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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Michael Cohen Under Criminal Investigation; NYT: Trump Sees Cohen Probe As Greater Threat Than Mueller Investigation; Trump Called Cohen Amid Criminal Probe; Source: Cohen Brokered Payoff To An Ex- Playboy Playmate Impregnated By A GOP Donor; Trump And Comey At War; Military Advisers For The President Convene Tonight On What To Do About Syria. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired April 13, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:02] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. The president's long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen now under criminal investigation and the president himself calls Cohen today. We're learning new details on what the federal agents got in that Cohen raid.
Plus, Trump and Comey at war. The name calling from both sides as the White House goes on overdrive to discredit the fired FBI director.
And Scooter Libby pardoned. Why now? Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown by the Bush administration as an undercover CIA agent is my guest.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news. President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen under criminal investigation. This as we are learning that President Donald Trump called Cohen today. The topic, the FBI raid of Cohen's office and home on Monday.
Now, this phone call, taking place as lawyers for Trump and Cohen appeared in court in New York. The topic of the court appearance was the FBI raid of Cohen's office and home this week. A raid White House aides tell CNN has been a turning point for this president who is more angry over the raid of his personal lawyer than anything else that has come from the Mueller investigation.
Just think about that for a second. Anything else. And in fact, "The New York Times" is reporting tonight that President Trump's advisers conclude the Cohen investigation poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the special counsel's Russia investigation. That's another thing to give everyone pause for thought.
This is video of Michael Cohen sitting in the back there on the bench on the right, sitting outside his hotel in Manhattan. That's where he's been staying. It's a block from his apartment but he's been staying at a hotel room. There's group of men smoking cigars around him as the legal pressure on Cohen mounts, including a revelation that Cohen helped negotiate a $1.6 million hush agreement just a few months ago, between the man you see there, that's the vice chair of Trump's inaugural committee, top Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy, and a former Playboy Playmate. That's his wife in the picture.
Broidy today forced to resign as deputy finance chair of the RNC when the news broke today releasing a statement saying, quote, at the end of our relationship, this woman shared with me that she was pregnant. She alone decided that she did not want to continue with the pregnancy and I offered to help her financially during this difficult period. We have not spoken since that time.
This brings the number of hush payments Cohen was allegedly involved with to four. All of these developments leading to Syria's questions about Trump's relationship with Cohen. And now that we know the investigation into the president's lawyer is criminal in nature. In fact, federal prosecutors today say that Cohen told at least one witness that the only real client he had, the only real client he had was Donald J. Trump.
And as for the White House today, the Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah just telling CNN that Cohen does in fact still represent Trump. Even after Sarah Sanders was unable to answer the question at today's briefing. Here's Raj Shah.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is Michael Cohen still the president's personal attorney? You know, they've been very close for a decade.
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, last I've heard, he continues to be. That's correct.
BLITZER: Even though he's under criminal investigation?
SHAH: Yes. There's been no finding of wrongdoing against Michael Cohen either. He can answer -- he and his attorney can answer for the issues up in New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: It's pretty stunning. Evan Perez is OUTFRONT. And Evan, I mean, you know, you're talking about a sitting president. You know, that his press secretary is now saying that he's still being represented by an attorney who supposedly wasn't representing them, who's under criminal investigation. I mean, what more do you know tonight about the mounting legal troubles for Cohen?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, in case it wasn't abundantly clear from the raids, the FBI raids earlier this week, Michael Cohen, the prosecutors in Manhattan made clear today in black and white, they said that he is under criminal investigation and they said that it is for conduct largely centered on his personal business.
Now, this is an investigation that separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. They also revealed a couple of other things, including the fact that there was a covert warrant that was used to collect information from Michael Cohen's e-mails. They also said that previously, before they decided to do this search on Michael Cohen's hotel, his home, and his office, that the special counsel had actually asked Michael Cohen had asked the Trump Organization for some of this same information, and that they were very afraid that some of this information could have been destroyed or could have been deleted, and that is the reason why the FBI took the extraordinary measure to do these raids on Michael Cohen.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Evan Perez. It's pretty incredible and of course, as I've reported, I've learned from this raid that when they knocked on the door, Michael Cohen answered it, they, you know, stuck the foot in the door, the FBI agent immediately took away his phone. It was a very aggressive raid.
[19:05:04] OUTFRONT now, former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Harry Sandick, and White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, April Ryan. Also here, former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean.
Harry, you're with me, let me start with you. Michael Cohen is the personal attorney for the president as of tonight according to Raj Shah. Certainly he was for at least a dozen years. He's under criminal investigation.
According to federal prosecutors, he has told at least one witness that Donald J. Trump is his only client. How big of a deal is this?
HARRY SANDICK, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: This is a very serious turn because what people are going to wonder about is, if the case against Michael Cohen is strong, will he attempt to cooperate with the government's investigation into Donald Trump.
The reported story you mentioned that the president may be more nervous about this than the Russia investigation, perhaps points to the depth of the relationship and the long-term relationship. Who really knows exactly how many things Donald Trump and Michael Cohen have worked on together? That today may be in the fullness of time, Donald Trump wishes he hadn't done with Michael Cohen.
BURNETT: I mean, April, you know, that is pretty significant development here. The report from the New York Times that Trump's advisers believe the Michael Cohen investigation is a bigger threat and more imminent threat than the Russia aspect of the Mueller probe. Could they be right?
APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: They very well could be right. One of the reasons why, you have taped -- audio taped conversations, phone conversations that is alleged to have been part of the raid that they received. Now, if that is indeed true, there could be incriminating information on those tapes about something. It could be anything about a trail of money. It could be wire fraud, it could be bank fraud, it could be a whole host of things. So this actually could nail some of the coffin shut that they're trying to close. So this is pretty bad, but one thing we have to remember, that this attorney, Michael Cohen, and anyone who really works closely with this president is loyal to him. There is a loyalty test. We understand that the president asks for loyalty, so we'll see how all of this plays out and what will be revealed. But you have to remember, again, Michael Cohen has been loyal to the president and the president still considers him his attorney according to the deputy White House press secretary. It's very interesting turn of events.
BURNETT: I mean, John, when I spoke to Michael Cohen's lawyer a few weeks ago, he made it clear and with pride, by the way, you know, I've known Michael Cohen for a long time. Something he's very proud of.
You know, that he was the fixer. He is the guy that no matter what the president needed, and whatever time of day, he was the guy who got the phone call. Here's how Cohen's attorney put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID SCHWARTZ, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY AND SPOKESMAN: Look, Michael was the fixer. We all know Mike so, it could be anything. It's not this. There were a ton of matters that took place that Michael fixed and Donald Trump wasn't involved in every single matter, all right.
Believe me, Michael Cohen got calls at three in the morning. Michael and I would be at dinner, the boss would be calling him all the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Three in morning. At dinner. All the time, John Dean. A source telling CNN the Cohen raid was akin to a final blow. That was the word used for Trump, that his anger is beyond what anyone can imagine.
Is it partly because of those 3 a.m. phone calls? The president knows what's happened on those calls.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: He sure does, Erin. I thought his first reaction was interesting. One of his early tweets, there goes the attorney-client privilege. He must have been thinking about how he felt protected by that, but now he realizes, it probably doesn't cover all the conversations they had.
Now, I think one of the other revelations, this isn't a new investigation. Rather it's been going on for several months. So they've built a very strong case and that's how they were obviously able to get a magistrate judge to give them the power to go in there and get all the things they collected with a warrant. So, this is a lot of trouble for the president.
BURNETT: Yes, and they didn't -- you know, as the former head of the FBI Investigative Unit Chris Swecker told us the other day. Harry, he said, you don't get this kind of a warrant where you can literally stick your foot in the door and just take things. You don't get that with nothing. That's a very -- it's no-know kind of a raid. You can only get it if you can prove to the judge the person is going to destroy evidence even as you're standing there. So, that adds to the question marks here. The other thing that add to it is that the president of the United States called Michael Cohen today. Good move?
SANDICK: That is not a good idea. If you're a criminal defense lawyer, the first thing you tell your client who may be a subject of an investigation or even if they're just the witness, don't talk to the other people who are part of the investigation if you can avoid it at all.
There is a concern. The government will look at this and wonder what happened in that call. Were there threats made? Were there promises made?
[19:10:00] Did the president try to encourage Michael Cohen to keep the faith, the hope that there might be a pardon and to remain loyal to him?
As April said, we do know that this is a relationship that has loyalty as a key component. And was that discussed in the call? We don't know. So the better course is don't talk to other people in the investigation.
BURNETT: And now we know that's exactly what's happening. And April, it comes as there's alleged -- that Cohen was allegedly involved in brokering payoffs to three people to protect Donald Trump, right. Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, and a door man who said that he had information about some sort of an illegitimate child, right. They deny that any of these things happen but these hush payments, Cohen allegedly involved in.
And now you have Elliott Broidy. A top donor to the Republican National Committee who raised money with Donald Trump Jr. and others during the campaign. Now, he gets a playmate pregnant and Michael Cohen is the guy who negotiated the hush payment it seems.
RYAN: And it seems that the wrongdoing or the alleged wrongdoing is all about money. And the special prosecutor is following the trail of money. Something that this president did not ever want to disclose. The trail of money is really where it all lies.
And again, it's about that circle, that close knit circle to protect Donald Trump the civilian, and now, Donald Trump the president. And this president has withheld, but he does a lot of talking. And if he had not done a lot of talking about things, maybe a lot of this would not be right now. He has not listened to the advice of attorneys and now, you're here at a point where they're following the trail of money and more is being disclosed over and over again. It's all about the money.
BURNETT: It's all about the money, John Dean. And the money that we have seen, I mean, look, there's going to be more involved, but the money that we have seen, at least all of it thus far, has involved payments to shut people up about inappropriate sexual affairs. DEAN: That's true. And while that may not be per se illegal, depending on how they got the money, where the money came from, what reporting requirements might be connected with it, it could become illegal. You know, Erin, men who become president have something of a student of that office, they sort of assume that they're not vulnerable when they get there. And I think that has been the effect on Trump and I think he thinks he's above it all. But he's going find out that isn't true.
BURNETT: All right. Perhaps he brought that heir of invulnerability with him. And I guess actually seems he's much more vulnerable now than he was perhaps when he was a private citizen.
Thank you all three very much.
And OUTFRONT next, the White House pushing back hard tonight against Jim Comey, the fired FBI director amid a steady stream of revelations coming out in his new book.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Comey will be forever known as a disgraced partisan hack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: How do you really feel, Sara?
Plus, the White House tonight weighing in on Rod Rosenstein's fate. The big unknown of course is the president himself.
And President Trump pardoning former Bush official Scooter Libby, a guy that George W. Bush himself wouldn't pardon. Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose life was turned upside down in that scandal is my guest.
[19:17:01] BURNETT: New tonight, Trump's Twitter tirade against Jim Comey. 2The president firing off tweets in response to the fired FBI director's remarks about the president in his new book. Here they are.
"James Comey is a proven leaker and liar. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did until he was in fact fired. He leaked classified information for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under oath. He is a weak and", and then the tweet continues, "untruthful slime ball, who was as time as proven, a terrible director of the FBI. His handling of the crooked Hillary Clinton case and the events surrounding it will go down as one of the worst botched jobs in history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey."
OK, so that's his side of it. You heard Jeffrey Toobin. OK, meantime, Comey's first interview since being fired started to hit the air waves. Here he is with George Stephanopoulos. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: Honestly, I never thought these words would come out of my mouth but I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible but I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Are we living an alternate universe? Well, we think this is real life unless we truly we're in some, you know, I don't know, parallel universe when this happened.
James Gagliano, retired FBI supervisory special agent joins me along with Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor.
Jeff, you know, it is pretty incredible when you -- to see that exchange on both sides that we're talking about prostitutes peeing in a hotel room in Moscow, week slime balls. I mean, the whole thing is sordid on all sides. But start with the president calling Comey a weak slime ball and everything else. Is that ever warranted from the president of the United States even though he's right? By the way, people on both sides did hate Jim Comey at some point.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he's right that some people hated him. There's a lot in there that's highly controversial. There is no proof that he leaked classified information for example, so I think we need to be -- you know, we can't get that backward.
But way Donald Trump expresses himself on Twitter and in general is just something new under the sun in terms of how presidents of the United States behave. I mean, we're now sort of used to it I think. I mean, we've read so many tweets by him that are so intemperate and vulgar, but, you know, that's just how he expresses himself. He got elected president that way, and that's just the way -- he's obviously not going change, it work pretty well for him, so.
BURNETT: Well, there might be some negative words you could come up with for Jim Comey, weak slime ball would not be two of them. James, let me just read some more of what Comey wrote in his book about Trump, OK. He writes, "His face appeared slightly orange with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles and impressively coifed bright blond hair which upon close inspection looked to be all his. As he extended his hand, I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so."
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: We are witnessing the diminution of what was once I thought a man of great probity and more rectitude and someone I respected the two years of my 25-year career that I worked under him.
[19:20:07] Look, people have been saying this on a number of different networks, if you criticize James Comey, you are guilty of character assassination. Let me just set this out. I spent 25 years in the FBI. When James Comey was fired on May 9th, I came on the air waves here on CNN and I called the president repugnant and reprehensible for the manner in which he dispatched a career public servant.
But James Comey's actions through revelations testimony from the Intel Committee last June, testimony about how he handled matters with an attorney general that tended to deal with some things that politicized or potentially politicized FBI investigations. I've come to this determination. James Comey might be a good man. We're all fallible human beings, we're mortal, but he was affectless leader. And this book, what he had done with this, and the manner of which he's gone out now in public square and tried to out Trump, Trump, it's a bad look.
TOOBIN: I really do disagree. You know, public officials have been writing books since the days of Ulysses S. Grant and before that. You know, they're entitled to express how they feel and what people -- I mean, you know, the question we always have, maybe this is because I'm book writer myself.
TOOBIN: You always ask someone, what's it like. And what was it like dealing with Donald Trump? That's what this book is about. I think that's a valuable public service. He's not obligated to make the book boring, he's making it interesting which is what all book authors should do.
BURNETT: And James, what he said was, OK, so you got the comment about the hands which I guess agree, you know, smart people could agree to disagree on. But he goes on to say a lot of very, very serious things. This president is unethical and untethered to truth and institutional values. There's nothing more substantive than that.
GAGLIANO: So let me not disagree with Jeffrey, we all have a right to right a book. Here's where James Comey doesn't and you'll tell me, well, First Amendment, you know, that Trumps everything excused upon. Here's the issue, all FBI employees and the people that say that James Comey is no longer an FBI employee, the Department of Justice defines an employee as someone who holds or who has held a held a position of public trust in the agency. And they also say this, there are 13 different reasons you are not allowed to disclose information called prohibited disclosures.
One of them is, when you provide material that is relevant or salient to an open or ongoing investigation or case. Tell me that James Comey's book, which is predicated on nine interactions with the president is not related to the I.G. report and the Russia probe.
TOOBIN: Well, it is, but, Erin, most of what's in the book is what he testified about in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And testifying before Congress is one of the core obligations of people who served in the executive branch and -- you know, both past and present. So, I mean, I just think there is a public interest in airing the story of how James Comey was fired, how, you know, the president behaved. The president is under investigation, you know, as Jim said, for, you know, obstruction of justice in connection with Comey's firing.
I think it's deeply in the public interest.
BURNETT: So, which, you know -- we played the sound bite when he said I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible but I don't know, right weighing in. Obviously, he left --
TOOBIN: That was Trump, not Obama, right?
TOOBIN: Think about how we have declined so quickly. The idea that's -
BURNETT: Well, that's my point. I can't even believe I'm saying this. That's why I made the alternate universe comment. I make it unjust but not unjust. I mean -- but here he continued to say this, and I'm just curious as whether you think these things go too far about talking about an ongoing investigation and this claim which obviously could put him at risk of blackmail.
2Here he is talking more about the prostitutes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: How weird was that briefing?
COMEY: Really weird. It's almost an out of body experience for me. I was floating above myself looking down saying you're sitting here briefing the incoming president of the United States about prostitutes in Moscow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: You don't feel that he went too far.
TOOBIN: Not in the slightest. It answers the fundamental question, what was it like. That's what it was like. That's a public service.
GAGLIANO: But not during an ongoing investigation. James Comey had an --
BURNETT: He doesn't know what's happening in the investigation anymore, right. He stopped knowing the day he was fired, so how is he violating anything?
GAGLIANO: Erin, Jeff, he is a central witness in the Russia probe. He's a central witness in the I.G. probe, he's a central witness in a number of open investigations on Capitol Hill.
BURNETT: So, didn't he testify to what happened about that loyalty (INAUDIBLE)?
GAGLIANO: He has. But are you telling me that there is a greater need at this moment while this consequential Russia probe that has the entire country, the world riveted --
TOOBIN: But, how does this hurt the Russia probe, I mean, that book. What's the problem?
GAGLIANO: He is speaking about matters that are still under investigation. So he didn't hurt himself, and I know it's not technically a perjury attack, but he may see things during one of his stops along the whistle stop tour that's different than something he said in a book and different in something he might have said in a deposition.
[19:25:03] TOOBIN: But that's his problem.
GAGLIANO: It absolutely is. It's a bad look. When an FBI director says things like, I didn't have the courage in that moment to stand up to the president or I felt mildly queasy but didn't push back in I.G. You lose a respect to people like me that spent half of our life or more as some people have. You lose our respect.
We want you to be a man of more courage to stand up and push back on a bully and he hasn't done it. He's doing it in a book.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both.
OK. And next, more breaking news. We're getting new details about what FBI agents got in the raid on Michael Cohen. We have a very significant development of what they got. It's pretty stunning actually, coming up.
And breaking news, National Security Adviser John Bolton reportedly pushing for military strikes in Syria. This coming as the military advisers for the president convene tonight on what to do. Will the strike come imminently?
BURNETT: Breaking news, we are at this second getting new details about what federal agents got in the raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
I want to go straight to Gloria Borger who is breaking this story. Gloria, what did they find?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Erin, CNN has learned tonight that when the FBI raided Michael Cohen's office, his apartment, and his hotel room, they seized audio recordings between Cohen and Keith Davidson. Davidson, you might remember was Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal's first lawyer. He's the guy who negotiated their hush money and of course he no longer represents either one of them.
The recordings could prove really valuable to the government's investigation of Cohen, who as we all know is under scrutiny for his role in trying to keep these alleged affairs secret before the Presidential election. And the warrant that last week specifically mentioned these women. Now Cohen as you know has admitted absolutely no wrong doing and we also know the President has denied any affairs. And I should add that we do not know how many calls were recorded or what the conversations specifically contained, but we do know now that the Feds have them.
ERIN BURNETT: We know they have them and Gloria just a few questions. Do we know when? I mean, we know Keith Davidson as you point out, at some point represented Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal and also apparently this RNC donor Elliott Broidy's playmate with whom he had an affair.
BURNETT: We don't - - do you have any sense of the timing that these tapes were - - were made? Did he have about all of them? How many are they?
BOLGER: We don't know. You know - - we - - you know, that's a really good question Erin and - - and - - and the truth is we don't know - - we don't know the answer to that. I mean, they just grabbed everything they could. And we know that these two attorneys had multiple conversations, even - - even recently they had multiple conversations. Because as you recall in an interview with - - with Sara Sidner on - - on CNN, Keith Davidson said he spoke to - - he spoke to Michael Cohen just recently who told him to spill his guts.
So, we know that there was some constant contact. But I would also tell you that a spokesman for Davidson tells Sara Sidner this evening that he never consented to having anything recording and that he's willing to pursue all his legal rights. Because you know, recording conversations in certain states can be illegal depending, you know, upon where the parties are.
BURNETT: Right. Which I know, I guess you're talking here about a lawyer in New York and a lawyer possibly in California.
BURNETT: And they are two very different laws.
BOLGER: Exactly. Exactly.
BURNETT: I believe California both parties need to know and in New York only one.
BURNETT: I'm not a lawyer but I think that is right.
(JEFFREY TOOBIN): Erin that is right.
BURNETT: All right. Gloria, thank you very much.
BURNETT: Big development here broken by Gloria. Jeffrey Toobin is back with me and also joining us President Bill Clinton - - Clinton's advisor ,Paul Begala and Former Trump Campaign Advisor, Steve Cortes.
Jeff, let me start with you though. You know, what we know is they have tapes of conversations between these two lawyers.
TOOBIN: Right. And let - - let me give you an example of something investigators will be very interested in.
BURNETT: Yes. 2 TOOBIN: Which is Cohen has said that the reason he paid Stormy Daniels out of his own money was that he wanted to protect the Trump family. He said it had nothing to do with the campaign, even though it was October 28th when the deal was struck. Right? Right before the election. If there are tapes of him talking to - - to Stormy's lawyer about the election and saying we've got to get this done before the election then it puts Cohen in more jeopardy of a campaign finance violation. Because it looks like the money is an - - an unlawful campaign contribution. So, certainly one thing that the investigators will be listening for is any references to the campaign in those conversations.
BURNETT: You know, it - - it also begs the question Steve of why Michael Cohen would - - would save these calls. Right? Presumably because he thought he looked good in them or he needed the evidence or good in them to show somebody else, maybe his only client Donald Trump. I don't know. But it's - - it's - - Steve, does it seem strange to you that he would record this stuff?
CORTES: I mean, look that's a question to ask him not me. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not Michael Cohen. What I am is an American who supported Donald Trump and who supported Donald Trump I think like most Americans who support him knowing full well by the way, that there was a colorful past there. Particularly before he was a politician, so is this really revelatory. Like, is this really news to most of America that perhaps a dozen years ago, he had a one night stand or he had an affair?
If true, and I'm not saying it is, if true. Like, would that have changed anyone's votes? Would that change our decision of what he's doing today as President of the United States? I guess my answer to all of those questions is we know not relevant, not germane, not - - not - - nothing to do with today. This is a witch hunt. I mean, can't we understand that? That this is an attempt - -
BURNETT: So Paul do you think it's a witch hunt? Or do you put more stake in what the President's close advisors are saying tonight? Which is they believe that the investigation into Michael Cohen is a greater and more imminent threat to the President than Bob Mueller's investigation?
BEGALA: Yes. I - - I just was actually agreeing with Cortes until that last statement. In other words, I don't think voters cared at all that Mr. Trump had had a checkered, colorful private life. Why then pay Stormy Daniels $130,000? There was no allegation that - - that it was not consensual. Miss Daniels in her interview with Anderson Cooper - - BURNETT: She's been very clear it was consensual.
BEGALA: Right. So I think Steve's right about that. What he's wrong about is that - - that if - - if in fact as Toobin says this was designed to affect the election and the timing is certainly really suggestive that it was. Then you could be in violation of the campaign finance laws. They should have listened to you Steve. They should - - Mr. Trump then, should have just come out and said, look. OK. I - - I - - I made a mistake in my marriage whatever - - yes, that would have been fine. But you can't spend - - if - - if in fact they did spend $130,000 to affect the election and not report it, not disclose it. But - -
CORTES: But hold on. This is an important point. What if it wasn't to affect the election? Let's - - let's - - again, and I'm not saying it happened, but let's say it did. Let's say he did sleep with Stormy Daniels. Wouldn't it be plausible at least Paul that - - that this money might have been spent to preserve his marriage rather than the election? I mean, isn't that plausible?
BEGALA: Two weeks before the election, no. Sorry. Because the - - the affair happened like 10 years ago and - - and I just, to me - -
BURNETT: Of course, we now know it happened - - it happened more than once. Go - - go ahead.
TOOBIN: I - - I - - I also think, you know, I mean, it's - - it's fine to be cynical about this - - this election and that oh, people knew everything about Donald Trump. You know, it may be that people knew that Donald Trump had a complicated marriage. But no one knew, as far as I'm aware, that he was paying hush money - -
TOOBIN: - - to all these women.
TOOBIN: And I think the fact that that didn't come out may well have had an impact on the election. So the idea that oh, everyone knew everything about Donald Trump. None of this matters. I don't buy that at all.
BURNETT: Yes. Go ahead.
CORTES: This was not - -we - - everyone knew Donald Trump is an outsider. He was not a politician. He did not live his life like a politician. Thank goodness. Right?
TOOBIN: Is that what is called being an outsider when you pay women hush money for that - -
CORTES: No. No. No. But hold on Jeffrey. Listen, there's a dark side to that. There's also a light side. The light side that he was not scripted. He was not careful. He was not lawyerly. And I think - -
BEGALA: He was certainly not (INAUDIBLE).
CORTES: - - that - - that - - that lended itself to being a politician. And the American people understood that and knew him, knew him very well. The - - the - - the star of the number one reality show in America, we knew him. And he never pretended that he was St. Francis of Assisi. So that was never offered to the American people. We were not mis-sold. We - - we - - we were not led down a primrose path. We knew who he was - -
BURNETT: But having no morals when it comes to your sexual life is different than having no morals when it comes to skirting the law to cover it up or lie or pretend. I mean, and - - and I think there's a lot of people who might see a distinction between those two things.
BEGALA: I - - I think the most important thing that Gloria's reporting is to quote Jim Comey, "Lordy there's tapes. There are tapes." John Oliver didn't know how right he was when he coined this stupid Watergate. Now we have stupid tapes. What the hell - - Michael did you pay full pay price for that law degree? Because what the hell are you doing recording these things?
BURNETT: Before we go, I've just got to ask you. Keith Davidson - -
BURNETT: - - at one point representing all three of the women that we are now aware of, Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal and now the playmate who was involved with the RNC donor.
BURNETT: I - - I find that to be strange. Am I right to ask the question as to why these three people who essentially don't know each other all have the same lawyer? (INAUDIBLE) by the way also.
TOOBIN: It - - it could be - - it could be that this is simply a specialty he has and he and - - and - - you know, lawyers do develop specialties. The more sinister (INAUDIBLE) - -
BURNETT: So all these women would know who the lawyer with that - -
TOOBIN: But - - but - - but the most - - the more sinister possibility is that Cohen himself arranged - - arranged for these women to be represented by someone he knew he could do business with. That's the - - that's a more - - that's a more sinister possibility. CORTES: Let me give you an even more cynical view. The - - the more cynical view and this is, I think, the honest view and I think this is what Trump voters believe. The swamp is trying to nullify the 2016 election. That is what is going on here. Let's be honest about this. This is about impeachment. It's not about a crime. There's no crime here. It's about - -
BURNETT: (INAUDIBLE) idea if there's a crime. I mean, Steve just to be fair. Right?
BURNETT: - - any idea if there's a crime.
CORTES: - - for impeachment. Because - - because so many people particularly elites in media and entertainment cannot accept that they got 2016 so wrong. And so this is their attempt to try to go back and hit the redo button. Let's find something solacious - -
BURNETT: If there's a criminal investigation that's been going on for an extended period of time in the southern district of New York and they get a warrant for a no know essential search. You just took it as dismissed as media politics?
CORTES: Listen, I believe this. I think this is the swamp acting at it's very worst, trying to nullify the will of the people in 2016. I do.
BURNETT: OK. So - - so - - so you have someone here saying that law enforcement is now part of a political media cabal against Trump?
TOOBIN: Yes. I - - I mean - - I - - respectfully I - - I just think it's ridiculous. I mean you have - - you have the U.S. attorney's office in the southern district. You have the FBI. You have the Mueller investigation which has assembled all these guilty pleas already. And the idea that this is some attempt by the elite whoever they are to - - to redo the election.
CORTES: We know who they are.
TOOBIN: I mean, it's just silly. Oh you do, well you give me a list sometime I guess.
BURNETT: Well yes - -
CORTES: Well it would start with the DOJ. It would start with McCabe and Mueller and Rosenstein.
TOOBIN: The Department of Justice?
CORTES: Yes. And by the way, the - - the Department of Justice unfortunately has been insanely politicized and that's a shame. Because - -
BURNETT: And all the Republicans leading this investigation in the southern district of New York because they are all Republicans Steve. Just - -
CORTES: To be Republican doesn't mean anything with this President. I mean Erin, respectfully, we know that. Right? The Republicans in Washington, D.C. are as obstructionists as the Democrats if not more so towards this President. This is the swamp against the people. And that's what's going on here. That's the reality of the bottom line here.
BEGALA: This is why Squid Squirt, Inc. To try to cloud the waters. Nice try, Cortes.
BURNETT: Thank you all. I appreciate it. Next, the President pardons Former Bush Administration Official Scooter Libby. Is he sending a message to former aides caught up in the Mueller probe? Valerie Plame, the CIA operative outed by the Bush Administration is out front next. And breaking news, the President increasingly frustrated on the speed of the U.S. response to Syria. New reporting on the warning he's getting from his military advisors tonight.
BURNETT: Tonight President Trump pardoning Scooter Libby, an extremely controversial pardon. Even George W. Bush who's administration Libby served in refused to pardon him. Libby was Vice- President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff and he was accused of lying to FBI investigators and obstructing justice. All of this in a special counsel investigation into who leaked the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. Plame was an undercover CIA officer. Her identity was exposed in 2003 and she is out front now. And Valerie it's wonderful to see you again. Thank you for taking your time tonight. Why do you think Trump is pardoning Scooter Libby right now?
PLAME: Timing is everything isn't it. Thanks for having me on. Look, Donald Trump is doing what President George W. Bush did not and this has nothing to do with justice. I think the timing is not coincidental. There's been a lot of talk about the pressure that Donald Trump is under, more so probably in the last 48 hours than the previous months of his Administration.
And so this is a way of, to my mind sending a very clear signal to Manafort, Kushner, Cohen, Flynn, that you can go ahead. If you are - - if you get wrapped up in this. You're caught lying to the FBI, committing a crime in national security. It's OK. I'll take care of you. Because we know Trump values loyalty above all else, above party, above country.
BURNETT: Now Sarah Sanders was asked, you know, basically what you're saying today. You know, if there was a reason for the pardon. Right? Whether it was for Trump to send a signal to the current special council Bob Mueller or as your pointing out to people who might be charged by him or might cooperate with him. Here's the exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Was the President sending some sort of signal to the Mueller investigation or about the Mueller investigation by pardoning Scooter Libby?
SARAH SANDERS: Not at all. One thing has nothing to do with the other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Do you buy it?
PLAME: I'm not sure that the Press Secretary has a tremendous amount of credibility. No, I don't buy it at all. I think that this is - - this is a travesty of - - of justice. What we're seeing now is as it's unfolding - - we don't want to see that Trump is - - he's gone ahead and do this - - done this and it's - - it's really disgraceful.
BURNETT: Jim Comey, of course as you know Valerie, was involved with the Libby case. He was the Deputy Attorney General at the time. He is the one who actually appointed the special council who investigated the - - the case. Is it coincidence that this pardon for Scooter Libby is happening on the same day that Comey's book excerpts, I'm sorry, came out?
PLAME: Yes. No, I don't think it is a coincidence at all. I - - I think Donald Trump has done a very good job, a masterful job in fact, of distraction. Over here. Over there and this is, I think, one more example of that. Look, the - - it's important to point out that George W. Bush decided not to pardon Scooter Libby. He said I respect the jury's verdict.
PLAME: And I think this is another example of Donald Trump completely disrespecting those that have served their country. He was given - - he had an opportunity to serve in Vietnam and he took as we know at least four to five deferments.
BURNETT: You know, your undercover career was ended by this leak and you have, you know, had a lot of soul searching about this. You've spoken about it Valerie. At the heart of it, right, maybe it was obstruction of justice and perjury but it was all about a leak. Right? An underlying thing that happened. The President though, this President, Donald Trump has taken a very strong stand on leaks. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We're going to find the leakers. We're going to find the leakers. They're going to pay a big price for leaking. Papers are being leaks. Things are being leaked. It's criminal action, criminal act. I've actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. Those are criminal leaks. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So he's outraged at leakers. Right? Brings it up again and again and again.
BURNETT: But he is not just pardon the person who was charged with lying about a leak. A leak that ended your career. Your reaction?
PLAME: Yes. Yes. Well the irony is not lost to me. If none of that had happened, I would be overseas right now, undercover, doing the job that I loved. I loved my career. I was so proud to serve my country. I worked on nuclear counter proliferation. Trying to make sure bad guys did not get nuclear weapons. If Scooter Libby and there were others involved absolutely in the leak of my CIA identity. It was definitely a - - a codery of senior Bush White House officials that lead to the leak of my name. If none of that had happened, I wouldn't be sitting here this evening and I would be overseas doing my job.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much Valerie. I appreciate it.
PLAME: Thank you. Thank you Erin.
BURNETT: And next, breaking news on Syria. President Trump getting significant warnings tonight on the risk the United States faces if he chooses to strike. We'll be right back.
BURNETT: Breaking news, President Trump's National Security team just met hours ago on Syria. CNN learning that Trump is butting heads with his advisors including Defense Chief Jim Mattis. Officials briefed on the conversations say Trump has pushed for plans for a sustained assault on Syria -- sustained assault, the words. But Mattis and other members of Trump's National Security team are resisting that.
It comes after the President tweeted on Wednesday quote, "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia because they will be coming. Nice and new and smart." Jim Sciutto is OUTFRONT.
All right Jim, so what is the debate going on? I mean, you know, you're saying that Trump pushing for a sustained assault. Obviously there is some serious pushback within his own inner circle.
SCIUTTO: Well the debate not about whether to strike but how much to strike in effect. As you said President Trump also joined we are told by his new National Security Advisor John Bolton and Nikki Haley the U.N. Ambassador pushing for a more sustained attack than we saw this time last year against Syria. Mattis not so much saying no to that, but warning the President of the risks of that. Particularly the risks of escalation with Russia, Russia with an enormous military presence there now. And that of course poses enormous risks with the number of Russian
forces on the ground there, risk of miscalculation etcetera. We're told that the President has been somewhat frustrated with that pushback with the options so far presented to him. We're also told of some frustration from his National Security staff of feeling boxed in. Their hand forced by that tweet that you just showed up there earlier this week. That does not mean they won't come to an agreement. You have debates like this regarding military action. But that's been the debate perhaps explaining some of the delay we've seen so long - - so far this week.
BURNETT: Now, there's also a question of course, the White House, State Department say they have high confidence that Syria and I - - I suppose specifically let's just be clear here because there's so many players. But Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the chemical attack. Is there any doubt at all, I mean, you know, in terms of going to the ground, figuring this out, testing it, confirming, that Bashar al- Assad is responsible in - - in this Administration?
SCIUTTO: There's little doubt one, that Bashar al-Assad is responsible. He has the resources. He has done this many times before. And two, that this was not just a chlorine attack which is serious enough. But it also involved some sort of nerve agent, which made it that much worse. Little doubt of that. The question is really about the firmness of the evidence here. One handicap the U.S. has is it doesn't have it's own inspectors on - - on the ground. Boots on the ground at the site of the attack to gather the evidence themselves. They got it from parties, friendly parties on the ground which will always, when you're looking at intelligence raise some question.
SCIUTTO: So it's - - it's not about who did it and what they used so much but about how hard the evidence is that you have that you could present to the international community. Build international support et cetera. And that's been another question raised by Mattis to the President.
BURNETT: Well it's a crucial question. Right? You're talking about striking. You're talking about killing more people. You're talking about possibly killing Russians. I mean, it's not - - it's not a small thing to say that we should be 100 percent. All right Jim, please stay with me. I want to bring in Colonel Cedric Leighton, military analyst, former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Colonel, what do you make of this? Jim's reporting right? That the President wants a sustained assault on Syria but there's a lot of debate. And Jim Mattis, for one, seems to be wanting to get to 100 percent in terms of being sure before they move ahead.
LEIGHTON: Well I think Erin it's really about the degree of certainty that their willing to accept. And what we're dealing with here is - - is somebody, in the form of Secretary Mattis who has been known as Mad Dog now is the restraining force on the Trump Administration. Now I think it's very important that what we see here is really the military system working to really educate the President on not only his options, but also what the possible consequences of those options will be. And that's going to be the critical part of this.
BURNETT: Do you think Colonel that they are - - they are essentially as Jim was saying, essentially boxed in or their hand is forced by that tweet that he sent. Get ready Russia. Right? That - - that there is no option now but to strike. It's just a matter of how broadly and when.
LEIGHTON: Exactly. It's going to be not only how broadly and when but also with - - with what set of targets. And those kinds of things that have to be hammered out in great detail in order for it to be very effective, the target list that is done in a situation like this has to be precise because you want to hit it once. You want to get it right. And you want to make sure that the - - you have level of destruction that you need in order to send the message.
BURNETT: Jim, what's your feeling at this time? I mean, I know you don't exactly but is your feeling this is something that happens over the weekend or could even be after that?
SCIUTTO: You - - you never know. But - - but I think we should be prepared to see something happen. We should certainly be prepared for it.
BURNETT: Yes. And of course it could - - it could happen at any point. You know. Foreign Relations Committee Senator Murphy telling me he thought it was probably imminent. You know everybody's waiting for it. Thank you both so very much. I appreciate it. And thanks so much to all of you for joining us.
"AC360" with Anderson Cooper begins right now.