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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump Defends His Response To Charlottesville After New Criticism From Biden; Biden: I Don't Think I Treated Anita Hill Badly; Michael Avenatti Accused In Nike Extortion Attempt. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired April 26, 2019 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Good evening. Chris Cuomo is off tonight.
In this hour of 360, President Trump doubling down on a falsehood, not to mention revisiting one of his Presidency's all-time lows, his claim that there were very fine people among the Nazis and the White supremacists and the skinheads in Charlottesville two summers ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've answered that question. And if you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly.
And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great General. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals.
I've spoken to many generals here, right at the White House, and many people thought - of the generals, they think that he was maybe their favorite general.
People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, just keep that in your mind that people who were there were there to protest the taking down or the attempts to take down a monument of Robert E. Lee, and how everybody knows that.
So, the President was responding, of course, to Joe Biden who made similar remarks at the time on Charlottesville, the centerpiece of his campaign kickoff video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those words, the President of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, clearly, Biden's video irked the President.
Joining us now with more, CNN's Abby Phillip.
Abby, is there any sense of why the President, if he was going to respond to Vice President Biden on Charlottesville, just chose to double down on his previous comments, which to this day are widely condemned and just not really accurate?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, as you know, the President is never one to back off of something that he has already staked a position on.
But if you'll remember those two summers ago, the President made those comments about "Very fine people," and then the White House orchestrated another speech, in which he laid out in more eloquently in a scripted fashion a response to the Charlottesville events of that - of that summer.
And what happened after that was that privately the President really seemed to regret having made that second speech. He regretted the idea that he had to back down from something that he said that he didn't think was all that wrong.
And so, I think now, two years later, the President is simply expressing what he has believed for this entire time, which is that he was being taken out of context.
And in - in a similar fashion to how he responded to people who abandoned him after the Access Hollywood video, this moment in his Presidency, this Charlottesville moment really became a litmus test for him of the people who were with him and the people who were against him.
And I think that his loyalty to people who stook - stood by him after - after Charlottesville really tells you everything you need to know about whether or not he felt like he got that wrong at that time.
COOPER: Is there anyone left in the White House who actually pushes back on the President, I mean who couldn't convince him not to say this, or is it - are they all gone?
PHILLIP: I think a lot of people in the White House right have now taken a very different approach to dealing with President Trump. Many of them who are left here simply acknowledge that the President is going to do what he wants.
[21:05:00] He's going to say what he wants. And he's going to tweet what he wants. And they don't try to get ahead of moments like this. They don't try to really advise him against it because he's usually not likely to take their advice anyway.
I think, two years into this White House, you see a lot of aides who have resigned to simply reacting to what President Trump is doing on a day-to-day basis. This is just yet another example of something he has thrown onto their plates that they would rather not be talking about.
Today, Anderson, 3.2 percent GDP, the White House would love to talk about that. But instead, the President decided to take Joe Biden on over the issue of Charlottesville. And I think they would rather do anything but that.
COOPER: Yes. Abby Phillip, thank you very much.
Three perspectives now from Republican Strategist, Adolfo Franco, former Obama Senior Adviser, Van Jones, and Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics, the University of Virginia.
Van, the President saying that he answered previous questions about this perfectly, it does seem like an alternative universe.
VAN JONES, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA, CNN HOST, THE REDEMPTION PROJECT WITH VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, you know, like perfectly badly. I don't think the President understands how painful this is and how dangerous this is like this is, you know, the worst people in the country, the hatemongers, the violent fringe love when he does this, OK?
You know, this is not an academic discussion in a - in a classroom someplace. This has political consequences in real time in our country. He is giving aid and comfort to a terrorist element in America. He's got to stop doing that.
I don't know why he's doing it. It's not cute. It's not funny. Trump's got to cut it out.
COOPER: I mean when you think, you know, football players protesting or sons of bitches--
COOPER: --neo-Nazis, tiki torches, good people on both sides.
JONES: Yes, on both sides. I mean it's - it's outrageous.
COOPER: Adolfo, I mean what the President is saying that this was just about the monument to General Robert E. Lee, that's just not true.
Friday night, marching to the Lee Memorial were young men with tiki torches, wearing swastikas, and chanting "Jews will not replace us. You will not replace us. Blood and soil," was a good person there. Do you agree?
ADOLFO FRANCO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER ROMNEY/RYAN '12 CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: I agree with that, and so does the President. I think, frankly, I think what--
COOPER: Well he didn't. He said the next day--
COOPER: --there were - there were good people on both sides. FRANCO: Yes. Look, I - I think there's - there's a - either a disconnect here or an intentional distortion of the President's words. The President absolutely has condemned White nationalists, and has condemned those anti-Semitic remarks, and those individuals, and we all do.
But the President - the President--
COOPER: Right. He initially denied knowing anything about White supremacy--
FRANCO: But - but--
COOPER: --David Duke, which was a lie because he had talked about David Duke.
FRANCO: But - but--
COOPER: He criticized David Duke in the past.
FRANCO: But - but - but - but let me - let me just ask, because I think this has really been quite unfair to the President.
There are people that there was an issue over the monuments. There are many people that, and I'm one of them, that do not believe that - that Robert E. Lee's statues should be taken down, and I don't think that's a White supremacist view or any--
COOPER: You're defending (ph) tiki torch?
FRANCO: No, no, no. And I think he has condemned that. And I think when CNN's initial reporting of this was actually quite fair. There was a distinction. I mean you see the - the - the entire statement, I think his words have been taken completely out of context.
This is a President whose son-in-law is an Orthodox Jew, whose daughter converted to Judaism.
FRANCO: One of his key advisers who's been vilified on immigration issues is Jewish. He is a strongest ally of Israel.
COOPER: Right. Well--
FRANCO: To suggest is this is a President who's anti-Semitic--
COOPER: One - one of his - one of his--
FRANCO: --is unfair.
COOPER: --advisers, Gary Cohn threatened to resign in the wake of this because of the President's response to this.
FRANCO: I think that - well he didn't, in the first place, he didn't at that time. And secondly, plenty of - there are plenty of Jewish Americans serving in the Cabinet, Secretary of the Treasury, for example--
FRANCO: --who see it completely - completely differently.
But I - I think there's a distortion here. I want to go back to this. The President condemns anti-Semitism. The President condemns neo- Nazis. The President does not condemn those people.
COOPER: OK. He's - OK.
FRANCO: I know some - some people on this--
COOPER: Oddly though, he has a lot of them supporting him.
COOPER: And seems to send out messages that keep them happy.
FRANCO: How many of these people exist in our country? It is a small group.
FRANCO: The President support--
JONES: Hey, don't - don't say that. Don't say that.
FRANCO: --the President - the President - the President support--
JONES: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
FRANCO: --the President support is not neo-Nazis.
JONES: No. No. No. Don't say--
COOPER: Adolfo, come on!
FRANCO: It is - this is a small number of--
JONES: --no, no, no, no.
JONES: Don't do that.
FRANCO: The Neo-Nazi movement?
JONES: Hey, let's - hold on - you've - you've got your turn.
COOPER: Let - let Van respond.
JONES: And I'm not going to let you go on. Quit saying that. Quit saying that it's a small number of people.
If there's a small number of peoples who job - job it was to go around, you know, killing White men, I don't think you would be saying, "Ah, that's just a small number of people whose - who - who've decided they want to go and kill White men. Why are you guys so concerned about it?"
You'd say, "Hey, there's a - there's a group of people trying to kill White men, do something!"
JONES: And so, don't minimize this.
FRANCO: I'm not minimizing this.
JONES: And there's a part - no, you - there - there--
FRANCO: Political - politically, I am.
JONES: --it's a definition of minimizing it. It's the definition of minimizing. Come on! If we're going to have a conversation--
FRANCO: Yes, I have to.
JONES: --I think you'd make a fair point--
JONES: --think you'd make a fair point that there are people who on the merits have a different view of this statue.
JONES: And that those people should not all be demonized as racists. I've said that.
[21:10:00] JONES: But you go way too far when you then take it upon yourself to minimize the concern of people about a terrorist movement in our country that's coming for me and not for you.
JONES: That's coming for my kids and not for yours.
JONES: So, don't minimize this.
COOPER: Let - let me bring in Larry.
JONES: It's not fair.
FRANCO: Well, sure - well--
COOPER: Larry, you work in the University of Virginia.
FRANCO: Well, they're certainly--
COOPER: When - when the President says something like this, I'm wondering how it resonates there.
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS, "THE KENNEDY HALF-CENTURY" AUTHOR: Well it simply brings up a lot of very bad memories. Look, this was not about the statues. I was there.
I watched that small group of neo-Nazis, actually hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of almost entirely young men, some of whom were wearing swastikas, shouting Hitlerian slogans, doing all kinds of things that were thoroughly obnoxious.
Look at the advertising that they put out for that weekend. It had nothing to do with the statue of Robert E. Lee or the other statue of Stonewall Jackson. It looked very Nazi-like because that's what it was.
You mentioned some of the slogans, Anderson. The one that will always stick with me is "Into the ovens!"
SABATO: That's how wonderful, how fine--
JONES: And - and - and - and--
SABATO: --these people were.
JONES: --Heather Heyer was murdered. Heather Heyer died. Heather Heyer was killed by a terrorist in the United States of America.
JONES: And the President of the United States did not respond perfectly.
The President of the United States - that was not the time to try to have some nuanced conversation about American history and - and - and - and to defend the - the - the good will and good intentions of somebody else that that was the time to be as forceful as you could.
And on paper, what was written on paper, and to your point, has been forgotten, what - what - what he read on paper actually was forceful. But then he erased it when he got off script and began speaking from his heart in ways that are still - it's still painful to people.
He should not go back and pick those scabs and say he did it perfectly. If you've done it perfectly, we wouldn't be - we wouldn't even be talking about it right now.
COOPER: Yes. Yes, Adolfo, things that were actually written out--
FRANCO: For me--
COOPER: --for him, he couldn't even just read those-- FRANCO: When you--
COOPER: --without adding in his own, you know, "Good people on both sides." I mean he - he cannot stop himself.
FRANCO: When you - Anderson, when you asked me the question earlier before, you really pounced on me about this - about these comments is that he's appealing to these people as somehow this is a - a constituency.
That's what I meant about a number. That's not a constituency. That's a detriment to be identified with these individuals in this country.
COOPER: All right, Larry, we - we got to leave it there. Adolfo Franco, appreciate it, Van Jones, Larry Sabato--
FRANCO: Thank you.
COOPER: --thank you very much.
FRANCO: Thank you.
COOPER: Well plenty more to talk about tonight, including an intriguing story that you likely haven't heard before about when President Obama talked Joe Biden out of running for President in 2016.
Later, new reporting on a stunning detail from the Mueller report, a portrait of a President who had to bring in outside help to do his - to do his dirty work, and how the guy he asked turned him down.
[21:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: Joe Biden, the newest and second oldest Democratic Presidential candidate, or - or, excuse me, Democratic candidate spent part of his day on The View. He spent part of that appearance being asked whether he would directly apologize to Anita Hill for his handling of the Clarence Thomas hearings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I am sorry she was treated the way she was treated. I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this thing done.
JOY BEHAR, COMEDIAN, WRITER, ACTOR, ABC'S THE VIEW CO-HOST: I think what she wants you to say is "I'm sorry for the way I treated you, not for the way you were treated." I think that would be--
BIDEN: If you go back and look what I said and didn't say, I - I - I don't think I treated her badly.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, so far, at least, it's not affecting his fundraising, it seems. The former Vice President pulled in a record $6.3 million in his first 24 hours in the 2020 campaign.
Joining us now, someone who's just written about Biden, and the 2016 campaign, Edward-Isaac Dovere. His piece--
EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Hi, Anderson.
COOPER: --in The Atlantic. Hey, I just want to give you - everybody the - the title in The Atlantic. It's called "When Obama Talked Biden Out Of Running For President." It's such a fascinating piece here that you've written.
Can you just explain why President Obama didn't want Vice President Biden to run in 2016?
DOVERE: Well there's two things. First of all, he was - remember, what had happened on Memorial Day weekend of 2015 was that Biden's son, Beau had died.
DOVERE: It was a tragic event. And Biden was really overwhelmed with grief and in - in bad shape emotionally over that, as one would expect. And so, Obama thought he wasn't in the right emotional space to run, as Biden eventually said was the case.
And Obama also thought that Hillary Clinton was the one who should be the nominee. And he did not think that Biden would be able to beat her in the primaries.
COOPER: How much did Biden regret ultimately not running four years ago?
DOVERE: Well that goes back and forth. Sometimes he talks about it, and sometimes it lands on "Maybe I would have won," you know, those things are always tough to do.
Bob Casey, Senator from Pennsylvania who supported Clinton, but was one of the first out of the gate endorsing Biden yesterday, said to me, it's one of the great imponderables, would Biden actually have won.
COOPER: You - you report that President Obama essentially had his longtime adviser, David Plouffe break the news to Biden that he shouldn't run in 2016. You quote sources saying that Plouffe asked Biden, "Do you really want it to end in a hotel room in Des Moines coming in third to Bernie Sanders?"
What change from then until now, because obviously losing to Senator Sanders is a possibility this time too?
DOVERE: Yes, that's right.
One of the things that was going on there is that Obama thought that Biden was going to get to the decision not to run a little bit earlier than he did. And so, Obama started exerting some pressure on him, and sent Plouffe to meet with him, and - and lay it out for Biden that way.
A lot has changed obviously since 2015. First of all, Donald Trump is the President. And Biden does feel that this is an existential moment for the country, and he has to try to get into it. That is that's how he put it in the video that he put out launching his campaign. He couldn't stand by and watch this happen.
The other thing that's going on though is that in 2015, the summer went by, as he was grieving, and he didn't put a campaign together. He was looking at trying to take on the - the Clinton juggernaut at that point on very little notice, and with very little preparation.
Now, he's getting in, obviously, later than a number of the other candidates, but still pretty early in this race.
COOPER: You're also reporting that the whole idea Joe Biden wouldn't have future Presidential aspirations was actually part of the reason that then-candidate Obama chose him in the first place.
DOVERE: Sure. If you look back at the Clinton White House, for example, that became an issue into the second term, as it tends to be when a President has a Vice President who is looking to run for President him or her - maybe in the future, herself, there is a concern of competing ambitions.
[21:20:00] And there - there were several reasons why the Obama team thought that Biden would be the - the right pick for the running mate, foreign policy experience, relationships on the Hill.
But they also did consider "Hey, he's 65 at this point. He's run for president twice. He's done, like we won't have to think about that as an issue." So, that takes it off the table.
COOPER: Interesting. Do you believe that - that Biden - do you believe Biden - I mean, he's claiming that he asked President Obama not to endorse him that I'm not - I mean it's not as if - I mean we don't know the circumstances of this if it happened, but it's not as if President Obama would have endorsed anybody at this stage.
DOVERE: Yes. There was a statement that went out from someone familiar with the former President's thinking yesterday in the - those journalistic terms that sometimes go around that - that said that "Obama decided that he was not going to endorse early given the size of the field."
So, if you look at that, and you parse it carefully, that's Obama saying, "Hey, it was my decision," as in Biden saying, "Hey, it was my decision. I asked him not to endorse me."
He said that again on The View today that he didn't want to win the nomination because Obama said "Hey, that's my guy."
COOPER: Right. DOVERE: But it doesn't seem like Obama was quite ready to say that.
COOPER: Yes. Edward-Isaac Dovere, thank you so much, really fascinating article.
DOVERE: Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: More next on the question, did President Trump obstruct justice?
Robert Mueller left it up to Congress, of course, but gave Members plenty of evidence to look over, including a damning account from a person who isn't even in the administration about being asked to curtail Mueller's probe.
Former White House insider joins us to talk about it when we come back.
[21:25:00] COOPER: Among the most fascinating threads in the Mueller report is the notion of the President's aides not carrying out his instructions, the President turning to former aides to do his dirty work.
That includes former Campaign Manager, Corey Lewandowski. The Mueller report says he was asked to help kneecap the probe. And even Lewandowski knew it wasn't a good idea.
Joining me is Cliff Sims, former White House Communications staff, and Author of Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days In The Trump White House.
Cliff, this reporting about people not following the President's orders, it's actually sworn testimony given to Robert Mueller. Is it consistent with what you saw or heard in your time in the White House?
CLIFF SIMS, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS AIDE, "TEAM OF VIPERS" AUTHOR: Well I actually write about this a little bit in Team of Vipers. I say that there are kind of two types of Presidential orders.
One is the type that you follow immediately. The second is the type that you kind of see if he brings it back up again later on. And most of the times, these things were like, you know, certainly not the more serious directives.
I remember there's a scene in the book where the President says he wants to do the Fake News Awards. It was the first time that he had brought up that as a concept.
And so, kind of laughed about it, and didn't hear anything about it for a couple of weeks. And then he brought it back up again, and it was pretty clear that he was more serious about it so, you know, ultimately, we did kind of have a Fake News Awards at one point. So, you know, the others, I think it's more often - more often what happens is not that someone disobeys an order, but people use whatever power that they have to slow-walk his directives. I think that's what I saw more often than just direct insubordination.
COOPER: Slow-walk in the hopes that it will - he'll just forget about it?
SIMS: Well I don't know if it's just forget about it, even on things like the President's plan to pull out of Afghanistan, really wanted to pull out of Afghanistan. He talked a lot about it behind the scenes.
That was something that the Generals did not feel comfortable with. And there's been pretty, you know, dramatic reporting about various blow-ups and conversations that happened about that.
But the Generals were using their authority to - to kind of slow-walk that decision in hopes of changing the President's mind or providing him with additional information that would maybe get him to change course.
And then, sometimes, as in General Mattis' case with Syria, eventually it got came to a head and General Mattis said, "You know what? I can't implement this. You need someone who will follow your directive. And I have to depart." I respect that about General Mattis.
What I never respected was when people would basically undermine what the President was wanting to do, a directive that he has - he had given, and just not follow through on it, and just kind of do that in perpetuity.
I don't think that is a - a good precedent to set that you can undermine the duly-elected President in that way.
COOPER: It seems as if the President told Don McGahn, according to Don McGahn's sworn testimony, and based on notes he - he kept contemporaneously that the President wanted him to, you know, to - to shut down this investigation, to - to fire Mueller. And Don McGahn, point-blank, said "No."
And - and that certainly, you know, is something which is - is, again, just defying a - a direct order. But Don McGahn knew legally he would get himself and the President would get himself in a world of - of hurt over that.
SIMS: Right. And I - and I think ultimately this is the kind of thing that, you know, the President still has the ultimate authority. If he gave someone an order, and they said, "No, I'm not going to do that," he has the authority to then fire that person, and say, "I'm going to bring somebody in who is going to do that."
I've never really seen him do something that was - or really came to a head where he said "Do this," someone says, "No", and then--
COOPER: Right. Well I mean that's what's so interesting--
SIMS: --it really comes to then he fires that person or they quit.
COOPER: --that's what's so interesting about the Mueller report is that you have Corey Lewandowski who, you know, has - would - you would think do just about anything for the President, you know, the President telling him to get a message to Sessions to - to intervene to - to, you know, change the course of the investigation, Corey Lewandowski says, "Oh, yes, sure, no, I'll do that." Doesn't do it.
The President asks him about it about a month or so later, Lewandowski tries to pawn it off on Dearborn. Dearborn says, "Oh, yes, OK, I'll deal with it." And Dearborn just doesn't do anything about it because they all know none of them want to be tainted with this.
I know you're in litigation with the - the White House and - and obviously can't get into certain specifics. But, broadly speaking, was it common for the President to outsource work to people who weren't government employees?
And we know, for example, you know, he relies on conservative talk show hosts for communications advice, just mentioned Corey Lewandowski.
SIMS: Well I do think that there is clearly kind of a constellation of outside Trump loyalists who he relies on a lot, Lewandowski, in this case, Dabassi (ph). There are others who I think fit that description.
I never really him - I never witnessed him, as you say, outsource a - a typical kind of government-related function to someone outside of the government. But I don't think there is any question that he relies heavily on the advice of people who are - who've been around him for a long time.
SIMS: Even campaign or even back before that in his business days.
COOPER: Yes. Cliff Sims, thanks so much for being back, appreciate it.
SIMS: Thanks for having me.
[21:30:00] COOPER: One of President Trump's chief antagonists has a legal fight like none he's faced before. Stormy Daniels' former attorney, Michael Avenatti could face the rest of his life in prison if found guilty.
We're going to hear from him, next.
COOPER: The Attorney who represented porn star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Trump is now facing the legal fight of his life.
Michael Avenatti has a court date in California on Monday where he's been indicted on more than three dozen counts, including wire fraud, a bank fraud, and extortion. He's also charged in New York for allegedly trying to shakedown sportswear giant, Nike. He faces prison for the rest of his life, if found guilty.
CNN's Sara Sidner just got an in-depth interview with him. It's Michael Avenatti like you haven't seen him before. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: My lawyers didn't even want me to sit down for this interview.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But Michael Avenatti is doing it anyway while free on a $300,000 bond.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael, could you think you'd go to jail before the President?
SIDNER: Accused of trying to extort Nike.
GEOFFREY BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Avenatti again made his threats and demands.
SIDNER: For more than $20 million.
Nike says, "Look, we have Michael Avenatti on tape saying he will take this money, and not disclose anything, and ride off into the sunset." Did you say that?
[21:35:00] AVENATTI: Did I say that we'd ride off into the sunset? Yes. Was it in the context that Nike and the government alleges? Absolutely not. What happened was, was that Nike and their attorneys figured out that they couldn't buy me. They couldn't own me. They couldn't control me.
SIDNER: Avenatti is accusing Nike of rigging the college basketball recruitment process by bribing amateur players to attend Nike- sponsored schools. Nike told CNN it would not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion.
But the criminal complaint says Avenatti was threatening to go public if Nike didn't comply with his demands, $1.5 million for his client, between $15 million and $25 million to hire him and his co-counsel to lead an internal investigation or a payment of $22.5 million and no investigation.
Instead of making a deal with them, Nike called the FBI saying it was being extorted. The FBI began recording the meetings. The case came to a head in just under a week after this tweet, Avenatti announcing a press conference.
What happened after that?
AVENATTI: Well I was arrested shortly thereafter.
SIDNER: Were you saying to them, "Pay me hush-money. I'll be quiet. I'll go away. I'll walk out the door?"
AVENATTI: Nope, never, never happened.
SIDNER: The accusations concerning hush-money is especially ironic--
STORMY DANIELS, PORNOGRAPHIC ACTRESS, DIRECTOR: Hi everyone.
SIDNER: --considering the case that brought Avenatti's name into the American consciousness.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, CUOMO PRIME TIME: Michael Avenatti.
SIDNER: The high-flying, hard-fighting litigator became a household name when he represented porn star Stormy Daniels who sued the President of the United States.
DANIELS: My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth.
SIDNER: She wanted out of a hush agreement she signed in 2016 to keep quiet about a 2006 sexual affair she said she had with Donald Trump. Trump has denied the affair.
Did you think you were going to bring down the President?
AVENATTI: I immediately saw that as an opportunity to do collateral damage to the President of the United States. In that regard, I accomplished the goal, although not, you know, entirely.
DAVID SCHWARTZ, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know what? You're a thug.
AVENATTI: Thug, thug, thug, thug.
SIDNER: Avenatti's theatrics and legal zingers became a fixture on cable news.
AVENATTI: Where is this guy?
SIDNER: The President's personal attorney Michael Cohen endured the public shaming. And after an investigation referred to the Southern District of New York by Robert Mueller, Cohen admitted to a total of nine criminal counts, including orchestrating that hush payment to Daniels on Trump's behalf to effect the 2016 Presidential election.
AVENATTI: I don't think his prison sentence is strong enough by any stretch of the imagination.
And - and I don't believe that other people around him that participated in that, including Donald Trump, the President of the United States should somehow get a pass. I believe Donald Trump should be indicted.
SIDNER: But now, Avenatti is facing serious charges and potential prison time, more than 300 years, if convicted.
The very same day he was arrested in New York, the U.S. Attorney in California charged him in another separate case, eventually bringing 36 counts, including wire fraud, bank fraud, and bankruptcy fraud.
But perhaps, the most stunning charge, stealing from his own clients, one of them, a paraplegic man, named Geoffrey Johnson.
Your paraplegic client has said he did not receive what he was supposed to receive of a $4 million settlement. Did you defraud him?
AVENATTI: Look, here is the bottom line. I'm not at liberty to get into the details of that particular situation because I've been advised by my counsel not to do it. If it was up to me, I'd hold a press conference, put documents up on the screen, and tell my side of the story.
SIDNER: But Avenatti did do that. Using Twitter as his bullhorn, he posted this document showing a glowing recommendation that he said his client had signed just a month before the indictment.
His attorney said what you posted was actually you tricked him into signing something saying that you were a great attorney, and they was happy with your services that you stole money from him. How do you respond to that?
AVENATTI: That assertion by the attorney is absurd.
SIDNER: Prosecutors are also saying the same thing.
AVENATTI: Prosecutors are saying all kinds of things. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they're all true or provable.
SIDNER: That wasn't the only client prosecutors say he defrauded. There are four others, including an NBA player who wanted to quietly pay monies to his ex-girlfriend for her long-time support. But nearly all the $2.7 million settlement was allegedly used to pay for this, Avenatti's personal jet.
Did you own a private jet?
AVENATTI: I had an interest in a private jet, yes. But there's nothing--
SIDNER: Your company--
AVENATTI: But there's nothing unusual about some of these factors relating to my lifestyle. Have I had a privileged lifestyle? Of course. Have I had a lifestyle that some people would describe as lavish at times? Yes.
I'm a self-made guy. I put myself through college. I put myself through law school. Nothing was ever handed to me, Sara. And, you know what? I busted my ass for a lot of what I've received.
[21:40:00] SIDNER: And prosecutors have tied your lifestyle. They accuse you of buying that jet with $2.5 million that belongs to a client from a settlement. Are they right?
AVENATTI: We're going to have facts and evidence. We're going to present that to a jury. And a jury is going to decide up or down whether I'm convicted or not. And it's their obligation--
SIDNER: You're evading the question. And you usually if - if there's nothing but truth out there, and you did none of this, why can't you just tell me?
AVENATTI: Because, Sara, here's the problem, because my lawyers didn't even want me to sit down for this interview. We've had umpteen debates about this. And the problem is, is that I've been told to say absolutely nothing, and I've said, "No, I'm not going to do that."
SIDNER: Avenatti has rarely shied away from a controversy.
AVENATTI: It is time to come clean. Basta.
SIDNER: Stepping into the spotlight in connection with the biggest headlines of 2018.
CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, BRETT KAVANAUGH ACCUSER: Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes.
SIDNER: As U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh faced sexual assault allegations--
BRETT KAVANAUGH, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I have never done this to her or to anyone.
SIDNER: --Avenatti emerged with a second accuser.
AVENATTI: She is 100 percent credible.
SIDNER: Republicans and some Democrats viewed his insertion into the case as an outrageous stunt.
Do you interject yourself purposely for your own fame, for your own fortune in these cases that have made headlines?
AVENATTI: Do I interject myself? No. I receive a call from a client.
SIDNER: She never testified. She was accused of lying. But her allegations were never investigated.
When the Border battle over child separation emerged, so did Avenatti with clients whose children were alone and afraid. In one case, he went all the way to Guatemala to deliver a mother's most precious gift.
ELSA ORTIZ ENRIQUEZ, ANTONY ORTIZ'S MOTHER: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
SIDNER: And, unexpectedly, received one of his own.
AVENATTI: It was - it was one, as a father myself, it was - it was one of the best days of my career. I remember it like it was yesterday. I mean he gave me a - I have it in my briefcase. I carry it with me. It was in my briefcase when I was arrested. It's a fabric bracelet that he made me to thank me for bringing him back to his mom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you consider running for the Democratic ticket in 2020?
SIDNER: Avenatti began to consider running for President.
AVENATTI: Stand up, join the Fight Club.
SIDNER: He tested the waters in West Hollywood and the crowd swooned.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Avenatti, just so you know--
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: --I sleep better because you're in the world. I'm not kidding.
AVENATTI: What's your name?
We hit harder.
SIDNER: From Iowa to New Hampshire to Texas, Avenatti began fundraising for Democrats. But problems with his own financials followed him. A judge ordered one of Avenatti's firms to pay his former partner $10 million, and another $800,000 he owed to the IRS. He has yet to pay all his debts.
Are you broke?
AVENATTI: No, I don't think I'm broke.
SIDNER: Well you know if you're broke or not. Are you broke?
SIDNER: You're 100 percent sure?
AVENATTI: I - no, I'm not broke.
SIDNER: OK. Are you having money problems?
AVENATTI: No. I don't believe I'm having money problems. I mean I believe there's been some challenges along the way, there's no question about that.
SIDNER: Avenatti still had his eye on the Presidency. And then--
COOPER: Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels is under arrest on allegations of felony domestic violence.
SIDNER: Did you hit, slap, drag the young lady that was in your apartment?
AVENATTI: Absolutely not. And that's why there's been three separate investigations, and no charges have been brought.
SIDNER: And with that, Avenatti bounced back into the headlines, taking on another explosive case.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: Michael Avenatti said that he had given the State's Attorney's Office a videotape that showed Kelly having sex with an underage girl.
SIDNER: At first, Avenatti's new evidence in superstar R. Kelly's case energized a public clamoring for justice.
(CROWD CHANTING MUTE R. KELLY)
SIDNER: But it wouldn't be long before Kelly's attorney would use Avenatti's legal troubles against him.
He is basically saying R. Kelly's case has been tainted because of what has happened to Michael Avenatti and the case is rotten.
AVENATTI: It's a desperate attorney for a desperate man. It's absolutely absurd.
SIDNER: Now, Avenatti is fighting perhaps the biggest case of his entire life, the case against him.
You're facing potential of more than 300 years in prison, if convicted. Will you fight these charges or will you make a plea deal?
AVENATTI: Well I anticipate on fighting all of these charges.
SIDNER: Have you thought about the prospect of potentially having to spend time in prison?
AVENATTI: There's no question I've thought about that. I mean I'd have to be an absolute moron to have not thought about that.
SIDNER: There are some people that are delighting in what they see is your facade being exposed.
[21:45:00] The New York Post, "Avenatti is actually the fraud, con man he accused Trump of being," The Hill, "Trump Jr. mocks Avenatti" saying "You might just get to share a cell with Michael Cohen," Politico, "Avenatti crashes and burns."
Have you crashed and burned?
AVENATTI: No, I don't think I've crashed and burned at all. I mean, look, this is a rough-and-tumble business. There's no question about that. We operate now in an environment that is more toxic politically than we have ever experienced in the history of the United States.
SIDNER: But haven't you contributed to that?
AVENATTI: Look, largely due to social media. Have I contributed to that?
SIDNER: To the toxic nature of politics.
AVENATTI: I - I don't think so because I don't think I've trafficked in nonsense and personal attacks for the most part.
SIDNER: He has also made clear why he thinks he's facing his own legal battles now.
AVENATTI: I've made a lot of powerful enemies over the years, especially over the last 18 months.
SIDNER: You're alluding to a conspiracy against you.
AVENATTI: I'm not alluding to a conspiracy. What I'm saying is--
SIDNER: You are.
AVENATTI: --what I'm saying is the facts are the facts.
SIDNER: The IRS says the fact is they've been investigating him for two years, long before Avenatti ever met Stormy Daniels.
Daniels and Avenatti parted ways earlier this year. When Avenatti was arrested for financial crimes, Daniels tweeted she was not shocked adding that he treated her extremely dishonestly. He denies being dishonest.
Was it worth it to take on this case?
AVENATTI: If you would have asked me that nine months ago, I would have said "Absolutely." As I sit here today, Sara, I - I just don't know because the price that has been paid by me and my family and those around me has been enormous.
SIDNER: You sound like a man that has been humbled by this. Is that fair?
AVENATTI: Oh, there's no question I've been humbled. Regardless of what happens, I have had an enormous life. I have had a lot of opportunities that a lot of people could only dream of. I've done a lot of things over my 48 years that lot of people would never have an opportunity to do.
SIDNER: Are you afraid you're going to lose it all?
AVENATTI: Well, of course, I'm afraid of that. I mean, again, I mean if I wasn't afraid of that, there would be something fundamentally wrong with me as a - as a man, as a human being.
But I can't have that consume me. It can't - I can't allow it to eat me up. Because otherwise I, you know, I - I might as well just, you know, I guess, crawl into a fetal position and we - wither away. And I'm not going out like that. And I'm not planning on going out. Period!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Sara Sidner.
Up next, W. Kamau Bell on this weekend's debut of Season Four of United Shades of America, what he discovered when looking into Megachurches.
[21:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell kicks off its fourth season this Sunday night, right here on CNN. For the premiere episode, Kamau takes us to Dallas for a look at a big business, focused on prayer that in many cases earns millions of dollars, Megachurches.
He joins us now for preview.
Kamau, the - the episode that's coming up this Sunday is about Megachurches. We're talking - I mean it's such a fascinating topic. Have you spent time in Megachurches before doing this?
W. KAMAU BELL, HOST, UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA: No, I mean I grew up, you know, with my mom going to church with my dad, and lot of churches in the South, like small Baptist churches, I mean churches that felt big at the time. We're talking like 500-seat churches, and these are all several thousand, yes.
COOPER: Well what - did you have an opinion about it going in?
BELL: Yes, I--
COOPER: More skepticism?
BELL: Yes. I always take a healthy dose of skepticism with me everywhere I go. And I sort of - the face of the Megachurch is sort of the more - more Joel Osteen, you know--
BELL: --the guy we talked to is Pastor Ed Young, sort of a - a White heterosexual man, dressed in a suit, there's a little bit flashiness to it.
But there's also - there's different types of Megachurches that I didn't understand. So, we talked to like Pastor Freddie Haynes who runs a Megachurch that's built on the Martin Luther King Jr. model of - of preaching. So, it's a huge church that is in social justice.
But then we also talked to Pastor Neil at the Cathedral of Hope, which is the largest LGBTQ-plus Megachurch in the world, yes.
COOPER: It's - I want to take a look at just some of - of what you found.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BELL: There are some pastors who say, "I stay out of politics."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
BELL: But there are certainly people who stand in the pulpit and say everything but, "You know, I think you should vote for somebody who's making America great again" - you know, you know, that kind of thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's kind of blatant.
BELL: What do you think about that thing about, you - you should - you should not be political?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I mean, honestly, I think it's kind of fake to say you're not political because you can't even go to the bathroom without it being political. So then why not have some kind of influence, that is, you know, righteous?
For me, it's - it's like I can't help but be involved in politics because I'm pushing for justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: How are these Megachurches, which are often very wealthy, and do have some political capital, how are they using that in politics?
BELL: Well I mean there's sort of this idea, it's like we talked to Pastor Ed who says he's not being political, but as Pastor Freddie Haynes says, you - everything you do is political.
So, even if Pastor Ed is not talking about politics, you're in Texas, the immigration crisis is going on. By not talking about that, you're sort of saying we can ignore this thing. That's political.
So, I think there's this idea like, you know, churches aren't allowed to say go vote for this candidate, but there are certainly church - Megachurches all around the country, especially in Dallas, that are basically building the framework through which they're saying "Go vote for Trump."
You know, they even call them MAGA churches. You know what I mean?
COOPER: That's all right, really?
BELL: Yes, yes, yes, so I think that there is, you know, there's this idea that we're supposed to separate church from state, and I believe like we - we haven't done that.
We should really own up to that, and say, OK, if we're going to do this, let's at least know where all this money is going because you can't - you don't really know what's going on with the money in churches.
They're not like non-profits where they have to show you where it's going. And so, the preacher we talked to, Pastor Ed is worth $11 million, you know.
And you go, OK, that's - if you want your preacher to be rich, that's fine. But isn't this about the community, you know? Is - shouldn't we be - also be able to know exactly where you're spending the money that you're doing that - that you have?
COOPER: I'm just looking at your T-shirt and thinking, "What would Anthony Bourdain think of that?" Such a great shirt.
BELL: I would have loved to have done the episode with him, so he could sit next to me, get sick, as he heard all those things.
COOPER: Yes, I know.
COOPER: I think he would have--
COOPER: --kicked out of something.
BELL: He would have gone to the barbecue part of Dallas.
BELL: And not the Megachurch fully.
COOPER: Can you say about some other upcoming episodes? What kind of topics you're looking at?
[21:55:00] BELL: You know, it's funny, one of the things that this show does for me, is I sort of - like every show, there's like a new theme that emerges. And so, we then sort of try to make an episode based on that.
Everywhere I go, airports, coffee shops, White people come up to me and say, "What can I do? How could I help? What? Can I re-tweet you more?"
COOPER: Can I re-tweet you more?
BELL: Yes, yes. And so, we have an episode that's called "Not All White People." That's about White activism, anti-racist activism in this country, including the John Brown Gun Club, which is White, liberal gun-toting people.
BELL: Yes. And then we have one about the Hmong - Hmong Americans, which is about the Secret War--
COOPER: Oh, yes, of course.
BELL: --which was something I didn't know.
COOPER: I - I'm obsessed.
BELL: Yes, you say of course.
COOPER: You know and-- BELL: I was not into it (ph).
COOPER: You know what's interesting is actually Anthony was also obsessed with the Secret War in Laos.
BELL: So, we talked with those St. Paul, Minnesota, and - and I learned all this history about the Hmong people of - and their history in Secret War. I mean it was - it was an - fascinating episode.
COOPER: Yes. W. Kamau Bell, thanks so much.
BELL: Thank you.
COOPER: Don't miss the Season Four premiere of United Shades of America with Kamau Bell, this Sunday night, 10:00 P.M. Eastern and Pacific. We'll be right back.
COOPER: News continues. Let's turn it over to CNN TONIGHT.