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FBI Warrant Reveals First Known Direct Mention of President Trump; President Trump Justifies Announcement on Twitter that there Would be Missile Strikes in Syria; National Enquirer" Paid People to Keep Silent about Stories that Would Hurt Donald Trump?; French President: "Proof" Assad Is Behind Syria Chemical Attack; Trump: U.S. Attack Could Happen "Soon Or Not So Soon At All." Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired April 12, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:04] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. A huge day of news and we are chasing it all and just moments the confirmation hearing for the president's pick for secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo. He faces a grilling from lawmakers about his record and his reputation as a war hawk.
This as we get major breaking news that could influence the imminent military action against Syria. The French president says there is proof that the Syrian regime launched a chemical attack against its own people.
At this moment, U.S. airpower, Navy destroyers, submarines preparing for a possible order from the president as the nation's top security officials meet in just the next few hours. And all of this on top of big developments that might spell new legal jeopardy for the president and his personal lawyer.
For the very first time we know the president's name is on a search warrant in an FBI investigation.
Let's go right to Abby Phillip live at the White House for the latest -- Abby.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. We are learning some new details about that search warrant that authorized the raid on Michael Cohen's home and office this week. Apparently federal investigators wanted to know what documents or any communications that Cohen might have had with President Trump about the "Access Hollywood" video.
That's that video in which then Donald Trump bragged about groping women. It was released about a month before the 2016 election and it's not clear what exactly they're looking for, what there might be, but they are apparently looking for any evidence of communication with Cohen and the president about that tape and perhaps if there was any effort on the part of Cohen to suppress the release of that tape which was ultimately leaked by some kind of whistleblower to the "Washington Post."
Now, you know, this also tracks pretty closely with some of the other stories, a litany of other stories really about secret payments allegedly made to women, Karen McDougal, Stormy Daniels and others in order to suppress their stories about their alleged relationship with the president during the campaign, but, of course this is the first time as you've mentioned that the president's name is on a search warrant in conjunction with that raid and you can perhaps see why President Trump was so angry about the prospect that Cohen's documents, cell phone, other items were seized in a surprise raid earlier this week. He's angry in part because it seems very much that this investigation is also about him.
BERMAN: Abby, we also have something of a cleanup on aisle tweet this morning. The president tried to explain or perhaps justify the announcement that he made on Twitter that there would be missile strikes in Syria.
PHILLIP: Yes. Who knew, Twitter and missile strikes don't quite go together. But here's President Trump trying to clarify what he said yesterday. He said in a tweet this morning, "I never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not soon at all. In any event the United States under my administration has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our thank you, America?"
Now this is confusing. If you're confused you would be forgiven for being that way because yesterday the president said in a tweet pretty directly the missiles are coming, speaking to Russia and warning them against their own threat that they could shoot down U.S. missiles if they were to strike in Syria.
But also our sources tell us that when the president tweeted that yesterday morning, it was done before any final decision had been made about the course of action in Syria. The U.S. is still conferring with its allies in Europe about what to do if they are going to strike, when and where, and also today we know that the national -- the president's national security team is meeting on this very issue, so this is still well under discussion and clearly the president trying to walk back a little bit some of that certainty that he put in his tweet yesterday with a little bit of confusion this morning, frankly -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House, monitoring that obviously very important situation there.
Meanwhile, a new report this morning that perhaps gets to many of the same issues at play here in the searches on Michael Cohen's home and offices namely the issue that many people close to the president, close to then candidate Donald Trump, paid to kill stories that might hurt him. In this case, a payment from the parent company of the "National Inquirer" to one of Trump's former doorman, $30,000 to keep rumors quiet, and this was just months before the same company paid a Playboy model who claims she had affair with Donald Trump.
The AP broke the story, Ronan Farrow wrote about it in "The "New Yorker." Here is Ronan just moments ago on "NEW DAY."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RONAN FARROW, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: So the reporting suggests that there was this salacious rumor of an affair, potentially a child born out of the affair. Largely baseless. We didn't uncover any evidence that this was real. However, what we did uncover very firmly was source after source within AMI saying they paid this money.
[09:05:02] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: AMI, the parent company of the "National Inquirer."
FARROW: Parent company of "National Enquirer." They then added a liquidated damages clause to this deal with this individual who had had the information from supposedly within the company, saying he would have to pay $1 million if he ever breathed a word of this and then they killed the story.
And, you know, we heard over and over again that was a direct order coming down from David Pecker, the head of this company who has publicly professed an allegiance to Trump. And this is significant, every legal expert told us, because it establishes a pattern now. This is potentially the third illicit payment during the election cycle, Stormy Daniels, which was a direct deal with that woman to silence a story that she had and then Karen McDougal's story which she first talked to us as well, and another example of through this same company that owns the "National Enquirer" a story being caught and killed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. Here to discuss now, former Federal Prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers, White Collar Criminal Defense Attorney, Sara Azari, and CNN National Political Reporter MJ Lee.
MJ, let's just fill in the blanks here just a little bit there. Ronan Farrow explaining this news story is the "National Enquirer," the parent company paying $30,000 to keep a rumor quiet. The "Enquirer" also paid Karen McDougal for what here? What's going on?
MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, I think what Ronan was saying here that there seems to be now a pattern of this kind of behavior is really, really key. If you look at the two stories of the two things that are being reported, yes, there are such similarities that are so striking in this story with the Trump Tower doorman in 2015, it is being reported that he was interviewed by reporters working for American Media and that he was paid $30,000 so that the publication could have exclusive rights to the story.
The story being that he knew that Donald Trump had fathered a child with a former employee. Now Karen McDougal remember is the former Playboy playmate who says that she had a 10-month affair with Donald Trump and was also paid a large sum of money to stay quiet about the story so that they could publish the story, and then as we all know they never decided to publish the story and she is now suing American Media so that she can get out of that contract because she wants to speak out.
BERMAN: But, Jennifer, the issue here is the pattern. This alleged pattern that the "Enquirer" paid people to keep silent about stories that would hurt Donald Trump. Legally speaking, why would that matter?
JENNIFER RODGERS, PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: Well, the legal issue really isn't the pattern, the legal issue is the conduct and the crimes that arise from the conduct namely campaign finance violations and probably bank fraud, money laundering. That sort of thing. The pattern is important because it's evidence, right? So you now are showing acts in and of themselves are likely crimes or maybe not if you actually, like in the "Access Hollywood" tape, don't have, you know, the actual quashing but show this evidence of a pattern and so, you know, that just gives you more evidence and you go into court to prove those crimes.
BERMAN: We'll get to the "Access Hollywood" tape in just a moment here. The issue is you have to prove, Sara, that this was -- in order for it to be legal and a campaign finance violation that it had a campaign value. It was to help candidate Donald Trump, not husband Donald Trump.
SARA AZARI, WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right exactly.
BERMAN: You know, not businessman Donald Trump.
AZARI: I mean, it's not about adultery as I repeatedly said. This is about a critical time right before the elections where there is this pattern as we've said, not just by AMI but by Michael Cohen involved in all of these deals to quash any negative information about a presidential candidate. That's what's wrong here along with the crimes that Jennifer's speaking about. The tax fraud that might come up, the money laundering, the bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud. I mean, I think this is just this raid is just a small crack in the lid of a can of worms that is just going to spill out.
BERMAN: You brought up the "Access Hollywood" tape here so let's transition to that. By the way, I should say that Michael Cohen's name is all over this "Enquirer" story as it was in the former "Enquirer" story that he had contacts with AMI.
BERMAN: David Pecker. Michael Cohen's apartment, his hotel room, his offices, raided. We now know that the president's name was on this warrant. What does it matter that the president's name was on this warrant?
AZARI: Well, it clearly establishes that he is involved in this investigation. I think these communications that the search warrant is seeking are between Michael Cohen and the Trump campaign, the campaign aides or maybe even Donald Trump directly. So again, to the extent that some of these communications are not privileged or they are privileged and they fall under the crime fraud exception. These communications are key evidence like Jennifer said as to what crimes occurred.
BERMAN: "Access Hollywood," when we all saw this yesterday, Jennifer, that the "Access Hollywood" tape that we all remember so well where the president says he could sexually assault women and get away with it because he was famous, when we saw that, you know, our eyebrows are raised.
What would be potentially illegal about communications between Michael Cohen and-or the president and-or the campaign, and-or anyone else about the "Access Hollywood" tape?
[09:10:07] RODGERS: So conspiracy requires two bad actors. You can't conspire with yourself. So you need two people. So Michael Cohen can't just do all of this on his own and be guilty of a conspiracy. He has to be conspiring with someone so that person might be Donald Trump. So when they're talking about trying to benefit the campaign by hushing these up, you know, that's a crime in and of itself potentially but it's only a conspiracy if there are two people involved.
So they want to know what was said. They may or may not be ever able to charge the president but at minimum they could charge Michael Cohen with the conspiracy if they learned that there were criminal conversations between the two of them.
BERMAN: But I guess what I'm getting at is what would make it a criminal conversation. I'm sure, MJ and I have had both countless political operatives and Cohen is a lawyer and an operative here for Donald Trump, yell at me in person or over the phone not to go with the story that they don't want me to go with. You know, if they don't want someone to go with the "Access Hollywood" tape that in and of itself isn't illegal. If they're trying to squash it another way, what way would it have to be for it to be a problem?
RODGERS: Well, you have to have some sort of element of coercion or bribery. Right? So what we're talking about is a benefit to the campaign and it has to be monetized in some fashion. So it's a benefit to the campaign if they squash a story by paying someone money and you can say that the benefit is basically that's really the crime here and then also, of course, there's potential bank fraud and money laundering if they're hiding money in order to make these payments.
BERMAN: Last question on this, Sara. What would the burden of proof need to be? Or what evidence must they have, the FBI investigators, to put the words "Access Hollywood" on this search warrant? It's probable cause. Would they need to have some evidence that there is something there already?
AZARI: Well, I mean, the tape is out. You know, everyone's seen and heard Donald Trump on this tape, and there's denials by Donald Trump of being -- you know, it being fake news essentially, Fake news, so it's not him. I think there's sufficient evidence to name the "Access Hollywood" tape specifically in the search warrant but I think the search warrant is far broader.
BERMAN: It is.
AZARI: A few days ago we thought it was just about Stormy Daniels and now we know that it goes to the entire pattern that we've discussed. So.
BERMAN: All right. Sara, Jennifer, MJ, thank you very much for being with us. Appreciate it.
Still to come, President Trump's National Security Council meeting this afternoon as one world leader is now claiming there is proof -- proof the chemical weapons were used in Syria. How the president respond and when?
And plus the search warrants against Michael Cohen show investigators may be zeroing in on events that occurred over one hour of one day in 2016. What happened and why the timing here might be significant?
BERMAN: This morning the French president is claiming he has proof that chemical weapons were used in the attack in Syria and that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad was behind it, this as President Trump tried to clarify a statement he made on Twitter announcing a missile strike in Syria.
Now, he says, "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. It could very soon or not so soon at all. In any event, the United States under my administration has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our, quote, "Thank you, America?"
The national security team will meet at the White House this afternoon to discuss options about the way forward in Syria. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, with us the very latest -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. The president saying that he never gave anything away about when and if a strike would be coming except, of course, for the part of his original tweet when he said missiles were coming.
So that said, what we to know is that this National Security Council meeting later today may, in fact, lead to some decisions. Nobody even knows that for sure at this point because no one knows what the president will decide even though he said missiles were coming.
The problem perhaps right now is if he backs off of that, he puts the allies, the French and the British in a very difficult position because they have been very adamant in recent days including, of course, the French president that they believe Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria and Assad himself should be held accountable.
So, where we are right now in advance of this National Security Council meeting later today in the region, there are a number of ships and aircraft all over the region, U.S. military assets that could be called upon to execute any operations that the president may decide to order.
The military is openly working on options ready to present them to the president, but he has to make that critical decision and one of the key things really for everyone involved is the target list.
Do you want to just go after airfields and things that might have been involved, locations that might have been involved in the chemical attack that they say Assad's regime executed or do you want to take the next step? Do you want to go after regime targets?
That would be a significant escalation and President Trump is well aware, the Russians are watching every minute -- John.
BERMAN: Indeed, they are. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much.
Joining me now, Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee that in just about an hour will question the president's nominee for secretary of state, the current CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Senator, I'll get to Mike Pompeo in just a moment. First, I want to get your reaction to the president trying to walk back his statement that missiles are coming in Syria. He now says, "never says when, could be soon, could be not soon." What do you make of it?
SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, obviously it's an incomprehensible contradictory set of policies that he is putting out there. It's like -- it's a diplomatic tower of babble. No one knows what he means by these tweets, I think including his own advisers.
[09:20:05] It's a terrible way to conduct foreign policy, military policy, but I just think it's all part of the chaos that has existed in the White House almost from day one and it continues on to today.
We need a president who comes to Congress if he intends on having an escalation of this conflict in Syria and he should lay out a comprehensive plan and then he should ask for the Congress to vote affirmatively upon it. That is his responsibility to the Congress and then the Congress' responsibility to discharge.
BERMAN: The funny thing is, it's always Congress' responsibility to do it, but many times the Congress shirks the responsibility as does the executive branch. They choose not to ask for Senate authority. It's interesting and refreshing in some cases to hear you call for it right now. Would you support it if the president came to you and said we should respond to this chemical attack in Syria with air power, would you vote yes?
MARKEY: Well, I would first have to understand what the president's plan was. We are dealing with Russian troops. We are dealing with Iranian troops. We have to understand, perhaps, he has a plan which would be of extended duration and much larger in terms of its operations.
That is something that would require congressional debate because it could actually come to involve American young men and women in combat inside of Syria and unless and until the president does that, then I don't think he should be allowed to engage in an activity that could lead to an escalation of American conflict in that country. BERMAN: Is there a Markey plan in which you would support airpower? Are you suggesting that any kind of air strike would not be advisable right now?
MARKEY: No, I'm saying that any kind of an air strike should, in fact, be brought to Congress so that we can understand what the president's plan is. Whether or not he's going to involve in this attack plan strikes that could hit Iranians or Russians inside of Syria and then what the response is likely to be from the Russians or Iranians from the administration's perspective.
BERMAN: Does there need to be a military response to the apparent chemical attack in your mind?
MARKEY: There's no question that the United States must be the moral leader, must be the leader in human rights on the planet, but we have to have a plan. We have to understand what we're doing. The president's struck Syria last year in April. There was no plan.
There was no follow-up and as a result there were no consequences to Assad. The Russians didn't bring out the chemicals as they promised. Assad continue today act as he had in the past. There was no follow- up plan. So, he struck last year. If he does the same thing this year that he did last year, then it ultimately historically will have no import whatsoever.
BERMAN: I'm sure this will come up in the confirmation hearings for Mike Pompeo today. You had a chance to meet with the CIA director earlier in the week in advance of his confirmation hearings to be secretary of state. Some have labeled him a hawk including you sort of.
He's called part of the president's war cabinet. He's going to address that head on in his opening statement saying it's unfair to call him that. Did he assuage your concerns?
MARKEY: Well, with the arrival of Mike Pompeo and John Bolton into the inner circle of foreign policy advisers of the president, it's very important to look at past statements that were made by Mr. Pompeo in conjunction with John Bolton looking from my perspective at nuclear nonproliferation issues.
On the Korean Peninsula, in the Middle East because there is a part of the president and I think his new advisers that could lead to pre- emptive strikes in Iran and in North Korea, and I think that it's important for the American people to understand the exact details of any nuclear nonproliferation policy, which the administration has if the North Korean talks fail, will there be a pre-emptive strike in North Korea that could be catastrophic.
In the Middle East, if the Iranian deal is, in fact, vitiated could that lead to an escalation in the Middle East of our nuclear tensions. We have to get the answers to those questions and that's what I intend on focusing upon today.
BERMAN: Senator Ed Markey from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Listen, Senator, do me a favor, do something about the weather for Monday, for the marathon up in Boston. It looks terrible right now. I'm counting on you to fix it.
MARKEY: OK. But we got to be happy with the Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox right now. I'm going to enjoy the good stuff too.
BERMAN: Thank you, Senator. I appreciate it.
MARKEY: Thank you.
BERMAN: All right. October 7, 2016, three big stories just minutes apart and now it's a big focus for investigators.
[09:25:02] Plus, we're just moments away from the opening bell. Stocks expected to rise this morning. This after the president wrote that an attack on Syria might not be so imminent.
BERMAN: New details in the Michael Cohen raid including the first known warrant that directly mentions President Trump by name. Sources say the FBI is looking for any communications between the president and his personal lawyer regarding that now infamous "Access Hollywood" tape and communications that might talk about keeping that tape from going public.