Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Michael Cohen Calls Trump a Conman and Cheat, Says Trump Lied About Hush Money, Knew About Stolen Emails. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired February 27, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MEADOWS: And to even go down this direction is wrong, Mr. Chairman.
CUMMINGS: First of all, I want to thank the gentleman for what you have stated. If there's anyone who is sensitive with regard to race it's me. (Inaudible) they were basically slaves, so I get it. I listen very carefully to Ms. Tlaib, and I think -- and I don't want to -- I'm not going to put words in her mouth.
But I think she said that she was not calling you a racist. And I thought that we could clarify that. Because Mr. Meadows, you know -- and of all the people on this committee, I've said it and got in trouble for it. Now you're one of my best friends, I know that shocks a lot of people.
MEADOWS: And likewise, Mr. Chairman.
CUMMINGS: Yeah, but you are. And I would do -- and I could see and feel your pain. I feel it. And so -- and I don't think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause (ph) you that, that kind of pain and that kind of frustration. Did you have a statement Ms. Tlaib, I'm going to yield to you? We're going to straighten this out.
TLAIB: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and to my colleague, Mr. Meadows -- that was not my intention and I do apologize if that's what it sounded like. But I said someone, in general. And as everybody knows in this chamber I'm pretty direct, so I -- if I wanted to say that I would've, but that's not what I said. And thank you, Mr. Chairman for allowing me to clarify, but again, I said "someone." And again, it was not referring to you at all, as a racist.
MEADOWS: Well I thank the gentle woman for her comments. I thank the Chairman for working to clarify this, and I appreciate the Chairman's intervening.
CUMMINGS: Now, to the gentleman first of all thank you for allowing us to resolve that. The gentleman had asked a little bit earlier...
MEADOWS: I will withdraw my request.
CUMMINGS: Oh, you don't want to do the anonymous consent?
MEADOWS: I need the anonymous consent, but -- I think I need to officially withdraw my request that it be stricken...
CUMMINGS: OK -- (inaudible) -- you did it?
MEADOWS: I did.
CUMMINGS: All right, sounds good. Now I will recognize you for your anonymous consent -- I think you'll want to put it in to records and documents.
MEADOWS: Yes, thank you Mr. Chairman. I ask anonymous consent that we put forth in the record the "Vanity Fair" article which indicates that Michael Cohen must be the most gifted consultant in the -- in America, outlining his insights in to government healthcare and policy, and real estate. Suggesting that it's not a real company, but -- just like he's not a lawyer.
CUMMINGS: Without objection, (inaudible) order.
MEADOWS: Thank you. I ask anonymous consent that the "L.A. Times" article of July 16, 2018 actually be put in the record which outlines the $1.2 million payment and their misgivings thereafter.
CUMMINGS: Without objection. So are there any other anonymous consent requests? (inaudible). Hice?
HICE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I ask anonymous consent to make the February 9, 2019 "Washington Post" profile of Michael Cohen, titled "Michael Cohen's Secret Agenda," part of the record.
The story shows Cohen to be a selfish manipulator, who is all about himself. It even has a false anecdote about how he once claimed to deliver his own son -- his own baby.
CUMMINGS: Without object, so ordered (ph).
HICE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I ask anonymous consent to make the May 9, 2018 "Washington Post" article "South Korean Firm Paid Michael Cohen $150,000 As It Sought Contract From U.S. Government," as part of the record. The article reported Korea aerospace industries paid a shell company run by Cohen.
CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered.
HICE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I ask unanimous consent to make Michael Cohen's sentencing statement to the Southern District of New York part of the record. The statement establishes that Michael Cohen continues to falsely blame his crimes on blind loyalty to the president but only Cohen is to blame for his many false statements to financial institutions and the IRS.
CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered.
HICE: I ask unanimous consent to make the August 20, 2018 CNN article, Fed scrutinizing Michael Cohen's former accountant and bank loans of record. Cohen's accountant was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury and required a lawyer. In his sentencing memo, prosecutors said Cohen attempted to blame his tax evasion on his accountant.
CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered.
HICE: Two more real quickly.
HICE: I ask unanimous consent to make the February 26, 2019, order filed by the Appellate Division of the State of New York regarding disciplinary proceedings against Michael Cohen part of the record. This order, which proactively applies starting February 28 establishes Cohen committed a serious crime and ceased being an attorney when he was convicted of lying to Congress.
CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered. HICE: And finally Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to make the July 26, 2018, Washington Post article, Michael Cohen secretly recorded Trump, does that make him a bad lawyer, part of the record. The article describes potential ethical violations of a lawyer, Cohen, recording his client Trump, without the client's knowledge.
CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered. Mr. Norman.
HICE: Thank you.
NORMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I ask unanimous consent to make the January 18, 2019, Huffington Post article, 11 tweets from the fake fan account "stud" Michael Cohen paid to fawn over him, part the record. The account is described as a place for women who love and support Michael Cohen, strong, pitbull, sex symbol, no-nonsense, business- oriented...
CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered. Mr. Roy.
ROY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would ask unanimous consent to make the April 20, 2018, article in Mother Jones, titled, Michael Cohen says he has never been to Prague. He told me a different story, part of the record.
CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered.
ROY: Thank you, sir.
CUMMINGS: Very well. I -- Mr. Cohen, I have some concluding remarks. Before I do that, do you have anything you'd like to say?
COHEN: Yes -- yes -- yes, Mr. Chairman, I would. I have some close remarks I would like to see myself. Is this an appropriate time?
CUMMINGS: You can do it now.
COHEN: Thank you. So, first, I want to thank you, chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to share some final thoughts. I have acknowledged I have made my own mistakes and I have owned up to them publicly and under oath, but silence and complicity in the face of the daily destruction of our basic norms and civility to one another will not be one of them.
I did things and I acted improperly at times of Mr. Trump's behest, I blindly followed his demands. my loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything; my family's happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation, and soon, my freedom. But I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.
Indeed, given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.
In closing, I'd like to say directly to the president, we honor our veterans, even in the rain. You tell the truth even when it does not aggrandize, you respect the law and our incredible law enforcement agents, you don't villanize them. You don't disparage generals, gold star families, prisoners of war and other heroes who had the courage to fight for this country. You don't attack the media and those who question what you don't like or what you don't want them to say. You take responsibility for your own dirty deeds.
You don't use your power of your bully pulpit to destroy the credibility of those who speak out against you. You don't separate families from one another or demonize those looking to America for a better life. You don't vilify people based on the God they pray to and you do not cuddle up to our adversaries at the expense of our allies. Finally, you don't shut down the government before Christmas and New Year's just to simply appease your base.
This behavior is churlish. It denigrates the office of the president and simply un-American. And it's not you. So to those who support the president and his rhetoric -- and his rhetoric as I once did, I pray the country doesn't make the same mistakes that I have made or paid a heavy price that my family and I are paying. And I thank you very much for this additional time, chairman.
CUMMINGS: Thank you very much. The ranking member has a closing statement.
JORDAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We know Mr. Cohen has been dishonest in the past, it's why he's going to prison in two months, but there are things today that he said during the several hours of questioning that just don't add up either. He said he never defrauded any bank, he was having a conversation questioning for Mr. Comer. Obviously that's not true because he's going to prison for that very offense.
He said today he was a good lawyer who understood the need to represent his client -- his client with legal advice. But in his written testimony, he said he never bothered to consider whether payments to women for improper -- whether payments to women were improper, much less the right thing to do. He attested in his signed truth and testimony form that he not have
any reportable contracts with foreign government entities, earlier he admitted to having consulting agreements with at least two foreign entities owned in part by foreign governments, BTA Bank of Kazakhstan and Korea Aerospace Industries of South Korea.
He said to Chairman Cummings that Donald Trump directed him and the Trump organization CFO Allen Weisselberg to go back to his office and figure out how to make the $130,000 payment, but his testimony he says Mr. Trump directed me to use my own personal funds from the home equity line of credit to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact the campaign.
And in response to a question about him paying to set up the fake Twitter account at Women for Cohen, that he didn't direct the commission of that Twitter account. He says I didn't set that up and it was done by a young lady that works with the firm when in fact he did ask the IT firm RedFinch to set it up according to the owner of RedFinch.
And finally, he said he didn't want a job with the administration even though the attorneys with the Southern District of New York stated that this was a fact. When asked about this, they said I wouldn't call them liars but that statement is not accurate. Mr. Chairman, I think maybe more importantly is what we should have been doing today. Mr. Meadows and I sent you a letter asking us -- asking you to have Mr. Rosenstein here. I think it's important to know that last week when you announced that Mr. Cohen was coming this week just happened to be the very same week that we learned the Deputy Attorney General of the United States was thinking about wearing a wire to record the commander-in-chief, was actually contemplating talking to cabinet members and invoking the 25th amendment.
That's what we should be focused on, not this sad display we've had to go through the last several hours. And again, it's not my words, you can take the words of the former general counsel for the House of Representatives under Tip O'Neill. So I hope we've learned some things here today, but Mr. -- Mr. Chairman, as I said earlier, your first big hearing, the first announced witness of the hundred 116th Congress is a gentleman who is going to prison in two months for lying to Congress. I don't think that's what we should be focused on. Yield back.
CUMMINGS: Thank you very much. You know, I've sat here and I've listened to all of this and it's very painful. It's very painful. You made a lot of mistakes, Mr. Cohen, and you've admitted that. And you know, one of the saddest parts of this whole thing is that some very innocent people are hurting too. And you acknowledge that. And that's your -- your family. And so you come here today and you -- I -- I -- I -- deep in my heart, after -- you know, and when I practiced law, I represented a lot of lawyers who got in trouble.
And you've come saying I have made my mistakes but now I want to change my life. And you know, if we -- if -- if we as a nation did not give people an opportunity after they made mistakes to change the lives, a whole lot of people would not do very well. I don't know where you go from here. As I sat here and I listened to both sides, I just felt as if -- and -- and you know, people are now using my words, that they took from me, that didn't give me any credit. We're better than this. We are so much -- we really are. As a country we are so much better than this.
[17:15:00] And you know, I told you -- and -- and -- and for some reason, Mr. Cohen, I -- I -- I tell my -- my -- my children, I say when bad things happen to you, do not ask the question why did it happen to me, ask the question why did it happen for me. I don't know why this is happening for you. But it is my hope that a small part of it is for our country to be better. If I hear you correctly, it sounds like you're crying out for a new normal, for us getting back to normal. It sounds to me like you want to make sure that our democracy stays intact.
When I -- the one meeting I had with President Trump, I said to him, the greatest gift that you and I, Mr. President, can give to our children is making sure that we give them a democracy that is intact. And not (ph) democracy better than the one that we came upon. And I'm hoping that the things you said today will help us again to get back there. You know, I mean come on now. I mean, when you got -- according to the Washington Post, our president has made at least 8,718 -- 8,718 false or misleading statements. That's stunning. That's not what we teach our children. I don't teach mine that. And for whatever reason, you -- it sounds like you got caught up in it. You got caught up in it.
You got caught up in it. And some kind of way, I hope that you will -- I -- I know that it's painful going to prison. I know -- I know it's got to be painful being called a rat. And let me -- let me explain. A lot of people don't know the significance of that, but I live in the inner city of Baltimore. All right? And when you call somebody a rat, that's one of the worst things you call them because when they go to prison, that means a snitch. I'm just saying. And so the president called you a rat. We're better than that. We really are. And I'm hoping that all of us can get back to this democracy that we want and that we should be passing on to our children so they can do better than what we did.
So you wonder whether people believe you. I don't know. I don't know whether they believe you, but the fact is that you come, you have your head down and this has got to be one of the hardest things that you could do. Let me tell you the picture that really, really pained me, you were leaving the prison -- you were leaving the courthouse and I guess it's your daughter, had braces or something on, man that thing -- man that thing hurt me. As a father of two daughters, it hurt me. And I can imagine how it must feel for you. But I'm just saying to you -- I want to first of all thank you. I know that this has been hard. I know that you face a lot.
I know that you are worried about your family. But this is a part of your destiny. And hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better -- a better -- a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America and a better world. And I mean that from the depths of my heart. When we're dancing with the angels the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?
[17:20:00] Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing? Did we (inaudible) and I'm tired of these statements saying - they come in - people come in here and say, "Oh, oh, this is the first hearing. It is not the first hearing. The first hearing was with regard to prescription drugs. Remember, a little girl - a lady sat there, Ms. Worthsome(ph). Her daughter died because she could not get $333 dollars a month in insulin. That was our first hearing.
Second hearing, H.R. 1 voting rights, corruption in government. Come on now, we can do more than one thing and we have got to get back to normal. With that, this meeting is adjourned.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Pretty explosive material today. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We are following the breaking news as President Trump's former lawyer delivers a damaging blow and truly explosive testimony up on Capitol Hill. You just heard closing statements from Elijah Cummings, the chairman, bringing the witness, Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, bringing Michael Cohen to tears.
Cohen calls the president of the United States "a racist, a con man and a cheat." He alleges that the president repeatedly broke the law. He says the president reimbursed him for hush money payments and as a candidate knew in advance about the release of stolen Democratic emails and directed negotiations for a Moscow Trump Tower project.
We have full coverage coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM. We have our correspondents and our experts all of whom have been covering this from the very beginning with a lot of focus on the key witness, Michael Cohen, you see him there, right in the middle of the screen. He is walking out of the hearing room.
We'll see if he speaks with reporters outside. We know that our cameras, microphones are set up for that if he decides to make an additional statement. You heard his final statement just moments ago.
Jeffrey Toobin, as he's leaving this hearing room, what was your biggest takeaway?
Because the charges he leveled against the sitting President of the United States were so dramatic.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Fifty years from now, when people are talking about the Trump presidency, part of the story will be today's hearing, I think. You had the president's, one of his closest associates, presenting credible -- not dispositive -- but credible evidence that the president has committed a variety of crimes, bank fraud, insurance fraud and especially campaign finance violations because that check which he presented for the first time, which we saw today, for $35,000, signed by Donald Trump while he was President of the United States, established, at least, as Cohen tells the story, that Donald Trump was intimately involved in the campaign finance violation conspiracy, that Cohen himself has already pleaded guilty to, involving the payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels on the eve of the --
BLITZER: Explain why that would be illegal, for Donald Trump to write that $35,000 check.
TOOBIN: OK, Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to funneling money to silence Stormy Daniels about her supposed relationship with Donald Trump on the eve of the election.
What he admitted to, when he pleaded guilty, was that, I was spending this money to help Donald Trump get elected president. There are rules about spending money and -- for in a campaign. And I violated those rules.
If Donald Trump knowingly participated in planning the payment and then reimbursing Cohen for the payment, that's a crime. And that's the crime that Cohen said that Trump committed.
BLITZER: And if that were not enough, Shimon, there's another allegation that Michael Cohen made, saying that the President of the United States is currently being investigated for other crimes by the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes, Wolf, and that was I think one of the biggest takeaways from this hearing for me, is that there are still investigations that are ongoing involving the president, perhaps involving the president's family as well, Don Jr.
That to me was very significant because when you look at all the things that Michael Cohen was allowed to talk about, there were specific issues that the Southern District of New York he said told him you cannot talk about.
In particular there was a phone call or some sort of communication between either Trump or someone associated with Trump when one of the members of the committee started asking him --
PROKUPECZ: -- questions about contact. He said he couldn't talk about it. This contact occurred two months after the FBI raided Michael Cohen. He said he couldn't talk about that conversation because that is still under investigation.
There are other investigations that are still underway. And the other thing I think a lot of people, certainly on the president's side, have been trying to say, that the reason why these payments were made was because he wanted to protect his wife.
But the FBI and the Department of Justice don't believe so. If you look at the court documents from when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, they say that this was done -- these payments were made to help the election, to benefit the election.
So I don't know how that argument is going to hold up. In terms of the way legally how it stands right now, that is not the case. Certainly the Department of Justice here has implicated the president in these crimes. And we'll see where it goes from here.
But certainly the fact that the Southern District of New York is continuing to work on several investigations should worry the president.
BLITZER: And, Kara, you have been covering this story from the very beginning. There is a lot of concern on the part of the president and his legal team that what the prosecutors in New York have in mind potentially represents a bigger threat to Donald Trump than what the special counsel Robert Mueller and his team have in mind.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I think everyone who has been covering the story has been hearing repeatedly, especially as Mueller is wrapping up his investigation, that the real threat inside the White House that Trump sort of occupies his mind is exactly what is the Southern District of New York
And I think today, as Shimon was explaining we learned just how much more expansive this could be. This is not necessarily limited to the campaign finance case. Michael Cohen in the last half-hour of the questioning there was asked if he believed that Donald Trump Jr. was part of this conspiracy because he signed that check.
And Cohen said, yes, he thought so. So that is a big concern of the president, protecting his family. And he didn't want his son to get caught up in any of this. And then also that Michael Cohen said he couldn't talk about other illegal activities that he believed Donald Trump was involved with, sort of it came out later on that he was alluding to these insurance payments or bank fraud, as Jeffrey said.
And that is something that would concern Donald Trump. That has nothing to do with the presidency. He wouldn't be shielded from that in any way. The only risk would be the statute of limitations. But even on the campaign finance violation, which the Southern District has already identified the president as Individual-1, that doesn't run out until 2022. So if Trump does not win reelection, he has a lot of legal jeopardy and exposure still.
BLITZER: One of the reasons, Evan, that Michael Cohen -- and there you see Michael Cohen -- he's emerging from the hearing room. That was (INAUDIBLE). Let's see if he walks up and makes a statement.
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: First of all I want to say thank you all for being here today. I am humbled, I am thankful to Chairman Cummings for giving me the opportunity today to tell my truth and I hope that, as Chairman Cummings said, it helps in order to heal America. And I thank you all again. Have a good day.
BLITZER: There he is. He is not answering questions. He was with his two lawyers behind him, including Lanny Davis, who's been part of his legal team for some time now. Evan, one of the reasons he's going to get a three-year prison sentence starting in May, he's going to go to a federal penitentiary, is because he lied under oath to Congress, which is perjury.
But now he's saying that that perjury may have been coordinated with President Trump's own lawyers as going in, because of his words, the goal was to stay on message, namely the message that the president wanted him to deliver.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. I think you heard -- I think that is sort of the underlying theme to the day. I think the idea that Michael Cohen was coordinating with the president on some of his lies. Certainly that is one of his arguments that he didn't need to get directed by the president, that he, after working with him, knew the language that the president was using for encouraging to keep lying and to keep covering up for the president.
But yes. Certainly this idea that Michael Cohen said that before he lied to Congress, that he submitted his testimony to the Trump lawyers and that they reviewed it. Now he doesn't say that they -- what specifically any changes were made. He said that there were edits made. He -- at one part of his testimony he said that one of the president's personal attorneys edited his testimony.
Now he doesn't say exactly what changes were made. But it does sort of raise the question of exactly what that mean, whether or not he is implicating other people in the alleged lies that he told.
But let me just step back real quick to the campaign finance question because, I think, look, as Jeffrey pointed out, for you to violate campaign finance law, you have to know that you're doing that. And Shimon alluded to it, too; I think the president's attorneys have already answered. They say, look, I mean, he was embarrassed, he knew he was trying to keep this from his family, he's trying to save his wife the embarrassment. This is a defense that has worked, by the way, in other cases. John Edwards is one example.
So, look, I think today is like the opening salvo of what we're going to see certainly from the democrats now that they are in control. They're going to call in additional witnesses. I suspect we're going to see Donald Trump Jr., Allen Weisselberg, another executive of the Trump organization, be called to Congress perhaps to answer questions.
And I think this goes to the heart of it, the campaign finance violation, because it's a legal violation and is avenue for the Congress to pursue if they want to go the impeachment route.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: But here's the thing, the argument that this was done to protect the First Lady, okay. fine. But the lengths that they went to try and hide these payments, I think that's what's going to hurt that argument. And that, I think, is what currently is hurting that argument probably at the FBI and the Department of Justice.
I mean, this elaborate scheme that they came up with, you're going to submit retainer fees as legal fees, and I'm going to mask it as legal fees and we're going to break it up into $35,000 payments. With that, they went to some length to do that.
And the other thing when Michael Cohen says they're having these conversations about the payments, and the President says to him, go ahead and do it. And there's another point where there's a conversation and the President says to them, figure it out.
So, you know, it's going to be, I think, very hard for the President to say, well, I didn't know what the point of this was. But we'll see. You know, certainly the FBI and the Department of Justice, to this point, have not broke this argument. They laid this out very clearly in their charges.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The democrats are going to have tough question to answer for themselves is, what now? Do they want to pursue this investigation? Several of the better questioners sort of laid out a road map for further investigation, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez near the very end of the hearing, who was basically saying, who else was involved in this? Obviously, Allen Weisselberg, who was the Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: He's received limited immunity though right now in exchange for for his cooperation with prosecutors.
TOOBIN: But that doesn't necessarily carry over to his Congressional testimony. The Congress would have to give him immunity if he decided to take the fifth. His name was all over this hearing.
BLITZER: We heard more about Allen Weisselberg today than we've heard in a long time. The Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization, he has been with the trump organization for a mere 40 years.
TOOBIN: Well, I can only imagine how delighted he was to hear his name invoked over and over again by Michael Cohen as someone who was intimately involved, particularly in the payoff to Stormy Daniels.
PEREZ: And if you look at this entire two-year investigation, Wolf, I think what the U.S. attorney in Manhattan did, which was to land this punch on the President, the idea that they essentially implicated him as an unindicted co-conspirator without calling him that in my Michael Cohen's crimes. I think that's where the democrats in Congress can pick up if they choose and hold hearings. And, again, if some of them want to pursue the impeachment route, this is the avenue, the campaign finance violation.
I think the President has a good answer if that's what they want. But I think you can see some of the questions, especially at the end, that this is where they're going and they're trying to figure out whether or not they're going to perhaps make this something that's going to dominate the next year.
BLITZER: We're going into this hearing, Jeffrey. Russia was supposed to be off the table. They weren't supposed to be looking at that. That was going to be left for the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors tomorrow. The Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday, they were going to talk about business dealings and other stuffer. But Russia was a big part of today's hearings that started at 10:00 A.M. It just wrapped up with an hour break.
TOOBIN: It was. And there was a bomb shell about Russia too, particularly the WikiLeaks part of the story. There was - Michael Cohen testified that he was sitting in Donald Trump's office in the summer of 2016, before the democratic convention, and roger stone called. And the President, as apparently he often did, put Stone on the speakerphone, and stone said, I just got off the phone with Julian Assange and he says they're going to drop some disclosures that are going to be very damaging to Hillary Clinton. And Trump says words to the effect of wouldn't that be great.
Now, it's important to point out, Trump has denied this. Roger Stone has denied this. But that's Michael Cohen's testimony. And if it's believed and if it can somehow be corroborated, it suggests that everything the President has said about the WikiLeaks story is a lie.
BLITZER: Tell us why that would be illegal, potentially. Politically awkward, obviously, but why would that be illegal?
TOOBIN: I'm not sure it would be illegal.
And I think that's an important point to make. To know about illegal activities of others is not a crime. You're not obligated to go to the FBI and say WikiLeaks is out there hacking emails.
PEREZ: Politically, it's a damaging.
TOOBIN: Politically, it's damaging.
BLITZER: Very damaging, politically.
TOOBIN: But now, there is a theory that by essentially sanctioning Roger Stone to go ahead and encourage this release, that could make Trump a co-conspirator. I think that's a tough theory to make. This is all really theoretical since the Department of Justice policy says he can't be indicted anyway.
So the political issue is really the most important. But it is true that it's a tough call whether that interaction with Stone would act as an illegal act on the part of Donald Trump.
BLITZER: You can see Michael Cohen getting into his vehicle leaving Capitol Hill. He thanked the Capitol Hill Police for all of their security protection. He's going to need more of that. He delivered, Kara, a pretty, pretty awful assessment of the dangers he feels not only to himself but also his family, his wife and kids. He says he can't even walk on the streets of New York together with his wife or kids. They have to walk behind him or in front of him because he fears a potential attack.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: I know. That was a very tangible, memorable way to sort of understand how he feels and how he thinks his family is threatened. And he didn't leave at that. He was saying, you know, as we've seen with the pipebomber and others, you know, it's not only this tone of Donald Trump but he is worried that people who are, you know, not stable, who might, you know, just believe Donald Trump and kind of follow that logic that someone out of the blue could harm him. So it's not just Trump's statements. It's just how someone else could interpret them. And we've seen that there are real consequences to that with the pipebomber and the person last week.
BLITZER: And he - definitely, Shimon, he blamed the President of the United States with the security fears that he and his family have when the President called him a rat, he says, for telling the truth. He says, only someone burying his head in the sand would not recognize them for what they are, these threats he is talking about, encouragement to someone to do harm to me and my family.
PROKUPECZ: Look, I think Michael Cohen certainly is very worried about his family. It's something that he has always stressed. He gets very emotional. You know, Kara was pointing this out, which he was at the sensing [ph], at the plea hearing, where he started crying, when he started talking about his family. So this is a guy who - you know, you could see it in his face, in his emotions when he talks about his family how difficult this has been for him. And he is afraid. He talked about he has so much fear that when they go out to eat, when they go to places, his family will go ahead of him to meet him.
BLITZER: Elijah Cummings, the Committee Chairman, is walking by. Let's see if he stops. It looks like he is.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, M.D.: Thank you. I am going to make a short statement. I probably won't answer any questions. I'm tired.
Two years ago, I said that when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were running against each other, I said that is not about Hillary and this not about Donald Trump. This is a fight for the sole of our democracy. And that statement is truer now than it was then.
Today, I think, was a very important day. I tell my staff 200 years from now people will be reading about this moment. And so I will say to you, the press, get it right.
We have a situation where we have strayed so far away from normal in our country and we've got to get back to the center. And I think today was at least an opportunity to do that.
A lot of people - we've got a lot of criticism, as you could hear, about Michael Cohen coming before our Committee. But just think about what we're dealing with. We have Rosenstein who said that despite possible that the American people will never see the report or just about anything that comes out of Mueller's investigation.
And I think the American people in the last election were crying out, even the people who love the President, even the ones who believe that he's doing a great job said that we want accountability. We want accountability, and I think, and therefore, the elected democrats in some districts that were Trump districts, quite a few of them.
And so today, as I said earlier, you know, what has - well, what has happened over the last two years is that there has not been any accountability, none. None. Couldn't get a subpoena, couldn't get a hearing, couldn't get witnesses and all we're trying to do is our job.
The constitution is abundantly clear. It says to us every two years we raise our hands and we say that we swear to uphold the constitution. And part of that constitution says that we have to be a check and balance on the executive branch. That's what this was all about.
Mr. Cohen coming in and bringing corroborating evidence, I think the checks are very, very significant. He talks about the man he knows. And, basically, what he did was to reintroduce the American people to the man that he has known for ten years.
The republicans didn't want to hear any of that. And that's all well and good, but that's not going to get us to where we need to get to as a nation.
The question becomes, you know, where do we go from here? Well, we are going to study our testimony and figure out what we've got there. We've got transcribed interviews of some people that we're going to be looking at. We have not gotten the kind of cooperation that I would want from White House Council with regard to documents that we need. But, again, we're going to follow-up on this testimony.
And if you ask me exactly where we're going, I can't tell you exactly the areas we're going. But we will do things in a very methodical way, a very careful way. Because the thing that I emphasize to the members of our committee is that we must be a committee with integrity. I want to be effective and efficient in everything we do.
And in order to be effective and efficient, one of the things you've got to do is you've got reclaim civility. That's one of the things I was trying to do in there. Two, we have got to make sure that we get information. When we have an uncooperative executive branch basically who does not want us to get information, and then they tell all of you all, by the way, they want to suppress you all. I mean, how do you even make a government accountable?
So we're going to - again, I appreciate Mr. Cohen coming in. I thought he brought a lot to the table. He described to Donald Trump what he knows. And we'll see where we go from there.
REPORTER: What's the most important thing you learned today, sir? Congressman, what's the most important thing you learned today?
CUMMINGS: I believe that - I believe he told the truth. I have been practicing law. First of all, as I said in there, I practiced law for many years. And one of the things that I did, I represented a lot of lawyers who got in trouble. And I'm used to watching witnesses. I think that he - I think that he - first of all, I think he's very - something, a light bulb went off in his head, I guess. And he said, you know what, I'm going to the wrong way and I want to change things. I want to reverse things. And I think he's remorseful. And a lot of people said, the reason why he's coming in is because he just wants to get his sentence reduced. I think that's not likely.
But the fact is I don't want you to miss this. And he agreed with me because I told him, if you come in here and you lie, and these were my exact words, I will nail you to the cross, and I meant that.
Because we can't keep going on with the lie and lie and lie, we'll never get to any kind of sense of normalcy. But to answer your question, yes, I believe him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Chairman, what do you think --
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Chairman, do you need to talk to Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump, Jr. in order to investigate the hush money payments Weisselberg (INAUDIBLE). Do you need to talk to them --
CUMMINGS: We probably -- yes, we probably will, but there's a -- and that's a very good question. There are certain areas we've got to be careful with because the Special Counsel and Southern District of New York and others have basically said that there are things that they are looking into.
There are a number of areas that we couldn't even get into, and didn't get into, that they are looking into. This is -- I think that there are still a number of shoes to drop. I think there's more. I don't know what it is, but I can tell you that we work very closely with the Special Counsel to try to make sure that we did not interfere with the investigation.
One more time -- one more thing.
NANCY CORDES, CBS NEWS CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you believe --
CUMMINGS: Wait a minute, hold on. I have a bad cold.
CORDES: No problem. Do you believe --
CUMMINGS: No, oh. I want to be clear, and I don't know whether you missed this. I said that I would rather have no hearing than to have a hearing that interfered with Mueller. Not -- I'd rather not have because I think Mueller is doing very, very important work.
But the press -- you know, come on, guys and ladies. One of the things we've got to get back to, we still have a situation where folks are messing with our elections, and we've done very little about it. I mean, this was an attack on our system of government, our democracy. I mean, this is serious.
And so there's a lot that's going to come out of this. There are things that other committees will learn from this. I just talked to Adam Schiff a few minutes ago just before I came over here, and there are a number of things that he is going to be able to use from our hearing for his hearing.
But we've got about five committees that are looking at different aspects of the Trump administration. But again -- and don't get it twisted. We are doing -- I have said it from the very beginning that we're going down two paths in this committee.
One, we're going to make sure we address those issues that confront the American people on a day-to-day basis, such as the census and such as voting rights and prescription drugs and the Affordable Care Act. But on the other hand, we also are going to paint a picture of what is happening to our democracy.
CORDES: Mr. Chairman, based on what you heard, do you believe that the President committed a crime while in office?
CUMMINGS: Based on what -- looking at the text and listening to Mr. Cohen, it appears that he did. I mean, again, if -- and I don't -- that's not for me to say. I'm basing that on what has already been found.
Here, they found -- Mr. Cohen is pleading to charges where he said he was directed to commit a crime by the President. I mean, I -- and so, again, I think we really -- we'll just have to see what Mueller says.
One of the things that I did -- and I want to be clear on this. A lot of you all have been asking me to do interviews, and I literally -- literally -- turned down at least probably 150 interviews over the last few months once we knew Cohen was coming.
You know why? Because the thing I did not want to do was just assume what he was going to say. I wanted him to come in, say what he had to say, and then try to tell you what we found out. And I -- because I refuse to be a hypocrite.
When the -- when my Republican colleagues, when they were in control, what they would do is they would go out, make a headline -- big headlines -- and then try to have a hearing to get the facts to catch up with the headline. And usually, the facts weren't there.
And so I wanted to make sure I was very careful. So now you all can start asking me for interviews again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) you said he may have committed a crime, but are there any --
CUMMINGS: I am saying --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there any impeachable offenses, in your view?
CUMMINGS: I will -- I have -- you've got to understand. I've been sitting there for, what, nine hours? Eight hours? Whatever the length. I need to study the transcripts to see what we have. Keep in mind, I want to proceed very cautiously.
But isn't it interesting that not one person -- not one person -- on our side even mentioned the word impeachment? Not one. Not one! Not one! They did, but not us. So, again, I want to -- I hope -- I'm hoping that this is -- well, not hoping, I know. This is not the end of a process but the beginning.
[17:50:06] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chairman, you've spent several years in the minority of this Committee.
CUMMINGS: Yes. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was your first really big hearing as Chairman.
CUMMINGS: Here we go again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you think it went, and how do you the two parties behaved today given the stakes?
CUMMINGS: I felt that, you know, when you get to be my age, you don't -- I don't -- I probably would judge it in a different way than a younger person. But I've been on this Committee 22 years, so I've seen a lot.
I practiced law. I've seen some of the worst -- people do some of the worst things in the world. I've seen lawyers disbarred. I've seen all kinds of stuff. And I see it as a part of our history.
So the fact that people were arguing back and forth, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. I really did. I thought it would be more dilatory tactics, but it didn't work out that way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do you rank this hearing compared to all the other ones the Oversight Committee has had through the years?
CUMMINGS: Oh, I think this has to be -- this and the Toyota hearing, number one and two. Number one and two. Remember Toyota? Yes, that was big.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, last question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last question about the President.
CUMMINGS: Thank you, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you want the President to know (INAUDIBLE) these proceedings?
CUMMINGS: You know, what I want the President to know -- I want you to clip my closing argument, all right? That's what I want. I want the President to be reminded of what I said to him in the Oval Office two years ago.
I said to him, I said, Mr. President, you can be the greatest president in the world if -- if -- if -- if -- if -- you went out there and not just represented and did good things for 35 or 40 percent of the people but for all the people. Of course, he went out and said I told him -- said he was going to be the greatest president in the world, meaning he kind of cut out the "if." But that's what I want.
You know why? You know, when I spent time in the hospital for six months, you know, you get a chance to think about your life and your death. And you try to figure out what it is that you want the most.
And I think most of us, we want to know that our children are going to be OK. We want to know that they are going to experience a democracy, that they're going to have an opportunity. And they're going to have a better opportunity than I had.
And that's what I -- I want him -- when he goes out there and he does things, I want him to think about children. I want him to think about the children that he separated from their parents. I want him to think about the fact that we had children in cages. I want to think about the education of children.
I mean, in other words, the things that -- and I want -- but more important than all of that, I want him to think about the democracy. A true democracy.
Got to go. Got to go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. That's all. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Chairman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Chairman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
CUMMINGS: All right, thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Elijah Cummings, the Committee Chairman. He made a statement, answered some questions from reporters. Obviously feeling this is a critically important day, saying that there could potentially be evidence that the President of the United States was engaged in criminal activity. Further investigation now required. He says it's only just the beginning.
Let's get some more reaction. The Vice Chair of the House Oversight Committee, Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill of California is joining us.
Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. Do you believe that Michael Cohen's testimony today and the documentary evidence he presented amounts to solid proof that President Trump did participate in a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws?
REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA), VICE CHAIRMAN, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM: Well, I certainly think it is compelling proof. I don't think that this is the end, be all, I think as Mr. Chairman mentioned. This is the start, right? This isn't the finish. This is where we have opened up a lot of doors in terms of the further investigation that needs to happen, and we'll see where it takes us.
But I think that this is -- this should be disturbing to everyone who was watching, that there is so much indication that a sitting president committed this kind of a crime while he was in office. And, again, you know, it's just the beginning, but it certainly is very suspicious and highly concerning.
BLITZER: According to Michael Cohen, Congresswoman, there are other witnesses to what he describes as this payoff scheme. Who else would you like to call to testify before your Committee, and what do you want to know?
HILL: Well, the first thing -- the first person that comes to mind is Mr. Weisselberg and Donald Trump, Jr. Those are ones that popped out for me. But, again, we don't want to get in the way of the Mueller investigation or the other investigations that are happening. I think it's very important that we stay in our lanes and do not interfere.
[17:55:05] But at the same time, our Committee is probably the only truly open forum through which the American people are going to be able to see this kind of testimony and see the facts in the same way that we are presented with them. So I do think that it's really important that we call as many witnesses as we can to paint the full picture of what has happened.
And as the Chairman said, what has happened to our democracy, which is really why I and so many of my freshmen colleagues ran, is that we felt like the very foundations of our democracy were being torn down and that we had to do something drastic to fix it.
BLITZER: Mr. Cohen had to -- said he had to steer clear of some topics because he says federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are still conducting investigations into the President of the United States. What does that say to you?
HILL: I mean, it says exactly that, that there are ongoing investigations. And, you know, we don't have any more information than the rest of you do in terms of what exactly those look like because we are trying to do everything we can to not interfere and to not get in the way of that and make sure that nothing gets out.
And, you know, one thing I've learned in my short time here is that there seems to be no shortage of ways that things get to members of Congress and then get out to the press. So I can see why they are doing everything they can to make sure that none of us know what that's all about.
BLITZER: Cohen was very precise in his words. He says that the President never, in his word, directed him to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. He said the President speaks in what he calls code and that he understands that code. Why should we trust Cohen's interpretation of what the President's code -- so-called code is? HILL: Well, I think Mr. Trump is a very careful man when it comes to
preserving his own reputation and -- as it were and his own security in terms of getting into trouble. And so I think one of his closest advisers, as Mr. Cohen is -- was, is going to be really kind of cued in to what those signals are.
Just like, frankly, my staff is. They know what I'm talking about when I don't use the full words, and, I mean, they can interpret a nod or, you know, just a look of the eyes. And somebody who works with you for 10 years most certainly can. So I think that Trump was probably very aware of how easy it would be to be caught with a specific statement.
And so, you know, can we believe him? Can we not? I think that's up to each individual to decide, but, clearly, it is a serious indication. It's something that we need to evaluate with the utmost consideration and ultimately decide where to go from here.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Katie Hill of California, thanks so much for joining us.
HILL: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more on all the truly explosive breaking news today right after this.