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The First Reaction From President Trump To The Guilty Plea From His Former Lawyer Michael Cohen; An Autopsy Will Be Done On Body Of Missing Iowa College Student Mollie Tibbetts. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 08:30   ET



MATT SCHLAPP, CHAIRMAN, AMEERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: these charges? Not at all. I thin Michael Cohen is someone who, like Paul Manafort, who had an elaborate scheme to not pay their taxes and committed a lot of financial crimes. And in Cohen's case because they had him over a barrel, because they had all these crimes that they could prosecute him for, they got him to sign a plea that was not negotiated. It was take it or leave it, and he signed it to save his own hide and to try to get a reduced sentence. It happens in America all the time and -

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So just to be clear, Matt, you don't believe that President Trump directed him to make those payments to those two women and that it was to influence the presidential race?

SCHLAPP: Well, all I can tell you is Cohen taped all of or at least a lot of his conversations with the president. So, you know, if Cohen has some kind of proof that that happened, we'll see it.


SCHLAPP: I don't believe that proof exists. I think -


SCHLAPP: - what happened is -

CAMEROTA: I mean, here's the proof -

SCHLAPP: - if I could answer your question -

CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead.

SCHLAPP: - the - I believe that what happened is Michael Cohen plead two charges that are actually not crimes according to the FEC but that are an attempt to try to do anything to connect Cohen's wrongdoing to potential wrongdoing with Trump. And I think that's a travesty -

CAMEROTA: So Matt, let me just challenge you on a couple things.


CAMEROTA: I mean, obviously campaign finance - there are campaign finance laws and you are not allowed to make payments in order to mislead the American voter into voting for you, number one.


CAMEROTA: Number two, just so you say that there's no -

SCHLAPP: I want t respond when you're done.

CAMEROTA: OK, I would like you to. Just when you say there's no evidence, Michael Cohen testified under oath. He did so in an open court. There are wire transfers according to prosecutors that show from the Trump organization the money going to Michael Cohen and that money going to a porn star and a Playboy model.


CAMEROTA: There are the stories of the two women who say that they had affairs with Mr. Trump. You don't believe any of that?

SCHLAPP: What I'm answering your question is I don't believe that the transactions associated with these two people are FEC crimes. And I believe that Michael Cohen plead guilty to actions that are called crimes in the plea deal that aren't, in fact, crimes. Alisyn -


SCHLAPP: - can you name any other person in this country who has been convicted -


SCHLAPP: - of trying to squelched a story -


SCHLAPP: - in the National Inquirer -

CAMEROTA: (inaudible)

SCHLAPP: - (inaudible)

CAMEROTA: This is a lot of - what I think you're doing is a lot of sort of fancy, rhetorical footwork -

SCHLAPP: No, no. I'm answering your question -

CAMEROTA: - well, my question to you -

SCHLAPP: I'm answer your question -

CAMEROTA: - Matt, my question to you was does it at all effect your support of Donald Trump knowing all of these things?

SCHLAPP: I knew, what? What the fact that Donald Trump had an extravagant lifestyle -

CAMEROTA: And may have had affairs with these two women that he paid off in hush money?

SCHLAPP: You know, I grew up outside of New York City for a number of years. I read all about Donald Trump. Nobody in my party or nobody of the folks that made up the coalition, you know, we're naive to the fact of the life that he had.

CAMEROTA: So you're OK with those things -

SCHLAPP: The reason why they turned - the reason why - no, I never said I was OK with this -

CAMEROTA: Well, look. You support him, OK? So at some point we have to connect the dots -

SCHLAPP: I support him strongly -

CAMEROTA: You support him -

SCHLAPP: Look, Alisyn. Alisyn, let me - I would like a minute -

CAMEROTA: - and he's an unindicted co-conspirator now in these campaign finance laws. That's the truth, Matt.

SCHLAPP: I'll answer all your questions, but let me just have a minute here. I'd like this interview to be as along the same tone that Elizabeth Warren just had. Ask your questions and let me answer them.

CAMEROTA: I'd like that, Matt, but you have to answer my question and not redirect.

SCHLAPP: I get to do whatever I want because I have -

CAMEROTA: No you don't, Matt.

SCHLAPP: - a first amendment right - I have a first amendment right to answer. I will answer any question you pose to me. Let me just simply say if you're going to turn all of this into a morals case against Donald Trump when the reason for the special counsel was to determine whether or not this was collusion with Putin's government -


SCHLAPP: - I think that that is the ultimate redirect, and I think it bastardizes the very reason for this investigation.

CAMEROTA: But it's actually - I'm actually asking you about legal questions and how you feel knowing now that Michael Cohen has testified under oath that President Trump directed this -

SCHLAPP: This is not a crime.

CAMEROTA: - that Donald Trump directed it.

SCHLAPP: It's not a crime. It's not a crime.

CAMEROTA: It is a campaign finance law violation -

SCHLAPP: You might not like it, Alisyn, but it is not. It is not. Name a person in this country who has been prosecuted for this alleged crime that you say occurred. Name the name.

CAMEROTA: Michael Cohen.

SCHLAPP: Michael Cohen was not prosecuted. Michael Cohen -

CAMEROTA: He plead guilty.

SCHLAPP: No, it's a plea deal, Alisyn. It's much different from a conviction -

CAMEROTA: You're really splitting hairs, but let's -

SCHLAPP: - in court that was upheld -

CAMEROTA: Let's - look. Let's move on.

SCHLAPP: It's not a crime.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's move on. I mean, you're saying Michael Cohen just pleaded guilty to a non-crime -

SCHLAPP: No, you're saying a crime is -

CAMEROTA: - which deems (ph) bad legal advice.

SCHLAPP: No, no, no. Let me just say I'm not a lawyer, and let me tell you this. I think that what happened - what happens with rich people, CNN might have employed people in this case, too. People you are famous, people who are rich -


SCHLAPP: - face bad stories and they take steps to try to squelched their stories -


CAMEROTA: And they rarely plead guilty to those -

SCHLAPP: - all the time.

CAMEROTA: - fake stories.

SCHLAPP: Nobody has plead guilty except Michael Cohen because they had him dead to write the fact-

CAMEROTA: All right, listen -

SCHLAPP: No, let me answer.

CAMEROTA: No, I want to answer your question because -

SCHLAPP: That he ran a business - that he ran a business -

CAMEROTA: - John Rand (ph) is pointing out that


SCHLAPP: and they take steps to try to squelch those stories -

CAMEROTA: And they rarely plead guilty to those fake -

SCHLAPP: - all the time.

CAMEROTA: - to those fake stories.

SCHLAPP: Nobody has plead guilty except Michael Cohen because they had him dead to write -

CAMEROTA: All right, listen -

SCHLAPP: No, let me answer.

CAMEROTA: No, I want to get -

SCHLAPP: That he ran a business -

CAMEROTA: I want to answer your question because -

SCHLAPP: - that he ran a business -

CAMEROTA: - John Rand (ph) is pointing out -

SCHLAPP: Hold on. Let me -

CAMEROTA: I have your answer. I have your answer.

SCHLAPP: No, you don't! You don't. No, let me -

CAMEROTA: Yes, I do. Former GOP political operative, Tyler Harper -

SCHLAPP: Geeze (ph), could I please answer the question?

CAMEROTA: - served two years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2015 to setting up a super pact to funnel money to a political campaign he was managing and lying about it to the FBI.

SCHLAPP: That's a totally different - that's a totally different story. He wasn't squelching a story that would - could harm his reputation -


SCHLAPP: - which you're allowed to do in America. What John is referring to in that is the misuse of campaign dollars that you told donors you would spend for one reason and you spent for another reason -

CAMEROTA: OK - SCHLAPP: What I'm talking about any of that in this case (ph) -

CAMEROTA: - (inadubile) I got you. I want to move on because listen, Michael Cohen pleaded to a crime, but I want to move one because I have other questions for you -

SCHLAPP: The crime is tax evasion, just so we are clear, where they have him dead (ph) to write to something because he ran a business and avoided his -

CAMEROTA: He also pleaded guilty to making these payments. He did -

SCHLAPP: Which are not crimes.

CAMEROTA: OK. Well then, he got some lousy legal advice for pleading guilty to something that could bring him -

SCHLAPP: No, no. He's staying out of prison. He did what was in his self interest -

CAMEROTA: You don't know that, Matt.

SCHLAPP: He did -

CAMEROTA: He's actually looking at four years in prison.

SCHLAPP: Alisyn -

CAMEROTA: He hasn't been sentenced yet.

SCHLAPP: - he's going to get a reduced crime because he turned on Donald Trump and that's a fact.

CAMEROTA: And he might go to prison.

SCHLAPP: For a shorter time.

CAMEROTA: Matt, your wife, Mercedes, obviously works in the White House Communications -

SCHLAPP: So you have a high regard for her, right?

CAMEROTA: Oh, she's lovely.


CAMEROTA: She's lovely, and what I'm wondering is if she shared with you what the reaction in the White House was yesterday when this news broke?

SCHLAPP: No. As I told you, I was out of town, and I got home -

CAMEROTA: Did you have a conversation with her?

SCHLAPP: Yes, we had a conversation about was going to bring my daughter to tennis camp this morning, and we were able to have a quick conversation this morning about the fact that we're going to have a date night tonight, and that was the extent of our conversation -

CAMEROTA: Where are you guys going to go?

SCHLAPP: We're going to go to the Kennedy Center and we're going to watch "The Color Purple" and hopefully get away from politics for at least a couple hours.

CAMEROTA: That sounds like it will be lovely. Matt Schlapp, thank you very much.

SCHLAPP: Thank you, Alisyn.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Everyone can agree on date night.

CAMEROTA: We all are for that.

BERMAN: Look, there have been people convicted who have served time for campaign finance violations. Period, full stop. They have.

CAMEROTA: But the point is, is that I felt that he was splitting legal hairs there.

BERMAN: He is.

CAMEROTA: Michael Cohen pleaded guilty.

BERMAN: He pleaded guilty to a federal crime -

CAMEROTA: And in open court, he talked about Donald Trump having directed him, and I think that that, is the heart of the matter. The Republicans, like Matt and others, today will have to give their response to him, and we appreciate Matt coming on and giving his response to that.

BERMAN: Before date night. An undocumented immigrant accused of killing a missing Iowa college student, what led to the break in this case? That's next.


[08:41:37] BERMAN: An autopsy is planned (ph) and the body believed to be that of missing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts. She vanished a month ago. An undocumented immigrant has been charged in her death. CNN's Ryan Young live for us this morning in Montezuma, Iowa with the very latest. Ryan -

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, this is just so very tough. In fact, you can see the headline here in the paper. So many people upset about this. They wanted a different ending. In fact, look at this video yesterday at the news conference as we started getting those details.

Friends so very upset, choking up right behind us. It was hard to even be there because you could feel their pain. The undocumented immigrant, Christian Rivera, has been charged with first degree murder. In fact, he's been talking to investigators, even led them to where he said he dumped the body, so you can understand the pain in this area.

He actually said he saw her running, got out of his car and started running along side of her, and then he blacked out. That's what he told investigators. And, of course, this is also becoming political. Listen to Donald Trump talking about this case just last night.


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. 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.


YOUNG: So many questions in this case, but you have to think about her family and the pain they're going through at this time. Alisyn, this is just so heartbreaking.

CAMEROTA: Ryan, it's also chilling. I mean, just to think that this was a random crime of opportunity. It's really chilling. Ryan Young, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

So two of the president's top men now convicted felons. We're going to get the bottom line with Carl Bernstein next.

BERMAN: He knows a little bit about this kind of thing.

CAMEROTA: He's seen this - some of this.



BERMAN: We have breaking news, the first reaction from President Trump to the guilty plea from his one time lawyer Michael Cohen.

CAMEROTA: Read it.

BERMAN: This is interesting. This is Donald Trump writing "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen".

CAMEROTA: Are you sure that's Donald Trump writing?

BERMAN: There are no spelling errors there, strongly suggests it doesn't sound like the president. I guess there's some what amusing response to a very serious moment in this presidency.

Michael Cohen stood in an open court room yesterday, under oath and basically said the president directed me to break that law. Let's get the bottom line on all of this. Carl Bernstein joins us right now. He was part of the part of the "Washington Post" reporting on Watergate. Carl is now a CNN Political Analyst. And Carl look this happened yesterday. When Michael Cohen stood up

and basically said the president directed me to break the law. People said not since Watergate have we seen something like this. Your reaction.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well as you know I've said before that what we're seeing is worse than Watergate, because in Watergate the system worked. And until yesterday when we finally saw some action in the judiciary in the judicial branch. In which the rule of law has apparently had real effect. The system has not been working.

But more than anything what we - what we're seeing now is the egregious conduct of the man who is the President of the United States with no regard for the rule of law before he was president, in his campaign, or as President of the United States. And that's what makes this whole situation so dangerous.

CAMEROTA: What does it mean, that the President of the United States is now an un-incited co-conspirator in the breaking of a federal law?

BERNSTEIN: Well there's the political dimension of it and there's the legal dimension of it. We've got a long way to go and we need more information. And that's what the Mueller investigation is all about. And this is no witch hunt. As almost any fair minded person ought to be able to see with great clarity now.


It is anything but a witch hunt. It is an attempt to get at the truth. And what the truth that we are learning we're beginning to understand why the President of the United States Donald Trump has covered up. Since he took office almost everything having to do with his response in terms of the facts regarding the Mueller investigation. And have tried to make the issue the conduct of the Mueller investigation, the FBI, Hillary Clinton, the democrats, the deep state rather than his own egregious conduct, including in this cover up and obstruction of justice. That Mr. Mueller obviously has a very strong case on. But also the whole question of quote Mr. Trump keeps saying "no collusion, no collusion, no collusion".

The evidence would point to anything but what he is saying. The Trump Tower meeting at which his son attended and said "I love it," when told by representatives holding out the possibility of Russians providing information. The Russian Government on Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign.

That meeting in Trump Tower was an open invitation to collusion. The people around him, Mike Flynn among others seemed to be accused of collusion, the former National Security Advisor. This investigation will tell us, if Trump allows it to go forward, the extent and whether or not that collusion extends to the President of the United States himself.

BERMAN: Hey, Carl.


BERMAN: On the Trump Tower meeting, because there is some new information on that. And you had done some reporting, and the reporting was that Michael Cohen had been telling people that he was willing to testify to Robert Mueller that Donald Trump had knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting before hand. The President of the United States now had knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting before hand.

Well now, I just spoke to Lanny Davis he was on TV. Lanny Davis is saying that's not the case. Michael Cohen doesn't have information exactly that President Trump knew before hand. And Richard Burr of the intelligence committee yesterday, and Mark Warner came out and said they went back and reached out to Cohen's people to recheck that point on testimony he made to the effect that he had no knowledge of it. And that testimony still stands.

BERNSTEIN: I don't know what Mr. Cohen actually knows and what is in his head. But I believe what we reported was that people on his behalf we're saying that he would - wanted to tell the prosecutors that he knew that Trump had advance knowledge of that meeting.

But in terms of what the actual facts are as opposed to what his representatives and people reporting to be speaking for and him with knowledge of what he supposedly knew and was quote "shopping around" at the time, when he wanted to get a meeting with the prosecutors. That's as far as the story went. But in terms of what the actual facts are, that's exactly why he needs to be thoroughly interrogated by the prosecutors and by the Congress as well.

CAMEROTA: Carl we have already heard some republicans begin what I believe will be the talking point today, which is you can't trust Michael Cohen. He has had different stories, he's a known liar. Look he's a convicted felon. I mean that is one is - that one is rich.

He's a convicted felon because he just told the truth in a court case and plead guilty to it. But in any event that's what they're beginning to say. And what should Americans know about that talking point?

BERNSTEIN: I think what American's need to do is to pay as much attention as they can. Just as those of us in the media need to pay as much attention as we can to the factual record as it emerges through these very, very complicated events. And they are very complicated to parse.

But the fact is that indeed Mr. Cohen is a liar, has been a liar. And that point has to be conceded. However it is unthinkable at least from the years that I covered the courts, and the judiciary.

[08:55:00] To think that experienced prosecutors would accept this plea and put in the pleadings themselves, the language that they did with out having corroboration to some extent from Cohen's notes, from audio recordings. They have as we know millions of documents from the raid on this offices, on his computer devices.

So I think it's a fair assumption that his information has been checked out pretty well. And when he says - also we heard a bit of it ourselves in the audio recording that was released a couple weeks ago. That both Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Avenatti and others have all discussed on the air.

That recording itself goes somewhat toward what we're talking about today. But I think it's - you've got to think the prosecutors know what they're doing here.

BERMAN: Carl Bernstein really great to have you with us this morning to put this in the bigger perspective here. Again man in open court under oath just said the president told him to break the law. Carl thanks very much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks Carl.

BERMAN: Much more to discuss, including the president's first reaction to all of this. CNN Newsroom Poppy Harlow picks it all up after a quick break.