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"National Enquirer" Publisher David Pecker Reportedly Cooperating with Authorities Along with Michael Cohen; Indicted Congressman Appears to Blame Wife for Misused Funds. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- documents on hush money payments that led Michael Cohen to plead guilty this week. Michael Cohen testified under oath that he, Donald Trump, and the tabloid were involved in buying the silence of women who say they had affairs with the president.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It comes as yet another close Trump ally is turning him. First Omarosa, then Michael Cohen. Now the publisher of the "National Enquirer," David Pecker, a longtime friend of the president, a friend perhaps until now. The "Wall Street Journal" and "Vanity Fair" report federal prosecutors have granted Pecker immunity. Sources say he has told prosecutors that the president knew about the hush money payments and provided details about them.

CAMEROTA: Joining us now is "Wall Street Journal" reporter Nicole Hong. She has been reporting on all of the David Pecker developments. Nicole, great to have you in studio with us.

NICOLE HONG, REPORTER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Thank you, great to be here.

CAMEROTA: OK, what is it that David Pecker knows that was so valuable to federal prosecutors?

HONG: We can tell from the charging documents that he knew a lot. He knew about Michael Cohen's involvement. We know that he has also discussed the level of knowledge Donald Trump had about these deals, and all of this is incredibly valuable to prosecutors, and I think that's why he was granted immunity in this case.

CAMEROTA: Do we know why he took immunity? You don't have to do that. And he has been a protector obviously of Donald Trump since he's been buying -- doing this catch and kill process and buying negative stories. So why now is he flipping, as President Trump would say?

HONG: I can't get into David Pecker's state of mind. I don't know what prompted him to do this, but I think it's safe to assume that he was facing some criminal exposure. You can tell from the charging documents that he and Cohen were very closely coordinating on a lot of these payments. So if it was a crime for Cohen, it's very likely that Pecker would have also faced some exposure here.

CAMEROTA: Our Jeffrey Toobin has explained that when it comes to money, obviously magazines can support whomever they want, and they do. But when it comes to money, and when it comes to silencing a source about a story, and when it's during a campaign, it gets very dicey.

HONG: That's exactly right. So the key here is that it was done to influence the 2016 election. That's when it becomes a campaign contribution. Corporations are not allowed to make direct campaign contributions, and that's where American media and David Pecker could be getting into trouble.

CAMEROTA: The Associated Press is reporting that there was a safe that kept dirt, that kept documents and kept evidence. Do you know anything about that?

HONG: I think we can safely assume that obviously Pecker has had a very long relationship with Trump. He knows a lot about Trump. Even in August, 2015, long before the election, he went to the Trump campaign and offered to help bury negative stories about Trump, so clearly there is a close relationship there.

CAMEROTA: Why did he do that? Why was he so willing to bury negative stories that would have been juicy, that would have driven up sales? Why would David Pecker do that?

HONG: My assumption is one reason is just he had this personal friendship with Trump. We know that he's a guest at Mar-a-Lago, he's had a decades long relationship with Trump, he's talked about it publicly, so they're very close -- or were, I should say.

CAMEROTA: Right. And so he was willing to bury negative stories, and obviously there had to be a business upside for him. Was the feeling that I'll wash your hand if you wash mine, that Donald Trump was feeding him stories, feeding him information that would end up in the pages of the "National Enquirer"?

HONG: So, I don't know the answer to that, but they have tried to justify the purchase of one of the former playmate's stories as a business decision. I think that's what makes David Pecker a little bit different from Michael Cohen in this regard.


HONG: He can say that we did this for editorial reasons. We are protected by the First Amendment in doing this. Michael Cohen cannot put on that defense. And so for months and months and months American media has told us we didn't buy Karen McDougal's story to in fact the election, to help Trump. We did it for editorial reasons.

CAMEROTA: What does that even mean? They had a deal with her? She was going to write columns, or something?

HONG: Part of the agreement was that they would put her on magazine covers and publish articles with her byline. And in fact she was on the cover of the September issue of "Men's Journal" which is an American media magazine. CAMEROTA: Oh, the tangled web we weave. Nicole Hong, thank you very

much for sharing your reporting with us. Obviously stay tuned everyone. Thank you.

BERMAN: I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor, CNN chief legal analyst, and Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor at large.


BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty and said that the president directed him to make these payments, people suggested he would not say such things were there not corroborating evidence.

[08:05:09] The federal prosecutors would not let him say such things and do that unless they had some other things out there. We now know that David Pecker it appears, is cooperating, maybe with immunity. Is he that corroborating evidence?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, his testimony is. But remember also, in modern life there is always electronic and paper records. There are e-mails, there are checks, there are perhaps taped phone calls. There's a lot of taping that goes on --

BERMAN: There are safes.

TOOBIN: There are safes. And we so much focus on the credibility of individuals, but one of the things you learn as a prosecutor, and certainly just in real life, is that what matter most is corroboration. You look at the Manafort trial that just went on. Yes, Rick Gates was a problematic witness, but the fact that there were so many documents and e-mails and checks made his story unassailable. That, perhaps, is what's going on here with Cohen and the "Enquirer" as well.

CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, I'm afraid John Berman is going to go full Geraldo with the safe and stage an elaborate live national production when he finds the safe opening it on live TV to see what's inside the safe. However, we have learned from the A.P. that they have already destroyed the evidence in the safe. What can you tell us about this?

CILLIZZA: In a story, a narrative that has taken on soap operatic qualities, this is perfectly fitting. But it makes total sense if you think about who David Pecker is and what he was doing. He is essentially holding an insurance policy on the expenditures he is making, which is if it ever comes to a point, it might never happen. I feel like it's "The Godfather," if I come to you asking a favor. Maybe it won't happen. But if he does, let's say if he needed something from someone who he had something in the safe, you can take it out, slide the envelope across and be like, remember this? This could still come out. It is movie like, but I think it is not terribly surprising given what we know David Pecker did and what the job was, what "National Enquirer" is, I don't think we should be surprised something like this exists. I think the more important thing is what you mentioned at the end

there, Alisyn. Yes, OK, it existed, but were there things in it or had it already been destroyed or the things had been taken out, because obviously that would be a potential treasure trove of information, not just about Donald Trump but about this whole broader catch-and-kill policy and who fits into it.

CAMEROTA: Are you willing to take the risk of opening the safe? Live on TV?

BERMAN: I would do it. In sweeps?

TOOBIN: Not to get too much into the "Enquirer," but one of the things I found so interesting about reporting on the story when I wrote about the "Enquirer" for the "New Yorker" is they have very careful records on what covers sell and what covers don't, and they even know which words sell and don't.

CAMEROTA: And do they share that with you?

CILLIZZA: Absolutely. Like, for example "tragic last days" --

CAMEROTA: I'd buy that in a second.

TOOBIN: It's also somebody's tragic last days, which is great for libel person because it's not specific. We're all in our tragic last days, it could just be several thousand. And one thing they point out somewhat in their defense about why they were supporting Trump so much is that Trump covers sold, and anti-Hillary covers sold. And if you look at the demographics of the readers, they tend to be on the lower middle-class side, the biggest out let for selling the "Enquirer" is Walmart. So it is not in big cities for the most part. And these are the people who put Donald Trump over the top in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

CAMEROTA: This is so helpful, because that explains why the relationship was important.

BERMAN: Right, it's not just a friendship.

CAMEROTA: And they also just don't want negative dirt on Donald Trump. Just putting him on the cover of any story helps it sell, so they need to keep him in their pocket.

TOOBIN: It did during the campaign. Interesting, once Trump became president, he was less cover magic.

BERMAN: OK, because that gets to the idea of why then would Pecker flip if, in fact, that is what has happened. If he has immunity, now we're now talking about him, what happened in their friendship. We heard from Stu Zakim earlier, who said Pecker doesn't have friends. He just wants to sell magazines.

CAMEROTA: He's all about David Pecker.

BERMAN: If he's not selling it, maybe he doesn't have loyalty to the president. We know, Chris, that President Trump says he cares very much about the idea of loyalty. I think we have sound to prove that point. Let's listen.


[08:10:06] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We could use more loyalty. I love loyalty.

Loyalty can be a wonderful thing.

Loyalty is very important.

I'm loyal. To a fault I'm loyal.



TRUMP: Some of these people have like a 10 percent loyalty, meaning if they sneeze in the wrong direction they're gone.


BERMAN: So Chris, the president says he values loyalty there. Michael Cohen hasn't shown much in the last week. Omarosa hasn't shown much in the last couple weeks, and now it appears David Pecker has not, either.

CILLIZZA: I think Donald Trump's loyalty is situational as it fits his interests. Remember that he told FOX yesterday that the only reason he hired Jeff Sessions to be one of the most important members in his cabinet and the top law enforcement official in the country was because Jeff Sessions had been loyal to him during the campaign. I just think loyalty only goes so far.

Remember, Donald Trump is regularly redefining the goalposts for almost everything. So with Jeff Sessions -- I mean, Jeff Sessions' loyalty doesn't mean much to Donald Trump at this point. I do think Donald Trump is likely to be surprised at David Pecker and Michael Cohen. I don't think he should be because I think in both of those situations, we know with Michael Cohen, the situation was hey, look, you're going to go to jail. Do you want to go to jail for a long time or do you want to go to jail for a shorter time? What is your play here? It's not just a turning on Donald Trump. It's a self-interest. And Donald Trump more than anyone else knows that self-interest is the prime motivator for everyone, including Michael Cohen, David Pecker, Omarosa, and Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: It's funny how the feds showing up at your door can change your long-held practices of friendship.

CILLIZZA: Correct. Your deeply-held beliefs.

CAMEROTA: Your deeply held beliefs of loyalty. Somehow that has a persuasive impact. TOOBIN: That's what flipping is all about. The reason why law

enforcement has been so successful in using lower-level people to testify against higher-ups is because they recognize that loyalty to the higher-ups is of no value when you're looking at 10, 20, 30 years in prison.

BERMAN: Chris Cillizza, you're a grand observer of many things.


BERMAN: Politics editor at large. At large, we'll note.


BERMAN: At the end of this week, what do things look like at large? Has the president found a way to defend himself against this deluge that's happened?

CILLIZZA: I think we have a tendency -- I'll say I sometimes have a tendency, to overrate what any one event will mean for what people think of Donald Trump. The truth of the matter politically speaking is opinion is largely set on him. That said, I think what will change this week is I think he feels more boxed in, and I think -- and feels like the walls are closing. So I think that has -- we don't know what effects that has, but I would say for any of us that has some level of effect.

And I do think -- Jeff has said this many times, and I just reiterate. Indictment is still not the thing to focus on. Impeachment is the thing to focus on. I'm not saying it is going to happen because I don't see 67 senators voting for it in the near future depending on what the Mueller report says, but that's the vehicle. I think that got more likely if Democrats take over the House after this week. I still think the Mueller report is the big domino to fall. But I'm not sure politically speaking you had a lot of minds change this week because I didn't think anyone can change those minds.

BERMAN: You said the Mueller report. I will remind people it's a summer Friday. It's a summer Friday today.

CILLIZZA: Don't do that, Berman.

CAMEROTA: Don't do that, Berman.

BERMAN: It's a summer Friday.

CAMEROTA: That means you think it's going to drop today?

BERMAN: I don't know. I am anchoring "Anderson Cooper 360" tonight, so if it does happen today.

CAMEROTA: So you're hoping.


BERMAN: If it does happen today I'll be in place to handle it. Jeffrey Toobin, Chris Cillizza, thanks so much for being here, we appreciate it.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, thank you.

BERMAN: President Trump as we've been discussing, betrayed by three of his own friends. What does this mean for his presidency? What does this mean for the Republican Party? We're going to speak to a couple of Republicans who I think are going to have different views of it. Stick around.


[08:17:58] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There has been so much focus on the president this week in the scandals surrounding him and those associated with him that perhaps we missed the truly fascinating story having to do with Republican congressman from California, Duncan Hunter who has been indicted, charged with all kinds of campaign finance violations, including spending campaign finance money on all these things you're seeing right there. I will note, it includes "Riverdance" tickets, also Costco pet supplies, I believe, for a pet rabbit. Now again, Duncan Hunter is a congressman from California. Who does he blame for all of these alleged misspending of campaign finance dollars? Well, his wife. Listen.


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 when I got into Congress because I'm gone five days a week, I'm home for two. So -- and she was also the campaign manager. So, whatever she did, that will be looked 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.


BERMAN: Joining me now, Steve Cortes, former head of President Trump's Hispanic Advisory Council and Tara Setmayer, former communications director for Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California. They are both CNN political commentators. And Tara, first to you -- wasn't me, my wife did it. My wife did it. She handled the finances. It's a pretty remarkable defense there.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Shame on him for this. I actually read the 47-page indictment and I've got news for you. Congressman Hunter was well aware, well involved and complicit in what was going on there. For him to try to throw his wife under the bus I think is a rather craven defense and far from honorable. He's a marine. He should know better.

And you know when I worked for Congressman Rohrabacher, we worked very closely with his dad, Duncan Hunter's senior. We did some work with his office too but I've got to tell you that Duncan Hunter Jr.'s behavior on Capitol Hill has been somewhat reckless for a long time and I'm actually surprised it took this long for him to finally get in trouble.

[08:20:04] BERMAN: Steve, you want to jump here and assess this from a political standpoint, also from the standpoint of you know husband?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Talk about a bad look. I mean it's bad enough that he played fast and loose with ethics rules and really abused the public trust but then on top of that he's publicly turning on his wife. So it's just a terrible look. It's terrible in substance. I'm not going to remotely defend this guy. He's been in trouble for quite a long time, as Tara mentioned. This has been you know well known and telegraphed.

Listen. Here's the political message I think. Whether it's Republicans or Democrats, we see far too much chicanery in Washington, D.C. The swamp is wide and it is deep and there are a lot of Republicans who are neck deep in the swamp. I've said this from the beginning --

SETMAYER: Like Trump?

CORTES: The Trump revolution -- no, not like Trump.


CORTES: The Trump revolution was about smashing that crony system of Washington, D.C., was about drain that swamp, whether those swamp creatures happen to have an R or a D after their name is pretty irrelevant to me.

BERMAN: So, Tara -

SETMAYER: That's really rich considering the long list of people associated with Donald Trump and people that Donald Trump has picked to be around him, only the best people who have either resigned in disgrace or now pleading guilty who are felons. I mean, you've got to kidding me, draining -- you don't hear the drain the swamp stuff too much coming out of Trump at rallies anymore because it's tough for him to do that. Scott Pruitt, Michael Cohen, you know Tom Price. Look at the people that -- I mean, the list is really long.

So I think the drain the swamp thing is one of the most hypocritical expressions for people to say that Donald Trump is doing that. This could -- this administration the rife with corruption and chicanery. You got to be kidding me. He's the biggest swamp creature of them all.

CORTES: He has absolutely drained the swamp. And by the way - listen


SETMAYER: Enriching himself in the process, right?

CORTES: You mentioned a few people who needed to go and they went. For example, Scott Pruitt. I'm glad he's gone because he did act very swampy. I can see that.

SETMAYER: After a year and a half.

CORTES: He needed to be off team Trump. But here's the thing. The swamp -- what the swamp is actually doing - unfortunately, the swamp is very good at this -- is it is mounting a massive campaign via the Mueller probe and via media to try to undermine our 2016 victory because the swamp is powerful and it wants to reassert itself and many Republicans are complicit in that nefarious effort to try to undo our election.


BERMAN: Hang on a second.

SETMAYER: -- the swamp on this is pretty unbelievable.

BERMAN: Are you talking about the federal prosecutors that just had Michael Cohen plead guilty to illegal campaign finance violations and under the direction of the president to spend money in order to influence the election? Is that these Republicans have somehow betrayed the 2016 election?

SETMAYER: Or Manafort convicted by a jury of the peers?


CORTES: It absolutely is - and I'll tell you why. And I'll tell you why because they looked at Michael Cohen. And by the way, think of how far afield we are from the initial mandate of Russia --

BERMAN: This isn't Russia. This isn't Russia. Leave -- say the sentence without Russia. Michael Cohen saying that the president directed him to spend money in order to influence the election is not Russia.

CORTES: So they looked at Michael Cohen and they found a man who had committed some very serious crimes totally unrelated to Donald Trump in terms of tax evasion and bank fraud. So what did they do? They squeezed him because he was facing potentially decades in jail because of his own nefarious activities. And they said to him, we have you in a corner, here's the way out. You have to plead guilty to non-crimes.

SETMAYER: They are crimes, stop it.


BERMAN: Hang on, Steve. Hang on, Steve.

CORTES: If you implicate the president we'll have leniency.

BERMAN: We don't know what happened behind closed doors. So, A, we don't know how he was lead on or not. B, these are campaign finance violations. These are --

CORTES: No, they're not.

BERMAN: There's code, Steve. You can't erase --

CORTES: I've read the code, have you, John?

BERMAN: I've read the code. It's there. (CROSSTALK) Spending more than $5,400 for campaign purposes is illegal. You cannot do it. Now you may not agree -

Hang on, Steve - Hang on, Steve --

You may not agree with the crime, you may say, hey, it's no big deal. But there is a law.

CORTES: No, it's not a crime.

BERMAN: It is a crime.

CORTES: John, you're wrong.


BERMAN: I'm not wrong.

SETMAYER: Andrew McCarthy --

BERMAN: Hang on, Tara. You cannot say day is night, night is day here. There is a crime. Whether or not -

CORTES: You're the one doing that.

BERMAN: Hang on, Steve. Hang on. Hang on, Steve.

Whether you think that Michael Cohen violated it, that may be your opinion he did not, but there is absolutely a crime.


BERMAN: It is beyond -

CORTES: No, there is not.

BERMAN: Beyond -

CORTES: No. That's fake news.

BERMAN: -- irresponsible to suggest there is not a crime

CORTES: Listen. Can I tell you what it says? Can I tell you what the FEC rules say? They say if an expenditure would have been made irrespective of the campaign then it's not a campaign contribution. There are many reasons why the Stormy Daniels payment would have been made --

BERMAN: The law does not say that, Steve. What the law says, what - the jury can find is that if that expenditure was made outside the purview of the campaign for personal use then they are not guilty of that crime. There is a crime on the books, Steve. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to it. Stop. (CROSSTALK) Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to it and now I'm going to give Tara a chance to talk because the idea that it's not a crime is this lie that has been spread by people close to the president. Tara, go ahead.

[08:25:03] SETMAYER: That's right. Andrew McCarthy, who is a former prosecutor who has been very positive for the most part to Donald Trump and -- on a lot of legal issues or national view. Even Andrew McCarthy admitted that what's happening here is a crime but the argument is whether it's really enforced or not or you know how serious it is. So to sit there and say it isn't a crime is a flat out lie. It is propaganda being used by people -


CORTES: It's not a lie. And you know why?

SETMAYER: -- who are supporting -

CORTES: The jury - the jury ruled on this -

SETMAYER: -- the president and he makes the point that if a candidate conspires with another person to get around the campaign finance laws and also the possibility of corporations donating to a campaign, not reporting them, how they do it, all of those things are crime. So that is -


CORTES: Tara, you can have your opinion --

BERMAN: Hang on.

SETMAYER: It's not my opinion. It's not my opinion.


BERMAN: We're going to have to cut this off. We're going to cut this off. We have to get on to the rest of the show. I will say there is a crime. Steve, if you don't think Michael Cohen -

CORTES: There's not.

BERMAN: -- committed the crime which is on the books, that is your opinion, the federal government -


CORTES: Why did the John Edwards jury find him innocent in a case identical of this.

BERMAN: They found him innocent of a crime. He was charged with a crime they said he didn't commit it. You're saying there's no crime which is incredibly duplicitous.

Steve Cortes, Tara Setmayer -

CORTES: No, that's why the jury acquitted him.

BERMAN: No, they didn't say there's no crime --

CORTES: And it's almost a perfect analogy.

BERMAN: No, there's not.

SETMAYER: This is where we are in 2018. Unbelievable.

BERMAN: They said he didn't commit it. They say he didn't commit it, Steve. Period, full stop. Tara Setmayer --

CORTES: And Trump didn't commit a crime.

BERMAN: But there is a crime there.

SETMAYER: That's right.

BERMAN: Steve Cortes, Tara Setmayer, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. John, I'll pick it up. The dark secrets of Donald Trump's stored reportedly in a safe in the "National Enquirer" offices. What's in that safe? We got the bottom line next.