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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Sources: People Close To President Previously Reached Out To Cohen To Say He Would Be Protected; Putin And Saudi Crown Prince High- Five At G20 Summit; President Trump Navigates G20 Summit Under Cloud Of Russia Probe; 7.0 Magnitude Earthquake Causes Major Damage In Alaska. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired November 30, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
We begin tonight with breaking news in the Russia investigation. It's a CNN exclusive and it could be very big indeed. The question is how big. The story concerns Michael Cohen, President Trump, and a potentially impeachable offense -- that big.
CNN's Evan Perez, Gloria Borger, and Pamela Brown did the reporting. Evan and Gloria joining us right now.
All right, Gloria. If you can, just kind of explain what you're hearing? What you've learned?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we're reporting that Michael Cohen, who is now a star witness for Robert Mueller, used to be the president's fixer, was under the impression early on, right after the sort of Stormy Daniels saga, that if he stayed on message and continued to protect the president, that either a pardon or some kind of protection would be in the offing for him.
Our reporting shows that he got this impression not long after the Stormy Daniels case broke.
Remember, he went to Mar-a-Lago. He met with the president at that time. We are unclear about who exactly conveyed that message to Michael Cohen. But we know he came away early on thinking, OK, I'm in a good spot, I'm going to be protected.
And we then know that everything kind of fell apart after the raid on his office. At first, the president was still supportive of them, but then he went on "Fox and Friends," and the president said, well, he only did a little legal work for me. And then Michael Cohen knew that he would no longer have the president at his back.
COOPER: Evan, what's the response been from the president's legal team?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Rudy Giuliani told Pamela Brown tonight: The president of the United States never indicated anything to Michael or anyone else about getting a pardon. The pardons are off the table, he said. But it's not a limitation on his power in the future to pardon in any case. So, a little bit of a mixed message there from Rudy Giuliani, as often
happens. In one sentence, he's saying pardons are off the table, but the president still has that ultimate power to pardon anyone he wants.
And he's right, by the way. The president's power is absolute. That's the key here for this story.
The idea that Michael Cohen, for whatever reason, perhaps after he came back from his Mar-a-Lago trip or from outreach from people close to the president, believed that he was being promised something in return for staying on message is a very big deal for this investigation, because if this is something that he is telling to prosecutors, to investigators, you can see that this could end up being part of the Mueller report and then, of course, this is something that members of Congress will want to know about, as they decide what to do about this come next year.
BORGER: Yes, I mean, we don't know for a fact, Anderson, that he's said this to Mueller, but if he did, clearly, it would be part of any obstruction investigation, if somebody says to you, you know, you take care of me and I'll take care of you.
COOPER: But, again, I just want to drill down on sort of what is not known, because that's as important, frankly, as what is known about this. It is not known whether Michael Cohen talked about this with Robert Mueller. Hard to believe in 70 hours of testimony in front of Mueller or discussions with Mueller he wouldn't have mentioned this, but it's not known if it was the -- if he is alleging that it was the president who directly indicated to him, you know, I'll take care of you, meaning a pardon or some other form of taking care of, or if it was somebody around the president, again, according to Michael Cohen.
BORGER: Exactly. I mean, I think -- I think we know from our reporting, and Evan can weigh in on this, that the message was sent.
BORGER: We do not know who sent it directly or indirectly. That includes the president. We just --
BORGER: -- don't know.
PEREZ: Keep in mind --
COOPER: And, Evan, based on -- OK, go ahead, Evan.
PEREZ: I'm sorry. Part of the -- part of what was happening at the time, if you remember early on, Michael Cohen's legal fees were being paid for by the Trump organization and by the -- so that was one of the things that was happening at the time, that gave him this impression, perhaps, that the president had his back and that he was going to be taken care of.
COOPER: Evan, do we know after the raid, as Gloria mentioned, initially, the president in public statements said nice things about Michael Cohen. Later on, then, I think, maybe days later, I'm not sure of the exact timeline, he started to distance himself, saying, well, you know, Michael didn't do a lot of work for me. He was sort of a minor player, things like that.
Is it clear if there was continued contact between someone from the president's team or someone around the president to Michael Cohen?
[20:05:03] PEREZ: We don't know who might have been reaching out exactly and whether anybody from the president's legal team might have been involved in any of this. What we do know is that Michael Cohen has this impression that, from his outreach, from whatever he was doing at the time, that the president had his back.
And keep in mind, Anderson, that, you know, after the raid and, as you mentioned, the president starts distancing himself, there's also a "National Enquirer" story published that talks about Michael Cohen's so-called secrets. Again, for Michael Cohen, we reported this at the time, that to Michael Cohen, this was a signal he was seeing, he believed, that there was an effort by the president and people close to him to try to distance themselves from him. And that, essentially, he was going to be on his own.
He started getting the message that for all of the reassurances he was getting, things were going to be different. And he was also hearing from his own family, by the way, that he had to take care of them. You know, if he was going to go to prison, this was going to be something that they were going to have to bare. All of those things were factors into Michael Cohen's thinking as time went on.
COOPER: And, Gloria, I mean, this is certainly, you know, it is a fascinating story. The proof, of course, we don't know if there is any actual proof, other than something Michael Cohen may have said to Mueller, but whether there's -- you know, Michael Cohen has reported things in the past, but we have no idea if there's any kind of documentation of any of this.
But, it's certainly, you know, for a guy who once said he'd take a bullet for the president, this is yet another kind of remarkable chapter in the dissolving of their prior relationship.
BORGER: Yes, it's absolutely Shakespearean. You know, the guy who was the president's major protector has now turned into Brutus, right? And at least the president would seem to think so.
And the relationship, you know, it's had its ups and downs over the years. And you talk to people about their relationship, and they will give you varying stories about how actually close they were. But one thing we do know about Michael Cohen is that publicly, nobody was more loyal to Donald Trump throughout the campaign, for example.
And even at the beginning of the stormy Daniels Saga, as we all know, he was really protecting the president here, and himself, I might add. But it has all completely dissolved. And once Michael Cohen, according to our sources, felt that he was going to be left out in the cold, he decided that he had to start protecting his family and himself.
COOPER: Yes. The thing about the way though Michael Cohen, you know -- you said there was nobody who was more, you know, demonstrably effusive about Donald Trump, that's certainly the case during the campaign, almost to a ludicrous extent, I mean, saying like he's never made a mistake before. He is the smartest person. He has the best memory.
I mean, all these things which, to Donald Trump's point, that Michael Cohen is a liar, Cohen hasn't done himself in favors in the public statements that he has made, back when he was supporting Donald Trump.
PEREZ: Right, exactly. You can see, I mean, from the documents that were released this week as part of the plea agreement with the Mueller investigation, they are saying, essentially, that what Michael Cohen was doing is he was lying to -- essentially, he aligned himself with the false statements that were being told by the campaign, at least according to these court documents.
So, what Michael Cohen was doing was lying in order to match the lies that were going on elsewhere. So, that's the level of loyalty that he had to then-candidate Trump and later President Trump.
COOPER: Yes. A lot of lies flying around. Hard to keep it straight.
Gloria Borger, thank you. Evan Perez, as well.
Joining us right now, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates and Jeffrey Toobin. Also, Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff, joins us, co-author of the book "Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump," which is a fascinating read. With us as well is CNN political analyst, Julia Hirschfield David, congressional correspondent for "The New York Times."
Jeff, first of all, just -- in your opinion, how big of a deal is this, or could this be?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Gloria and Evan were speaking with great care about what they know and what they don't know. But this raises a huge possibility and, you know, obviously, the evident -- we'll have to see how the evidence plays out, but did Donald Trump promise Michael Cohen that he would take care of him, either in a pardon or some other way, in return for staying loyal in terms of his testimony?
You know, was this a quid pro quo, a pardon for lack of cooperation with these agreements -- with these investigations. If that was the case, that, to me, is the definition of an impeachment offense, because it is an abuse of presidential power.
[20:10:07] It is very similar to one of the articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee voted against Richard Nixon in 1974. You know, promises of leniency in return for lack of cooperation. That's not what the proof is yet. That's not what our CNN report is
yet, but it is certainly suggestive that the evidence might be in that direction. And that would be enormously serious.
COOPER: I want to put that article of impeachment up on the screen and just read it for our viewers, because you just referenced it, in the Nixon articles of impeachment.
Endeavoring to cause prospective defendants, and individuals duly tried and convicted, to expect favored treatment and consideration in return for their silence or false testimony, or rewarding individuals for their silence or false testimony.
Laura Coates, I mean, whatever Michael Cohen has said or is saying about this, or has said to Mueller, if he has, in fact, talked to Mueller about this, the question is, is there any actual proof? Because Michael Cohen saying this happened, I assume -- I mean, that's not enough, given his track record.
LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: No, it is not enough that any prosecutor would look to a cooperator and say, what you have said is enough. They want corroboration. And before you invest in a plea negotiation, let alone an actual guilty plea or cooperation agreement, as a prudent prosecutor, you're going to have corroboration before you just trust somebody.
But it's interesting. You have a competition among liars, the credibility issue can be cancelled out to a larger extent than, say, if you had Mother Teresa against the average liar. You have people who are competing. And the judge and the jury are looking at the court of public opinion as well and saying, who do I think lies less? That's not a good position for a defendant to be in.
Having said that, I'm most interested in why Michael Cohen had that impression and who he got the impression from. That's the linchpin argument and the linchpin cause for the actual proof here. If Michael Cohen is simply banking on an insinuation or his intuition, that is not going to actually fly for a prosecution in this case. But if he's talking about there was a statement made, there was an implicit agreement, one that has been back before, a reference to some time ago, that holds more water.
But Jeff is right, talking about impeachment. I'm really interested however in, if there were other people who were not the president of the United States or who were not presidential candidates who were dangling the pardoning power or that scratch our back, we'll scratch yours sort of philosophy.
We wouldn't be in the impeachment context. It wouldn't just be the articles of impeachment. It'd be about obstruction of justice. And there is not the protection of a sitting president for those people.
COOPER: Michael, there is a big difference, if it is something President Trump said to Michael Cohen directly or intimated, or if it's somebody in the president's orbit, you know, saying, oh, he's going to take care of you. You know he's take care of you, something like that. Again, we don't know exactly how Michael Cohen got this impression.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CO-AUTHOR, "RUSSIAN ROULETTE": Of course. You know, obviously, everything depends on who said exactly what, what corroboration there might be, what Michael Cohen heard, what that person who Michael Cohen says he got this impression from would say.
But can I point out something, Anderson? We've been all so focused on the Robert Mueller investigation and, you know, his job is to make criminal cases, to find violations of the federal statutes and then bring indictments.
But there is another branch of government here that could get to the bottom of this very quickly, and that's Congress. They've had ongoing investigations since January 2017, into this whole matter of the Russia investigation. They've held almost all hearings behind closed doors. We've never heard from the witnesses. We've never heard them testify.
In a little more than a month, the Democrats will have subpoena power, will have the gavel. They could call Michael Cohen to testify the first week in January or the second week. There's nothing to stop them. Mueller might object, but they've got their own obligations.
And we could hear from Michael Cohen directly, and hear exactly what he has to say on this and all the other matters before them. I think this report tonight from CNN only underscores the obligation that Congress, that Democrats in Congress and the House, really now have. Senate could do it, too. It is still under Republican control, but there is nothing to stop them either. To bring forth, you know, the key, fact witnesses in all this matter, have them testify in public.
Just like what happened in Watergate. Just like what happened in Iran-Contra.
[20:15:00] Just like what happened in -- during Whitewater. All the major scandals in recent history, public hearings, public testimony.
Enough of this behind closed doors stuff, in which we're relying on leaks from sources, all who have their own agendas.
COOPER: Julie, I mean, Michael raises a fascinating idea there. Given that there's so much concern about any final report that Mueller might write up, and who actually will see it, and that's something that, obviously, the Acting Attorney General Whitaker would be responsible for, for deciding. If there were hearings, just as we're learning information that Mueller is putting in the public domain, just in the charges yesterday, if there were public hearings, that would be putting things in the public domain that might end up in that report, which might get buried.
JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's absolutely right, and I think Michael is right to focus on Congress. I think there is a huge appetite right now, certainly among Democrats, House Democrats who are about to take the majority in January. But also, I think on the Senate side, and not just among Republicans, but the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, has talked about, you know, you don't lie to Congress and get away from it.
I think there is an appetite to hear from Michael Cohen again. Democrats and Republicans view him clearly as somebody who was very loyal to President Trump, so he knows a lot. Very close to him and has now turned on him and has been willing to give information that is critical to their understanding of Trump's involvement or degree of involvement, if he had involvement. Both in, you know, business dealings with Russia, but also potentially in election interference.
So, I think they already wanted to hear from Michael Cohen. I think Michael is right, this only be underscore that and make that a more real possibility.
There may be some give and take though with Mueller, if he has not yet come to a conclusion and issued final charges or a final dispensation of this investigation, because, you know, a lot of the questions they would want to ask are questions that are going to be at the heart of the investigation. But certainly, now that we know as much as we do, both from his guilty pleas and from the reporting tonight, the questions that have been raised, I think, are going to be ones that Congress will want to explore.
TOOBIN: If I can just add --
COOPER: We want to continue this conversation -- go ahead, Jeff.
TOOBIN: If I can add about the congressional testimony. One reason I think congressional testimony by Cohen is likely is that there's no conflict over the issue of immunity. He's said he'll testify without immunity.
Prosecutors object when Congress gives immunity. That's why Oliver North and John Poindexter had their cases thrown out in the Iran- Contra investigation because Congress gave immunity, and they were prosecuted by Lawrence Welch who I worked for.
Here, there's no issue of immunity. He's already pled guilty, so he could be a witness, and I think Mueller would have a harder time objecting.
COOPER: I want to get a quick break in. We're going to continue this conversation because it is an important one. I want to see what everybody makes of something we touched on briefly, that change in tone about Michael Cohen from the president, from staunchly defending him immediately after the raid to what he's saying now.
Also, later, an update on the massive earthquake that has done damage in Alaska. We'll tell you how bad it is. We'll bring you there live.
We'll be right back.
[20:22:33] COOPER: Welcome back.
We're talking about CNN's exclusive. Michael Cohen's belief he'd be pardoned or be protected, as long as he stayed on message and supported President Trump. So far, no direct evidence, which is a document or recording to corroborate that belief, although Michael Cohen, as you know, did record conversations with his old boss from time to time.
In any case, for a while, this spring, the president was, as we mentioned, publicly supportive of Cohen. Here's what the president said after that FBI -- or the several FBI raids on Cohen's offices.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys. Good man. It is a disgraceful situation. It is a total witch hunt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The president also defended Cohen at length on Twitter, saying he did not anticipate Cohen flipping, to use the president's word for cooperating with investigators. He did. And the president's tone changed.
Back now with our group of experts, legal and reporters, as well.
So, Jeff, I mean, we know Michael Cohen recorded at least one conversation with candidate Trump about hush money. Obviously, if Cohen made any additional recordings, that would be hugely important.
What we don't know is why Donald Trump's tone and words and attitude publicly -- statements about Michael Cohen changed in the days after the raid.
TOOBIN: Well, we don't know exactly why it changed in those first few days. We certainly know why it changed now, because Michael Cohen has become very much a government witness. Why he didn't try to cultivate Cohen and stay, you know -- and try to encourage Cohen to stay loyal, that requires a knowledge of Donald Trump's psyche that I don't pretend to have.
But certainly, what happened was, Cohen got the message that he was no longer going to be protected, or simply he had an attack of conscience, or he just realized the future looked grim, fighting these charges. But in any event, he's made a complete 180, and he is now a sworn enemy of the president, as we heard on the White House lawn yesterday.
And his credibility will be attacked by the president's defenders, if he testifies in Congress or if his name appears in the report. And that's, you know -- and that's where things stand right now.
[20:25:02] COOPER: Laura, I mean, one of the things we know about this president is he's not exactly subtle in hiding what he actually thinks. Sometimes, he's actually oddly transparent, perhaps even unintentionally so in conversations.
So, we have really no idea what he may have said to Michael Cohen over dinner at Mar-a-Lago or over the phone or at any point. We have heard, when the president was asked about, you know, the idea of a pardon for Paul Manafort, saying that nothing is off the table, which as a public statement is certainly something, you know, Paul Manafort and his team, no doubt, heard, as well.
COATES: Well, compare and contrast what's happening with Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort. One of the things that the president had to say about Paul Manafort, even compared him at one point, if you recall, to what Al Capone and how poorly he was being treated, as if he was being raked over the coals. He clearly sees somebody who was silent and went through the trial as a very different scenario than somebody who has been forthcoming and evaded trial through a guilty plea prior to the trial date.
And, of course, we see now, even before sentencing, which is set for, what, two weeks from now, him cooperating again. He values that different, it seems. Even to the point where you saw him questioned earlier in the week, the overtures, it seemed, that Paul Manafort may have been making by not being cooperative and being called a liar by Mueller's team. This plays the advantage of somebody who seems to call people weak if they're cooperating with investigators.
So, I think it's all part and parcel to the president's transparency, you're right, that he does not believe, although he is the head of the branch of government where the Department of Justice falls under, and every defendant has a right to do what they like, in terms of a plea or go to trial, the president doesn't value that. He values the loyalty to himself and to the presumption and perception that you're not going to cooperate with what he deems, erroneously, by the way, a witch hunt.
COOPER: Michael, what are the chances you think that Mueller's report, whatever it is issued, could be blocked from public release, either by Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker or the White House itself, or heavily redacted? What are the chances it'd be released to the public?
ISIKOFF: I think it is going to be enormous fights over that. My understanding is that the arrangement that the White House made with Mueller's office from the get-go, when they allowed Don McGahn to testify at great length and turned over other documents, is they reserve the right to invoke executive privilege on all that material. So, if Mueller tries to issue a report that could be made public, the White House can invoke executive privilege to try to block portions of that report. I think that can enormously complicate Mueller's job, how far the White House will go in pushing that, how far -- how much Mueller will push back, we don't know.
But, you know, what I think Mueller is trying to do, and we saw it in the plea deal yesterday, is put as much information as he can in these court documents that he's filing, as he brings cases. There was lots of new information we got from that Michael Cohen guilty plea that we'd never seen before.
And, first and foremost, and I've got to say, you know, I was skeptical about how significant Michael Cohen would be as a witness in the Russia -- core Russia investigation. But to see laid out in those court documents that Vladimir Putin's office responded to that e-mail from Michael Cohen seeking help in getting this Trump Tower project approved and, you know, seeking assistance in securing financing and a land purchase for that was incredibly consequential and does shed whole new light on the relationship between Putin himself or his office at any rate and the Trump organization.
You know, you may remember from the national security assessment, the DNI assessment January 17th. When Putin intervened in the election, it started out simply to discredit Hillary Clinton. At some point, it became an effort to boost Donald Trump. I think this plea agreement, which has that information about Putin's office, sheds new light on that whole arrangement.
COOPER: You know, Julie, I mean, to Michael's point, Bob Mueller has really put, at times, more information than even he needed to into public documents. Clearly, it seems, to get them in front of the public, so if down the road a report is squashed, at least there is a lot of information that's already known to the public.
DAVIS: Right. I think -- I mean, that's clearly by design.
I think, you know, part of the calculation here has got to be that he knows, and everybody knows, that Congress is looking into this as well, and that to the degree that the public sees that there is, you know, that there are some dimension here, there are some actual substance behind some of the points that they have been investigating, and to Michael's point, that, you know, these witnesses are not just being able to speak to President Trump's former financial dealings or things that are only tangentially related to the campaign or to Russia but, in fact, to the core question of what his affinity was -- what was behind his affinity for Russia why he wanted better relations with Russia and potentially connected to the campaign.
The more that that's out there, the more that these issues are going to be front of mind and I think anticipating what I assume will be a battle over what becomes public, what's able to be made public in his findings and what's not. The more that people know that there is, the more that Mueller, I think, could calculate that people will push for those disclosures.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, yes. I want to thank everybody. We have much more ahead tonight on our breaking news. We're going to hear from former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, how serious he thinks this latest development could be. That's next.
COOPER: Breaking news tonight, a CNN exclusive. According to sources, the President's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, believed that the President would offer him a pardon in exchange for staying on message, or would protect him in some way.
Cohen has told associates that after the FBI raided his office and home, people close to the President assured him that Mr. Trump would take care of him. We don't know who reached out, but Cohen took that to mean the President would pardon him.
[20:35:04] With me now is former U.S. attorney and CNN Senior Legal Analyst Preet Bharara. Preet, this breaking news, I mean if the President or those around him were somewhere dangling a pardon in front of Michael Cohen, how potentially a big of a deal is that?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's an enormous deal. It's something that people have been speculating about, hoping was not true. The devil will be in the details. But if it's the worst case scenario, whereby Donald Trump directly, you know, talking to Michael Cohen, or through intermediaries, was clearly offering some respite from criminal charges, so that he would be spared, incriminating testimony from Michael Cohen, that to me smacks of obstruction.
And whether or not it does, it smacks of abuse of power. It's not the way that the pardon power is supposed to be used. And I think that anybody who would accounts it will forgive it or try to explain it away is making a mistake.
Now, the problem is, you know, what are the facts and how much corroboration is there for it? It sounds like, you know, this evidence and these accusations are coming from Michael Cohen himself and as a President can legitimately say, Michael Cohen is not just a liar, he is a proven and admitted liar. So there needs to be other evidence, too, for this to be, you know, a slam dunk situation.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, first of all, does it -- would it matter if it was only people around the President who were sort of, you know, giving some sort of assurances or nods or winks that the President would take care of Michael Cohen? Would that keep the President out of an illegal jeopardy?
BHARARA: I mean it can because it's all a question of interpretation. And so, you know, people who are the heads of mob families don't always write down in print, I want you to take care of this person in this particular way, sometimes people use euphemisms.
Sometimes people assume that the boss wants something to happen, and they do it in a way that the boss doesn't know. Sometimes they do it in a way that gives the boss plausible deniability. And sometimes they do it in ways that there are lots of people having conversations.
And if you didn't get one of the intermediaries to corroborate what Michael Cohen says, who is a more believable and credible person than Michael Cohen, and maybe you have some other kinds of documentary evidence, an e-mail, a text message, something of that nature, then you're getting closer to being able to prove something on the part of the President. But, yes, it matters who was involved and what they say and what the corresponding proof is.
COOPER: You know, Michael Cohen had gone down to Mar-a-Lago to have dinner with the President. That was something that it was widely covered. It's not known what was discussed, but in this reporting it seemed like when he came back from that he had the sense that he would be taken care of by the President.
Bob Woodward, who was on the program last night and who obviously knows a thing or two about a president in trouble, he said last night that it's not what Michael Cohen is saying, it's what he can prove, which is essentially the point you made as well. Michael Cohen saying this stuff even if it's saying it under oath to Bob Mueller, that's not enough.
BHARARA: No, because, as I said, he's a harmed witness. Look, they had a witness named Paul Manafort who was cooperating in various ways and the special counsel's office found him to be such a liar and so not credible, even if he was worthwhile and had useful information, that they ripped up his cooperation agreement.
Now, I think there's reason to believe that with respect to some other things, the special counsel's office has reason to believe that Michael Cohen is credible because they've gone forward with his, you know, cooperation and his guilty plea, even in the same seven-day period that they decided Paul Manafort couldn't be trusted any longer. So you think that there at this moment, especially sensitive to this idea of who is credible and who is not. So it depends on what else is going on.
And, look, sometimes the language is not as precise as you want it to be, but to the extent it is a credible allegation that the President of the United States of America was offering a pardon to somebody who was his close associate, personal lawyer, to try to prevent damaging information coming back to him, that's one of the most devastating things we've heard so far.
COOPER: Based on this news, and yesterday's news, I'm wondering where you think this whole thing is heading. Is there any way to tell?
BHARARA: I mean, you just have the sort of tea leaves from things that Bob Mueller's team drops every once in a while. I don't think in the days before the Michael Cohen plea on this issue relating to the Trump Tower project in Moscow, anybody knew that was happening or knew that was coming.
It seems like from, you know, various bits of proof over the last week or week and a half that the Mueller team is all over everything. They're all over obstruction. They're all over the deal in Moscow. They're all over, you know, various other issues relating to Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi. So I think you're going to see a lot of activity in the coming weeks.
And it bears reminding everyone, once again, that we don't know the half of what Bob Mueller is intending and planning because he's got a lot of information that remains under wraps.
COOPER: Yes. All right, Preet Bharara, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
BHARARA: Great. Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: Well, up next, a live report from the G-20 summit. Columnist Thomas Friedman offers his take on the President's behavior before dictators.
[20:43:48] COOPER: Even before tonight's breaking news on Michael Cohen, our reporting on a possible presidential pardon offer, the Cohen story was already hanging over the President's today's G-20 summit in Argentina. This image likely did not help.
On the left, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom the CIA but not the President believes personally ordered the murder and dismemberment of the U.S. resident and "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
On the right, extending a high-five, settling for a handshake, Russia's dictator, the man British intelligence now believes personally ordered a deadly nerve agent poisoning on British soil. Blood brothers, as one headline writer put it today.
Whether you agree or disagree with that characterization, they are, without question, two men that President Trump time and time again has gone out of his way to give the benefit of the doubt to and now they're all at a summit together.
Jim Acosta joins us now from Buenos Aires. So what did the President have to say at the G-20?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Anderson, it started off with an image and a message that the White House wanted to get out earlier today, and that is the President signing this trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.
But the President really skated out a room pretty quickly after that event was over, didn't take any questions from reporters, and it was sort of the White House playing this game of hide the POTUS where he was really not put out in front of us very often throughout the day to take questions from reporters.
[20:45:06] He was asked about just why he wasn't really meeting with Vladimir Putin during this G-20 summit and whether or not he would do more than just exchange pleasantries.
Same goes for Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, who is as you said accused of being behind the murder of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. And here's what the President had to say in both of those situations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, will you be exchanging pleasantries with Putin?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guys, let's go. It's time to go. Let's go.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know. Not particularly. I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what did you discuss with MBS?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on.
TRUMP: We had not. We might, but we have not. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And it was like that all day long, Anderson, where you can't really hear what the President was saying. We have to throw up subtitles just to get those few words from what the President had to say.
The White House later on in the afternoon said that the reason why the President did not meet with Vladimir Putin was not because of the Russia investigation, it was because of the tensions between the Russians and Ukraine.
And when it comes to meeting with Mohammed bin Salman, the White House did say that they exchanged some pleasantries between the President and Mohammed bin Salman, but obviously those pleasantries were nothing like that photograph you just showed everybody a few moments ago.
COOPER: You know, yesterday we had reporting about how the President -- what his mood had been like kind of behind the scenes. I'm wondering if -- have you learned anything more today?
ACOSTA: You know, more of the same, Anderson. I mean, this was really a concerted effort on the part of the White House to keep the President away from these questions about the Russia investigation and what we're going to find out tomorrow is whether they can ultimately finish this trip down to Argentina and accomplish that.
There had been rumblings of a presidential press conference tomorrow. And if he does hold that press conference, he's going to be asked the whole slew of questions about why he did not tell everything. Why did he not come clean about these business dealings with the Russians that Michael Cohen has confessed to, you know, through the better half of 2016.
And my guess is, Anderson, is if he hasn't been in a bad mood so far, that's going to put him in a really bad mood tomorrow.
COOPER: Jim Acosta, thanks.
This guest has his own take on the President's apparent affinity for strong men around the world and the impact, he believes, it may be having on his standing in the world. Thomas Friedman is the author of many books, including " Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations."
He's getting a lot of buzz right now for a recent "New York Times" column, opening with this question, "What is the worst thing about President Trump's approach to foreign policy? Is it that he's utterly immoral or that he's such a chump?" Tom Friedman joins us now. Tom, what's your answer to that question?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIME COLUMNIST: Yes. I mean the combination is lethal, Anderson. He has decided to give Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, basically a pass for his involvement in the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi. Arguing that while the Saudis, you know, that they buy -- that they're going to buy $450 billions in American arms.
By the way Anderson, during that Saudi Arabia's total financial reserves around I think $470 billion, so the idea that Saudi Arabia is going to spend all their financial reserves buying American arms is ludicrous.
What he should have done is said to MBS, look, you know, we're going to have to maintain this relationship. But you only have one chance, Pal, to make a second impression. And here's what you're going to do it. You know, you're going to get out of Yemen. We're going to end that war.
By the way, if the Iranians and Houthis from Yemen follow you there, we will stand with you, but you're going to get out of Yemen. You end this stupid blockade of Qatar. You're going to let all these women driving activists and other people you've rounded up out of jail.
And you're going to vow to continue what has been a very positive thing that MBS has done, and that is, you know, moderating Saudi Islam, which played such an important role in 9/11 and in ISIS.
At least demand something from the guy, other than support against Iran and buying arms from us, which he's never going to do at the scale that Trump predicts. And by the way, we wouldn't want him to do.
COOPER: The idea that President Trump, Donald Trump sold himself as the penultimate deal maker and essentially you're saying he's not a deal maker at all, really. These aren't deals. These are just giveaways.
FRIEDMAN: Yes. This is the art of the giveaway. And I think it comes, Anderson, from actually not being grounded in the issues and not having around him people who are deeply grounded in the issues, doesn't know where the tradeoffs are and is way, way over estimated how much we need the other party, rather how much they need us. And these are really crown jewels we're giving away. These are really important assets and you just don't give them away for free.
COOPER: I just wonder what made of, you know, obviously the G-20 is going on, clearly the number of meetings the President had planned to have, that sort of drastically scaled back.
[20:50:02] You know, there's this video now of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sort of high-fiving Vladimir Putin and clearly enjoying, you know, I don't know how one even describes what that exchange was like, but it's kind of an extraordinary moment to witness.
FRIEDMAN: It is. It's actually a little stomach turning. One leader who is complicit in the murder and dismemberment of a moderate journalist and another leader who is complicit in the murder of Russian exile spies, but more importantly and indirectly in the downing of the Malaysian airline or civilian airliner over Ukraine and, you know, that's what out there.
You know, that picture reminds you, Anderson, why America is so important to the world. Why you need an American that stands up for the right things on principle that doesn't just see itself as transactional and who is going to pay the most. That's what the world -- that picture, Anderson, that's what the world looks like without America, playing the role as historically played as the defender of the global liberal order. It's stomach turning.
COOPER: When I saw the video of Putin kind of, you know, shaking the hands, high-fiving with Mohammed bin Salman, I couldn't help but think, and it's projecting that -- I mean the look is almost like, "We both know who we are and what we've done and we're getting away with it."
FRIEDMAN: They are, at least for now. But there's something I would say in the case of Mohammed bin Salman, which is that, you know, I believe in the Princess Di (ph) rule of international relations these days.
You may remember Princess Di famously gave an interview after her separation, divorce from Prince Charles in which she complained that there were three people in my marriage.
And I think what Mohammed bin Salman has failed to understand is that when Donald Trump is your lawyer, you're not in a good place in today's world because everyone hates Trump, now we'll hate you even more, you're going to say independently, you know, hate you, they will hate you even more.
And the fact that he is sort of accepted Trump's embrace, he has blown his only chance to make a second impression. Had he really gotten out there and taken responsibility in some way and really vowed to change his behavior?
But to think you can just walk away from the scene of this crime I think is a huge mistake because there are three people in this marriage and what I mean by that, Anderson, is there is now the empowered citizen on social media.
You know, Mohammed bin Salman, he can visit Moscow and doesn't have to worry about any street protest. He can visit the United Arab Emirates, he doesn't have to worry about street protest. But look what happened when he went just to Tunisia, people (INAUDIBLE) a big banner of a saw, reminiscent of the saw that was used to dismember Khashoggi.
Can you imagine if Mohammed bin Salman -- do you think anyone down in Argentina wants to be caught any free leader being seated laughing with him other than Putin? I don't think the president of France does. I don't think the prime minister of the U.K. does. I think even Trump is concerned. I'm not sure what kind of photo op I want.
And so the empowered citizen using social media going forward is going to make his life miserable. They're going to make it so no world leader in the free world is going to want to be seen meeting or laughing with him and that the fact that the one image he sent from Buenos Aries is him high-fiving Putin, the only other cold blooded killer on the world stage and kind of associating himself with him, you know, it was just -- I mean, look, I said from the beginning of the Saudi affair, you can't fix stupid, Anderson.
And what the Saudis did to Khashoggi was so vile and so stupid and in my view just continue to reinforce it by choosing the wrong path, choosing the wrong lawyer and certainly in Putin's case, choosing the wrong guy to high-five.
COOPER: Tom Friedman, thank you for your time. Appreciate it.
FRIEDMAN: My pleasure.
COOPER: I want to check in with Chris and see what he's been working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour. Chris?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Two big sources of outrage, my friend. We spent the day down in Tijuana giving people an exclusive look at both sides of this border situation. What they're calling a shelter, I mean, it clearly is not. The situation there is much worse than I expected. Its heart breaking, but more importantly, it's an outrage.
And then on this side, the task of the men and women in protecting the border and dealing with what is clearly a broken system is not fair either. Things have to change. If they do not, we're going to see things on our southern border that people have never imagine before in this country and that's not hyperbole, it is based on the facts on the ground.
And we're also going to take a look about whether or not this is the break moment for Mueller. This is the time, if ever, that the President would do something to stop what they're probing because they are messing with his money, so we'll see what happens.
[20:55:02] We have Jerry Nadler here who is now going to be a Democrat with power over -- with oversight over this probe.
COOPER: I've been following you on Instagram all day with your pictures from the migrant camp and also from -- with border patrol. I'm glad you're down there. We will come to you shortly. Chris, thanks very much. We'll see you in just a few minutes.
Up next, scene after scene, a massive destruction after 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits Alaska just outside of Anchorage. We'll bring you there. We'll have the latest.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Someone who's lived in Palmer, Alaska for the 37 years, this was the most violent earthquake she's ever felt. It was a 7.0 magnitude quake that hit about 10 miles Northeast of Anchorage this morning causing damage to buildings, bridges, roads, triggering a tsunami warning, which was later cancelled, thankfully.
As of now, there are no reports of deaths or injuries. The damage, though, is extensive. The quakes knocked some local T.V. stations off the air, but others captured the scenes inside and outside of buildings as it struck. The last report, up to 10,000 customers were without power.
The U.S. Geological Survey has reported dozens of aftershocks, including one registering 5.7 in Anchorage. The state's seismologist of the Alaska Earthquake Center says it was the most significant earthquake in Anchorage since 1964.
The news continues right now. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?