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Cohen Implicates Trump; Congress Action on Cohen Implications; Lanny Davis Interview. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY.

Sources tell CNN the White House is stunned this morning. Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" just told us the people surrounding the president are now discussing impeachment as a tangible possibility. Why? Well, the president's long-time lawyer and lieutenant (ph) Michael Cohen stood up in a courtroom under oath and said the president directed him to break the law, directed him to pay two women to stay silent about alleged affairs in order to influence the 2016 election. But, wait, there's more. Now Cohen's attorney says his client also has information relevant to the Mueller investigation, hinting it has to do with the Russian attack on the 2016 election. We're going to speak to Lanny Davis in just minutes to find out what he means by that.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, the special counsel Robert Mueller has scored his first victory in court as a Virginia jury convicted Paul Manafort on eight counts of fraud. Now they must decide whether to retry the other ten counts that resulted in a mistrial. So, will the president use his pardon power to clear Manafort, who he appears to still be defending?

BERMAN: I want to bring in former federal prosecutor, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and CNN political analyst David Gregory.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us this morning.

Jeffery Toobin, to you.

I had a chance to listen to you yesterday to react as this news was coming in. Surprising and big to everyone involved. You had a chance to get some sleep. I wonder if your view on the enormity of it all has changed.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Not at all, Berman. I mean this is just an enormous development because this brings criminal accusations to the door of the Oval Office. The claim by Michael Cohen that his illegal activities were at the direction of Donald Trump is just an absolutely game-changing development. And what makes it even more difficult for the Trump administration is that Cohen's claim has the ring of truth. Why would Michael Cohen break the law to help Donald Trump get elected president, except at the direction of Donald Trump?

This was a crime designed to help Donald Trump get elected president. It didn't make Michael Cohen any money. It didn't help him. It was a crime for Donald Trump. So the claim that he directed it has a lot of credibility.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, you are on with us virtually every morning talking about the different threads, the different incremental steps in these different investigations. What's your thought this morning?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I agree with Jeffrey. I mean this is a huge moment, not just because of what's happened, but because of what could happen. And that's in the legal realm in terms of Michael Cohen cooperating. Will Paul Manafort ultimately cooperate? What about Michael Flynn, who's cooperating with the special counsel? So there are a lot of players now who start to potentially construct an enterprise, a criminal enterprise, that is around or may even involve the president.

And we are still not talking about what is the central thrust of the investigation, which is whether there was collusion with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election. That's what the special prosecutor is after, as the president reminds us. But he should also be reminded that prosecutors tend to bring cases they find in their investigations. That's what law and order is all about. And that's what Mueller is doing here. And even though Cohen is separated from that, it originated with a referral to them and they referred it out to the Southern District. And that's what's happening.

The very real prospect of impeachment now draws closer. You have a midterm race that is now going to be dominated, as we knew it would be, with the specter, the cloud of the investigation, but also this cloud of corruption in the Republican Party. You know, the president can say it's a rigged investigation. He can blame the news media. I mean it's not the news media's fault that he surrounded himself with these people who got convicted of crimes or have pled guilty to crimes. It's not our fault for reporting this out. This is his judgement. This is their decisions. And the president, according to Michael Cohen, has just lied to the American people about paying off a woman to keep her story silent about having an affair.

CAMEROTA: Two women.

GREGORY: Two women. So, you know, maybe that doesn't matter anymore. Maybe it won't matter. You know, I mean, it mattered to the likes of Brett Kavanaugh, his Supreme Court nominee. It certainly mattered to him in the context of Bill Clinton and Paula Jones way back when. Maybe the electorate has moved on or maybe Trump and the party are now facing the real prospect that a lot of Republicans, a lot of independents, maybe not the core supporters of Trump, may say enough with the drama, and he really may see some sliding support. And I think that's what is the real worry in the White House now.

[07:05:15] BERMAN: Yes, we've already seen, David Gregory, to your point, allies of the president and people close to him saying this has nothing to do with Russia. It has nothing to do with ice cream either. It has to do with breaking the law. And Michael Cohen said under oath in a federal courtroom yesterday that the president broke the law.

And, David, you also said this has to do with what could happen -- there's the legal side of what could happen -- and then there's the political side, Jeffrey. And David eluded to this, too. This gets to the issue of what will Congress do? What will Congress do now before November and what will they do after November? I don't know if the Democrats will take over the House. Maybe they will. Then I assume likely there will be hearings. But there are two months to go before that happens, Jeffrey. Trey Gowdy, Bob Goodlatte, Republicans who control committees and who can have testimony, who can subpoena people, what will they do?

TOOBIN: Well, if the past is prologue at all, the Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate will do nothing at all. I mean this has been a Republican Party in Congress, completely devoted to protecting rather than investigating Donald Trump. And since there are only two months to go, I don't see any alternative -- any alternative scenario developing while the House is in Republican hands.

If the Democrats retake control, I think it's going to be a very different story. I doubt, frankly, having looked a lot at this, that impeachment will be on the Democrats' agenda right away. However, there will be investigations right away, including, I would suggest, almost certainly public testimony by Michael Cohen. He will either be immunized by the House Judiciary Committee forcing him to testify, or he will testify voluntarily. That's something that Lanny Davis has suggested and we might find out later this morning whether he'd be interested in public testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

But it is a certainly that there could be major investigations by the House of Representatives if the Democrats take over. Whether they lead to impeachment is unclear. But certainly we would see a lot of subpoenas flying from the House of Representatives and people like Michael Cohen giving public testimony sooner rather than later.

CAMEROTA: David, remember when Rudy Giuliani was on NEW DAY, whenever that was, two weeks ago, and he used Shakespearean terms to describe Michael Cohen. He cited Othello and sort of the betrayal that Michael Cohen was now kind of exhibiting for the president. And it is Shakespearean, actually, to watch the fall from the inner circle of this man who had said months ago that he would take a bullet for Donald Trump.


CAMEROTA: And now have to, you know, the law has some convincing, persuasive tactics. And to watch him, you know, in court admit what happened and that he was directly -- and that there's evidence. I mean Lanny Davis has gone on so far to say that they'll -- they have wire transfers. They have a paper trail. And to watch all of this unfold yesterday was, you know, pretty breathtaking.

GREGORY: Well, and Rudy Giuliani, who has hours and hours and hours of live TV appearances on NEW DAY alone, just from that interview alone, that interview that went on for a while --

CAMEROTA: That's true.

GREGORY: But he -- but he's the one who made clear that, in fact, that there were payments made to Stormy Daniels and that they went through the law firm and that they were reimbursed. So the notion that this is made up of a whole cloth seems fanciful.

It, as Jeffrey said, it has the ring of truth because, I mean, does this seem like an unlikely scenario to anybody, which, I think, is part of this. And if Cohen is lying, and that's proven to be the case, then his arrangement with the government also goes away, which only implicates him further. So you have to look at those motivation.

Nevertheless, he's certainly going to be accused of all kinds of things, of lying and not being trustworthy. But, again, we can look at this point, but what else is to follow?

And the piece about politics obviously is important because at least the midterms will give us a data point about how voters feel about this. Republicans certainly want to make this about other issues, about taxes, about the performance of the stock market, about the growth of the economy, those are real things. The president would like it -- to make it about the question of immigration and open borders, which matter to a lot of people.

But this is still a cloud. And it's going to be there for not just Democrats, but for a lot of the president's supporters who ended up voting for him who think, come on, this is just -- it's a question of competence, it's a question of judgment, it's a question of corruption. At least those things, if not, in fact, worse.

[07:10:02] We can't -- maybe we can't now apply all of our past lessons from covering politics to Trump because he seems to defy those, but the old lesson -- the old -- history still applies. And the question is to what extent? And we've seen these kinds of things play out before and they can engulf a presidency.

BERMAN: Yes, we've seen a president have to resign when accused of being part of a conspiracy to win an election. And that's what Michael Cohen is suggesting.

GREGORY: Right, but we -- but we -- but we also saw -- we saw -- we -- look, we saw impeachment with Bill Clinton.


GREGORY: We saw the Valerie Plame episode with a Democratic Congress after they won against George Bush. That resulted in, you know, Scooter Libby getting convicted. So it was not all-consuming, but it was certainly an all-consuming story.


GREGORY: So we know the power to kind of undermine the presidency.

BERMAN: Absolutely. And, again, just to be clear, Michael Cohen is accusing the president of being part of a conspiracy to win the election. An election he won, by the way. I mean there may be a direct result of the actions he took. Who knows? That's impossible to tell.

Jeffrey, from a legal standpoint, Rudy Giuliani didn't directly rebut what Michael Cohen said last night, as you've noted repeatedly. He said there was nothing in the charges implicating the president. That's a moot point because the charges didn't discuss the president at all. It was when Michael Cohen, in open court, under oath said the president told me to break the law that's at issue here. But he says that Michael Cohen's a liar. That's one possible defense.

And another possible defense is that, well, if the president was involved here, it wasn't for the campaign, it was because he didn't want his wife to know. And then another possible defense that you might hear, and I suspect we will today is, campaign finance violations are nothing. They don't matter. No one ever really gets in serious trouble for campaign finance violations.

TOOBIN: Well, all of those are possible. Michael Cohen is a liar. This is all no big deal. Or a third, as you point out, that this was a personal matter relating to his marriage, not a -- not relating to the presidential campaign.

The issue I always come back to is that facts matter. And this is not just Donald Trump's word against Michael Cohen's. It's the issue of corroboration. You know, we -- prosecutors never evaluate just how one person looks compared to how the other person looks. They look at the totality of the facts. Are there e-mails? Are there phone calls that were taped? Are there other witnesses who know about what went on with the payments to these two women? That's what's going to matter a great deal. What do all the facts show? And is Michael Cohen's story, which is deeply incriminating to Donald Trump, is it corroborated by other evidence? We don't know that yet, but that's certainly something that everyone involved in this is going to be looking at.

BERMAN: All right, David Gregory, Jeffrey Toobin --

GREGORY: And can I add --

BERMAN: Go ahead. Go ahead, David.

GREGORY: No, just a quick point. The other thing that the president has discipline about is saying, this is about the question of Russian collusion. Is he able, in a benign outcome of all of this, if it doesn't touch him directly, is he able to survive if a lot of things went on that -- among people who are close to him that fell short of proving any kind of corroboration with the Russians in the election? That is still a question that everybody has to hold out.

But the tipping point here is about what gives the Democrats more confidence to move forward on impeachment based on a Mueller report. A day like yesterday I think gives them more confidence politically to do that.

BERMAN: Michael Cohen seemed to suggest this touches the president quite directly, at least he did yesterday.

David Gregory, Jeffrey Toobin, Jeffrey Toobin's dog, please, stick around.

CAMEROTA: Made a cameo unbeknownst to Jeffrey Toobin.

BERMAN: We'll see you -- we'll see you later in this --

TOOBIN: Did --


TOOBIN: Did Breezy (ph) get in the -- Breezy get in the shot.

CAMEROTA: Very cute.

BERMAN: Yes, I think it was a dog unless it was a ferret there. It was unclear. It was something furry.

TOOBIN: No, that's Breezy.

BERMAN: All right, we'll talk to you both in a little bit, guys.

TOOBIN: Eight month old Labradoodle.

CAMEROTA: Adorable.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

So Michael Cohen's lawyer says his client has information that Robert Mueller would want. What is it? Lanny joins -- Lanny Davis -- well, we want to know. We've been saying this for the last 24 hours.

CAMEROTA: We have one question, what is it?

BERMAN: Yes, what's this information? He'll be with us shortly.


[07:18:14] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States accused in court by his long-time attorney Michael Cohen of coordinating and directing a hush money scheme to silence his accusers weeks before the 2016 election. What will Cohen tell Robert Mueller's investigators I suppose if asked?

Joining me now is Michael Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis.

Lanny, thanks so much for being with us.

LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me, John.

BERMAN: In open court -- in open court yesterday, Michael Cohen said that he made these payments in coordination with and at the direction of the president of the United States. That's Michael Cohen's word. What other proof, what other evidence is there to back that up?

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. And Donald Trump didn't sign the check to own up, he told Michael Cohen, according to his lawyers --


DAVIS: Who would be witnesses against him. So there's no dispute by his own lawyers that Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to do this.

BERMAN: What letter? What letter? I've heard you refer to this letter.

DAVIS: I -- I --

BERMAN: We have not seen this letter. What letter? When was it written? Which lawyers?

DAVIS: I am -- I am -- I am stunned because it's public. It was reported by many news outlets that Donald Trump's lawyers sent a letter to this special counsel in which they used the word directed concerning these payments. And Rudy Giuliani very famously threw his client under the bus and said, oh, he wasn't telling the truth on Air Force One when he said he knew nothing about this, he was actually not telling the truth, but that's not a crime. And Rudy Giuliani confirmed and used the word reimbursement, which in and of itself is a campaign violation, because a reimbursement is a donation for the purpose of political protection. So that's the evidence.

[07:20:12] BERMAN: But -- but, Lanny, the -- the letters that we have seen -- the letters that we have seen that the president's lawyers have written to the special counsel have to do specifically with the Russian investigation and possible obstruction. Specifically they say the president directed different people in terms of dictating the letter to the Trump Tower meeting. But we haven't seen -- I have not seen any admission from the president's lawyers that he directed Michael Cohen to make these payments.

Now, you're absolutely right, Rudy Giuliani, much later, we're talking about last spring, said that Donald Trump did, in the form of a retainer, authorize repayments to Michael Cohen. That much is known.

DAVIS: Well, first of all, you'll have to check the record that they were referring to the direction to Michael Cohen to make these payments. But they also acknowledge when he filed a campaign finance report that they were donations by him in his 2017 disclosure forms. And Giuliani himself acknowledged it.

So there is really not a dispute of fact here. It's not about credibility on this issue. It is an undisputed fact that Donald Trump lied. Then his own lawyer said he lied, in effect, and that he was involved and aware, even though he said he wasn't, and then his own lawyers in their letter to the special counsel indicated as such.

BERMAN: Are there more tape recordings? You released one recording of Michael Cohen and the president talking about one payment that had to do with "The Enquirer." Are there any other recordings?

DAVIS: I don't know. I can't answer that question yet. We'll just have to see what happens on other recordings.

BERMAN: All right, we're going to go look for the letter where you say that the president's legal team admits that the president directed Michael Cohen to make these payments, because that is important here.

But I want to ask you about something else you've said. You've said, again, in the interviews you've done over the last 24 hours or so, that Michael Cohen has knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on. Please explain.

DAVIS: Well, it was a little bit less definitive than that. I said it's my observation that Mr. Cohen has knowledge that would be of interest to the special counsel about the issue of whether Donald Trump ahead of time knew about the hacking of e-mails, which is a computer crime that was the subject of the indictment of the 12 Russians. And we'll just have to see what Mr. Cohen is able to say from direct knowledge when and if he discusses this with the special counsel.

BERMAN: So when and if. He has not had that discussion with the special counsel?

DAVIS: So I can't answer that question except to say that I believe he has knowledge that would be of interest to the special counsel.

BERMAN: You believe he has knowledge that would be of interest. Does he know that the president knew beforehand of the hack?

DAVIS: I can only say, because I'm an attorney, I'm limited, I usually like to answer direct questions if you have known me throughout the years, but when you're an attorney and your client shares confidences with you, you can't reveal them at the risk of waving all of your attorney/client privilege on confidences.

But I am willing to say my observation is that the topics relating to hacking and the crime of hacking laid out in the indictments to the 12 Russians, that there are subjects that Michael Cohen could address that would be of interest to the special counsel.

BERMAN: You say could, which indicates that he has not. I'm just saying, the implication of the words you are choosing carefully, and you choose your words very carefully, are that he could discuss it, which implies that he has not yet. Has there been any conversation between the special counsel's office and Michael Cohen?

DAVIS: So let me contradict the implication and simply say I can't answer the question whether he has or whether he hasn't.

BERMAN: Had any discussions?

DAVIS: I don't want to interfere in anything the special counsel is doing. I think he's a great man, operating silently like a submarine, no leaks.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

DAVIS: And I don't want to say anything regarding his activities, whether or not Mr. Cohen has talked to him.

BERMAN: Was this subject -- was this subject that you have been the one to primarily bring up since yesterday, this idea that possibly Michael Cohen has knowledge of some kind of the president's mindset before the hacking -- was that part of the agreement that you and Michael Cohen reached with the Southern District of New York?

DAVIS: No. The agreement in the Southern District was about a crime that Michael Cohen admitted to and said that the president of the United States directed and coordinated that crime making him complicit and equally culpable. And then as evidence of that, I have cited other members of his legal team who have corroborated that statement.

BERMAN: One of the things that came up, and "The Washington Post" report this as they've looked over the documents, is that the Trump Organization reimbursed Michael Cohen for these payments that he made in an amount greater than the actual payment. Why?

[07:25:14] DAVIS: That's easy.


DAVIS: That's easy. When you spend money that's after tax dollars and you're reimbursed

for that expenditure, you're paid -- it's called grossing up. So if you spend $100 after you've paid your taxes and you're going to be reimbursed, you'll be paid $200 to pay your taxes to get it down to $100. So it's called grossing up, meaning you're paid the money that includes the taxes that you would have paid had you not paid the money after taxes. Pretty simple.

BERMAN: So it was for no services beyond the payment to Stormy Daniels?

DAVIS: Beyond the grossing up, meaning paying for the gross income, he then was paid extra for additional services. I think approximately $60,000. Something in that nature (ph).

BERMAN: What additional services?

DAVIS: Well, he continued to be an adviser to Donald Trump on retainer. There are many clients that I represent that pay a monthly retainer for me to be available for advice. And Mr. Trump was willing to pay slightly more --


DAVIS: Than the amount that would be the equivalent of the $130,000, including the income taxes, to be paid to hush up Ms. Daniels.

BERMAN: All right.

There are a couple other questions, house cleaning notes here.

Any sense that the federal government is investigating or would use testimony for Michael Cohen to go after David Pecker or AMI, "The National Enquirer" folks?

DAVIS: I have --

BERMAN: Any knowledge of that?

DAVIS: I have no knowledge of that at all.

BERMAN: Would Michael Cohen seek a pardon from the president of the United States for any of this?

DAVIS: The answer is definitively no. Under no circumstances, since he came to the judgment after Mr. Trump's election to the president of the United States, that his suitability is a serious risk to our country. And certainly after Helsinki --


DAVIS: Creates serious questions about his loyalty to our country. His answer would be no, I do not want a pardon from this man.

BERMAN: We heard from Mark Warner and Richard Burr yesterday from the senate Intelligence Committee who say they reached out to Michael Cohen and his team to get a clarification on testimony. That testimony we believe that he made to the committee, Michael Cohen made, was that he had no knowledge of the nature of the Trump Tower meeting, that it was the Russians providing dirt on Hillary Clinton before the Trump Tower meeting. There was reporting after that fact, from CNN and others, that Michael Cohen was willing to say that he did know.

Is it your understanding now that the Senate has been told, no, Michael Cohen stands by his testimony, he did not know of the Trump Tower meeting beforehand?

DAVIS: That's correct. And the reporting was a bit garbled. We take a good amount of responsibility under the difficulties of facing a criminal investigation and not being able to explain or correct or straighten things out that there's some truth to the news reporting, but we weren't able to do anything further in the middle of a criminal investigation, now in the middle of waiting to cooperate with Mr. Mueller, but to say that he testified truthfully to both the Senate and the House committees. BERMAN: Will Michael Cohen willingly testifying under oath to an

congressional committee without immunity?

DAVIS: Yes, I believe I can say that. I haven't specifically asked my client that question, but I'm stating my belief that the answer to that question is yes. We have set up a fund that has the title to help him and his family through this terrible time. We're asking people who are wanting to help Donald -- to help Michael Cohen tell the truth to donate to the website,

BERMAN: OK. We're hearing from our White House reporters this morning that one of the things that allies of the president, what they're going to do, is go after your client, Michael Cohen, as a liar and a non-credible witness.

DAVIS: Of course. When they are caught in a lie, they attack. They divert attention. They lie some more so that they can change the topic as we now know their strategy about throwing out various topics.

What we know that cannot be denied, let me repeat one more time, the president's lawyers are the witnesses to support what Michael Cohen said under oath, which is something Donald Trump's not willing to do yet and probably never. Under oath he was directed personally, personally by Donald Trump, to write that check for $130,000 using home financing funds. And he was directed by Donald Trump according to his own lawyers.

BERMAN: What they'll say, though, Lanny, is that -- what they'll say -- what they'll say is that that's a different story today than was told when "The Wall Street Journal" first reported this story some months ago so that Michael Cohen has lied about this over the course of time.

[07:30:13] DAVIS: Well, there has been an evolution in his