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Trump Fights Back After Cohen's Revelations. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2018 - 07:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All we know about it is that he's pled guilty. Everything else is speculation.

[07:00:05] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You ought to be able to put your country over your political party. This is serious.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

President Trump is fighting back this morning, after his former longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, said the president directed him to break the law by making hush-money payments to influence the 2016 election.

President Trump falsely claims there is no campaign finance law and now says he only knew of the payments, quote, "later on," but that contradicts his own words. Just last month, CNN exclusively aired audio recorded by Michael Cohen -- you may remember this conversation -- that he had with Donald Trump about paying off Karen McDougal. This was in September of 2016, two months before the election.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: So, I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the financing, which will be --


COHEN: We'll have to pay --

TRUMP: We'll pay with cash?

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


COHEN: Hey, Donald, how are you? (END AUDIO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, the president is expressing clear disdain for the criminal justice system, lavishing praise on convicted felon Paul Manafort.

He has now criticism, the president does, for the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for not stopping these prosecutions. And as for Michael Cohen, the president has expressed no concern over the laws that Michael Cohen has admitted to breaking. Instead, the president says the real crime is that Michael Cohen is flipping. Listen.


TRUMP: It's called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal. You get ten years in jail, but if you say bad things about somebody, in other words, make up stories, if you don't know, make up stories -- they just make up lies. Alan Dershowitz said, compose, right? They make up lies -- I've seen it many times. They make up things, and now they go from ten years to they're a national hero. They have a statue erected in their honor. It's not -- it's not a fair thing, but, uh, that's why he did it. He made a very good deal.


BERMAN: So flipping's the crime, not the actual crime. Incidentally, the president also says the markets would crash if he were impeached.

CAMEROTA: That's possible.

All right. Joining us now on the phone is Josh Dawsey. He's the CNN political analyst and White House reporter for "The Washington Post."

Good morning, Josh.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via phone): Good morning. How are you?

CAMEROTA: I'm well, Josh. You have very interesting reporting this morning about the mood inside the White House. So both the president's mood since this news broke and the general mood. So, describe it.

DAWSEY: So, there's this palpable sense in the White House that this is different than a lot of the other, you know, sort of dicey, bad weeks we've had in the past. I think a lot of folks are shell-shocked that this happened. A lot of people were on the campaign and did not know that this was happening, at least in their telling. A number of White House aides that had to idea, you know, that something like this was even necessarily possible, that Michael Cohen was going to stand up in court and say that the president was part of a criminal scheme to pay off women and was going to be under investigation for this.

Now, for months, people close to the president have said that Michael Cohen, in their minds, poses sometimes more of an existential threat than even the Russia probe, but the shocking kind of one-two punch of Michael Cohen's plea, coupled with Paul Manafort being convicted within 30 minutes or so of each other, really has put a dim on the place.

CAMEROTA: But about the president, we've heard everything from him being exorcised, agitated, infuriated to what you're reporting is that more subdued, almost sad?

DAWSEY: Yes, he's dejected. The president had someone who was one of his closest fixers, his lawyer, someone who was in almost every meeting for years, who audiotaped him, recorded him -- I heard you just played the tape on air -- who, you know, basically told authorities all of his dirty business. And it's really upending his privacy right now.

You know, the president sometimes lashes out in anger. You've heard stories of him excoriating top aides, from John Kelly to Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus earlier, obviously. But I don't think he's doing that right now. I think it's more -- he's pretty despondent.

And he's kind of -- kind of saying to aides repeatedly, you know, "How did we get here? Why is this going up -- and is this going to upend my presidency?" I think he's talking aloud about different scenarios we reported today, talking about, you know, impeachment and would the Democrats, you know, try to do it? Could it backfire? How vulnerable is he?

You saw the interview with Ainsley Earhardt, where, you know, he's praising Paul Manafort and talking about how much he dislikes Michael Cohen and Jeff Sessions.

[07:05:06] There was a palpable sense in the president's mind that he was really making progress in undercutting the Mueller probe, that public sentiment was going in his favor, that he had gotten a lot more people to see it his way. And I think the events this week have changed that, in the eyes of many of the White House and the president's eyes, where there's really momentum now for law enforcement and the different investigations into him.

CAMEROTA: Josh, you also have interesting reporting into a morning meeting yesterday, with the president's top advisers. You say that it was Bill Shine, the deputy chief of staff, in communications with Sarah Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, John Kelly, where they tried to figure out how they were going to do damage control and how they were going to address this.

And we got a taste of that yesterday when Matt Schlapp, one of the president's staunchest supporters, came on and said to us, quite surprisingly, we thought at the time, "No crime here. There's no crime. This is not a crime. There's no campaign finance law that was broken," which I'm sure was also a surprise to Michael Cohen, who had pleaded guilty to it and was looking at jail time. But, in fact, that started to take hold and bubble up yesterday.

So is that your understanding of what this spin will now be?

DAWSEY: Well, it's the only spin they can make, because the Southern District, as you just pointed out, has charged Michael Cohen with it. He pleaded guilty to it. And it's hard to say it's not a crime.

The spin that I heard more in the White House is this was supposed to be about Russian collusion. There's been no Russian collusion. You know, Obama violated campaign finance laws. Now, clearly, what he did, if you read the story, was a totally different thing. It was about reporting in a certain time period. It was not willfully trying to get around the law, like Michael Cohen has happened here.

But the spin I heard more was saying, "This was not Russian collusion. Other people have violated campaign finance laws. You know, this isn't necessarily a big deal." I think it's a tough case for the White House to make that this isn't a crime when the justice system has shown that they do control, as part of the executive branch, has determined that it is and has already -- you know, someone's facing jail time for it.

CAMEROTA: Josh Dawsey, we scrambled you this morning to share your reporting with us, obviously from an underground bunker somewhere, given the audio, this somewhat challenging audio, and we appreciate you waking up early for us. Thank you. We will talk to you soon.

BERMAN: He's hunkered down reporting.

CAMEROTA: I can see that.

BERMAN: Like so many folks right now, because there is so much reporting to do. There's also so much listening to do. Because some of the most astounding facts -- or I should say, statements --

CAMEROTA: That's better.

BERMAN: -- are coming from the mouth of the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

I want to bring in CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN global affairs analyst Susan Glasser.

Jeffrey, moments ago, we heard the president say that the real crime Michael Cohen committed wasn't bank fraud or tax evasion or pay-offs to influence the election. It was flipping on Donald Trump. That's on the heels of him lavishing praise on convicted felon Paul Manafort, who's convicted of defrauding the United States of America.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I -- we've run out of adjectives to describe how bizarre Donald Trump's behavior is.

You know, the business of flipping, the business of getting defendants to cooperate on one another is the entire basis, just about, of how U.S. attorney's offices work, how federal prosecutions work in this country, which is under the supervision of the president of the United States. And I, you know, as a former federal prosecutor myself, I think it works pretty well.

The idea that it is somehow improper or should be unlawful is astonishing, especially if you think that criminals ought to be prosecuted. CAMEROTA: Well --

TOOBIN: That's the best way we know how to do it.

BERMAN: He seems to not think so.

TOOBIN: Well, apparently.

BERMAN: He seems to not think so. He's saying that Paul Manafort, you know, great guy, not convicted felon. He seemed to think Paul Manafort --

CAMEROTA: Because he didn't break, he said. I think that's also --

TOOBIN: Well, the Manafort comments are really astonishing, because it is worth remembering, putting aside the political context of what Manafort was convicted of, the crimes themselves were pretty astonishing.

I mean, here's a guy who, when he was making money, cheated elaborately on his taxes. When he stopped making money, he started lying to banks in order to get money under false presences. That's all the Paul Manafort case was. And the idea that the president would praise someone like that is, again, pretty astonishing.

CAMEROTA: Susan, in case you haven't heard the president's latest audio or our viewers haven't, let's play it from this morning.


AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS CHANNEL ANCHOR: Are you considering pardoning Paul Manafort?

TRUMP: I have great respect for what he's done, in terms of what he's gone through. You know, he worked for Ronald Reagan for years. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked -- I guess his firm worked for McCain. He worked for many, many people, many, many years.

[06:10:10] And I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.

If you look at Hillary Clinton's person, you take a look at the people that work for Hillary Clinton -- I mean, look at the crimes that Clinton did, with the e-mails, and she deletes 33,000 e-mails after she gets a subpoena from Congress, and this Justice Department does nothing about it? And all of the other crimes that they've done.


CAMEROTA: So we often hear this deflection. We hear a deflection always to Obama, always to Hillary Clinton, but your article, you have a new article, in which you characterize it. You quote Norm Eisen as the worst hour of his entire life. Tell us about it.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, I think that the debate now is what happens. And is this really one of those moments that changes everything or not?

I was immediately struck, I'm sure you were, too. Do you remember back to October 7, 2016, that "Access Hollywood" tape coming out, 4 p.m. in the afternoon. It felt like it was going to change everything. It was election-changing moment.

Another one of those Trump news cycles, May 9, 2017, when the White House all of a sudden at 5 p.m., after 5 p.m., announced that the president had fired the FBI director, and it was immediately apparent enormous consequences would come from that. What would they be?

To me, listening and watching as this played out over the course of just an hour the other day, you had that same sense that both everything and possibly nothing would change as a result of it. And it's been fascinating to watch over the last 48 hours that play out.

You have Republicans on Capitol Hill. Remember, impeachment at this point is the only form of accountability for President Trump, even as more and more of those people who surrounded him, people he, himself, picked to have key roles, they face accountability in the court system and the like. But the president himself, not only at the moment, faces no accountability.

It's fascinating to watch his sort of un-reality show collide with the very difficult fact set he's now facing, which is the conviction of his former campaign chairman, the cooperation of his former lawyer and confidant with the authorities.

Listen to him say about Paul Manafort, "Well, not only is he a great guy and the problem is, you know, the prosecutors," but to say that everybody, everybody in Washington does crimes, millions of dollars flowing through overseas foreign accounts, $15,000 ostrich jackets. My guess is a lot of people in Washington would be pretty offended to hear the president say that. You know, he's really trying to fight facts with a level of unreality that even for the president is quite brazen.

BERMAN: His argument seems to be, there is no accountability. There is no laws. Like the matrix, there is no spoon. It's just not there. You can do whatever you want with it. And his current argument about campaign finance law, that there was no law there, that's broken --

CAMEROTA: Or crime.

BERMAN: Or crime, what do you make of that? Despite what we have heard from federal prosecutors, saying that they have all kinds of evidence that there was a law and there was a crime committed. Despite the fact "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that David Pecker, chairman of AMI, is telling prosecutors that the president had knowledge of this.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, let's remember why campaign finance laws exist. They exist so that we know who funds campaigns, where the money comes from, and where it goes. You know, what do campaigns spend their money on? What Michael Cohen did, with, he says, the assistant of the president,

was lie about both of those things. Where the money came from and where it went.

CAMEROTA: Hold on one second. Let me just add to you, the president says this money didn't come from the campaign. It came from the Trump Organization.

TOOBIN: That's right.

CAMEROTA: So then he says that that can't break the law.

CAMEROTA: Well, he actually said, "It came from me." Now, whether it comes from the Trump Organization or from him personally is still not -- is still not clear. But it's illegal either way, because, yes, individuals are allowed to fund their campaigns, but they have to disclose that they are doing it, how much they're doing it for, and where the money went.

And the reason the law exists is so the public knows how the money is spent. Don't you think on the eve of the election, when these transactions were taking place, that the public would have been interested that $280,000 was going to silence two women that the president --

CAMEROTA: I do think that that would have been a fundamental piece of information.

TOOBIN: Don't you think the public would have wanted --

CAMEROTA: I think the public would have liked to know that.

TOOBIN: And the reason they covered it up is because they didn't want the public to know that, and that's why it's a crime.

CAMEROTA: And that's what Michael Cohen has testified to --

TOOBIN: Pleaded guilty to, yes. So it's one thing to argue that a charged crime is not a crime. But when you have a sophisticated defendant with sophisticated lawyers --

[07:15:04] CAMEROTA: Who's a lawyer.

TOOBIN: -- who is himself a lawyer, pleading guilty, it's really, I think, a tough -- a tough argument that it's not a crime.

CAMEROTA: I agree with that. I agree with that. But that is what we heard. Matt Schlapp, I mean, we heard it start -- we heard it bubble up yesterday at probably 8 a.m. And we were surprised to hear that, but it has continued to percolate since then.

BERMAN: A crime, a crime that was committed, prosecutors say, to win an election. That is what they say.

Susan, the president also this morning saying that the real problem is his attorney general has not stopped the prosecution of these crimes. Listen.


TRUMP: There's such corruption. Before I got here, it's from before I got here. It's the Obama administration. And you look at what happened. They surveilled my campaign. It's very simple. The FISA report, the phony, fake --

EARHARDT: Rosenstein signed the last FISA report.

TRUMP: It bothers me. It's always bothered me.

EARHARDT: Will you fire him? Will you fire Sessions?

TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you what. As I've said, I wanted to stay uninvolved, but when everybody sees what's going on in the Justice Department -- I always put justice now with quotes -- it's a very, very sad day.


BERMAN: First of all, he always puts justice in quotes, because I do not fundamentally believe he thinks there is such a thing as justice.

CAMEROTA: Well, he said about the Justice Department. He doesn't think that they -- that there's any justice in the Justice Department.

BERMAN: Clearly, the only justice he thinks exists is his justice. But Susan, how do you assess that statement? He didn't rule out firing Mueller or Sessions there. He also bashed Sessions a whole lot.

GLASSER: Look, Donald Trump is really backed into a corner. He's been obsessing, as you know, increasingly about Mueller, about the Justice Department. Once again, you hear him attacking his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, by name, much more frequently than he had in recent months.

He made this tweet in the middle of the night overnight. All it said was "No collusion, witch hunt." You know, this is a guy who despite the spin, despite the aggressive statements that he's giving in this FOX interview, it seems to me that Trump is sort of like Richard Nixon, shouting at the walls in the White House at this point.

You know, he's like very -- not only naive about the justice system, but basically, he doesn't seem to have much of a strategy beyond saying that crimes aren't crimes and, you know, I think that's what makes Donald Trump dangerous. If you look at his biography, and in the past, when he's made some of his worst mistakes is when he's been backed into a corner. That's when, you know, he was getting divorced for the second time. He was -- his business was going bankrupt. What did he do? He started making wild purchases.

And so I think all of these to me are signs that we're, you know, headed toward some sort of an explosive outburst from President Trump, as he feels fewer and fewer options. And as his spin about these very damaging facts becomes more and more unbelievable.

He's asking us, essentially, to believe that a crime is not a crime, because he says that it isn't. And even, I think, very pro-Trump people may find that hard to swallow.

There was just the Manafort hold juror apparently a lone woman. But the woman who came out and spoke for the Manafort jury was a very pro- Trump voter who said, nonetheless, she was persuaded by the evidence. I think that's got to be troubling for Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: That's such a great point. In fact, we just had Josh Dawsey on before you, Susan, who had interviewed a Republican donor and Trump supporter, Dan Eberhardt (ph), who said, "How do you spin a fact?" That's what they're grappling with this morning. How are they going to spin this fact set?

Susan Glasser, thank you very much for sharing your reporting with us.

Jeffrey Toobin, always a pleasure.

BERMAN: There's more and more sound coming out from the president this morning, including one bite that I hope we're going to get to after the break, where he does not deny that he directed Michael Cohen to make these payments.

CAMEROTA: That would be helpful.

BERMAN: We'll listen to that very closely.

We're also going to talk about how Republicans are going to handle this situation in Congress. Stay with us.

CAMEROTA: Stay close, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Obviously.


[07:23:01] BERMAN: All right. Brand-new this morning, the president says that the crimes Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to were, quote, "were not crimes." So what about the hush-money payments? Did the president direct Michael Cohen to make these payments? He was just asked that directly. Listen.


EARHARDT: Now he's saying that you directed him to make these payments. Did you direct him to make these payments?

TRUMP: He made the deal. He made the deals. And by the way, he pled to two counts that aren't a crime, which nobody understands. I watched a number of shows. Sometimes you get some pretty good information by watching shows. Those two counts aren't even a crime. They weren't campaign finance.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: All right, joining us now is CNN national security commentator Mike Rogers. He was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a former Republican congressman, also a former FBI guy.

I'm going to ask you to wear many hats during this brief interview, Mike. The first hat I'm going to make you wear --

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Does that make me just confused, John? I think that's what that does.

BERMAN: So more so than the rest of us this morning.

Look, the president of the United States was just asked a very direct question: "Did you direct Michael Cohen to make those payments?" His answer was not "no." His answer was, "He made the deals. He made the deals." You're an FBI guy. What did you hear there?

ROGERS: Yes, listen, I go back and try to parse this over. I went back and read all the John Edwards trial, and he was in trial for, remember, the payments to a mistress in the 2008 campaign when he was running for president. And it came back not guilty.

I think this is going to be harder to prove for the prosecution. And listen, I believe in a spirited defense. I do think that there's a connection to the law there. I do -- I don't think this is going to be the slam dunk that people say it is.

BERMAN: We can talk about that. We can talk about that. But just listening to the president answer the questions, "Did you direct him?" He did not say no.

ROGERS: Yes, here's my thing, though. Let's just -- let's back it up for a minute. If you're an investigator and you're trying to prove this in the court of law. And as we have seen, one juror, one juror makes the difference in this. Which I think is why you see such a spirited public framing of what he thinks the law is or isn't in this particular case.

[07:25:11] But if you look back at this, let's say the president did. Let's say the president called up and said, "I'm going to cut a check for this -- for this event." Personal use money is not considered campaign money. They'd have to tie this in -- I think it's a loose notion to say that "this helped me get elected to president." Would it have been damaging? I think it would have absolutely been damaging.

BERMAN: That may be. It may be a hard case to make. It may be a hard case to make. Federal prosecutors are not making the case against the president. Why? We don't know. A big reason may be because they believe you cannot indict a sitting president, so it's not worth the energy to lay that case out.

However, they appear to have a very solid case that what Michael Cohen says is true. They list out the evidence that they have here.

ROGERS: Right. BERMAN: David Pecker, according to the "Wall Street Journal," is also testifying to federal prosecutors that the president knew about all of this.

I do want to move on to the discussion. Still wearing your FBI hat, the president very critical of Michael Cohen, not for breaking the law. Doesn't seem to have a problem with the idea that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to many crimes, or Paul Manafort, for that matter. His real issue is with the concept of flipping. Listen.


TRUMP: It's called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal. You get ten years in jail, but if you say bad things about somebody, in other words, make up stories if you don't know, make up stories -- they just make up lies. Alan Dershowitz said compose, right? They make up lies -- I've seen it many times. They make up things and now they go from ten years to they're a national hero. They have a statue erected in their honor. It's not -- it's not a fair thing. But that's why he did it. He made a very good deal.


BERMAN: Should flipping be a crime?

ROGERS: Cooperating witnesses are the cornerstone of justice. And, listen, this happens all the time.

I always believed, once these folks were facing the full weight of the -- of the responsibility of their criminal actions, all of them, Manafort, others, that they're going to start thinking, "Hey, I'm not going to go to jail for 60 or 70 years or whatever the charges are. I'm going to try to cut a better deal here."

Cohen had that written all over him right up-front. And that's -- again, it's the cornerstone of our justice system. To say that that should be illegal is, that's fundamentally not understanding how justice is brought about here in the United States.

BERMAN: It may be beyond not understanding. It may be, as I said, disdaining. It may be actively, aggressively not liking the way that justice is done. It sounds, as many have noted this morning, it sounds like something you might hear from a mob boss. The problem isn't the crime; it's those who call out the crime.

ROGERS: John, can I just say one thing? In every courtroom in America today, in that, you know, spirited defense, which I do believe in in the United States, they are attacking cooperating witnesses. The defense is going after their credibility. And a little bit of that is what you see the president doing now.


ROGERS: "I'm going to try to taint that person's credibility, so that when they testify" -- remember, he did the same thing with Gates, as they were going into the Manafort trial. And certainly, that's what the Manafort lawyers were trying to do. That's all legitimate.

BERMAN: It is. And there are questions about Michael Cohen's credibility.

ROGERS: But saying it should be illegal, that's a different matter.

BERMAN: Change hats. Change hats. Put on your former Republican congressman hat right now.

Tom Cole, who is a sharp, sharp campaign-savvy Republican congressman, a former political operative, he is warning Republicans, be careful defending the president here. He says, "Where there's smoke and there's a lot of smoke, there may well be fire. Anybody who says this is not disturbing is not being honest."

He goes on to warn Democrats in swing districts here, "Look, don't rush to defend the president here, because in two months' time, there may be more stuff that comes out that you're going to have an impossible time defending."

ROGERS: You know, I always believe that you'll do well in politics by just listening to what your mother says when you're growing up. Birds of a feather stick together. And I think this is starting to be a real and significant problem for the defendant. Everybody around him that he brought in and was close to him is having legal problems.

Now, I think the cases that have been brought were pre-presidency. So I think this talk of impeachment is too soon. I think that it does speak to the character of how you conduct yourself, both in business and maybe even in politics. And that presents a huge problem.

BERMAN: And as president.

ROGERS: Yes, absolutely.

BERMAN: And again, again, when you look also beyond the president, Duncan Hunter. Charges now against Duncan Hunter for using his campaign fund to buy clothes, to do things for his pets, Steelers tickets. It goes on and on.

Chris Collins -- and by the way, these are the first two members of Congress who endorsed President Trump.

But you were there in 2006, when there was a wave against Republicans. Some of that had to do with perceived corruption among Republican members. Is this rising to that level?

ROGERS: Well, I don't know. There was a whole host of other problems I think the Republicans had back in 2006. And I think the biggest part of that, candidly, was the war effort. I think Nancy Pelosi did a brilliant strategy about coming in and saying, "Everybody is corrupt, everybody here, and we're going to change it." I thought it was a brilliant tactical and strategy. I don't think that works here.