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CUOMO PRIME TIME
Interview With Former Ethics Watchdog Walter Shaub; Trump Organization CFO Granted Immunity in Cohen Probe; Trump Legal Troubles Mounting?. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired August 24, 2018 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I am Chris Cuomo, and welcome to PRIME TIME.
We have new information and a key player in the Trump legal saga. After a week of legal pounding for the president, arguably, the biggest news broke today. The man at the center of the Trump Organization's finances was granted immunity to work with the government.
But what beans did he spill? We're joined by a man who predicted a week like this might come, the ethics watchdog who took on his own bosses at the White House.
So, after his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, said under oath that Trump ordered him to commit crimes, it begs a serious question: How much legal jeopardy could the president be in personally?
"Cuomo's Court" in session tonight.
Plus: Why is Trump's inner circle talking more about the potential for impeachment than Democrats? We're going to get the inside scoop.
You can't start the weekend until you make sense of all that happened today. It's going to take us two hours to do it. So, what do you say? Let's get after it.
Tonight, serious new implications for the president. Another close ally of Trump and his family granted immunity, talking to federal prosecutors.
His name? Allen Weisselberg. He is the Trump Organization's chief financial officer. He is assisting the government's investigation into hush money payments made to two women who alleged affairs with Trump.
But what else could he be talking to them about? We don't know. But we do know he has worked for Trump and his family for decades. He literally started with Trump's father as an accountant.
Walter Shaub is the former director of the Office of Government Ethics.
Welcome to PRIME TIME. You have been saying that there was exposure for the president, that there was more to learn, that we'd have to see how close they got to where the money was. You believe there was a reason the president was shy on disclosure.
Did you imagine anything like this?
WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Well, I have been out of the business of predicting the future since this administration started.
We're seeing one unprecedented event after another. But there's only so much you can do to deviate from the way people do things in Washington before the chickens come home to roost. And that's because the ways people do things has -- have evolved as a result of a lot of hard lessons.
And one of the first things I told the president's attorney a couple of weeks after -- White House counsel Don McGahn -- a few weeks after the election was decided was that, you don't have to follow the traditions and norms of Washington, but those evolved as a result of a lot of hard lessons people learned and a lot of pain that people went through.
And when you play games and deviate from that, you're taking a big risk.
CUOMO: What did you see this week that gave you an, aha, that's why he didn't want to sign the disclosure statement, that's why they gave me a tough time about the ethics disclosures forms?
SHAUB: Yes, well, the strangest moment of my entire career is when I'm sitting across the table from an attorney for the president, who tells me that she'd like to have the president be the first person ever to not sign that his financial disclosure report is true.
And then, with this criminal information, we're learning that the payments definitely started in February of 2017. Until then, we have had Rudy Giuliani making a lot of inconsistent statements and hinting that they started then, but now we know they started then.
And the president himself came out this week and says that he repaid them. So he had to have known about them. Well, a few months later, he filed a financial disclosure report in which he omitted his debt to Michael Cohen to reimburse him for the Stormy Daniels payment. That omission is significant.
A lot of us out in the good government community have complained about it since we first learned of it and have made a lot of noise about it. And the Office of Government Ethics, the acting director at the time, in May this year wound up referring the president to the Department of Justice for this omission.
He did this year finally admit in that form that he made this reimbursement to Michael Cohen and that it was, in fact, a liability that he owed. CUOMO: Technicality, or is their criminal exposure?
SHAUB: It's extremely significant, because there are two criminal statutes that are violated if that omission was willful and knowing.
The first is the Ethics in Government Act, which isn't the first thing that comes to people's mind. But it includes criminal penalties for knowingly and willfully filing a false financial disclosure report.
And then the other is 18-USC Section 1001, which everybody talks about.
CUOMO: One thousand one, false statements on a federal form.
SHAUB: That's right.
CUOMO: So, Weisselberg, nobody expected a cut this close to the bone for President Trump.
CUOMO: This is man at the center of it.
So one of the puzzling things is here, immunity for what? Is it just Cohen? And if it's just Cohen, what is the minimum exposure? And then what is the more protracted sense of what they could do now that he took an immunity deal? Remember, he didn't have to take it.
SHAUB: Yes. And you have to ask yourself that, because a person doesn't need immunity if they don't have criminal liability.
So, right there is a very disturbing statement about a person who is very close to the president. I think the minimum that we know is that the prosecutors are now talking to two, maybe three individuals, if you throw in David Pecker, who may be able to corroborate the president's knowledge of Michael Cohen's activities.
And we don't know for sure what they have said to the prosecution, so we're speculating at this point, but...
CUOMO: Why would they give them an immunity deal if they didn't have anything to offer that furthered their understanding of the situation?
SHAUB: Well, that's it.
Prosecutors don't give immunity unless they're trading it for very valuable information, and they perhaps don't have enough evidence against the individual they're granting immunity to, to necessarily convict them.
And so it gives them access to people at the core of Trump's life who know absolutely everything. And it's the old follow the money. This is the money. These are the guys who know it, and particularly Weisselberg.
So, at a minimum, that's very serious. At a maximum, it's possible that Weisselberg also traded information about the president. We can't know. And we shouldn't speculate that that's necessarily what's happening.
CUOMO: No. Right.
SHAUB: But at the far other end of the extreme, if I was President Trump, I would be having trouble sleeping, as he appears to be with these late-night tweets he's doing.
CUOMO: It is reported that David Pecker, the second man who popped up on the radar this week from Trump world, has reportedly corroborated what Michael Cohen said about what seems obvious, that the president knew what they were doing on his behalf.
If Weisselberg is the third check in that box, the next question becomes, well, who wants to talk to him? Is it relevant that he got an immunity deal from the Southern District, not from Mueller's prosecutors? Does that mean that Mueller can't have access to him? Does that mean that the New York district attorney can't have access? How does it work?
SHAUB: No, to the contrary, these prosecutors are all going to work in tandem with one another.
And they're going to make sure that any deals they're cutting are not unduly stepping on each other's equities. And so they -- this potentially opens up these as witnesses to these other possible investigations.
Now, again, we should caveat that with -- we don't know that that's the case. And we will have to wait and see. It's very hard to predict the future in these times.
CUOMO: And we do have to remember that an immunity deal does not immunize you against perjury. So, everybody who makes a deal like that, essentially, if they lie, they die, that deal dies.
Walter, you said to me a long time ago, you keep talking about collusion. Remember that the narrative that it must have to do with Russia is greatly minimizing what the potential for illegality is out there, if you're looking just at Donald Trump's finances.
Well, sure enough, this has nothing to do with Russia, but that doesn't mean it's not wrong.
Thank you for your perspective. We will check back in with you when we know more.
CUOMO: All right.
So, the problem with the partisan divide is extremes. A lot happened this week. And, unfortunately, depending on your stripe, it means everything or nothing.
So, here's what we did. We crunched the facts and laid out what we can now show that we know, all right?
So we have a Friday night Magic Wall for you next.
CUOMO: I always say, we only know what we can show. And remember that.
So, what might the president have done wrong? Now, what do I mean when I say wrong? I'm not talking about affairs, all right? Trump and his wife, they're the judges on that. I have said many times personal matters like that are not my concern, nor my job to scrutinize.
My focus is lying about criminal conduct and related potential illegality on the part of the president.
The president is lying to you. And that's wrong, especially when it's about criminal conduct, hence the donnybrook last night with Kellyanne about this.
The White House will do anything to avoid this reality. Why? Hubris? No, because it leads places they don't want to go, but we must.
So, where does it take us? We know the president lied and is lying when he says he only knew about these payments after they were made. How do we know?
Well, first, Cohen says it. One of his -- and, now, what do you want to say? He made it, the plea to the court. The president says, you can't believe him. OK.
David Pecker, one of his oldest friends, OK, who would know, as one of the parties to these dealings, as the head of "The National Enquirer," exactly what the president knew. All right, you want to dismiss him too.
Now we hear that another player who would definitely know what Donald Trump was a part of with both of these hush agreements, and maybe a whole raft of other situations we don't even know about yet, has also been given immunity. His name is Allen Weisselberg. He is the CFO of the Trump Organization.
A little side note. Giving immunity to these two, but not Cohen shows just how intent prosecutors are. And if they're willing to jam him up for things that he did only for Trump -- remember, none of it -- a lot of -- a lot of -- you got to look at the plea agreement, but a lot of it is really about what he did for Trump.
What does that say about how interested they are in what Trump knows? OK. Even if you don't believe anything from anybody else, there's the tape of Trump and Cohen proving that he knew during the process, not only after. Remember.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and I've spoken...
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Give it to me and (INAUDIBLE)
COHEN: And, I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with...
TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?
COHEN: ... funding.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
CUOMO: He only knew about it after, he says. This is obviously before, at best during. He lied.
Does it matter? Yes. Why?
Here, 18-USC-2001, OK? What is that? You hear about it all the time.
That's lying to the government, false statements to the government. What does that mean? The money, the $130,000 that Cohen fronted on the Stormy Daniels payment, that can be considered a loan.
If Trump knew about the payment -- and it appears he did, right? -- he knowingly omitted a liability that needed to be recorded in the personal financial disclosure, this thing called the 278 form.
So what? It's a potential felony. Bad fact for Trump here? He keeps saying he repaid Cohen's unreported loan. You have heard him say that several times. What's he doing there? He's admitting to what he should have disclosed, one more reason tweeting can be a problem.
Now, this also goes for McDougal. Why? It appears from the Cohen court proceedings that AMI, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," was not repaid for purchasing her story to help Trump. So those payments by David Pecker, the man who was just given immunity, which means he's talking to the prosecutors, could be construed also as a loan or an illegal corporate contribution, neither of which was disclosed.
What else? Conspiracy. If Trump knew about and even instructed or directed, as Cohen says, the payments that were made to Stormy Daniels or the arrangement with "The Enquirer" through David Pecker to pay Karen McDougal -- remember that tape -- then Trump solicited or conspired to commit a campaign finance violation. He could be personally exposed.
So that is what could be shown.
The next question is, what can be done about it?
Trump is an apparent unindicted co-conspirator with Cohen by the Southern District of New York. Why do we know that? Because that's what they were talking about by saying the candidate that he was working for
But they can't charge a sitting president, according to the Department of Justice guidance. That's why he wasn't named. What about Mueller? He could take the matter back from the Southern District, but taking this up would be a Lewinsky-like turn away from the main substance of the Russia probe, and Mueller can't file charges either, right?
So does the A.G., the acting one, the deputy A.G., Rosenstein -- he's in charge -- does he want that kind of political pressure? Let's assume no.
So what does that leave? Congress. Democrats are slow to talk impeachment. Why? They seem to believe it's not popular enough as a midterm motivation. But if they get control of the House, would any of this that I have just shown you meet the definition of high crime or misdemeanor?
Now, that standard isn't a legal one. It's really a political one. It's about votes. But think about the irony. Democrats would be confronting an impeachment proposition they once attacked, whether or not to impeach him president for lying about affairs and covering them up.
All right, so let's take a break.
Why did the man at the center of Trump's money get immunity? Is it just about Cohen? There are other possibilities.
"Cuomo's Court" is in session next.
CUOMO: The president can try to distance himself from Michael Cohen all he wants, but the evidence shows otherwise.
And there's probably no way for him to stay clear from Allen Weisselberg. He knows what nobody else does about what could be Trump's money trail.
Let's get after it.
We got "Cuomo's Court" for you on a Friday night, Laura Coates and Jim Schultz. Welcome to both of you. Thanks for being here on a Friday night.
I want to start with this for you to defend, Laura Coates.
A former Trump Organization employees says this: Allen Weisselberg knows where all the financial bodies are buried. Allen knows every deal. He knows every dealership. He knows every sale, anything and everything that's been done. He knows every membership, anything you can think of."
Well, how about this, Laura Coates? I start with the opposite proposition. It doesn't matter what he knows. They only asked him, as far as we know, about a very limited fact pattern involving Cohen and any payments for these women. And you can't get Trump for anything with any respect to that anyway. He's a sitting president.
Weisselberg, sure, he knows everything, but it won't be relevant here.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's not quite true.
It's relevant here in the context of what the SDNY is actually trying to prosecute. Remember, it's not Mueller and the comprehensive probe about collusion and the Trump campaign, in which Michael Cohen was never formally a member of. It's about what they're trying to prove there.
And to that respect, you got to ask the question. When you talk about immunity, are we talking about informal immunity, formal immunity? Is it transactional, where he can never be prosecuted for any crime coming out of that testimony, or just that they can't use what he actually tells them against him for these particular charges?
Knowing the distinction is so important here, because it gives you the full context of why they would be interested in only a very discrete part of the Michael Cohen inquiry.
And, of course, anyone listening to that tape you played before the break, the comments between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, why did he say the full name of Allen Weisselberg? Because he was probably anticipating that he would need to have those receipts shown to any prosecution.
CUOMO: All right, Coates is smart. And so I flee.
CUOMO: Jim Schultz, over to you.
Let me ask you this. One thing we know is that Weisselberg didn't have to take the immunity deal. He took it because he was worried about some kind of exposure. This is a protection mechanism for him.
So let's assume, at a bare minimum, he knows and had some role in these payments that they were looking at Cohen about. He has to know what Trump's role was. If he as, a third leg on the stool, after Pecker and Cohen, all say that the president knew everything about it at every step and directed what Cohen did, what does that mean?
JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think it means much. I think Laura's point is well-taken.
Yes, we will -- it would be important to know what type of immunity was sought here and what was given. And that's very, very important.
What we also don't know is that, look, if someone's going to go and talk to law enforcement, they're going to want immunity when they do it. And they're going to try to get as much as they can in exchange for speaking to law enforcement.
A good lawyer is negotiate that for them. So I don't see that as any indicator that this has...
SCHULTZ: ... deeper than Michael Cohen himself.
CUOMO: Most people who talk to law enforcement don't get immunity deals. Most don't get immunity deals.
SCHULTZ: Absolutely. That's absolutely right. That's absolutely right.
CUOMO: If, at a minimum, he was worried about being exposed for criminal liability or responsibility for what he knew about these transactions, again, you think it means nothing?
You're not worried about a 1001 violation. You're not worried about a conspiracy situation or not disclosing loans and payments on his financial disclosure forms as president? You're not worried about any of that?
SCHULTZ: Well, let's start with the 1001. Let's start with the 1001 issue.
That could be construed a number of different ways, one of which that was just a vendor payment and it wasn't a loan, that it was a vendor payment...
SCHULTZ: ... paid to his lawyer.
And under the rules, right, you have a lawyer. Lawyers get paid all the time. And lawyers get paid -- and they get paid -- they charge for fees. They charge for expenses. They charge for a number of different things.
Therefore, that could be construed as a vendor payment, and that could be interpreted by his lawyers. We don't know how his lawyers interpreted that provision and gave him advice relative to it, which would be under the advice of counsel.
CUOMO: All right. All right.
Let's bounce it back.
SCHULTZ: So, let's move on to the second issue...
CUOMO: Wait, hold on. Let's do it one at a time.
SCHULTZ: We will flood the zone.
CUOMO: One at the time.
What do you think, Laura Coates?
COATES: I that's a big stretch here.
We're not talking about the reimbursement for a meal at the Palm steakhouse. We're talking about the idea of whether or not you tried to circumvent campaign finance laws.
Even if it were a loan, and we were to test that theory of it being a loan, well, there'd be no purpose of having campaign finance laws if all you had to do was wait until after you got the election, won the actual office, to then say, now I will pay you back. There's never going to be a threshold limit that's ever at play. There's also never going to be a disclosure report ever at play here.
So they anticipate this sort of thing by having the campaign finance laws, and later on ethical disclosure laws put in place for that very reason.
For me, the idea of it being a vendor payment is likely not why they were going after him. It was because there was a circumvention that was deliberate. And, according to him, it was in cahoots with then candidate Donald Trump.
CUOMO: Pleaded guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations.
SCHULTZ: Well, for the 1001 issue -- yes, for the for the 1001 issue, we're talking about the personal financial disclosure. That's what I was talking about.
And as it relates to campaign finance issues, Alan Dershowitz said earlier today -- and I agree with him -- these are payments that were made ultimately by Donald Trump. There -- and even if we assume that he made arrangements that he was going to pay them, he made them personally.
And, therefore, there's no campaign finance violation there.
CUOMO: Why not? SCHULTZ: Secondly, these are personal payments relative to personal conduct, right?
So we -- let's look back at the Edwards decision, right, in the Edwards case. In that case, you had a big donor that was paying for things associated with John Edwards' personal life with his paramour, OK?
In that case, he was not convicted of any of that.
CUOMO: No, but he was prosecuted.
SCHULTZ: And I think that is telling here.
CUOMO: He was prosecuted. It went to trial, and he was acquitted. It means it wasn't nothing.
SCHULTZ: OK, he was prosecuted.
But when you look at -- and they relied heavily upon some of the FEC decisions. And if you look at the issue, right, so let's say a politician is having dinner with a girlfriend and he's married, OK? And he pays for that dinner on his campaign credit card, because he doesn't want the world to know that he has a girlfriend.
Is that something that's appropriate?
CUOMO: All right, we will take that as your last point.
Laura Coates, what's your response?
SCHULTZ: Probably not.
CUOMO: What is your response?
COATES: My response to that is boo-hoo. I'm sorry that it's inconvenient that you must disclose, the fact that you have disclosure requirements.
And think about this. Alan Dershowitz happens to be wrong if his conclusion is that, if it's a personal expenditure or if it's simply paid back by the person who benefits from the campaign, that it's not a violation.
Think about it logically. If the law is set so that you have to show where the money is coming, you have to abide by the threshold requirements, you cannot simply wait it out and hope to evade prosecution or your reporting requirements.
That would be like saying, let me just go ahead and hide all of my income for 2017 until after the calendar year runs out for the IRS. That way, I don't have that obligation and no one had -- no one is any wiser about it.
You would balk at that particular prospect. The same logic can be applied to campaign finance violations here.
CUOMO: And, by the way, that only applies to the Stormy Daniels analysis.
When you get Karen McDougal, you have an entirely different situation, because that was never paid back.
We will discuss that next time.
Jim Schultz, Laura Coates, thank you to both of you for making your cases on a Friday night.
COATES: Thanks, gentlemen.
CUOMO: All right, so we are used to Democrats talking about impeachment. But, this week, there's more chirping about the potential ouster from Trump's side of the ball than we have heard. Why?
Trump adviser Michael Caputo sounded the alarm. What's the DEFCON level now?
Let's discuss it with him next.
CUOMO: If you think about it, there are like four men who could hold President Trump's fate somewhat in the balance, with their words as their evidence.
Three of them are talking to Robert Mueller's team. The newest name might hold the most important answers, his name, Allen Weisselberg.
Let's dig in with Michael Caputo, a former aide to the Trump presidential campaign.
Now, you had said, I think, that with Michael Cohen's plea deal, you were seeing the making of the case of impeachment by Democrats. How do you feel after Pecker and now Weisselberg having immunity deals?
MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I don't really feel that much different.
I didn't feel much different when I heard that Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson were offered immunity in the FBI investigation -- or cursory investigation, at least -- of the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal.
CUOMO: That was use immunity. CAPUTO: Nobody expect Cheryl...
CUOMO: That was use -- that was a use immunity agreement for their laptops, so that anything we find on the laptop...
CAPUTO: Right. And we may...
CUOMO: This is an immunity deal that we believe is different, which is, you have exposure on what we're investigating. We will give you a deal if you help us otherwise.
A distinction with a difference.
CAPUTO: Well, I understand that, but we didn't know that then, when we heard about Cheryl and Heather.
We don't know what the immunity is for now when we hear about Allen. So I guess I'll wait and find out what the immunity is about.
I mean, your previous guests talked about how there are a myriad different ways -- different types of immunity. And so I'm not really in the mood to panic.
But I do think that Michael Cohen's implications of the president in this campaign finance violation, if you believe it, if you think that -- that they can make this stick, I believe it brings the Democrats closer to their fantasy of impeaching Donald Trump.
And I really believe that's the first order of business if they take over the House. That's why I'm sounding the alarm that Republicans have got to get out to the polls, because a vote for a Democrat on November 6 is a vote for impeachment.
CUOMO: Do you think the president is lying about what he knew about these payments and when?
CAPUTO: I -- you know, Chris, I don't know.
But here's what I do know. You know what I really would like the president to do? I would like him to sit down and tell the American people about this. I know -- I mean, I believe that the president was using private funds to resolve a private issue. I think he was very embarrassed about this when -- with his wife and his family.
And I think the American people already understand that. I believe, if the president sat down and talked to the American people about this, he could, in fact, do himself a lot of good. I think he should really consider that.
CUOMO: I hear you on the moral level and the ethical responsibility to the people who elected him to stop lying to their face about this.
However, if he says, look, yes, all right, I knew, of course, I wanted to get rid of these things, I wanted to do them, he opens himself up. There were disclosures he might have needed to make. There is possible criminal exposure, whether you can charge them or not, to what it means to conspire to make payments like this that could be hallways he doesn't want to walk down.
But Michael Cohen could plead guilty to anything. I'm sure he would just to cut his time in prison back a little bit. But pleading guilty to this allegation of a crime, I mean, I think it's -- it's one thing to plead guilty. It's another to try and prove it. And we saw, under Senator Edwards' case, that the Department of Justice not only failed, they were embarrassed by it.
I mean, Politico back in 2012 said that the entire department was completely embarrassed by this. If they want to trot that out again, this time trying to stretch it to cover the president of the United States, I think they might want to think twice about it.
CUOMO: Well, look, again, I mean, their DOJ guidance is, is that they can't indict a sitting president.
So I don't see many factual similarities. There's somewhat of a similar dynamic with John Edwards. If people look into it, you will see it wasn't the kind of hush situation that this was. But at the end of the day, it may be moot. That's why it could be a political situation. That's why I'm talking to you about it.
One other thing.
CUOMO: The president, as part of his attack against this process, said this week, this flipping, it really should almost be illegal.
I was shocked to hear a president say that. What do you think of that?
CAPUTO: Well, I think flipping is a pretty broad term.
My -- when I read that tweet, I was a little bit surprised. Sometimes, I'm not real comfortable with what the president tweets about. When it comes down to it, I believe that people like Michael Cohen...
CUOMO: He said it, by the way.
CAPUTO: Understood. Understood.
With people like Michael Cohen, the fact of the matter is, Michael Cohen would plead guilty to anything. I mean, the crimes that he committed financially had absolutely nothing to do with the president of the United States. It's a taxi medallion case.
So I think what the president is looking at is somebody who he thought was loyal, somebody he thought he could trust, who committed crimes outside of the office now trying to implicate him in a crime that we think doesn't exist.
CUOMO: But Pecker and Weisselberg taking immunity deals, and then you have the separate issue of, if you took this tool from law enforcement, what chance would you have of making all the types of cases that matter against drug kingpins and mobsters and white-collar crooks?
If you can't work your way up by finding out what small fish did to squeeze to get bigger fish, how do you make those cases?
I think the president's quite frustrated about this. And I would be too in his case. But, in the end of it all, Chris, the idea of having someone turn state's evidence on someone that they have been working with, a family member or whatever, that's a lynchpin of our -- of our Department of Justice.
The problem we have here, I believe, is that the president doesn't trust the Department of Justice, especially main Justice, where so many people were working so hard to stop him from being president of the United States.
CUOMO: He doesn't trust it where it involves his own interests, and he's willing to submarine the whole branch in order to make that point.
That's the proposition. That's what he's decided to do: I will malign all of them to help myself in this matter.
It's a bold move for a president.
CAPUTO: I think the president talks -- I think the president talks more about main Justice, not the rank and file. And when he talks about his frustrations with the FBI, I don't think he's talking about the rank-and-file FBI.
The problem we have in Washington is that too many political people have been weaponizing the levers of power at the Department of Justice. And it's -- these chickens are coming home to roost now.
CUOMO: Well, and a lot of them were put there by him.
So we will see how it goes.
Michael Caputo, thank you for making the case.
CAPUTO: All right, Chris. Have a good evening.
CUOMO: Weisselberg is a big development here because of how close he is to Trump and his money.
However, I'm going to bring someone on to the show who says, no, the immunity deal, fishing expedition. Is it? That is the making of a great debate next.
CUOMO: Allen Weisselberg is the big development of the day. He is the Trump Organization's longtime CFO.
He was granted immunity by federal prosecutors working in the Southern District of New York. What does that mean for Trump?
The making of a "Great Debate," Karen Finney and Rick Santorum.
Brother Rick, you say Weisselberg, Schmeisselberg, it's a fishing expedition.
How do you know that?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think it goes back to the main point, which I don't think what the president did, even if he did what -- what he -- what you believe he did, which is to pay off someone to be quiet about an affair, it's not a criminal offense.
CUOMO: You don't believe that?
SANTORUM: No. I don't believe...
CUOMO: You don't believe...
SANTORUM: Absolutely not.
CUOMO: No, you don't believe he did that?
SANTORUM: Well, whether he did it or not doesn't matter.
CUOMO: Do you believe he did that?
SANTORUM: If he did, it's still not a criminal offense.
CUOMO: Do you believe he did that?
SANTORUM: It's still not a criminal offense to pay someone...
CUOMO: Do you believe he did it and is lying about it to the American people? That matters.
SANTORUM: I think it's pretty clear he -- that money was paid to Michael Cohen...
CUOMO: And he knew about it?
SANTORUM: ... either before or afterwards.
Again, whether he knew about it or not, it doesn't matter from the standpoint...
CUOMO: It does.
SANTORUM: No, it doesn't, because you can't -- that is not a crime, to keep a personal matter with personal money quiet. That just isn't a crime.
CUOMO: But that's not necessarily the fact pattern.
SANTORUM: And you will never get convicted of something like that.
CUOMO: That's not necessarily the fact pattern.
And here's the proof, Karen Finney. First of all, you just had somebody plead guilty to two counts of that.
KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right.
CUOMO: You just saw two immunity deals.
I mean, let's remember, you don't have to take an immunity deal. You don't have to take an immunity deal to speak to prosecutors. You can go in there and just speak if you got not problem.
CUOMO: You have the center of his organization and one of his longtime and closest friends both took immunity deals about this transaction.
What does that tell you?
Well, it's highly unlikely that figures who looms so large would take an immunity deal just to go after Mr. Cohen. And I think that is what terrifies Mr. Trump and folks like Mr. Santorum who are defending him.
And here's part of what makes this illegal. It was not personal money. It was money that would -- I mean, what happened was Michael Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels. He was then paid back, as "The Wall Street Journal" and others have reported, the money -- he was paid back by Trump, but he was paid that through the Trump Corporation.
And, in fact, he was paid back with interest. I think they said something like $360,000, which was quite -- about two times over what was actually paid to Stormy Daniels.
CUOMO: Plus a bonus.
FINNEY: So, that is illegal.
But here's the other thing. Remember that Weisselberg, as you pointed out, I mean, he has worked for the family for decades. So when Donald Trump says he won't release his taxes, and he doesn't want to show us what's really in there, Weisselberg is the guy who used to do his taxes.
Weisselberg also sat on the board of the Trump Foundation...
CUOMO: The foundation.
FINNEY: ... which is a sham, which is also...
CUOMO: We don't know that.
FINNEY: ... currently being -- I believe it's being -- well, I think it's a sham when you say...
CUOMO: Well, it's being investigated, but we don't know that it's a sham. Let's see what the investigation yields.
FINNEY: Well, here's why we I call it a sham.
Remember that, just before the Iowa caucus, there was a debate that Trump decided he wouldn't participate in, and he did a big fund- raiser.
FINNEY: And he raised $2.6 million.
And he said it was going to the veterans.
SANTORUM: I was there.
FINNEY: And it didn't.
It went to his -- his foundation -- or the campaign, rather -- sorry. And Corey Lewandowski then, who was working for the campaign, directed how those funds were spent.
Now, that to me is a sham. That $2.6 million was supposed to go to the veterans. He -- and the other thing we know about the foundation is that he's taking people's donations, people who believe that the money is going to charitable causes, right, and buying portraits of himself and paying off sort of friends here and there.
So, all of this, Weisselberg...
CUOMO: But we have to see what the investigation yields. And we have to see whether or not it's illegal.
And then you get to the ultimate question. Now, let's bandy about this idea. And, by the way, if you want to know what happened with the episode
that Finney and Santorum were talking about with the Trump Foundation during that debate that he didn't want to go to, go to David Fahrenthold's reporting. He went into it...
CUOMO: ... where the money was. And he traced it. So you can do your own homework on that.
Is this something that they can charge him with? Probably not. He's a sitting president. Is it something that Mueller would want to take up? Probably not. It does not seem in any way attached to his probe.
Could Congress take it up? Yes. And it would be a political question. Do you impeach the president for what we have seen so far, Rick Santorum?
SANTORUM: No, you don't.
I mean, this is a -- this is -- again, you look at the Edwards case, you just look at this idea that a president -- that someone who has his own money can pay someone if you -- look, if -- if -- there are plenty of other reasons for Donald Trump to have paid off these women, other than the political reason.
So there's just not a case, either politically or otherwise. The fishing expedition that was referred to is -- you're right -- you have someone called in who has the keys to the kingdom of Trump world, knows everything that goes on.
And that's where I think Mueller -- that's what my concern is. That's where the fishing expedition is. Where's Bob Mueller going? How far is he going to go out and see what he can find by giving this person...
CUOMO: Mueller didn't give him the immunity deal.
SANTORUM: Well, but -- OK.
FINNEY: That's right.
SANTORUM: The Southern District.
How far can the Southern District -- referred to by Mueller -- how far can the Southern District go...
CUOMO: Run by Trump's appointee.
SANTORUM: ... finding out -- look, when it comes to politics, here's what we know.
We know that prosecutors love the idea of nailing someone, whether it's their boss or somebody else.
In fact, in this case, given the -- given the fact that the president has beat up on DOJ so much, it's almost incumbent upon them to be tough on the president.
FINNEY: Oh, stop.
SANTORUM: So I don't think the president helps us himself when does beat up the -- the DOJ.
CUOMO: All right, Finney, Santorum, I appreciate it.
CUOMO: That's as much as I'm going to give you on a Friday night.
I don't want to ruin both your nights like that. I can see it's going to sour your meal.
CUOMO: Have a good night. Thank you for joining me.
It's only 10:00. Go out. Live a little.
SANTORUM: That's not New York, not where I live.
CUOMO: President Trump, have you heard his tone this week?
He sounds like a mafia don. His associates are rats, and flipping should be illegal, and the DOJ goes after people, they can't even prove the real crime, they only get him on taxes.
That's going to be our "Closing Argument" on why that should be your biggest concern.
CUOMO: All right, there's a lot of speculation about how bad this week was for the president.
I get that that is an enticing question. But there's something that concerns me more, much more, in fact, and that is how the president handled things this week.
He fully transitioned into mob boss mode. You can literally find his echo in a Gotti or his gangster of choice, Capone, or even a Corleone.
His bashing of the Justice Department, is run by crooks, and out to get people without cause, his perverse notion that getting a mobster for tax evasion is a cop-out, when they're suspected of even worse crimes.
Think about that. Our president pooh-poohs Capone's convictions because they never got him for murder.
Then came the real WTF moment for me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years, I have been watching flippers.
Everything's wonderful, and then they get 10 years in jail, and they -- they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go.
It almost ought to be outlawed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Did he really just say that?
Yes. And it wasn't the first time. He didn't misspeak. It wasn't just a hot moment. He has referred to cooperators as rats, just like gangsters do.
I have literally only heard the notion he just introduced, that flipping shouldn't be allowed, from people complaining to me over the years about why they shouldn't be in jail as gangsters.
Now, remember who this man was before he was president and what he promised you when he wanted the nomination.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I will work with and appoint the best and brightest prosecutors and law enforcement officials to get the job properly done.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
TRUMP: In this race for the White House, I am the law and order candidate.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: He won and took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, not to puncture, pummel and desecrate the Constitution.
Why do I use such pejoratives? Because the government's ability to use pressure to get people involved in criminal activity to give up bigger aspects and players is fundamental to just about every major investigation.
How would you get drug kingpins, mobsters, white-collar crooks, if you don't have the ability to develop a case by working your way up the chain, in part with cooperators?
Now, can you complain about how they do it and whether it's genuine and whether people are doing it too often? Of course. But for Trump to question the existence of the tool shows ignorance of the reality and ignoring of his oath and position and a flashing red light of insecurity, as someone who seems to fear that other people could be a problem for them.
Now, support for that last part of the argument, timing. He said this nonsense about getting rid of flippers Wednesday to his FOX friends. Thursday, Pecker flipped, given immunity to tell the truth about what Trump knew and what he did with Cohen to perhaps violate campaign laws.
And today, his longest adviser, his CFO, Weisselberg, given immunity. And who knows what he knows? Certainly, this is the closest investigators have gotten to Trump.
Coincidence in this timing? You know what? Maybe. Maybe. To be fair, maybe Cohen flipping, pleading guilty, saying what he said about Trump directing his actions, that could have been enough for Trump to decide to attack one of the foundations of criminal prosecution, despite being the man charged with protecting the same process.
Regardless, him musing about outlawing cooperation right when three close confidants and maybe co-conspirators decide to tell the truth to the government -- and, remember, none of their deals protect them from perjury, so, they lie, the deal dies.
So, all of this makes me worry about what our president might do to protect that which matters to him most, apparently, himself.
The best advice remains the same. Mr. President, surrender the me to the we. If you have nothing to hide, let the process play out. Show your respect for the institution.
Not only will that show confidence in your own cause, but it will remind that we need support, not savaging, from the men and women we elect to be the stewards of our institutions.
After all, does an innocent man attack every aspect of an investigation? Does an innocent man constantly suggest that the outcome is certain to be bogus?
That's why the way Trump handled the legal landslide this week concerns me more than any of the other speculation.
All right, that is our "Closing Argument." Thank you for being with us for the first hour.