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Rudy Giuliani Admits President Trump Repaid Michael Cohen for $130,000 Hush Money; Giuliani Gives New Explanation On Why Trump Fired Comey; Ex-Trump Campaign Aide: Mueller Team "Focused On Russia Collusion"; Giuliani Outlines Conditions For Potential Trump-Mueller Interview. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 3, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:07] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. The breaking news this morning, the president's story has changed and it has changed in a big, big way.

After saying he did not know anything about the hush money payments to an adult film actress who said they had sex, now he says he reimbursed his lawyer for making those payments.

So which version is true? Which version is a lie?

Also on why he fired James Comey, his story has now changed and it has changed in a big way. Much more on that in a moment.

HARLOW: Also this morning, the president is alleging that Miss Daniels, the adult firm star, extorted him over what he calls a fake affair. But his claims don't answer any of the questions about how she was paid off or when she was paid off or when the president knew about the payment, made the payment to Michael Cohen. A central question in all of it, did the porn star payoff break the law?

Our MJ Lee is here. She has all the details. Good morning.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning. Well, what Rudy Giuliani said last night was such an unexpected bombshell. He seemed to contradict both what Michael Cohen and Donald Trump have said in the past and now begging so many more questions about the Stormy Daniels question and the payment including what did Donald Trump know, when did he know it and why did he say what he said about this payment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEE (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani admitting President Trump repaid Michael Cohen for the hush money given to porn star Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 election.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: I'm giving you a fact now that you don't know. It's not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So -- SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: They funneled it through a law firm.

GIULIANI: Funneled it through a law firm, and the president repaid it.

LEE: Giuliani's remarks directly contradicting President Trump's own words last month.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: I don't know.

LEE: In March, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also said the president was unaware of the payment.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I've had conversations with the president about this. There was no knowledge of any payments from the president. And he's denied all of these allegations.

LEE: Despite this, Giuliani telling "The Washington Post" that Mr. Trump was well aware he was eventually going to disclose that the president did, in fact, pay Daniels. Giuliani suggesting the president did not know the specifics of the payment until recently but that Cohen's monthly retainer was intended to take care of these kinds of situations.

GIULIANI: When I heard Cohen's retainer of $35,000 when he was doing no work for the president, I said that's how he's repaying -- that's how he's repaying it. With a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE: Now one thing that Rudy Giuliani said last night that we should really save and bookmark is that Donald Trump did not break any campaign finance laws. This is going to be the key legal argument that we're going to see Giuliani making in the coming days and weeks and I should also note that Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, is very happy to be fanning the flames this morning. He said two things, that there is going to be more news coming and that he is convinced that Michael Cohen is eventually going to sell out Donald Trump.

Here he is on "NEW DAY."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: I think there's going to be significant evidence that's going to come to light and I don't think he's going to be able to withstand it. I think that there's no question that Michael Cohen is going to have no choice but to roll over and flip on the president.

You know, all I can think about last night was, how do you think Michael Cohen is feeling sitting at home. I guarantee you that he didn't know that Rudy Giuliani was going to go on national television and effectively throw him off the cliff, which is exactly what he did. I mean, Michael Cohen cannot be feeling very good about his loyalty and friendship with the president this morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now Avenatti was also asked how Stormy Daniels has been reacting to all of this and he said with each passing day she feels more and more vindicated.

BERMAN: MJ Lee, great to have you with us. Thanks so much, MJ.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: Joining us now CNN national security and legal analyst Susan Hennessey, CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfeld Davis, and political reporter for the "Washington Post" blog "The Fix," Amber Phillips is here as well.

Susan, if we can stick to the legal argument here. If you can follow it because Rudy Giuliani's argument isn't completely linear but it goes like this. The president did not know necessarily about the hush money payment at the time but he paid Michael Cohen back after the fact and it was personal. How does that help President Trump and-or Michael Cohen?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So the big question here is whether or not this payment to stormy Daniels was campaign related.

HARLOW: Right.

HENNESSEY: If it is complain related, whether or not Michael Cohen paid it or President Trump reimbursed it, there are questions here about whether or not it was a violation of campaign finance law. Now if it was wholly personal that doesn't eliminate all of the president's problems, there are still questions about whether or not he properly disclosed that but it would mean that there are not campaign finance violation issues. You know, so that's why -- that's why Giuliani was sort of making that the central critical question.

[09:05:07] HARLOW: Julie, as someone who covers the White House, I mean, it seems like Rudy Giuliani when he went back on TV this morning, back on FOX News, seemed to say that, yes, the revelation of this affair would hurt the campaign so the payment was done to prevent that. Listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: You're saying that Stephanie Clifford made these allegations, told Donald Trump's lawyer --

(CROSSTALK)

GIULIANI: And denied them. And then said it wasn't true. However, imagine if that came out on October 15th, 2016.

DOOCY: Sure.

GIULIANI: In the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton.

DOOCY: Right. So to make it go away, they made this --

GIULIANI: Cohen didn't even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Julie?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think what Rudy Giuliani was saying was what many of us have assumed, was that, you know, this was a payment that was made right before the election in order to squelch these accusations from coming out. What's strange credulity and it's much more difficult today given all the shifting explanations about this payment, if the president knew about the payment, what it was for, who exactly made it, what the reimbursement system was, is, you know -- if the president knew about that and sort of directed that in any way, whether it was picking up the phone and calling Michael Cohen, or knowing that if an allegation like this surfaced this was what he was authorized to do.

That is wholly different than what the White House has been telling us for months. It's different than -- you know, I sat on Air Force One when he said that he didn't know about this payment. You have to ask Michael Cohen about this. He had no idea. I mean, these are clearly disingenuous statements and they have a lot more questions to answer even if they can effectively put aside the question of the legal question of whether this was a campaign finance violation.

BERMAN: And, Amber, I want to come to you in just a moment but I want to clean up the legal issue here because I can't believe that Rudy Giuliani --

HARLOW: Said that.

BERMAN: After making this case that this was personal, not a campaign finance issue or not a campaign donation, went on FOX and said this sentence, Susan, imagine if that came out in October 2016 in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton. He's saying imagine if it came out during the campaign. Isn't he just completely undercutting his argument it was personal?

HENNESSEY: Right. So it certainly does strain belief that there's a lot of reasons including the timing. I think this is what makes the raid on Michael Cohen's office and hotel room so incredibly significant. Right? The real question is, whenever you're going to mental state and then that's what prosecutors would have to prove, you know, was some evidence seized from Michael Cohen that speaks to the reason why this payment was made.

HARLOW: Right.

HENNESSEY: You know, that's a piece of evidence that often doesn't exist and so it really is going to be very important moving forward.

DAVIS: And John, to your point, even if they're calling this a personal issue and this wasn't meant to be a political one, if the reason behind it was to preserve the president's reputation in the days leading up to an election, that does constitute a contribution to the campaign. That revives the question of what the purpose was of this payment.

HARLOW: Amber, why do you think Rudy Giuliani unloaded all of this overnight and then again this morning?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST'S "THE FIX BLOG": Yes. That's a key question in all this that can't be separated from the legal and political problems and questions we're trying to untangle right now. Why talk about this now after essentially denying this for months.

HARLOW: Yes.

PHILLIPS: And I think we have a clear answer -- excuse me, answer in Michael Cohen. He's under political and extreme legal pressure from what we know from the outside looking in.

It definitely seems like Rudy Giuliani tried to get the president out in front of whatever the FBI and investigators are looking into with Michael Cohen by saying, listen, this wasn't a campaign finance donation, this was a loan, I'm proclaiming the president's innocence right now.

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: But he's not even making that linear sort of coherent argument.

PHILLIPS: No.

HARLOW: He's just completely stepping on it this morning.

BERMAN: And I have to say, I have to say, Amber, and this what makes this so interesting to me is whatever they consider to be the legal imperative they think it's worth being caught in a lie, very publicly caught in a lie. There's the Air Force One moment which we played before. Let me just replay.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: You know, White House Press Sarah Huckabee Sanders on this very subject.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANDERS: I've had conversations with the president about this and as I outlined earlier that this case had already been won in arbitration and that there was no knowledge of any payments from the president and he's denied all of these allegations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Amber, no knowledge of any payments. Either the president lied to Sarah Sanders.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Or Sarah Sanders lied to America right there.

PHILLIPS: Right.

BERMAN: And the White House know and Rudy Giuliani knows that and was willing to eat it with this appearance overnight. Fascinating.

PHILLIPS: And you have the president being disingenuous to reporters like Julie on Air Force One. I think you underscored it perfectly, John. They are -- whatever is happening with the Michael Cohen raid, they are in such a -- backed up in such a tight corner, they have no choice but to completely and clearly contradict everything they've been saying for months about the president knowing about this payment because, likely, there's some kind of legal issue that they're trying to get out in front of.

[09:10:11] HARLOW: So the politics of it when it comes to the president's most ardent supporters, Julie, the facts are that there is an alleged affair that the porn star involved in it was paid off hush money by the president's lawyers, the president reimbursed his lawyer for that, and it seems to have been a reimbursement that was made while he was sitting president and this is, as John noted to me this morning, is today as the president makes his way to the Rose Garden for a prayer moment, a prayer event. Any reason to think this shakes his base?

DAVIS: I don't think so. Based on what we've seen, these accusations have been out there for months. We've been talking about this these legal issues but also just the substance of, you know, the fact that the president, you know, has been accused of having relationships with not just Stephanie Clifford, Stormy Daniels, but Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. I mean, this has been out there for many, many months and people do not seem -- his core supporters do not seem to be fazed by it.

They seem to feel like he's doing what he said he was going to do. He's the president he said he was going to be. And they really haven't responded, even as you point out, you know, the evangelical supporters have not be shaken by any of this.

HARLOW: Yes.

DAVIS: So I don't know that there's any reason to believe that they would be now. I do think that the legal issues and the ethical issues are real and that could, you know, be damaging quite apart from whether his political base is willing to stick with him.

HARLOW: All right, you guys, want to stick around. We have a lot more ahead.

The president says no obstruction but did his lawyer Rudy Giuliani just completely blow a hole through that argument? His incredibly surprising comments about why James Comey was fired.

BERMAN: Plus more breaking news. Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, somehow thinks he can make an announcement about the release of three Americans detained in North Korea. What does the White House say about this? We're following all the new developments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:16:08]

HARLOW: So, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, slams the Russia investigation. That is no surprise at all. What is a huge surprise is that he seems to have blown the lid off the president's no obstruction claims.

BERMAN: Fascinating comments. Abby Phillips outside the White House with that -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Poppy. Rudy Giuliani has certainly made a splash in the first few days of joining the president's legal team and already he's talking about something that seemed to have been a fairly settled issue, raising, again, the explanation that President Trump has given for why he fired James Comey.

Listen to what he told Sean Hannity last night about what the president was thinking when he made that decision to fire the former FBI director.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn't a target of the investigation. He's entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that, and he couldn't get that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: But that really contradicts what the president himself has said and it also raises some new questions about whether, in fact, the president was looking for James Comey to vindicate him in the Russia probe publicly despite the fact that the explanations the White House and others had given at that time was that it was about Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation.

Just a couple of days after Comey was fired, President Trump gave an interview to Lester Holt of NBC News when holt asked him about why he fired Comey and he again, brought up the inspector of this Russian investigation. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We had a very nice dinner and at that time he told me you are not under investigation. Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it, and, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: It is not really clear why Rudy Giuliani appears to be changing the explanations for why the president did what he did last year, but this is coming at a time when there's a lot of turnover in the president's legal team, lawyers coming in and leaving just this week.

Ty Cobb, the lawyer here at the White House, who is handling this matter for President Trump has left and in his place has -- joining the team is Emmet Flood, who dealt with Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings.

All of this signals that Rudy Giuliani are going to be taking more of an aggressive stance toward the special counsel trying to discredit them in the press more aggressively and leading to real questions about whether or not this interview that we've been talking about for days and days is even going to happen -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Not if Giuliani gets to decide it's not going to happen. That was pretty clear last night. Abby, thank you for the reporting at the White House.

Let's bring back in our panel. Susan, to you, legally, it's pretty clear here that this goes to the central issue of obstruction, which we know is one of the core things that Mueller's team is looking at, potential obstruction of justice. What does what the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani said about why the president fired James Comey do to Mueller's case on obstruction?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: We've seen these shifting explanations, right? First, it was because -- Comey was fired because Rod Rosenstein said so, then it was because Comey was unfair to Hillary Clinton, apparently, Comey lost the confidence of the FBI. So, they've had all these different explanations that they've put up as the evidence has contradicted that, you know, they've shifted to the next explanation.

Of course, we heard the president himself acknowledged that it was related to the Russia investigation and now it's purportedly because he was -- he would not say that he wasn't the target of an investigation.

You know, we know that there was -- these reasons were apparently memorialized in a memo that was written at Trump's New Jersey property prior to the firing. Reportedly Mueller has a copy of that document. [09:20:04] So, at the end of the day, whenever it comes to the question of the motivation for Comey's firing as it relates to obstruction, what's relevant is not what Rudy Giuliani tells Sean Hannity but what President Trump tells Robert Mueller.

BERMAN: It does strike me as interesting, though, that the president's new lawyer flat out says that the president fired him because he wouldn't intervene in a way in the investigation. He won't publicly exonerate him. That seems to be the president being involved in that investigation, somehow, Julie. And as Susan notes, it's a shift over time. It's changing narrative right before our eyes.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And what Giuliani said last night really does confirm a lot of the reporting that I and my colleagues and others have done about what the president was thinking and talking about and doing in these days and weeks before and after Comey's firing.

We know that he was very angry about the fact that he didn't feel like this was being -- he felt like he was being targeted or being protected. We know how angry he got when Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, recused himself and that he felt targeted.

And we also know that there were attempts made by him and others at the White House to try to get the FBI and James Comey and others at the FBI to come out and publicly say that he wasn't a target and how angry he was when Comey went to Capitol Hill and essentially, you know, made those remarks and wouldn't say what he had said privately to the president publicly.

So, we obviously know that that's a big reason. What I find fascinating about Giuliani's interviews here is, it's hard to tell whether this is a calculated play to say, these things are going to come out.

We better just own up to them now and make our case or whether he actually did sort of not think through the consequences of making this admission, which as Susan pointed out does seem to point toward a legal issue that they've been trying to put aside here in terms of whether the president had a corrupt motive or was trying to obstruct.

HARLOW: It is worth noting that Giuliani told "The Washington Post" and then Fox News this morning the president is, quote, "very pleased" with his interview. So, the president doesn't seem to have an issue with any of this. I want you to listen to what Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide had to say last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: The Mueller team knew more about what I did in 2016 than I knew myself and I think they know more about the Trump campaign than any one that ever worked there. These guys have got every single email, anything that's ever gone down, and they're clearly focused on trying to identify some Russian collusion and I don't think they're convinced yet that there's no Russian collusion. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: It's significant for a number of reasons, namely, this is the guy, Amber, that just sat down to be interviewed by Mueller's team. What's your reaction?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes. My reaction is that over the past couple days we've gotten several strands of news that suggests Caputo might be right, that the Mueller team is indeed still focusing on collusion. We have, of course, the Mueller questions or potential questions that were leaked in "The New York Times."

And a lot of those were focused on the president's intent related to not just firing of Comey and Michael Flynn but also his ties to Russia and his business ventures out into Russia. It's very notable that you tie this with a former aide coming basically out of a hearing with Mueller and saying, whoa, they are really focused on collusion.

With a legal shake-up among Trump's team to have a team that's more adversarial toward Mueller and it suggests that the White House believes what Caputo is saying or has some information to believe that it's true and is concerned about it.

BERMAN: So that legal shake-up is a really interesting thing, Susan Hennessey. You have this new legal team, Emmit Flood coming in. Rudy Giuliani overseeing it all and you can see them already being a lot more aggressive. Rudy Giuliani says that the president won't sit down unless there's a time limit of two hours, if we know the questions in advance --

HARLOW: Narrow.

BERMAN: If there's like candy and lemonade provided as well. Do you think, Susan, the special counsel would ever agree to those stipulations?

HENNESSEY: Well, I don't think Robert Mueller is going to agree to these voluntary conditions unless he's going to be able to get what he needs. It's going to be sufficient. We've already seen sort of a wide-ranging topics, these 49 issue areas, more questions underlying that.

You know, the idea that they're going to be able to cover that in two and three hours, you know, that's not plausible. Certainly, if Mueller wants to have a voluntary interview, he will have to concede a little bit on scope and time and place, but two or three hours, that is just a fantasy.

HARLOW: But here's what we do know also from Rudy Giuliani, that apparently, Mueller's team has said no to written answers. He said no so it's going to have to be a sit down or nothing and that brings up the issue of subpoena.

If the president said flat-out no, Julie, would there be a subpoena? A source tells the "L.A. Times" that with Cobb's departure, with Ty Cobb leaving the White House, quote, "The number of people who think the president should talk to Mueller has gone to zero. So?

DAVIS: Well, right. This has been an ongoing debate among his legal team and clearly with Cobb's departure there went the last person who was really advocating for this and feeling like some of the advice that he had been getting previously was, we cooperate as much as we can.

[09:25:04] We give them as much of what they're asking for as we can and in the process of doing that we will basically help to wrap this up quickly, the special counsel will get what he needs, and this will be over.

Well, clearly, that has not panned out and what you've seen is the last week in the shake-up of the legal team is a real desire to have a different approach and try to figure out, OK, if we're in this for the long haul and if as Michael Caputo says they know a lot of facts and they're pulling on a lot of threads, how are we going to settle into a way of dealing with all of these requests and this interview in particular.

And I think that there's still a pretty vibrant debate going on among the new team about whether they should even entertain a voluntary interview. If they don't, I do think that Mueller will pretty keen to pursue other avenues and if that means a subpoena, it means a subpoena.

BERMAN: All right. Susan Hennessey, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Amber Phillips, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

So, Rudy Giuliani flat out says the president reimbursed his personal attorney for hush money paid to Stormy Daniels and now the president says it's too, but this is not what the president has been saying all along.

HARLOW: Also, we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. It looks like a flat open this morning. Investors watching very closely as the president's top economic advisers are in China today for trade negotiations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)