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Cohen, Weisselberg, Pecker "Flip" on Trump; Andrew Miller Refuses to Cooperate with Mueller on Roger Stone; Rep. Duncan Hunter Appears to Blame Wife for Campaign Fund Violations; How the First Lady is Reacting to Trump's Legal Problems. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired August 24, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Back to our breaking news. Another long-time Trump loyalist has accepted an immunity deal and agreed to talk with federal prosecutors. This time, it is Allen Weisselberg, CFO of the Trump Organization since 2000. A source familiar with the case tells CNN Weisselberg's attorney negotiated an immunity deal weeks ago to speak about the Michael Cohen case.
Add this to the other headline. Trump's long-time friend and former lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitting under oath that Trump directed him to make hush payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump to avoid damage to his 2016 campaign.
And then the stunning report that David Pecker, CEO of the company that publishes of "National Enquirer," which has been a propaganda machine for Trump, has been granted immunity in the case as well.
But the list doesn't end there. President Trump once again slamming his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but this time, Sessions pushed back, realigning his once unwavering loyalty to Trump.
And then this, former "Apprentice" Star and White House Aide Omarosa Manigault Newman's scathing book against the president tops the "New York Times" best-seller list this week, not to mention her audio recordings of the president and the Situation Room recording of her firing by chief of staff, John Kelly.
For someone who values loyalty above all else, this week had to have been rough for the current president of the United States.
Joining us now to discuss, CNN contributor and Trump biographer, Michael D'Antonio, author of "The Truth about Trump."
Michael, first, Cohen and Pecker and now Weisselberg. How do you think this is hitting the president?
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he has to feel absolutely besieged right now. What is remarkable is that the keepers of the secrets, if you think of Mr. Pecker and Mr. Weisselberg and Mr. Cohen as being the closest confidants to businessman Donald Trump and now President Trump could have had, they are all cooperating. And it makes one wonder if one of the Trump children will become a cooperator soon. It is almost hard to believe that these three are helping prosecutors in various injuries dick s -- jurisdictions, but they are. This has to be the worst week the president has faced since taking office.
CABRERA: What do you think is going on behind the scenes with the Trump children with this family, how might they all be reacting to it?
D'ANTONIO: I think that they are probably all trying to figure out what may be in Mr. Weisselberg's records to reveal and what Michael Cohen may have to tell as well. You have to keep in mind that there are 500 Trump Organization companies. There were all sorts of applications for loans made for different entities, there were claims to reduce taxes in one case to reduce your taxes you might say a property is worth a billion dollars and then the next day to get a loan on it you would say it is worth $1.5 billion. Did the president then businessman Donald Trump seek loans and pledge assets more than once for the same purpose. So you've got the possibility of bank fraud in many different directions. You've got also the possibility of money laundering with money coming in from Russia and former soviet republics and going into these entities. The details are vast and numerous and now Mr. Weisselberg is practically a trusted guy for prosecutors. They could have invested thousands of man hours in to figuring things out, or get someone like they could get someone like the chief financial office to literally walk them through the books.
CABRERA: We know that the president was up in the middle of the night tweeting, the lights were on at the White House at 1:00 a.m. About the same time he sent a tweet saying witch hunt when journalists saying when the president is backed into his corner, he becomes more unpredictable. And I'm also reminded of the red line he threw out there if Mueller were to look into his family finances. What do you think this president will do?
D'ANTONIO: I think he is quite furious. There were suggestions early in his presidency that he was looking for head of the IRS, who would punish his enemies. I think he is furious at the attorney general. He could take almost any action against people he conceives to be his main opponents. We had the example a week or two ago of him taking away security clearance of Mr. Brennan and threatening others. So he is willing to use the power of the presidency in ways that others weren't. I think there's a diminishing return here though. He is going to be perceived as reckless and out of control if he takes actions that all of the advisers in the White House are encouraging him to delay at least until the election.
One of the ironies here is that Rudy Giuliani seemed to challenge the federal prosecutors to go quiet after September 1st. So we're seeing a flurry of activity that perhaps wouldn't have taken place so quickly.
[14:35:33] CABRERA: That is a good point.
Michael D'Antonio, really appreciate your time. Thank you.
D'ANTONIO: Thank you, Ana.
CABRERA: Up next, friends and former aides of Republican political operative, Roger Stone, have offered their testimony to Robert Mueller, all except one. A closer look at who is resisting and why. And also, what does the translator know? A month after President Trump's summit with Vladimir Putin, Senators today are making an urgent request to learn exactly was said behind closed doors, asking the translator to hand over her notes. More on that ahead.
[14:40:13] CABRERA: One by one, associates of President Trump's long-time confidant, Roger Stone, have testified before the special counsel's team. The exception is Andrew Miller. He is now being held in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
So who is this guy, Andrew Miller, and why is he refusing to cooperate with Robert Mueller's Russia investigation?
CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray, is here with some answers.
Sara, you have been digging into this story. What have you learned?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, we know that the special counsel has been circling around Roger Stone, they still haven't contacted him directly. So we're seeing all these former associates and friends speak to the team or testify before the grand jury. But Andrew Miller has decided with the help of his legal team that he wants to mount this constitutional fight. He wants to try to take on Mueller's authority to oversee this investigation and his lawyers say they are prepared to this to the Supreme Court.
He is an interesting case because he is just a regular guy, a 34-year- old, for a while living in California where he was working as a pot farmer. He recently decided to move his family, his wife, young daughter, back to St. Louis where he was born and raised. And he has been working as a House painter there and pretty much laying low, letting his lawyers fight this battle on his behalf. But he's skipped out on his grand jury appearance,. He is being held in contempt. And we're waiting to see what could happen because this would be the first time that we see a higher court weigh in on the question of whether Mueller has the authority to run this investigation.
Now, we did get a colorful statement from Roger Stone about his former associate. I'll read you part of it. He says that Andrew Miller is a good father, a devoted husband and a loyal friend. The efforts for squeeze him to bear false despicable. Andrew Miller has had a wide variety of job, but he's worked on and off for Roger Stone, as his driver, tech guy. So who knows what the special counsel might want from him.
CABRERA: You say Miller is actually challenging the legality of the Mueller investigation. What is his case?
MURRAY: Well, the argument is essentially that Mueller was improperly appointed, that you know he is sort of this super attorney run amok. This is what his lawyers are arguing. That he really doesn't have the authority to be overseeing this investigation.
Now, we've heard a couple federal judges have heard arguments similar to this, they have not bought into it, they denied various motions to have charges dropped. But again, this is the first time that we could see this being taken up by a higher court. I was talking to one of Andrew Miller's attorneys about this, and he basically said, look, we are doing a public service. We are going to figure this out one way or another. Either this will be struck down and, all of a sudden, Mueller's authority will no longer need to be questioned, it will be upheld, or we'll have an indication that miler is in fact out of bounds.
CABRERA: Sara Murray, thank you for that reporting.
Up next, in a week that included hush payments to women and long-time loyalists flipping to take deals, it was a tough one for the president. But what does Melania Trump think about all this? What we're learning, next.
[14:47:55] CABRERA: Welcome back. Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter appears to be pointing the finger at his wife, blaming her for the federal campaign violation charges they both face. Hunter and his wife, Margaret, have pleaded not guilty to stealing a quarter million dollars in campaign funds to pay for their lavish lifestyle. The indictment alleges the Hunters bought clothes in a golf shop, but they claim that they bought golf balls for wounded warriors. Prosecutors also say they took an expensive vacation on the campaign's dime. They went on shopping sprees. Even bought a plane ticket for their pet rabbit. Hunter and his wife arrived in court separately. They didn't sit next to each other in the courtroom.
So when the congressman said this on FOX News, it raised some eyebrows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, (R), CALIFORNIA: The first time I gave her power of attorney and she handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got into Congress because I'm gone five days a week and I'm home for two. And she was also the campaign manager. So whatever she did, that will be looked at, too, I'm sure. But I didn't do it. I didn't spend any money illegally. I didn't -- I did not use campaign money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Before their court appearance, Hunter took a page from the president and blamed his legal troubles on a Justice Department witch hunt.
Once again, as more troubling legal headlines swirl around President Trump and he blusters against his political enemies on Twitter, first lady, Melania Trump, has quietly been going about her business as usual. Alone. Monday, she made a solo appearance at a cyberbullying summit, but today she departed with the president for Columbus, Ohio. It was their first appearance together since the news broke of the Michael Cohen plea agreement connecting her husband to hush payments of two women. So how is the first lady handling this week of the Oval Office drama?
With us now, CNN White House reporter, Kate Bennett.
Kate, we just saw the first lady there departing with the president. Any word from her office this week?
[14:49:55] KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOSUE REPORTER: No, not really. Nothing on comments of what happened with Michael Cohen this week or the payoffs. It is sort of typical for her when these headlines come up to sort of retreat behind the scenes, be stoic, be quiet. Certainly though we've seen her in the past remember she took that separate motorcade to the state of the union after the Stormy Daniels story broke. And then after the Karen McDougal story, she also sort of peeled off, took her own car to Andrews Air Force Base rather than do the actual walk that we're seeing right now with the president to Marine One and ride with him. She did that again in March, the morning after Anderson Cooper's interview with Karen McDougal. So certainly, she has expressed her streak of independence when the headlines are tough.
I think behind the scenes it must be difficult for her certainly to have the story not go away all these months later. People questioning what is happening behind the scenes in her marriage, her private life. Both of these women have alleged affairs to have happened just months after she gave birth to their son, Barron. Now this can be easy for her as she tries do things like talk about cyber bullying or move forward with her "Be Best" platform. Today she and the president go together to a neonatal hospital unit to talk when neonatal a syndrome which is one of her causes. So maybe an awkward day for the two of them to be together. We're not watching any handed holding and again the first lady is quiet.
CABRERA: I was noticing the lack of hand holding, too, because often times we do see them holding hands when they are coming and going from whether the car or Air Force One.
The first lady did have a big announcement this week about her first major solo international trip coming up. Tell us about that.
BENNETT: She has announced that in October she will be visiting Africa. It will be sort of an extensive trip, a number of countries. She hasn't outlined those yet and what exactly her objectives are. But for the first lady, a trip of this magnitude is really the first time she's venturing out solo. Everyone is saying, considering the president's past comments on Africa, that this is an interesting choice for her, and it certainly is. We have to remember Michelle Obama she went to South Africa as one of her first trips. Laura Bush was very much associated with Africa as well. So certainly, Melania is following in their footsteps of those first ladies and she will be going in October.
CABRERA: All right. Kate Bennett, thank you for that reporting.
Breaking news, another long-time confidant making a deal with the feds for immunity. This time, it is the man who has handled the Trump Organization finances for years. Really, nearly two decades. We'll discuss the significance of this.
And moments ago, President Trump telling his secretary of state to cancel an upcoming trip to North Korea, citing a lack of progress on nuclear talks.
We're back in a moment.
[14:57:18] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CABRERA: Top of the hour. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin.
Another long-time Trump ally is cooperating with federal prosecutors to top off a week that began with a guilty plea from Michael Cohen. Now a source says federal prosecutors granted immunity to Allen Weisselberg in the case against Cohen. Weisselberg is the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. He becomes the third known high-level Trump ally it on work with federal investigators. He joins Cohen and David Pecker, head of the company that publishes the "National Enquirer," who reportedly was granted immunity as well.
Pecker and Weisselberg were both mentioned in a secret recording Cohen made as he talked to week before the 2016 election. They were discussing setting up an account to pay off a "Playboy" model who alleged an affair with Trump. The hush money was one of the campaign finance crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to on Tuesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY (voice-over): I need to open up a company for on 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 -- I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): So what are we --
COHEN: -- funding with -- yes. And it is all the stuff. All the stuff. Because you never know where that company -- never know what he --
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by --
(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: Joining us now, CNN's Kara Scannell.
Kara, you've been all over the Cohen stuff. Now Weisselberg. You say he knows anything and everything when it comes to the Trump Organization money. What did he tell prosecutors?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Our sources tell us that when he met with prosecutors a few week ago, the questions were focused on Michael Cohen and the payments the Trump Organization made to Cohen. Of course, that was to reimburse Cohen for paying Stormy Daniels, one of the crimes that he admitted that he committed in violation of campaign finance laws. So we know that then the questions were very much focused on the payments. And in the information, the document that Michael Cohen pled guilty to, he describes how -- or they describe how it was the Trump family trust where the money came from that paid Cohen. So there's a lot of he questions there. And you can see why Weisselberg would have done this under immunity deal because it raises questions about why the money was coming from the trust, why is the Trump Organization handling that. So do know that was the focus of the investigation that occurred several weeks ago, and that Weisselberg has not been asked back, so it looks like it may be limited to the Michael Cohen matter. Though, of course, anything can happen in this story.
[14:59:59] CABRERA: And as we have spoken with many legal analysts, they say nothing happens in a vacuum. We'll see where this one goes. And it may be difficult to keep up because so many names, so many different legal cases. President Trump is certainly no stranger to the litigation --