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Trump Slams Report His Lawyer Cohen Could Flip; World Reacts to North Korea's Suspension of Nuclear Testing; Earth Day Highlights Environmental Crisis. Aired 12m-1a ET

Aired April 22, 2018 - 00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Donald Trump angry over recent headlines, questioning his personal attorney's loyalty. The U.S. president strikes back on Twitter.

And cautious optimism around the world after North Korea says it will suspended nuclear tests. We'll be live in Seoul, South Korea.

Plus Earth Day being observed around the globe with a focus this time on ending plastic pollution.

Live from the CNN NEWSROOM here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier. Great to have you with us.

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VANIER: Judging by Donald Trump's Twitter account, the U.S. president was in a bad mood Saturday morning, pushing back strongly against speculation that his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, could turn on him.

Mr. Trump lashed out against "The New York Times" on Twitter, insulting one of its reporters by name because of an article suggesting that Cohen might end up cooperating with investigators currently looking into his business dealings.

"The New York Times" is standing by its reporting and that report also details how, for years, Mr. Trump has treated his personal lawyer with contempt. But the president responds that he has always liked and respected Michael Cohen. CNN's Boris Sanchez has more.

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BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president lashing out on Twitter Saturday, attacking, among others, "The New York Times" and one of its reporters, Maggie Haberman. The president taking exception to an article published Friday that indicates that he's had a troubled relationship historically with his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The article suggests that Cohen could potentially flip on President Trump, something that searches have told CNN that legal experts have told the president he should prepare for; that is, if Michael Cohen has any incriminating information about President Trump, that he may comply with investigators in order to get a more lenient sentence.

The president responding to those suggestions via Twitter, saying that he does not believe that Cohen would do that, even going as far as to say that other people in similar situations have made up stories to investigators in order to get lighter sentences.

Now the reporter behind that story, Maggie Haberman, is standing by her reporting. She cites six different sources that indicates that historically President Trump has treated his personal attorney like an animal. Listen to this.

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MAGGIE HABERMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Michael Cohen, over the years, has done all kinds of things at the president's urging because the president wanted him to, because he came to intuit what he thought the president would want. It didn't always work out. Sometimes those things were handled in a way that was rather ham-fisted or that came back to bite the president later. The Stormy Daniels case would be one of them.

But Cohen was basically trying to do right by his boss and was seeking his boss' approval. And Trump, time after time, treated him -- you know, Trump is very fond of using the phrase, "like a dog."

He treated Cohen quite poorly over a period of time.

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SANCHEZ: Also drawing the president's ire on Saturday, former FBI director James Comey, who has continued his media tour, promoting his new book, "A Higher Loyalty," a book that is disparaging of the president.

Trump on Saturday calling James Comey yet again a leaker who revealed classified information. The president also went further in his attacks on Democrats after news Friday that the DNC had filed a lawsuit that named members of Trump's campaign as well as Russians and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, suggesting that those three conspired to interfere in the 2016 election. The president mocking that lawsuit on Saturday -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, traveling with the president in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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VANIER: So let's discuss all of this with my panel. Conservative talk show host Ben Ferguson is with us; Democratic strategist Dave Jacobson is with us.

Thank you both. Let's start with the speculation around Michael Cohen and the possibility that he might turn on the president.

Ben, what does the president and what do his allies have to worry about if Donald Trump's done nothing wrong?

BEN FERGUSON, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I think you always have to worry if someone wants to give themselves a better deal, if they feel like they're feeling the pressure, if they may say things that are untrue or may give information out that could actually help with extending an investigation, even if nothing's there.

This is -- there's no doubt that this is a concern when your personal attorney is putting the situation on what he may say, whether it is true or not true, you just don't know. And it depends on a lot of different things --

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VANIER: Ben, if there's nothing there and if Michael Cohen says something that is not true and that has been an argument of the president, right, that anybody under pressure will talk and will quote-unquote "flip," even if they say things are lies, if there's nothing and if they're lying, then the investigation will uncover that.

FERGUSON: Well, and that's what you hope. The question is how long will it be used against you politically --

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FERGUSON: -- how long will it last into the next campaign or past the midterms for that matter.

And so I think you would always -- it would be normal to be concerned about this. So let's also be clear, there's been a lot of people that were involved in this investigation and there was no issues with collusion but there were issues in their own personal business side that got them in trouble.

The former campaign chairman of Donald Trump's campaign is a great example of this and, again, I don't think there was anything there for the president to worry about except for the fact you still have an ongoing investigation.

VANIER: Dave.

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think largely it's a function of how many years Michael Cohen could potentially face if there are charges that are put forward. He once said that he would take a bullet for the president.

(INAUDIBLE) to one year, that (INAUDIBLE) loyalty (INAUDIBLE).

If it's 18 years or 18 bullets, theoretically, that's a different conversation. Let's not forget: Michael Cohen has a wife. He's got two children; 18+, 20 years is a substantial amount of time. Anybody facing that has to be considered somebody who might to (INAUDIBLE) talk. The question is what does Michael Cohen know?

Does he know where the bodies are buried?

What kind of goods do federal prosecutors have on Michael Cohen?

What were they able to find when they raided his apartment, his office, his hotel room. Those are all the big unknowns and we're just unclear potentially on that.

Now look, you've got Donald Trump saying that Michael Cohen is loyal but he also said that of Michael Flynn, of other folks who had been charged with Russia probe; Rick Gates.

Paul Manafort obviously has not flipped. He is going to be defending himself in court in July. But the question is, will he flip in the future potentially if Bob Mueller finds something potentially connected to this Michael Cohen investigation.

VANIER: And, Ben, are we at a redline territory now?

Remember when the president had said my personal finances, that would be crossing a redline?

FERGUSON: I think you're very close to redline but I don't know if the president honestly has the political power to fire people at this point because there are so many people that would come down on him and say, how dare you do that? Let this thing play out.

If you have nothing to hide, why did you fire these individuals?

I do believe that this has gone way outside the scope of what this was supposed to initially be about, which was the simple issue of collusion. Let's be clear. No one is --

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VANIER: -- hey, we're not talking about the Russia investigation anymore. This is not the special counsel, Bob Mueller, investigating Michael Cohen. This is the U.S. attorney for Manhattan.

FERGUSON: Right but we also know that this came through the Russian investigation and what we've had --

VANIER: Sure, but the content --

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FERGUSON: -- let me finish this point that I'm trying to make here, which is this, everyone that's been charged a crime has not been with the issue of collusion. Everybody is been telling their personal lives, their business lives and if I'm the President of the United States of America, what I would be feeling like right now is that this clearly has been weaponize to attack me because I won and my family and the people closest to me, including my personal attorney. And that's where I would be very frustrated if I was the president

because this has nothing to do with collusion. This has everything to do with people coming after you because they don't like the fact that you won an election.

And if I was the president, I would be furious over the fact that I'm having to deal with this after I won a free and fair election.

VANIER: Well, to your point of legal proceedings being weaponized, the Democratic National Committee is suing the Trump campaign plus Russia plus WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over what they say is an elaborate plan to release Democratic emails and throw the presidential election to Donald Trump.

Dave, there is no new proof in this lawsuit, the DNC admits as much.

Do you see that going anywhere?

JACOBSON: Besides that there is no new information that came forward in this lawsuit. Democrat have tried this once, tried it with Richard Nixon the election campaign when they first put forward the lawsuit.

Of course, people rolled their eyes but it ultimately led to the resignation of a president. So this has happened before and Democrats have been successful.

Look, I think the challenge here is that --

VANIER: Donald Trump says they're sore losers.

FERGUSON: I would agree.

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VANIER: I thought you might, Ben.

FERGUSON: It's embarrass, though.

JACOBSON: Look, Democrats have the higher road at this, have the higher -- they're on the higher ground at this point. You've got Bob Mueller, who's a Republican, leading the Russia probe. You've got Rod Rosenstein, a Republican, appointed by Donald Trump and confirmed by a Republican Senate, spearheading this effort, overseeing the Bob Mueller investigation.

It's Republicans investigating a Republican president and presidential campaign.

The fact the Democrats are politicizing this issue and injecting Democrats versus Republicans as part of the narrative, I think it's ill timed, like I said previously.

Now from a narrative perspective, if the Russian probe wasn't making headlines every single day and if the midterm was approaching, Democrats wanted the Russia probe to be

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JACOBSON: -- part of the dialogue and the national conversation going into the upcoming elections, that would make sense.

The challenge is you have the Russia probe and the Russia investigation as part of the national dialogue every single day. So I think potentially what the Democratic National Committee should have done was waited for Bob Mueller to come to some conclusion, let more (INAUDIBLE) roll out and then potentially after the midterm or at least closer to them but not right now, while this lawsuit forward.

VANIER: Gentleman, thank you both for joining us on the show. Pleasure speaking to you.

FERGUSON: Thanks for having us.

VANIER: More than 1,000 people, including four former presidents, bid farewell to former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush, who died at 92. Several speakers honored her at her funeral on Saturday, calling her tough but loving, compassionate and funny.

First lady Melania Trump represented her husband. After the service eight of her grandsons carried her casket. Her son President George W. Bush was right behind them, pushing her husband, his dad, President George H.W. Bush in a wheelchair.

Ms. Bush was buried at her husband's presidential library, next to her daughter, Robin, who died when she was just 3.

After the break, cautious praise for North Korea, which says it has halted testing of missiles and nuclear weapons. We'll go live to Seoul, where a summit between North and South Korea is less than a week away now.

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VANIER: Welcome back.

North Korea's decision to suspend testing of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is getting generally favorable reaction around the world. A spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general said it was a positive step forward.

Germany and other countries also welcomed the move but they have called for verification of this.

Russia's foreign ministry meanwhile put out this statement, "We consider this decision as an important step toward further easing tension on the Korean Peninsula and consolidating positive trends toward normalizing the situation in Northeast Asia."

Paula Hancocks joins us now from Seoul, South Korea. Paula, one set of people we haven't heard about really, the South

Koreans themselves.

How do they feel about this?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think for the most part, this is being welcomed although it is a very cautious welcome. And for many people they're also looking back at, for example, Kim Jong-un's speech on January 1st, his New Year's Day address.

And he had already said that it was mission accomplished when it came to the nuclear and missile programs. So in that respect, that part is not new. But this is the first time we're hearing from the North Korean leader, that he would not be carrying out nuclear and missile tests.

We'd only heard that secondhand before from the South Korean envoy, that went to see him.

So for the most part it has been a cautious welcome, especially when you consider what the tensions were like on the peninsula just a matter of months ago. Clearly people are going to prefer --

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HANCOCKS: -- to hear this kind of rhetoric from the North Korean leader rather than the threats of a nuclear war.

But there is caution. For example, the president here, Moon Jae-in, he was the one that pushed for this engagement with North Korea. He has said the devil is in the details. He almost seems more cautious than the U.S. president, Donald Trump, who welcomed this wholeheartedly and even other leaders around the world.

VANIER: The South Korean president, Paula, Moon Jae-in, he campaigned on engagement and dialogue with the North.

Now he's going to get exactly that, he's come a very long way because he's going to meet the North Korean leader face-to-face in just a few days.

What are you expecting from that?

HANCOCKS: Well, at this point, no one is expecting there to be any massive announcements from this summit, quite frankly, because it is the first of two summits. We've also from the Blue House itself, saying that this is going to be the guidepost. That's the way that the South Korean president sees this, the guidepost to the next summit; that one between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

And there is a real awareness with the Blue House, the presidential office, that no matter what the North and South Korean leaders talk about, no matter what they agree on, if the next summit doesn't go well, if Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un do not agree on certain things, then it's really talking for talking's sake. So they're seeing it as part of a bigger deal, a bigger package. It is not just this one summit where things have to go well. But it is the next one as well. So they will be talking about denuclearization. President Moon saying that the North Koreans and Kim Jong-un is willing to denuclearize.

They'll also talk about peace. There's still just an armistice in between North and South Korea, not a peace treaty. So Moon has said that they will have to discuss some kind of a peace agreement, which will include more than just North and South Korea -- Cyril.

VANIER: And Paula Hancocks, reporting live from Seoul, South Korea, thank you very much.

And you're right to point out, this is a process. Certainly this meeting between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in just a step also to this potential meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

There are reports that Nicaragua's president may be ready to consider changing a controversial social security overhaul. That comes after days of large-scale demonstrations where at least 10 people were killed.

The unpopular legislations would require workers to contribute more money but with lower pensions. Rafael Romo has the latest on this.

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RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): After three days of violence, the streets of Managua, Nicaragua's capital, are littered with debris, demonstrators burning tires and throwing rocks. In response, police in full riot gear shooting rubber bullets.

The clashes have left at least 10 dead and more than 100 injured. This man, whose son died in the protest, says, riot police shot real bullets during a march. His son, he says, was not a protester but a passer-by, going home from work.

Police have declined to comment. Among the injured are both protesters and government forces, including this policewoman, who officials say was hit in the leg by an explosive.

A government plan to reform Nicaragua's Social Security system sparked the protests. But the owner of a news channel who says his station was censored by the government after refusing an order to stop covering the protests, says there are several other underlying factors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): He says people are also protesting corruption, the government's abuse of power, lack of civil liberties, including freedom of expression, and inflation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish). ROMO (voice-over): This business leader called on the government to stop what he called acts of repression, adding that Nicaraguans don't want to go back to its civil war days.

Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader who ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and then again since 2007, was re-elected to a third term in 2016 in an election, opponents said, was rigged, which Ortega denies.

After three days of silence, only interrupted by Nicaraguan first lady Rosario Murillo...

ROSARIO MURILLO, NICARAGUAN FIRST LADY: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): -- who called protesters "bloodthirsty vampires," Ortega reappeared.

DANIEL ORTEGA, NICARAGUAN PRESIDENT: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): The president said, "Protesters can march and disagree with the government all they want. But God will not forgive them," he emphasized, "for conspiring to incite violence" -- Rafael Romo, CNN.

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VANIER: Sunday is the day to celebrate this Earth we all live on. We'll tell you why this year's Earth Day focuses on plastic pollution. Stay with us.

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VANIER: So today, Sunday, we celebrate the planet that we all call home. Each year Earth Day shines a light on environmental problems. This year focuses on plastic pollution.

That is what it looks like and it's a global problem. It is much more than just not recycling a water bottle.

Environmentalists say enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times; 50 percent of it is used only once before being thrown away. Each year 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide and it can take anywhere from 500-1,000 years for plastic to decompose. Think about that.

Ivan Cabrera joins us from the CNN Weather Center.

Ivan, what's up?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, yes, talk about the plastic that does decompose because it doesn't just disappear. It just goes microscopic and then it ends up in us actually, so let's talk about this.

It's quite a mess we've made of the planet, my goodness, not only with CO2 emission but we're dealing with the plastics in the ocean. By the way, those CO2 emissions, half of them go into the oceans as well.

If you want to know more on that, go to cnn.com and type in "coral bleaching."

You'll see what's been happening to the corals out there. It impacts on marine plastics as we've been talking about here, 8 million metric tons, can you imagine, we dump that in the ocean of pretty much each year, 5 trillion pieces of plastic were estimated to be out there right now, either floating or degrading as we speak.

And those plastics that degrade enough to the point where they become microscopic, well, the fish ingest them and, well, we eat them then. So they end up in us and they do kill of course 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals. It is no good to have all that plastic in the ocean.

Where it does end up, because of the ocean circulation here, we have a huge patch that converges across the North Pacific. We have the Western garbage patch that we talk about as well and Eastern garbage patch.

Of course, all the garbage and the plastics go in to the rivers that flow into the oceans and eventually they get into these gyres here. And they don't have much to go. And so when we talk about that, it's just kind of hanging out there as we focus on this Earth Day, the plastics there, we could be having Earth Day every day, we probably should. There's always something out going on, and, boy, I hope you don't get those plastic bags at the grocery store. That is one little thing you do. Take that recyclable and the hopefully will get some progress in the very near future.

VANIER: All right. Here is hoping for progress. Ivan Cabrera there, Happy Earth Day. Thank you very much.

I want to thank you a little bit more about this Earth Day. More than 1 billion people around the globe celebrate it each year. It was started in 1970 by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, who wanted to increase public awareness about environmental problems.

Earth Day is credited with starting the environmental movement and is now observed around the world in 192 countries.

Good news, Professor Jeffrey Sachs is with me, world-renowned economist, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

Professor, we just saw plastics are a threat. Big picture though, what is your biggest concern, the biggest danger that we face, that our planet faces?

JEFFREY SACHS, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: We are in a mess, unfortunately. We have three massive crises. One is human-induced global warming, which is being felt all around the world in massive storms, forest fires, hurricanes and you name it.

The second is the land-use degradation --

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SACHS: -- the deforestation leading to massive loss of biodiversity.

And the third is pollution, like the plastics but also massive air and water pollution all over the world. We just have not come to grips with this environmental crisis that has been raging for decades. We keep -- well, our government, at least, keeps faking it.

VANIER: So is there a fix for this?

SACHS: Yes, there is a fix. We have to change the way we use energy. We have to change the way we grow food. We have to change technologies, especially moving away from coal, oil and natural gas, the fossil fuels, to wind, solar energy, hydroelectric, geothermal, nuclear and other zero carbon energy sources.

This is the key but instead our politics is so much driven by Big Oil, that we have not been able to break the addiction to what is endangering all of us.

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VANIER: Professor, we're talking about the U.S. here but the rest of the world is still part of the Paris climate accord. That is the biggest, most comprehensive global deal to try and -- try and set this right.

Can the rest of the world, without the U.S., save the planet or not?

SACHS: No, the U.S. is such a big part of the world, (INAUDIBLE) vital but it is true, it's 192 against one right now, one country, Mr. Trump's government has said we're getting out of Paris because of the corruption of the U.S. Congress.

And the other 192 countries said, what are you doing?

This is desperate. This is urgent. I was in Beijing, China, recently. Every government official said we're so committed to getting this under control. And so the United States has to break this hammerlock that Big Oil has on our politics so that government starts to do what the American people want, which is very clear.

The American people want to move to renewable energy. It is just the politics and the corruption that is holding us back right now.

VANIER: So tell me, last one real quick, the Trump administration seems to think of the environment as a fight between the -- protecting the environment versus economic growth. You have one or the other.

Is that a fair way to think about it? SACHS: It is completely wrong. We had $309 billion of disaster

losses last year from three mega hurricanes, forest fires and other climate disasters. So we're wrecking the very basis of our economy if we continue the way we're going.

It's completely backward to say it's a trade-off. It's not a trade- off. We're going to lose everything we hold dear unless the environment seriously.

How many hurricanes, how many disasters, how many mega forest fires, how many droughts and floods is it going to take before Congress acts honestly?

That's the real question.

VANIER: Professor Jeffrey Sachs, thank you very much for joining us on the show. Pleasure speaking to you.

SACHS: Well, thank you.

VANIER: OK, we're done for now. Headlines in just a moment.