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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump Seething and Silent on Cohen, Saying in Private Conversations: "He's a Liar"; Interview with Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Tabloid Publisher AMI Admits to "Working in Concert" with Trump Campaign to Cover Up Alleged Trump Affair; Michael Cohen Sentenced To 3 Years After Implicating President Trump In Hush Money Scandal; Dems: DOJ "Needs To Re-Examine" Guidance That A Sitting President Shouldn't Be Indicted; Meadows Out Of Running For Chief Of Staff. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired December 12, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:19] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.
We begin tonight with dirty deeds. The ones we know about from the president's former fixer and attorney who today escaped what we calls the personal and mental incarceration of being loyal to Donald Trump, trading it for actual prison. But also the potential dirty deeds we don't know about, but may soon because other people very close to Donald Trump are talking, are cooperating and they were in the business of buying the president's secrets and burying them. Those people have seemingly sat down the shovels.
Today, Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years behind bars for crimes including lying to Congress, tax fraud and campaign violations tied to payments to two women who said they had affairs with the president. In his sentencing hearing in New York this afternoon, Cohen characterized it like this.
And I quote: Recently, the president tweeted a statement calling me weak, and it was correct, but for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.
Dirty deeds done dirt cheap? That sort of depends.
Some may think $130,000 is a bargain to keep a story about an alleged sexual encounter with a porn star out of the news right before an election. Others may think $150,000 is just the right price to pay to silence a former playboy model who says she had a months-long affair with the man who would become. These are just two of the dirty deeds that we know about. Will others come out? That, we don't know.
We do know that the president and the White House have repeatedly changed their story about these two. Here's what the president said back in April.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. What else?
REPORTER: Then why --why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegation?
TRUMP: Well, you have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael's my attorney, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.
REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: I don't know. No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: A straight-up denial, just a straight-up lie. He said he didn't know about the payment. We now know that's not true. The president wasn't telling the truth. How many times we said this sentence the last two years?
In May, Rudy Giuliani then spilled the beans on "Hannity."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000, I mean, which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money. Sorry. I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So --
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: So, they funneled it through a law firm?
GIULIANI: Funneled through a law firm and the president repaid it.
HANNITY: Oh. I didn't know, he did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Yes, wow. OK. So that was the first time they admitted that.
So that point, the story then became the president not only knew about the payments, forget what he said before, he paid Cohen back for it. But up until then, the White House kept saying that the president didn't know anything about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was no knowledge of any payments from the president and he's denied all of these allegations.
REPORTER: Specifically, can I ask you? Did the president approve of the payment that was made in October of 2016 by his longtime lawyer and adviser Michael Cohen? SANDERS: Look, the president has addressed these directly and made
very well clear that none of these allegations are true. I've addressed this as far as I can go.
REPORTER: The payment, did he know about the payment at the time?
SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of.
REPORTER: You haven't answered the substantive question about whether the president was aware of the $130,000 payment that was made under an agreement he explicitly named to keep Stormy Daniels silent. Can you answer that question? We asked three weeks ago today and said you weren't aware. Are you aware now?
SANDERS: Look, the president has denied the allegations. We've spoken about the issue extensively, and I don't have anything else to add on it. Anything beyond that, I would refer you to the outside counsel.
REPORTER: I'd just follow up on, you said on March 7th there was no knowledge of any payments from the president. And he's denied all these allegations. Were you lying to us at the time or were you in the dark?
SANDERS: The president has denied and continues to deny the underlying claim and, again, I've given the best information I had at the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: By the way, Sarah Sanders was asked yesterday what she wants her legacy to be. She says she wants to be remembered as, quote, transparent and honest. Let that one sink in for just a moment. Transparent and honest.
All right. Let's move on.
So, we know this was important enough to the president to pay off two women and it was important enough to the president to straight-up lie when he said he didn't know about the payment to Stormy Daniels, but now, presto chango, suddenly, it's just no big deal according to the president.
[20:05:00] Two days ago he tweeted, I'm quoting, so, now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution.
OK. Keeping them honest, it's not the Dems. The Dems have nothing to do with sending Michael Cohen to prison. The president's lawyer is going to prison. The president calls it a simple private transaction.
Again, let's remember what we're talking about here. We're talking about hush money. Money paid to keep women quiet, within the words of the Southern District of New York, the intent to influence the election. And if it's just a simple private transaction, why would the president feel the need to lie about it? Yesterday, the president spoke to "Reuters" and said, quote, number
one, it wasn't a campaign contribution. If it were, it's only civil. Even if it's only civil, there was no violation based on what we did, OK?
Keeping them honest, the president doesn't get to decide what is and is not a violation. OK? OK.
Michael Cohen is going to prison for this and the Cohen part of things might in the end pale in comparison to something else we learned today -- an immunity deal with American Media Incorporated, parent company of the "National Enquirer". The agreement said the company won't be prosecuted in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors and admitting it participated in the Cohen payment to silence Karen McDougal. Quote: In concert with the candidate's presidential campaign, to silence her before the election so is it didn't influence the election.
Now, one thing we don't know is what else if anything AMI helped hide. We do know the company's chairman, David Pecker, who again was provided immunity, was interviewed by prosecutors. We also know that Mr. Pecker and Donald Trump have been friends since the 1990s. And so, just like that, it gets a lot less simple and lot less private.
One of many, many interesting things today, the president who famously calls himself a counterpuncher has so far not punched back, neither to the press nor on his Twitter machine, but there is late reporting about how he's taking it all, our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta joins us with that.
So, what are you learning about the president's response today in the wake of Cohen's sentencing?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the White House is just giving us the best information they have at this time. And this hour, Anderson, it's silence. The White House hasn't really responded to this. The president was given an opportunity to respond to this. He didn't earlier today.
We are told behind the scenes, he's seething about this, referring to Michael Cohen as a liar. It seems, Anderson, at this hour, that he's more upset with Michael Cohen for turning against him and cooperating with the feds more so than being upset with the actual content of what Michael Cohen is saying at this point.
COOPER: I mean, again, the president's calling him a liar now. This is the man that the president employed for years and years and years as his incredibly close confidant, attorney, fixer, handling what Michael Cohen calls dirty deeds. Now, all of a sudden, the president says he's a liar.
What does it say about the president that he had Michael Cohen as his, you know, fixer all this time if, you know, he has been a liar all this time? I'm wondering what Cohen's advisers are saying about what's next. ACOSTA: Well, Anderson, it doesn't sound like Michael Cohen is
finished talking about this ordeal, this very long saga working for President Trump. I talked to Lanny Davis who was his attorney during the case, one of his attorneys during the case that was just adjudicated in the Southern District of New York and now is serving as an adviser to Michael Cohen.
And he's saying the former fixer as you describe it to the president, keep in mind, there aren't a whole hot of people on this planet who are closer to the president than Michael Cohen for several years now. That Michael Cohen may do something just, thought incredible a year ago, even months ago, Anderson, he may go testify publicly up on Capitol Hill when the Democrats take control of the House.
Lanny Davis is saying whichever committee decides it wants to hear from Michael Cohen, basically at this point, Michael Cohen is open to the invitation. Unlike we've seen throughout much of the investigation, Anderson, you have a lot of hearings held behind closed doors and you're waiting on transcripts or leaks to come out of Capitol Hill to find out what exactly happened, it sounds like Cohen may be willing to do this in front of the cameras which will be a kind of reality TV they've not dealt with over here at the White House in some time.
COOPER: We should point out, there is somebody who has probably been more closer to the action of the Trump Organization for a longer period of time than Cohen, that's the chief financial officer who, by the way, has also been given immunity and is cooperating. So, more to come probably on that.
Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
With me now, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, thanks for being with us.
So, the judge today saying Cohen's sentence was fully justified to send a message. What message do you think it sends?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It sends a couple messages. First of all, the judge indicated that the crime justified this three years, a significant sentence, because it was serious and sophisticated. Second, there were statements in court and there's other evidence that Donald Trump directed the crime. And third, the term, co-conspirator, is beginning to fit Donald Trump like a well-tailored suit.
It may be unindicted co-conspirator. He hasn't been formally charged, but he has been directly implicated in court and in charging documents from the Southern District of New York prosecutor's office that put him at the center of a criminal conspiracy. And there is additional corroborating evidence now forthcoming as you indicated in your excellent summary before from AMI, and that company is owned by one of Donald Trump's closest friends, David Pecker, that says the purpose of that conspiracy was to influence the outcome of the election. It wasn't hush money as Rudy Giuliani has said for simply silencing a
mistress so that he would avoid embarrassment. It was a violation of the campaign finance laws and very possibly other laws like money laundering and bank fraud.
COOPER: You know, an interesting thing that came out in court today, we learned Michael Cohen wasn't alone in an early meeting I think it was in 2015 with David pecker. There was at least one other person from the Trump campaign according to what came out in court and the agreement that AMI has signed that they have said is true. So there's somebody else who was aware of this deal with AMI to help out the Trump campaign.
And there's another executive who wasn't name d today, but an executive number two who also at -- who was told by the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization to pay the money out of a trust. That's where the money that was repaid to Michael Cohen came from. So there's other people, we don't know the identities yet, but who are involved in this.
BLUMENTHAL: Very, very significant, Anderson, that the Trump Organization is directly involved and implicated now. Allen Weisselberg, as you said earlier, is now cooperating. Nobody knows where the money has gone better than he does, as the CFO of the Trump Organization.
And so, that business enterprise is beginning to look like a criminal racketeering enterprise in the classic sense of the word, and the federal authorities could well be going after it with additional indictments of those individuals who were in the room or had other knowledge. And just a really important point here, they can be indicted. There's no constitutional bar to indicting them or Donald Trump's inner circle like his family, and I believe very strongly that the president, himself, can be indicted. There's no constitutional bar to it.
I'm going to be asking the office of legal counsel for an opinion that in effect retracts its prior opinion indicating that the president can not be indicted because I think the president, himself, can be indicted it only to stop the statute of limitations from running.
COOPER: Right. There's a statute of limitations that if he is re- elected, I think the statute of limitations for this would be up in 2021, so if he's re-elected, if you can't indict a sitting president, it would run out.
BLUMENTHAL: I would argue that there's a continuing conspiracy that in effect surmounts this statute of limitations, but that's a hurdle that shouldn't be even raised , if the president is indicted, the charges could be sealed or they could be postponed for court appearances to avoid a burden on the presidency. They could be tried after the president finishes his term of office. Even if they're brought while he is president, as I believe they could well be.
Now, that's an act of discretion by the prosecutors of the Southern District of New York, which we should all be aware is different from the special prosecutor. So this investigation now has a real life of its own outside of the special counsel.
COOPER: Senator Blumenthal, appreciate your time. Thank you.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
COOPER: I want to get to -- there's a lot to get into tonight. Joining me, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor and legal analyst, Laura Coates, and chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Jeff, I mean, if this was a bad day for Michael Cohen, and it most certainly was. It was also certainly a bad day for the president.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, think about how much we know that Michael Cohen has already told prosecutors. He has already told them that the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were authorized and directed by Donald Trump, which, of course, makes sense since he was the main beneficiary, main beneficiary of those payments. He also told them that he was negotiating to build Trump Tower Moscow during 2016, during the Republican primaries.
[20:15:08] At that time, the president was not telling the truth about that. Those are only the public aspects of what he's been telling -- what he's been telling prosecutors and, you know, based on everything we know, Michael Cohen has insight into all of Donald Trump's personal dealings and I would be extremely nervous about him now that he is very much on the government's team.
COOPER: Laura, I mean, who was made pretty clear today, at least according to Cohen, is that these payments could very well just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of any other, in Cohen's words, dirty deeds. I mean, he and the president may have been involved with.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course. You can only go back to Cohen's own secret recording where he talks about all of the things, all of the stuff that David Pecker would need to know and resolve in case he was hit by a bus, for example.
COOPER: Right, they were talking about getting all of it away from David Pecker. They were worried if David Pecker was as Trump said, hit by a bus, who knows where the files would end up?
COATES: Well, all of the stuff doesn't include simply one particular payment to Karen McDougal. You can -- obviously David Pecker also has immunity to discuss things as part of AMI as well.
And so, you can look at this scenario and think to yourself, well, obviously tip of the iceberg includes all the information that AMI would have provided to the team and SDNY that would incentivize them to not prosecute ultimately. That decision is not made lightly by prosecutors. They would have to have a comprehensive view of all information that was available where they said, you know what, I'm going to foreclose my opportunity to prosecute you knowing full well that Cohen has pled guilty to something you agreed to orchestrate in some way and we found that criminal and asked for jail time. It's odd.
COOPER: Gloria, the president calling Cohen a liar, yes, of course, Cohen's a liar.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's rich, yes.
COOPER: So, I guess, so is the president. And so are a whole lot of people who the president and citizen Donald Trump has surrounded himself with.
BORGER: Right. I mean, look, there are a handful of people who worked for Donald Trump who have lied to the special counsel that we now know about. And, you know, I think that the special counsel is now telling us today that Michael Cohen is somebody that that office deems to be credible.
And, you know, there was sort of a good cop/bad cop routine in court. The Southern District of New York is saying he's not credible and we want him sentenced and the special counsel was saying he's very important to our investigation. And if I were in the White House right now, or if were in the Trump Organization right now, or if I were in the Oval Office right now, I'd be very worried about Michael Cohen because he has indicated, and my sources are telling me, that he intends to continue to cooperate, as Jim Acosta was saying, perhaps testifying before Congress, and the special counsel believes that he is important to them right now and there's a feeling among Cohen's people that, perhaps, he could work to try and get his sentence reduced if he cooperates even before March 6th when he's supposed to go to jail.
COOPER: Yes, Jeff, that's a possibility, that if he -- I mean, if he does have more information about what he calls dirty deeds, he could get his sentence reduced if he cooperates?
TOOBIN: He could. I mean, there are -- there are mechanisms to ask for a sentence to be reduced. You know, given the fact that he's going to prison so soon in March, the idea that he could do so much between now and March to justify a lower sentence seems unlikely to me, but there's certainly no prohibition on him asking.
But, you know, the real certainty is that he's going to testify in public. So, we're going to know a lot more. I was talking to Adam Schiff, the congressman who will be chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He's already in touch with Cohen's lawyers about giving testimony.
Lanny Davis, who was one of the lawyers who has been representing Michael Cohen, has said he is receptive to testify in public.
So, the story of what Michael l Cohen knows is very likely to be known in a -- before a much broader audience before too long.
COOPER: And, Laura, I mean, if he's testifying, he could be asked anything, not just as related to Stormy Daniels or Karen McDougal, I assume, and could be about anything he did with President Trump. COATES: Anything. Remember, his relationship goes back many years
with the president of the United States, when he was citizen Donald Trump, and all the people with the last name, Trump, as well in his business dealings. Remember, the SDNY has actually given him quite a great roadmap of how he could cooperate through that Rule 35 sort of motion that says that if you give substantial assistance, I could seek to reduce your sentence even after the judge has already ordered three years.
[20:20:04] But they've told him, you have to be not a confirmer, telling us what we already know and telling us great job, attaboy there, you got it all right. Tell us what we did not know. What you are in the unique position to tell us, things that are uncharged.
And for that, that's what they're looking for. That doesn't affect whether or not Mueller would ask for a jail time. Mueller has already said that he was going to say that the president is credible for them and important. In all other respects kind of deferred to what SDNY was going to do. You have this back and forth game here but a roadmap that's clear, will Cohen actually do that before March 6th? We don't know. Is he willing to talk? He said he's willing to talk after perhaps the report is issued, and whether there's an ongoing investigation that hasn't been concluded. That's not enough time for him to wait and bet that Mueller is going to be done before he has to speak.
All right. We're going to continue this conversation after the break. It's an important one. We're going to hear what Karen McDougal told me about the hush money deal and what she knows about how it came about.
Also ahead, a look back at how all this evolved during the campaign with a lingering question, if these allegations would have come out at the time, would the election results have been different as close as the election was? We'll look into that ahead.
[20:25:26] COOPER: As we mentioned at the beginning of the program, the president's potential legal troubles are getting more perilous, more serious. We know about a deal between the "National Enquirer" and prosecutors. Long-time Trump ally David Pecker, we've been talked about, is the chairman of AMI, has received immunity. The company, itself, also won't be prosecuted, in exchange for admitting it participated in the hush money payment to Karen McDougal, quote, in concert with a candidate's presidential campaign.
Back in March, I spoke with Karen McDougal about how the deal came about, where AMI bought her story of an affair with Mr. Trump only to kill it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Why do you think they squashed the story? KAREN MCDOUGAL, SAYS SHE HAD AFFAIR WITH TRUMP: Back then or now?
MCDOUGAL: They -- they didn't want to hurt him.
COOPER: You think it's because of a personal relationship with the guy who runs AMI is friends with Donald Trump?
COOPER: Do you think -- I mean, you wouldn't know this, but do you think Donald Trump would have been aware of -- of this deal? That they were doing him -- that they were allegedly doing him this favor?
MCDOUGAL: I wouldn't know, but based on what I'm learning as we're all learning together as we read and one of the big complaints with why I think my contract is illegal is because his attorney was talking to my attorney so --
COOPER: You're saying Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen --
MCDOUGAL: Correct, was speaking with Keith --
COOPER: -- was speaking to Keith Anderson, your attorney.
MCDOUGAL: Without me even know, without my knowledge. I would assume that maybe he knew. I know his attorney did. I can't say that he knew, but his attorney --
COOPER: How do you know that Michael Cohen and your attorney, Keith Davidson, were in communication?
MCDOUGAL: I didn't know. I'm just learning this as you're learning this. It's been reported, and my attorneys, they know.
COOPER: And to you, the idea that Michael Cohen would be in communication with your attorney at the time, theoretically, there would be no reason for Michael Cohen to be having communication with your attorney but this was a deal between Keith Davidson, you, and AMI.
MCDOUGAL: AMI. Right. So why was he involved in my deal? And why wasn't I told that he was involved in my deal? That's not fair. And it's, quite frankly, illegal.
COOPER: If Donald Trump hadn't been running for president, do you believe this deal would have been made with AMI? Knowing what you know now.
MCDOUGAL: Probably not. No. Probably not.
COOPER: You're pretty -- you're convinced now this was an effort to do a favor for Donald Trump in the last few months of the presidential race. MCDOUGAL: Unfortunately, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We now know, of course, that is true.
Back with Jeff Toobin, Laura Coates and Gloria Borger.
Jeff, this admission by AMI today, how big a deal is it? You spoke to David Pecker last year in an article for the "New Yorker." He was open with you about the fact he paid Karen McDougal because he wanted to help then-candidate Trump.
TOOBIN: Right. He portrayed it to me as an act of friendship. It was not a political act. I think what's subsequently come out is just how political this was and how intimately involved Pecker and "The National Enquirer" were with Michael Cohen and the Trump organization and campaign.
The payment that Pecker made, that American Media, the parent company, made, is not characterized as illegal, that that was a part of a non- prosecution agreement that came out today. But certainly, the Cohen's involvement and, perhaps, the president's in facilitating this payment, in getting it done in time for the campaign, that made -- certainly Cohen's was criminal and Trump's involvement is certainly highly suspicious and, perhaps, prosecutable.
COOPER: But, Jeff, in the statement of facts that AMI has now signed off on, there was a meeting between Pecker and Cohen and I believe it was described as another person, at least one more person from the Trump campaign.
So, other people were aware of this in the Trump campaign, that -- this is not just specific to Karen McDougal or Stormy Daniels, this is an overall desire by AMI to help out the candidate, Donald Trump.
TOOBIN: And that person who was with the campaign may have been committing an illegal act by getting involved -- by getting involved with this. You know, the whole point, it now appears, of these payments, the money to Stormy Daniels, the money to Karen McDougal, was to protect Donald Trump on the eve of the election from two very embarrassing stories, which, given the closeness of the election may very well have won the election for Donald Trump. So, figuring out all the cast of characters in these payments will be enormously important for Mueller.
TOOBIN: I mean it's just got to be done.
COOPER: But -- yes, the exact word against another campaign official. Gloria, I mean, we also know from AMI's agreement that they made these payments in cooperation, as I said, with another campaign official which could be very significant. We don't know who that may be, though. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, and it says one or more members or agents, plural, of a candidate's 2016 campaign. So we know that Cohen knew. We knew that Mr. Pecker knew. I think the question we have here -- we know the prosecutors know who these people are. You know, we have to now ask the question, did the President know who these people are?
I mean, you know, you have Michael Cohen saying that the President was directing this. Now you have AMI saying, OK, there was this meeting with campaign people. So you have to walk this up the ladder here and I think that's what the special counsel's doing.
COOPR: Well, Laura, I mean, again, it sort of just -- it defies logic that Michael Cohen finds out that David Pecker, President Trump -- you know, candidate Donald Trump's friend, old friend, is willing to, you know, go out of his way to kill stories that are negative toward Trump, to hide, you know, stories of women who are alleged to have had affairs with the President.
It's hard to believe that Michael Cohen and another campaign official or more than one are told about it and Michael Cohen doesn't at the very least just curry favor with President Trump or Donald Trump say, "Hey, guess what, your old buddy, David Pecker, is going to do this for you." I mean, it's hard to imagine him not telling Donald Trump.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know why it's hard to imagine, because you heard an audiotape where he talks to the President, then- candidate Trump, about this very issue. So not only does it stretch all credulity, but then also you've heard it for yourself. You know, there was a conversation about -- go ahead.
COOPER: Yes, let me play that. I have it, it's like 30 or something seconds. Let me just play that because you were just referencing this tape. Let's play it.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and I've spoken --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Give it to me --
COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --
TRUMP: So what do we have pay for this?
COHEN: -- funding.
TRUMP: One fifty?
COHEN: Yes. And it's all the stuff.
TRUMP: I was thinking about that. COHEN: All the stuff. Because here you never know where that company -- you never know what he's going to be --
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
COHEN: Correct. So I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the financing, which will be --
TRUMP: Wait a second, what financing?
COHEN: We'll have to pay him something --
TRUMP: Pay in cash.
COHEN: No, no, no, no. I got -- no, no, no.
TRUMP: Check --
COHEN: Hey, Don, how are you?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: "Might get hit by a truck." We now know -- we learned today, Allen Weisselberg told another executive in the Trump organization that the money would come from a trust. We're not sure exactly what trust, but it could be a Trump family trust which Don Jr. and Eric Trump are involved with.
COATES: It could be a number of different venues here. But the idea here, you know, there's a famous saying that says, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face."
At the time that the David Pecker and AMI first learned about this being in the news, their plan was to talk about this being a first amendment issue. The reason they were going to quash the story is because they had a first amendment right to do so. They were using journalistic discretion essentially to say that we quashed and killed the story because we didn't want to run it.
Now you have the question of what was the figurative punching in the face that led them to, one, get an immunity deal and change their story away from we were exercising our journalistic endeavors and discretion here, and instead say we did it, not only with the knowledge of somebody who was a part of the campaign --
COATES: -- or an agent, but also we did it for the expressed purpose of trying to help this candidate gain office. You've got to wonder what happened. You know, it's a sidebar, if you're Michael Cohen listening to him. He's talking about somebody Allen, used his last name, this was thought out long in advance to know this might be an issue.
TOOBIN: Can we imagine what it would be like if all of this had come out in October of 2016? COOPER: Yes.
BORGER: We don't know.
TOOBIN: You know, all these money, all these relationships --
TOOBIN: -- who is paying who.
BORGER: We don't know.
COOPER: We're going to talk about that more coming up. But obviously, they thought it was important enough that it didn't come out, that they're willing in the waning days of this campaign to splurge on this money to silence this. Jeff, thank you, Laura and Gloria as well.
COOPER: In politics as in lifetime is pretty much everything. So coming up, what effect, if any, did the timing of those hush money payments with Michael Cohen have on the campaign as Jeff just raised? We'll talk about that ahead.
[20:38:24] COOPER: So taking a little walk down memory lane to the waning days of the campaign, Karen McDougal was paid off August 2016. The "Access Hollywood" tape came out October 7th, 2016. The next day, Michael Cohen reaches out to Stormy Daniels' lawyer, according to "The Wall Street Journal," and suggested a deal.
They wired Stormy Daniels the money 11 days before the election, or her attorney, and the question that ultimately all of this comes down to, did those payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal play any role in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election?
Joining me now, "USA Today Columnist" Kirsten Powers and former Republican National Committee Chief of Staff Mike Shields.
Kirsten, what do you think? I mean, if news of these alleged affairs had surfaced at the time, at the same time the Trump campaign was working to put out other fires, could it have cost him the election?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I put this sort of in the category of if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? I don't know. It's one of those types of questions where you can, you know, you can make a case in either direction.
But what I can say is that I think Donald Trump thought that and certainly that's what people have admitted is that you have AMI admitting this. You have Michael Cohen admitting it in a guilty plea that these payments were made to keep these women from telling their stories before the election. So, I think that that's the thing that matters the most.
And it's hard to know what -- I guess I can -- I could guess that an average Trump voter probably wouldn't care. I don't know how it would have impacted an independent voter or maybe a Democrat that was thinking of crossing over.
[20:40:00] So, I think that it's important in that sense is that they were trying to keep this information from people under the, you know, belief that it would make a difference.
COOPER: Yes, Mike, I mean, AMI does say in their, you know, the thing they signed of what the facts are, is that this was done in order that this not hurt his chances at election.
MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, you know, I agree that it's -- we'll never know and it's hard to know and it's hard to know. I will say that leading up to this -- in this period of time, we had had the "Access Hollywood" tape, we had had Gloria all red rolling out every single day, I think it was like 13 straight days of women accusing the President of sexual harassment.
And so whether or not anyone thought it would affect it, I don't know that it would have because none of that seemed to affect anything either and that was arguably worse story than any of this stuff.
So, look, I think it's a very interesting case to try and say that brandishing someone's image or protecting them is a direct contribution to a campaign. And we've seen it in the Edwards case, I know everyone is going to say it's different, but there are some similarities with the Edwards case.
I think going to FEC law on this is such a far distance from where this whole thing started. But it's hard to know whether or not this would have affected the election and it's hard to know actually if this is legally something that is prosecutable for someone under an FEC violation.
COOPER: Mike, if the campaign, if Donald Trump and -- if the President didn't think this would impact the election, why all of a sudden after all this time because these alleged affairs occurred, you know, a significant time before this, why all of a sudden in the waning days of the campaign did they agree to make these deals?
SHIELDS: Why do you have a fixer? Why do you have to have any deals? I mean, this is -- I mean, you know, I saw --
COOPER: But he's had that fixer for a long time and all of a sudden, if it has nothing to do with the election and he's not concerned that it has anything to do with the election, I don't understand why he would suddenly shell out this money.
SHIELDS: I don't know, either. I think plausibly you could say someone who's trying to go back on their deal and get something from you would try to use the election as the reason that they want to do that. That's possible. Perhaps this is coming out at a time and you just don't want other people to know about it. And I think it's a really interesting line to say I'm protecting my image and that's an FEC violation. There's a lot of things where people -- that people personally do for their image that aren't really campaign contribution. So I think that's a fuzzy line to cross here for this.
But, look, I mean, like -- one of the things that I've sort of -- we go back to your original question if this would affect the election. A few months ago I saw a guy auction a signed cover of "Playboy" magazine where Donald Trump had signed the cover. And so that's who Donald Trump's public persona was. He was going on "Howard Stern." He'd been in "Playboy" and those sorts of things And the voters knew that about him.
SHIELDS: I don't know that this would have affected the outcome at all.
COOPER: Kirsten, I mean, Mike makes the point that this was kind of baked in that, you know, people kind of had -- already heard or figured out who Donald Trump is and we're willing to look the other way or just didn't care.
POWERS: Yes. I don't believe that the average Trump voter actually knew a lot of this about Donald Trump. I don't think they knew he was hanging out at the "Playboy" mansion because that's not covered on Fox News. And I'm not being sarcastic. That really is where they get their information.
Rush Limbaugh is not talking about it. Fox News is not talking about it. Conservative blogs are not talking about it. And so I actually think to this day they probably don't have a full picture of exactly who Donald Trump has been over his life.
I also think when it comes to sexual harassment, the average conservative voter typically tends to kind of roll their eyes at those kinds of things and they don't tend to take it that seriously. They do take affairs a little more seriously.
And so if it came out that he had had these affairs, you know, one of them, at least, while his wife, you know, was just had a baby, maybe it would make a difference. But if it wouldn't make a difference, then we just get back to the fact of what's up with these voters, you know, that these things don't matter to them but they were obsessed with Bill Clinton's sex life.
COOPER: Kirsten Powers, Mike Shields, we got to end it there. Thank you very much.
Up next, more breaking news. The growing calls from Democrats that the President should not be above the law. What they want the Justice Department to do, when we continue.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:48:00] COOPER: More breaking news tonight. Some key Democrats are calling on the Justice Department to reexamine their precedent that a sitting President should not be indicted. One of them is Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat -- the ranking member, I should say, of the House Intelligence Committee. And here's what Senator Richard Blumenthal said just earlier tonight on the program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I'm going to be asking the Office of Legal Counsel for an opinion that in effect retracts its prior opinion indicating that the President cannot be indicted because I think the President, himself, can be indicted if only to stop the statute of limitations from running.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Some Democrats are making the case after what we learned today when Michael Cohen, the President's former attorney, was sentenced to three years in prison for his crimes. As we mentioned earlier, Cohen spoke about the President today telling the judge, "I thought it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds."
Joining me now for his legal take in all of this is Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general during the Obama administration. Neal, do you agree with Congressman Schiff and Senator Blumenthal that the Justice Department needs to reexamine its guidelines that a sitting President can't be indicted?
NEAL KATYAL, FORMER U.S. ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: I do. So, I mean, let's put this in context. So, you know, I think as your last guest showed, there's kind of been a sputtering defense by the Trump team about this.
First, Trump said, "You know, I had nothing to do with those payments." That was proven false. Then his second defense was, "Well, I didn't have the criminal intent to do so." But now Michael Cohen and today AMI, as you've been talking about, the "National Enquirer" has said, "No, this was for the purpose of influencing the election."
So now we've gone to this third, this get out of jail free card argument that because Donald Trump is saying, "I'm the president, therefore, under the constitution, I can't be indicted."
And I think the first thing to say about that is, you know, it's quite remarkable that you have Donald Trump, a guy who hasn't really cared one wit about the constitution all of a sudden magically discovering this grand document and finding this in it.
I mean, it's not like this is like, you know, William Rehnquist or, you know, Robert Jackson or Jack Danforth or someone finding this. This is, you know, a self-interested suspicious claim.
[20:50:00] And so I agree, Congressman Schiff is right to say, you know, the Justice Department should really look at this because it's issued some generic guidance. It's not a precedent or anything. It's just some generic guidance saying that sitting presidents in general shouldn't be indicted, but I don't think it necessarily applies to this situation.
COOPER: Why these guidelines exist in the first place? Is it -- I mean, it does make it seem like the president somehow above the law, like he's got, you know, get out of jail free card.
KATYAL: Right. So I think both of these opinions in 1973 and 2000 take care to say, no, that's not what's going on, probably our most cardinal legal principle is no person is above the law. So what they say is there should be some temporary immunity while a person is president.
But I think it's notable that -- those have two problems for Trump. One is that that's a generic about crimes committed while in office. This -- the crimes here, the allegations here, these very serious campaign finance violations that the career prosecutors in New York that the Mueller team are pointing out are -- go to how Donald Trump became president in the first place.
And I think that's an important distinction because I think, you know, it's third world countries and other places in which you have all sorts of cheating during the election and actually an incentive to cheat even more, because if you win the presidency, then you get that get out of jail free card. That manifestly is not the constitution of the United States.
I don't think Alexander Hamilton and James Madison broke from King George III only to install a president who can cheat and lie during the campaign, again, if this allegations turnout to be right, and then win the magic prize and then have a get out of jail free card. That's not our constitution. No way.
COOPER: I think some congressional Democrats have, you know, recently in the interviews have been talking about the line between impeachable offense and an offense that justifies impeachment. Is there a difference to you?
KATYAL: Well, I mean, I think that someone will work on this by Charles Black on impeachment said, you know, certainly if it's a crime, like a felony, serious felony, that is going to meet the standard for a high crime and misdemeanor.
So one thing -- you know, one consequence of the President saying I'm above the law, the criminal law, in all the scholars and those two Justice Department opinions that say that say, "Well, if the President asserts that, then you almost have to have impeachment proceedings as the check against a wanton abuse of that."
So right now the Democrats, I think, are trying to figure out, should we have an impeachment proceedings or not? I think there's a great reluctance on the part of people like Representative Nadler who runs the judiciary committee.
COOPER: Yes. KATYAL: But if the President insists on saying, "I'm above the law," then you know, he's inviting that impeachment inquiry. And, you know, that will be a fulsome inquiry.
COOPER: Is the President an unindicted coconspirator? Because, I mean, Congressman Schiff raised the idea that the President, you know, maybe or may face the real prospect of jail time.
KATYAL: Yes. So, I mean, they haven't used exactly that formulation, but you take what, what the southern district prosecutor said last week, what they said in court today, and most notably what Judge Pauley in sentencing Michael Cohen did, which he didn't take issue with any of this.
He actually, you know, came out and affirmatively embraced this idea that individual number one, that's Donald Trump, directed the commission of these felonies. So they haven't used those words, but those words don't matter.
The Southern District of New York make no doubt about it is saying these felonies were ordered by Donald Trump and they very well could have influenced, as you were discussing with Jeff Toobin, the election.
COOPER: Neil Katyal, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
I want to check in with Chris to see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time" at the top of the hour. Chris?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I've been doing a lot of reporting. Obviously it's a big day, a very important for us on this show to drill down on it as a legal matter. And we have reason to believe and we will layout tonight on the show that the story is not over for Michael Cohen. He is still very much in play with the Southern District, with the State of New York, and with the Mueller probe.
And you saw today hints and clues as to what may be to come. And you have what the big challenge is for the President of the United States. We'll layout what is out there. We have some great minds who've been in this game, who've done these cases and who can see the path ahead.
COOPER: We look forward to it, Chris. That's about 6 minutes from now. We'll see you then. We'll tell you who President Trump has dropped from his list of contenders for the chief of staff opening. That's next.
[20:58:37] COOPER: President Trump is no longer considering a top congressional ally to be his next chief of staff. Congressman Mark Meadows is no longer a contender that's despite the President mentioning him as an option just yesterday in an interview with Reuters.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the President told Meadows that they need him in Congress. Meadows released a statement this afternoon saying, and I quote, "I know the President has a long list of tremendous candidates for his next chief of staff and whomever it is will have my total support moving forward."
The President also told Reuters he has at least 10 or 12 people that want the job badly and said he is in, and I quote, "No rush to name a new chief of staff." No frontrunner has emerged after Vice-President Pence's Chief of Staff Nick Ayers declined to take the job to replace Kelly, John Kelly.
But Mr. Trump has reportedly considering others, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer, though several of the candidates have already indicated that they're not interested in the post. So stay tune on that one.
A reminder, "Full Circle," don't miss it, weeknights at 6:45 p.m. on Facebook. It's our daily newscast on Facebook. You get to vote on what stories we cover. You get the details. Watch it weeknight at 6:25 p.m. Eastern at facebook.com/andersoncooperfullcircle.
All right, that's it for us. The news continues. Let's hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?