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President Trump Criticizes Michael Cohen in Interview; Rudy Giuliani Urges DOJ to Investigate Hillary Clinton and DNC. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The real crime, the president says, is this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's called flipping, and it almost ought to be illegal. You get 10 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 10 years to they're a national hero. They have a statue erected in their honor. It's not a fair thing. But that's why he did it. He made a very good deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So the crime is not the crime. Flipping is the crime.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Should be the crime.

BERMAN: Should be the crime. The president hasn't changed that yet.

CAMEROTA: No, in criminal code, yet.

BERMAN: President Trump was also directly asked if he ordered Michael Cohen to make the hush money payments. Listen to his non-answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To make these payments did you direct him to make the payments?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 two 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)

CAMEROTA: All right, we'll discuss that. The president also went after his embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions again for not stopping the prosecutions of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. And when asked to grade his own presidency, the president said A-plus. Joining us now, we have CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I am an a plus.

CAMEROTA: That's for sure. And senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg, Margaret Talev, A-plus-plus.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": Thank you.

CAMEROTA: You're welcome.

Jeffrey, I am so fascinated by what he said in that soundbite there. He pled to two things which are not even crimes, he said, which no one understands. That is true, it is hard to understand this. And he said the campaign finance laws, we've discussed this, he doesn't believe that what Michael Cohen pleaded to are crimes. You have done a great job of explaining why, yes, campaign finance laws are a crime.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, exactly. Remember, there are two purposes of campaign finance laws -- to find out where money comes from into campaigns and where it goes. It's all about disclosure. What Michael Cohen did -- and obviously he says the president joined with him in it -- is lied about that, where the money came from and what it went to. And the reason he did that is because the public would have been so interested in knowing that the president or then candidate on the eve of the election was engineering all this money.

CAMEROTA: Paying to two different women to keep them from talking about alleged affairs.

TOOBIN: Correct.

BERMAN: Can I just point out the fact that when asked if he directed Michael to make the deals, he did not say no. He said he made the deals. That wasn't the question. It wasn't the question who made the deals. The question is, did you direct him. The president didn't answer that.

TOOBIN: He didn't answer that, but remember how many different answers he has given over the months about this whole transaction. Some of it is clearly lies now. There was an interview on Air Force One that he gave where he said he didn't know anything about this. So just because when you give a different answer from when you were previously lying doesn't mean your new answer isn't a lie as well. So --

CAMEROTA: Margaret, the reason I keep hammering this is because it sounds like this is the White House's new strategy. We heard it yesterday start with Matt Schlapp at about 8:00 a.m. on our air. We heard this talking point these aren't even crimes. It's not only the president is not connected, these aren't even crimes. We heard it through the day, and then the president reiterating it this morning there to Ainsley Earhardt. Is it your reporting that this is what they're going run with? TALEV: Well, this is their strategy right now, and it was on display

yesterday in Sarah Sanders briefing as well. And I think part of the reason why is because there isn't a more apparent strategy with a clearer path. What the president -- what Michael Cohen has done how with his plea casts completely aside that timeline of responses that have been leading up to, and that so it's very difficult for the White House to give any other answers on the record knowing that they now don't stand. And so the only answer can be right now that based on the information they have, exactly those talking points that they put out.

It is a very difficult situation to be in. I would not want to be up there trying to answer those questions. And because the president has story kept changing it makes it almost impossible for the White House to give any kind of a credible public answer that the person putting out the answer can be certain is not going to be shaken by the next set of testimony or revelations.

BERMAN: Their argument isn't just that there is no crime. The president's argument is that I didn't order the payments, I did order the payments, I did make the payments, I didn't know about them. So that keeps changing.

[08:05:06] And the new argue system is that Michael Cohen, I didn't even know him. Listen to how the president describes his relationship with Michael Cohen in this interview this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Cohen, tell me about your relationship with him.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, he was a lawyer for me for -- one of many. They always say the lawyer and they like to add the fixer. Well, I don't know if he was a fixer. I don't know where that term came from. But he has been a lawyer for me, didn't do big deals, did small deals. Not somebody that was with me that much. They make it sound like I didn't live without him. I understood Michael Cohen very well. It turned out he wasn't a very good lawyer, frankly, but he was somebody that probably with me for about 10 years, and I would see him sometimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Barely knew the guy.

TOOBIN: Who is this Michael Cohen of whom you speak? Mitchell Cohen?

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: I also like he was probably with me for about 10 years, as if he doesn't know the history.

TOOBIN: And also, 10 years? That strikes me as not a short time. Ten years, we are only on this earth for so many. And if you are an adult, 10 years is a substantial chunk of your life. (LAUGHTER)

TALEV: It's important for people to understand Michael Cohen was integral to President Trump's personal operation, part of the family essentially. He was not only his lawyer but fixer is actually the perfect word to describe exactly the role that he plays.

CAMEROTA: It's the word he used. It's the word Michael Cohen told us that he used.

TOOBIN: And keep in mind, we have not heard the last of Michael Cohen. We have just heard this one phrase he used in open court the other day where he said he acted with coordination at the direction of Donald Trump. He is going to elaborate on this, whether if the Democrats take the House he will certainly be testifying in public, he may well be in the grand jury, he will probably give interviews. So we will know what Michael Cohen's version of these events are. And remember, Lanny Davis, his lawyer, has been saying it's not just the hush money payments. He knows other things. So the Michael Cohen story is only in the middle. It's not at the end.

BERMAN: Let me just read you something, and I am just seeing this for the first time as well. The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani has made a new statement --

CAMEROTA: Oh boy.

BERMAN: So, "If there's any justice left in the DOJ why is payment by Hillary Clinton and DNC to Fusion GPS for the phony Steele dossier not under investigation. In your theory and Cohen plea it's an illegal campaign contribution. Let's go DOJ, wake up, where's the indictment? Clintons not above the law." I really don't want --

CAMEROTA: But I want Jeffrey to tackle this.

TOOBIN: I don't even know where to begin with that. The Clinton campaign, as did Republicans, paid Fusion GPS for opposition research.

CAMEROTA: Which you're allowed to do. Which is not illegal.

TOOBIN: Which of course every campaign does that. What that has to do with paying hush money to a porn actress -- why do we have to call her a star? Maybe she had middling roles.

CAMEROTA: OK, fair.

BERMAN: They can't all be stars.

TOOBIN: That's right. Maybe she was a character actor.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: What's happening?

TOOBIN: But what that has anything to do with these payments of hush money -- CAMEROTA: And Rudy Giuliani should know that.

TOOBIN: Well, he has a new role.

BERMAN: Margaret, we've heard the president over months and months and months go after Jeff Sessions. He did it this morning. But the context has changed because it seems to suggest he's upset at Jeff Sessions for not stopping these other prosecutions that weren't necessarily even in the realm of Russia, we're talking about Michael Cohen here, and the president also talking about the criminal justice system in a much a different way, saying that flipping should be a crime. He's also suggesting that Paul Manafort who is now a convicted felon for defrauding the United States of America is a great guy, lavishing praise.

CAMEROTA: Because he didn't break.

BERMAN: Because he didn't break. It's really interesting to hear what the president thinks about the rule of law.

TALEV: And I think there's a connection between Mayor Giuliani's statement and what we're seeing the president talk about with Jeff Sessions again, which is this continued effort to delegitimize the Justice Department, to suggest that it's politicized or the Democrats are somehow in control. Anyone who has covered Washington or politics for as long as any of us has knows that typically law enforcement and Justice Department, if it leans any direction, typically it leans a little bit Republican.

[08:10:06] But this is an effort to delegitimize the investigations and the timelines that law enforcement or special counsel is building by raising questions about things that don't actually have any direct bearing on the case.

CAMEROTA: I don't know, Jeffrey. This morning it feels we've reached a level of absurdity with these things aren't crime, look this way, look over there, look behind you at the Obama -- this level of absurdity that we keep hearing them trot out, sort of their hits.

TOOBIN: And how many times have we said similar things over the past two years of the campaign, and what happens in the polls? Nothing. Nothing.

CAMEROTA: Fair.

TOOBIN: Donald Trump's approval rating has fluctuated between 38 percent and 43 percent, very narrow range, regardless of --

BERMAN: Can I tell you one thing that has changed? Approval for the Mueller investigation has gone up quite a bit.

CAMEROTA: This is a FOX News poll. This is a FOX News poll. We'll read it to you. In July it was 48 percent approved of the Mueller investigation, now it's 59 percent. So there, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Winning matters. Well, that's Mueller. I'm talking about the president.

CAMEROTA: But things are changing.

TOOBIN: I have learned to be very skeptical about thinking news developments will fundamentally change anything. Perhaps I'm wrong. It has happened before.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, Margaret Tavel, thanks so much for being with us.

One area that matters now is Congress. The Justice Department guidelines are you can't indict a sitting president. Congress, if it chooses, can do something about this. Yes, there's impeachment, there's also hearings, there's also Congressional investigations. What will this accusation that the president broke the law in order to win the election, how will Congress react to that? We have a Republican senator who's willing to talk out loud on with us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans on Capitol Hill mostly silent after the conviction of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen and that bombshell admission from Michael Cohen in court, the accusation that President Trump directed him to break the law to make a hush money payment in order to help win the election.

Joining us now is Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Senator thanks so much for being with us. I applaud you for coming on and speaking because there's been a lot of silence from Republican lawmakers over the last few days and I do suppose it's understandable silence.

I do want to get your reaction to what we just heard the President say against your former colleague, the current Attorney General of the United States, former Republican Senator Jeff Sessions. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department and it's sort of an incredible thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Do you believe that Jeff Sessions never took control of the Justice Department?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: We have a great deal of respect for Attorney General Sessions. We've known him personally. I've respected him, I served with him for two years and I can tell you he is the right man for the job and we have confidence in him.

BERMAN: Is that fair criticism from the President of the United States which he seems to be basing on the fact that Jeff Sessions did not step in to stop the prosecution of Paul Manafort or Michael Cohen. ROUNDS: I can understand the President wanting to have an attorney general who would in his opinion be a strong advocate for his positions but you have to understand that Jeff Sessions is also truly a man of principle and if he believes that it would violate the principles that he's supposed to uphold, he will do the right thing and he will stand his ground.

I just -- I can't express enough how much confidence we have in Jeff. Jeff has different opinions on a number of things than what I do but I can tell you this much, Jeff is always going to try to do what he believes is right and that's something that the American people can have confidence in.

BERMAN: So, the President was accused under oath in open court of breaking the law to help win the election. What should Congress do about that?

ROUNDS: I think you're -- excuse me. The premise that you're using here, I think you're drawing some conclusions to begin with. Excuse me. You're drawing some conclusions to begin with that I would probably disagree with.

I think what you're taking are statements in which Mr. Cohen has made suggestions that he had actions that the President Trump was aware of. I probably wouldn't dispute the fact that Mr. Trump is aware of actions, but whether or not Mr. Trump felt that they were illegal or felt that they were illegal at the time is probably different than what your opinion is.

I can tell you that in what we've seen as far as the discussions about those transactions and the way that Mr. Cohen's attorney has expressed it seemed to indicate early on that they believe that they were suggesting the same thing that Mr. Trump's attorneys had when they talked about Mr. Trump providing direction to Mr. Cohen who was his attorney.

BERMAN: I actually don't have an opinion on whether or not the President directed Michael Cohen to do so or not. What I do have is an opinion about what Michael Cohen said out loud under oath in court. He said he was directed by the President of the United States.

I also have read the "Wall Street Journal" today which says David Pecker, a friend of the President, Chairman of AMI has told prosecutors under oath about the nature of these deals, including Mr. Trump's knowledge of them. So I'm just basing my opinion of what was said on what I'm reading here.

I don't know whether it's true or not and I'm not sure you do, either. The question is, should Congress try to find out? If the President did direct this action in order to win the election, which he won, aren't there more questions ask?

ROUNDS: If Mr. Michael Cohen's attorney was correct in stating that they believed that they were stating the same facts that Mr. Trump's attorneys were stating earlier then there doesn't seem to be a disagreement as to the direction that was provided but your earlier suggestion was that this is being done as an illegal activity, which has yet to be determined.

[08:20:00] BERMAN: It has yet to be determined -- well, let me just say this. The Justice Department guidelines are the President can't be indicted so prosecutors may not look to see whether the President broke the law here, they may not investigate it any further.

The constitution says it's Congress's job to provide this oversight. Why not look for the answers? Can Congress look for the answers to these questions? Which you're posing they're totally legitimate questions, so having a hearing.

ROUNDS: To begin with, you have a hearing going on right now with Mr. Miller who has started the process. He'll do a report to Congress. He'll do it based upon whether or not there was any activity with the Russians concerning the campaign that Mr. Trump ran and to this point there has been no evidence of any collusion there.

BERMAN: This isn't about -- sorry, this isn't about collusion. This isn't about collusion. Michael Cohen's not about collusion. Michael Cohen's not about the Russians. This is, again, about a campaign finance law that he admitted to breaking, that he's convicted of breaking here. On just this matter, we're not going to hear anything from Robert Mueller.

ROUNDS: There's a difference between being in violation of a campaign finance law which in many cases is settled on a civil side. You can have violations of a campaign finance law and in fact I think there were some by Mr. Obama --

BERMAN: But those were civil. This is criminal. This is a criminal violation.

ROUNDS: No, wait. We don't know whether we're talking about a criminal violation.

BERMAN: Michael Cohen is. Michael Cohen absolutely pleaded to a criminal violation.

ROUNDS: Well, but Mr. Trump did not. So what you've got is Mr. Trump suggesting very clearly that he had provided through his attorneys that he provided direction to Mr. Cohen. But that doesn't necessarily suggest that what he has done was a criminal act. And I think that's the point that we're trying to say. You've already got Mr. Robert Mueller coming through with an investigation that we support. Let's get that investigation completed.

BERMAN: I know and you've been supportive of the Mueller investigation and getting it completed. You have been very Republican, but a two very quick questions because I'm running out of time. Should the President pardon Paul Manafort?

ROUNDS: No, look, what we understand that the President has the constitutional authority to do so. But we think politically it would be a very serious mistake.

BERMAN: Second very quick question, do you believe the President? ROUNDS: Share again now? You're saying do I believe the President?

BERMAN: Do you believe what the President says when he talks about what happened with Michael Cohen? Do you believe him?

ROUNDS: I think the President has a way of expressing things to where there is doubt in what he is telling us and I think just as many people across the United States want to see this President succeed in what he's trying to get done, most of them are willing to look at this and saying look, a lot of the discussions he's having is a coffee klatch conversation with.

And we're prepared to understand that sometimes Mr. Trump will share things that are favorable to him and that that's a part of -- when they elected him they knew that and at the same time they're saying look, for the most part we like his policies, we want him to be successful. We want to continue to support him and we think the President long term is doing what he believes is right for the country.

BERMAN: That's not a yes. When I asked if you believed him you didn't say yes but appreciate you joining us this morning.

As I said, not a lot of Republicans willing to speak about this. You are one of them so thank you, Senator Rounds.

ROUNDS: Thank you, sir.

[08:23:31] ALISYN CAMEROTA, BLOOMBERG ANCHOR: OK, John our next lawmaker that we're going to speak to believes that Michael Cohen did lie to the Intel community when he testified in October, so what will they do about that? He's here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: In a new interview, President Trump insists that Democrats would only hurt the country by impeaching him after his former long- time Attorney Michael Cohen said the President directed him to break the law by making hush money payments to silence accusers before the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don't know how you can impeach somebody who's done a great job. I'll tell you what, if I ever got impeached I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor because without this thinking, you would see -- you would see numbers that you wouldn't believe in reverse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Joining us now we have Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, are you shaking your head?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: It's an interesting week. I just watched your earlier segment where the President of the United States seemed to be saying the true measure of someone is whether or not they rat on their friends, nothing to do with whether they committed gross felonies. Cue the theme of "the godfather."

CAMEROTA: Congressman, he was saying that impeachment would hurt the country. I think that -- would you argue impeachment that? Would argue that impeachment would take a toll on the country and are Democrats like yourself making phone calls today? Are you talking about that?

QUIGLEY: No, look, I think what he's saying is don't impeach me or the market will crash. He's basically not saying there aren't any problems or they shouldn't be impeached, he's saying if you impeach me it will hurt the country.

I lived through Watergate. That hurt the country. It took us a long time to recover from that. In some ways the cynicism and skepticism about government still remains from the stain of Watergate.

CAMEROTA: And so what does that mean that Democrats should not engage. I mean let say that you win the House that Democrats -- you would not recommend the Democrats move towards impeachment?

QUIGLEY: No. I think that impeachment does hurt the country and the reputation the country has. Well, there's a month ago the President said that the investigation is a stain on our country. What I'm saying is the President's actions are a stain on our country and its worse.

What was it called during Watergate? A cancer on the presidency. I think that's what we're suffering through.

[08:30:00] What I also saying is if impeachment is warranted then should go forward when the Mueller investigation is complete. To be fair at consistent, I've told the Republicans they never should have taint the investigation or --