lindsay.

CAMEROTA: Lindsay, thank you.

CZARNIAK: You're welcome, guys.

CAMEROTA: All right, so an update for you now on that Colorado man accused of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters. He appeared emotionless as he was charged in their murders. But, as the charges were read, Shanann Watts' father put his head in his hands and sobbed. His son consoled him. If Chris -- Chris Watts is charged with nine counts. The 33-year-old is being held without bond.

BERMAN: This is just an incredible story out of Arkansas. A three- year-old boy and his one-year-old brother somehow managed to survive on their own for days after they survived a car crash that killed their mother. Now, the older child was found Monday morning after police received a 911 call about a boy walking by himself along a state highway. Authorities later found his little boy alive still strapped in his car seat when the vehicle was discovered in a ravine. Now, police believe the accident may have happened Thursday. Police are calling the boys' survival nothing short of a miracle.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, I mean it's just so heart-wrenching when I think about those little boys in the car alone. And whatever conversation they had --

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Before the three-year-old struck out to go -- to leave the car and I guess try to go get help. And the fact that he was found on a highway and spotted, it's just -- it's incredible.

[06:55:06] BERMAN: It also shows you what strength -- what a three- year-old is capable of and what strength they can possess, even at that young age.

CAMEROTA: I know it is. Gosh.

All right, back to our top story. Of course, the president of the United States accused in court by his long-time attorney of coordinating and directing a hush money scheme to silence his accusers weeks before the 2016 election. How will the president's legal team fight back today?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are a nation of laws and that is a lesson that Mr. Cohen learned today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Cohen has information that would be of interest to Mr. Mueller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has every insensitive to give them a story they want to hear. That's the way the game is played.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Manafort is disappointed. He is evaluating all his options.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russian witch hunt.

Where is the collusion? Find some collusion.

[07:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Donald Trump now says rigged witch hunt, rigged witch hunt, to fair-minded people, that has less power and relevance than ever before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't it time for Donald Trump to go before Mueller and testify?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the worst day of the Trump presidency. But I have to tell you, there are worse days to come.