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Trump Organization CFO Granted Immunity; McCain Discontinues Treatment; White House Remains Silent. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired August 24, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:07] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
We begin with breaking news.
The mounting legal trouble surrounding the president of the United States, Donald Trump. The chief financial officer for the Trump Organization in New York has now been granted immunity in the investigation of hush money payments to women. Allen Weisselberg's immunity applies to the Michael Cohen investigation. It was Cohen who implicated the president in the payments to two women to cover up alleged affairs.
Peter Nicolas is the White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal," which first reported this late-breaking development.
So Weisselberg is described as someone who, quote, knows where all the financial bodies are buried.
Peter, how significant is this grant of immunity?
PETER NICHOLAS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, it's very significant, Wolf. Weisselberg is chief financial officer for the Trump Organization. He's been with the company for decades. President Trump put Weisselberg in charge of -- gave him authority, put him in charge of the organization, along with the president's sons, when Donald Trump became president. So he is a pillar of the president's financial wealth, his strength, and he's been essentially knocked away potentially by the prosecutors. And so it's a very significant development here.
BLITZER: Yes, and I've always believed, ever since Allen Weisselberg's name came up, Peter, that, yes, you know, David Pecker of "The National Enquirer," he may know something. Michael Cohen, he probably knows a whole lot more.
But Weisselberg is in a whole different category. For 40 years he's been a key player in that Trump Organization and knows a lot of what's going on. So this is a real significant development. Prosecutors, as you know, they've been pointing out that the -- at
least you've been reporting that this immunity deal is part of the hush money that Michael Cohen helped arrange for those women who alleged affairs with Donald Trump. But does this open the door for him to testify about other financial issues involving the president or the Trump Organization?
NICHOLAS: Well, the immunity deal was in connection with Michael Cohen and Michael Cohen's testimony. So it's not clear yet that this will apply going forward.
But we do know is that Michael -- is that Weisselberg was involved in every -- knew so much about every financial transaction involving this organization. He, in fact, would present checks to Donald Trump to sign. Trump would make decisions whether to sign them or not, whether the payment was too high or not. So he was really part of the president's support structure. And if the prosecutors have homed in on him, this is deeply problematic for the president given how much Weisselberg knows, how much he was involved with.
BLITZER: Excellent reporting, Peter, thank you very much.
Peter Nicholas of "The Wall Street Journal."
Let's bring in our CNN legal analysts, Carrie Cordero, and Jack Quinn, the former White House counsel for President Bill Clinton. He's also a CNN legal analyst.
So, Jack, how big of a deal is this?
JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a very significant deal. I mean, first and foremost, there had been some intimations early on that Michael Cohen was sort of alone out there making these accusations with no one corroborating. He had, you know, nothing really to back him up on this.
Weisselberg provides critical corroboration of Michael Cohen's story. And these things tend to take on a sense of momentum. One witness can lead to new information in addition to corroboration of the first witness' story and lead the prosecutors down different avenues. This is a very significant development. There's simply no doubt about it.
BLITZER: For federal prosecutors, Carrie, to give immunity to someone like Weisselberg, they have to assume they're going to get a lot of useful information.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. So the prosecutors would have to make a judgment, and there's guidelines under the attorney general -- U.S. attorney's manual about when they can grant immunity. It has to be in the public interest. They have to -- they would have demonstrated, had to have gotten some information from him or from other sources that his information was credible, and then they would have to make a judgment that it was in the public interest for a case to grant him immunity.
It does look like, in this circumstance, his immunity right now, as we understand it from the reporting, is limited to the issues described in the Michael Cohen documents. But it's very conceivable that he has other information, as you described a few minutes ago, that is of more interest if, in fact, there's investigators looking at greater issues revolving the Trump Organization.
BLITZER: You know, Jack, I want to play a clip from an interview the president granted to "THE NEW YORK TIMES" in July of last year, to Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, in which the president made it clear how he would react if prosecutors started going after the Trump Organization or his personal finances. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Mueller was looking at your finances and your family's finances unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?
[13:05:04] MAGGIE HABERMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. Yes, I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don't -- I don't -- I mean it's possible there's a condo or something. So, you know, I sell a lot of condo units and somebody -- somebody from Russia buys a condo. Who knows? I don't make money from Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He says it would be a red line if they start looking into his personal finances or his company's finances.
QUINN: It's not. He doesn't decide what a red line is. First of all, I think he's not terribly familiar with the charge that Special Counsel Mueller had, which was not only to investigate whether there was coordination between Russia and the campaign in connection with the 2016 election. It was also to follow up on any other criminal activity that might have been discovered in the course of that investigation.
As these things unfold -- and, again, this is the nature of an investigation where one witness leads to another, more information comes to light, and when and if prosecutors find reason to believe that other criminal activity has taken place, they not only have the right to follow up on that, they have a duty to pursue it. And certainly given Robert Mueller's charge here, he has a duty to pursue it.
So I really do think -- this goes to a broader point, I'll make it very quickly. I think it's really important at this juncture that the president change his approach. I think he's got to stop the combat with this investigation because this is going downhill for him and he needs to now, I think, adopt a posture of more cooperation, more of an attitude that he's not afraid of the truth. Right now he is in such a defensive crouch, and that is simply not the posture of somebody who wants to have his innocence vindicated.
BLITZER: Does he have good legal advice? Is he getting good legal advice right now? This is such a sensitive moment for the president of the United States.
CORDERO: Well, I would -- I would just add also that if there was a lesson from the Manafort trial, it's how devastating the financial professionals can be, because so much of that case was financial documents and then the accountants and other financial professionals who were able to provide the evidence.
Whether or not the president's getting good legal advice, look, his legal team's been a mess for a year. It's constantly shifting. He has a White House counsel who testified for 30 hours in front of the special counsel's office.
BLITZER: Don McGahn.
CORDERO: Don McGahn, who is, I presume, recused from the Russia investigation. So he has separate internal White House lawyers. And then he has a personal legal team where I take Rudy Giuliani's presence in this case really to be running a PR campaign and a counter impeachment effort. In other words, everything that Rudy Giuliani does seems to be targeted towards a political audience and an audience on The Hill. That's very different from having behind the scenes lawyers who are giving advice about legal culpability and legal liability.
QUINN: Could I add to that, one of the major problems there is that I think the lawyer in question, Mr. Giuliani, he did not understand the law that was being looked at and has really given the president bad advice with the effect that the president has said things that implicate himself.
BLITZER: The campaign finance laws?
QUINN: Specifically the campaign finance laws. I mean the president has all but acknowledged wrongdoing. And it's in large measure, I think, because Mr. Giuliani has said, you know, that the campaign finance laws are minor violations. They don't amount to anything. I mean that's just dead wrong. You can't break the law in trying to become president. And willful knowing violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act are felonies. I mean this is --
BLITZER: Because on that point, Jack --
QUINN: It's terrible advice.
BLITZER: Jack makes an important point, Carrie, because the White House points out correctly the president has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing. He has not been indicted with any criminal wrongdoing. But in -- in all the federal plea -- statements that were made when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to those eight counts, especially to counts seven and eight, the federal prosecutors do say that the president of the United States was in effect an unindicted conspirator. They call him a coconspirator for all practical purposes, even though he wasn't formally charged or indicted.
CORDERO: The president is individual one in the Michael Cohen plea documents. I mean that is just such a dramatic and unique experience to have. We have a federal criminal case, Michael Cohen pled guilty, Michael Cohen said in court and in the documents that the individual who he coordinated with and who directed him to commit this campaign violation was the president. So clearly it's a significant fact that the president is described, even if not by personal name, in these documents, and whether or not members of Congress politically want to take that as a significant federal crime or whether they're going to wait for the Mueller investigation to conclude and see if there's an obstruction referral or whether there are other federal crimes that implicate in some way the president's behavior is a political question.
[13:10:27] BLITZER: The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York says he's a co-conspirator. Unindicted, not charged, but a co- conspirator.
QUINN: That's right. And one thing that the president needs to be worried about -- and, again, this is why I think it's really important that he make a very significant turn in his approach to these investigations. He needs to be worried about the fact that a willful violation, a criminal violation of the campaign finance laws is an impeachable offense. I think there's little doubt that the impeachment clause would cover criminal activity in attaining the office, not just in carrying out the office of president of the United States.
BLITZER: That's for politicians to decide, if it ever does get to the House of Representatives --
QUINN: Well, it --
BLITZER: And if it passes the House of Representatives, they only need a simple majority and then winds up in the Senate, where you need a two-thirds majority.
QUINN: Let -- let me just add that the founders, George Mason among them, specifically addressed what should happen if a president conducts himself in a criminal fashion in attaining the office of president. And specifically talked about how that should be a subject of an impeachment.
BLITZER: Well, we'll see if it ever gets that far.
CORDERO: You know --
BLITZER: Very quickly.
CORDERO: The president is not taking the advice that Jack is giving though. The president is going on the offensive against the justice system.
CORDERO: And he is -- he is going on the offensive against the attorney general, who sits atop the Justice Department, which still governs the Southern District of New York and the Mueller investigation. And so he is exactly not acknowledging the significance of federal crimes. He is attacking prosecutors, and he is attacking the justice system. BLITZER: Says it's all a witch hunt.
All right, guys, thanks, very, very much. Appreciate it.
We're going to have a lot more on this. The president getting a taste of betrayal in one week involving some of his closest allies. We're going to talk about the threats each of them pose.
Also, after promising holy hell if President Trump ever fired the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, there seems to be a serious crack, at least among some Republicans. Now the president once again is attacking Jeff Sessions.
And very sad news coming out of Arizona light now. The family of John McCain says the senator will stop medical treatment for brain cancer and now his wife and daughter, they are speaking out.
[13:17:05] Following the major breaking news.
Allen Weisselberg, the long-time chief financial officer of the Trump Organization in New York, presumably the closest business official to the president of the United States, he has been granted immunity in exchange for testimony involving the Michael Cohen hush money payments to two women, at least two women, who have accused the president of having sexual affairs with them.
We're following that story. This represents a major -- another major setback for the president in this entire investigation. Much more on that coming up.
But we're also following very, very sad news coming out of Arizona. The family of John McCain says the senator has been -- has decided to discontinue medical treatment for brain cancer. He was diagnosed last year with an aggressive glioblastoma and the prognosis was very serious. Both Senator McCain's wife and daughter put out statements just a little while ago on Twitter.
Quote, I love my husband with all my heart. God bless everyone who has cared for my husband all along this journey.
And Meghan McCain tweeted this. My family is deeply appreciative of all the love and the generosity you have shown us during this past year. Thank you for all your continued support and prayers. We could not have made it this far without you. You've given us strength to carry on.
Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Mark Preston, and our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
So the reaction has been pouring in. Mark, what are you hearing?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, you know, you can really judge a man's character and his place in life by what his enemies say to him. And what we've seen today is an outpouring of support. And let me just say enemies. Someone such as Mitch McConnell. He was a Republican leader who John McCain clashed with all the time. He tweeted out today, we are so fortunate to call him our friend and colleague. John, Cindy, and the entire McCain family are in our prayers at this incredibly difficult hour.
Mitt Romney, who he ran against in 2012 for -- we saw rather in 2008, Mitt Romney comes out and says, no man this century better exemplifies honor, patriotism, service, sacrifice, and country first than Senator John McCain. His heroism inspires, his life shapes our character. I am blessed and humbled by our friendship.
Wolf, we are really starting to see an outpouring of support for Senator John McCain, someone who not only served in the United States Senate in Congress but really honorably. And I use that word and I emphasize honorably during the Vietnam War.
BLITZER: He certainly has spent more than five years as a POW in Vietnam.
BLITZER: I've known him for at least 30 years. And I can testify exactly what you're saying, a very, very decent, wonderful --
BLITZER: Person. Certainly a source of pride to so many people.
I want to bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, you've done a lot of reporting over the years on Senator McCain's health. Back in 2008 I remember, when he was running for president, he let you have extensive information about his health. And you broke the story a year or so ago, a little bit more, a year or so ago about his brain cancer. Tell us a little bit more about that.
[13:20:11] DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, it was July of last year, Wolf. And, at that time, you know, Senator McCain, his office had reached out basically telling us he'd been diagnosed.
You may remember he had had this question of a blood collection above his left eye at that point. And he was going to have an operation for that. It was during that operation doctors discovered, look, this isn't just a blood collection. There is something more here. And that is how this Glioblastoma, it's called, or GBM, it's a type of aggressive brain cancer, that's how it was found. And so it's been just, you know, over 13 months now roughly, Wolf, since that diagnosis.
And after the operation, he underwent what we call conventional therapy. You know, chemotherapy and radiation. We know that it's been tough on him. These are tough therapies. They're designed to kill the cancer cells. But oftentimes they can have an impact on other normal cells in the body. That's what makes this type of therapy so tough. And he is a tough guy, but it's a -- it's a -- he is older and it's harder on someone who's obviously of more advanced age.
So, you know, it's, at some point, a risk/benefit sort of discussion that's constantly going on with the doctors, with Senator McCain and his family, are the benefits greater than the risks in terms of this therapy? And at this point they've decided that's no longer the case.
BLITZER: Yes, the -- in the statement it says, with his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment.
GUPTA: That's right.
BLITZER: So -- but he will be getting treatment for pain and other related side effects, right?
GUPTA: Yes. You know, my understanding, he's always talked about the fact that he wants to stay home. You know, he wants to be at home. There's different types of options to make sure that someone is comfortable. I don't know, you know, what kind of state he's in right now.
I will say that because someone has made the decision to no longer have therapy, doesn't necessarily mean it correlates with a precipitous decline. It just means that, you know, it doesn't appear that the treatments are working or that the benefits are outweighing the risks. But at some point, you know, it will be likely that he's going to need some sort of care. You know, whether it's hospice or comfort or whatever sort of care that will likely be done in the home.
BLITZER: And I think I speak for all of us certainly here at CNN, indeed all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world, we wish Senator McCain only -- only -- only the best in these -- in these days --
BLITZER: These critically important days for him and his family. We send our love to that family.
Sanjay, thank you.
GUPTA: You got it.
BLITZER: Mark Preston, thank you as well.
Up next, we continue to follow the breaking news.
The chief financial officer of the Trump Organization granted immunity in the investigation of hush money payments. What the White House is saying about it.
Also, the president and his orbit facing an onslaught of serious legal cases. We're breaking it all down.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:22:43] BLITZER: More now on the breaking news this hour.
The chief financial officer for the Trump Organization in New York granted immunity in the investigation of hush money payments. A source says Allen Weisselberg testified as part of the Michael Cohen case. It was Cohen, the president's long-time former attorney and fixer, who implicated the president in payments to two women, at least two women, to cover up alleged affairs.
Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us right now.
Jim, when Allen Weisselberg was subpoenaed last month, a former Trump Organization employee told CNN in that -- in that sense that was the ultimate nightmare scenario for Trump. What are you hearing right now over at the White House?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, Wolf, it is potentially a nightmare scenario for the president because the public really just doesn't have that much insight into what was going on inside the Trump Organization, into President Trump's finances when he was a private citizen because he did not release his tax returns and so on. And so, yes, this is potentially a very big development in that case.
Now, I will tell you, at this point, the White House isn't saying anything at this point. I will tell you that in the last several minutes I did hear from a Trump legal team source who was sort of downplaying this development, Allen Weisselberg being granted immunity in the Michael Cohen case, and essentially saying that this is from a while back, this is not new and really saying nothing more than that.
And so we'll have to wait to see whether or not the president wants to comment on all of this, Wolf. You know, he's leaving for Columbus, Ohio, later on this afternoon, in about 30 minutes to an hour from now. Typically when he makes these departures on the South Lawn of the White House, and it's a picture-perfect day today here in Washington, Wolf. They can't blame the weather and motorcading him out to Joint Base Andrews. He'll come out of the Oval Office or out of the residence of the White House and pass right in front of reporters. So we'll see if he wants to take any questions.
There's not only just this news about Allen Weisselberg, but all of the news that we've been talking about all week long, these inconsistent statements we've been hearing from the White House and from the president on the Stormy Daniels payments and so on. And then, of course, later on this afternoon, the president will be in Columbus, Ohio, Wolf. He'll make some remarks at the Republican -- at a Republican state dinner there.
[13:29:58] And so there will be multiple opportunities for the president to weigh in on all of this. Not to mention this war of words that's been going on with the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. That could also flare up where, as you've noticed, Wolf, as we've all noticed over the last 24 hours, he has been taking --