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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Sources: Cohen Pitched Himself Promising Access to Trump; AT&T Cooperated with Mueller Probe on Cohen Payments; In New Court Filings, Cohen Says Stormy Daniels' Lawyer Made False Statements, Unlawfully Obtained Bank Records; Columbus Nova Takes Steps to Distance Itself from Russian Oligarch; Three Freed Americans on the Way Home; Israel: Iranian Forces Fire Rockets at Israeli Territory; CNN: Trump Officials Prepare for Singapore Summit with North Korea; President Trump Threatens To Pull Media Credentials; President Trump Threatens To Revoke Press Credentials. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired May 9, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:10] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm John Berman, in for Anderson.
We begin with breaking news and the money trail involving the president's lawyer, Michael Cohen, and the many, many, many questions raised after yesterday's disclosures that millions of dollars were flowing into his Shell company from big corporations, including one with ties to a Russian oligarch. And, of course, this was the same Shell company that was created in the first place to pay out $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels.
So, again, there's a lot of breaking news on the story tonight. A new court filing from Michael Cohen disputing some of the information that Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti released, new details about what exactly Michael Cohen was selling when he was taking in all this money. It was, in a few words, access to the president.
And new reporting about AT&T, one of the companies giving Cohen money, and their cooperation with Robert Mueller's investigation.
So, we have all that, but there are still a lot, and I mean a lot, of questions. Namely, how could it be that Michael Cohen, in addition to be kind of mediocre at keeping porn stars from talking about their alleged encounters with the president, is also an internationally known expert in pharmaceuticals, aerospace technology, and telecommunications? And these companies simply hired him as a consultant for his expertise?
The press corps tried to get some answers today. Here's how that went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Is the president concerned about any aspect of what we've learned in the last 24 hours?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As you know, due to the complications of the different components of this investigation, I would refer you to the president's special counsel or outside counsel to address those concerns.
REPORTER: Do you know whether Mr. Cohen ever approached the White House as a representative of any of those companies, whether the president was aware of the payments, or whether he was aware that Mr. Cohen was marketing himself that way?
SANDERS: I'm not aware. And again, I would refer you to outside counsel.
REPORTER: Does the president think it's appropriate that his personal attorney was selling access to him, given that he promised to drain the swamp?
SANDERS: Again, I am purposely, as is our team, we're not engaging in matters in this process at all, and I would refer you to the outside counsel for anything that has anything to do with Michael Cohen or other --
REPORTER: Don't you think the public has a right to get some answers about these questions, that there are payments coming from Russian- connected entities or Russian individuals connected to the Kremlin, through a shell company that is controlled by Mr. Cohen, to pay-off whoever? I mean, doesn't the American people have a right to have some information about that?
SANDERS: And I think there are appropriate venues and channels in which to do that, and I've encouraged you to reach out to them to do exactly what you just outlined.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, we have taken Sarah Sanders' encouragement -- and thank you for that -- and reached out to the so-called appropriate venues and channels. We asked the president's outside counsel, Jay Sekulow, and we're told he is unavailable, as he has been since last fall.
As you saw, our Jim Acosta was inside that press briefing. He joins us now from the White House.
Jim, answers from this White House, not easy to come by on this subject these days.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. And I think the technical term for all of this is stonewalling. Sarah Sanders has given us basically the same answers over the last couple of days that basically, you know, she's not really in the position to answer these questions that are really designed for and aimed at the president's outside legal team. And, of course, I asked her in the briefing today, well, can we get the president's outside legal team into the briefing room so we can ask some of these questions and get some answers, and she said she would, I think, attempt to make that request.
I should point out, I did talk to Michael Cohen, his arch nemesis, Michael Avenatti, in all of this, just a short while ago and he said he would like to see the president's legal team, perhaps Rudy Giuliani, appear in the briefing room. We should point out, the president does have a new member of his legal team inside the White House, Emmet Flood, who is an official of the White House, Sarah Sanders said Giuliani could not appear in the briefing room perhaps because he's not an official at the White House. But Emmet Flood could.
It seems, John, that they're going to have to sort out some kind of arrangement at some point to answer these questions, because the stonewalling is just not working.
BERMAN: Well, one possibility is they're refusing to answer more questions because so much has to do with the president's legal matters. Or, another possibility is they're refusing to answer questions because they don't want to, Jim.
ACOSTA: And I think that's exactly right. I think, you know, the questions that are being asked about Michael Cohen and the potential for selling access to the president through all these companies is not just swamp-like behavior, when the president promised to drain the swamp, this is the creature from the black lagoon. I mean, this is the swamp on steroids.
And, you know, it gets to the very heart of a campaign promise that the president made before the 2016 election. He promised to drain the swamp. And if his lawyer was out there, unbeknownst to everybody, soliciting offers from major corporations and perhaps a company connected to the Russians to somehow influence the president.
[20:05:09] That obviously is something the American people need to get to the bottom of, and I can't imagine that these questions are ever going to go away.
My guess is at some point, Sarah Sanders is going to have to bring somebody into that briefing room, because she is obviously unwilling to answer these questions and she is simply, I think, at this point, John, she's just going to give us the same answer over and over again until we stop asking her those questions which, of course, we're not going to do.
BERMAN: Jim Acosta, doing your job. Appreciate you being with us tonight.
ACOSTA: You bet, you bet.
BERMAN: Tonight, we're getting new CNN reporting about how Michael Cohen pitched himself after the election.
So, buying and selling access is nothing new in Washington, but scrutiny over the payments to Cohen could present new headaches for a man already under criminal investigation.
Our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray reports.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A source familiar with Michael Cohen's post-election pitch says it went something like this. I don't know who has been representing you, but you should fire them all. I'm the guy you should hire. I'm closest to the president. I'm his personal lawyer.
But some of those business deals could cause headaches for Cohen. Columbus Nova, which says it hired Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures, has ties to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, ties that have caught the attention of special counsel Robert Mueller.
In a statement to CNN, the general counsel of Columbus Nova insists the Russian oligarch has no control over the company, saying: The company is 100 percent owned and controlled by Americans. Any suggestion that at any point in time Viktor Vekselberg or any of his companies owned or exercised any control over Columbus Nova is patently untrue.
Other Cohen clients defended their relationships with Cohen, insisting they did nothing wrong in hiring him for consulting work.
Korea Aerospace Industries paid Cohen $150,000 for what they call legal advice on the cost accounting standards regulation. But it remains unclear exactly what that means.
AT&T which is trying to buy CNN's parent company, Time Warner, paid Cohen at least $200,000, and says he was hired to provide insights into understanding the new administration.
And pharmaceutical giant Novartis says it quickly realized Cohen could not provide them the insight they wanted on health care matters, and the decision was taken not to engage further.
Already under contract, the company still paid Cohen nearly $1 million over the course of a year. Novartis says it was also contacted by the special counsel over its payments, and provided all information requested.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Evidently, this guy is a lawyer, he's a real estate agent, he's an accountant, he's a doctor, he's a business --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a doctor?
AVENATTI: Well, evidently, Novartis hired him to consult on health care matters. I mean, this guy is a multitalented guy. Evidently, he's like the Leonardo da Vinci of our time. Who knew?
MURRAY: Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.
BERMAN: Thanks to Sarah for that. One of the companies that paid was AT&T, at least $200,000. The company confirmed it paid him for what a statement called, quote, insights into understanding the new administration, insights into understanding the new administration. AT&T is trying to acquire CNN's parent company, Time Warner. The
Justice Department sued to prevent the merger in November of last year. Tonight, we're learning that Robert Mueller's office was also interested in getting some information from AT&T. That is the major new headline.
CNN's Brian Stelter joins me right now.
So, Brian, when did the special counsel contact AT&T and what they were after?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Six months ago. We're only finding out this week. But Mueller knew about these payments from AT&T to Cohen six months ago. We also know that Mueller is aware of payments with Novartis, one of the other companies that Cohen was working with.
Now, AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson met with Trump at Trump Tower during the transition, January 12th of last year. We know that right after the inauguration, this contract began between AT&T and Cohen. We don't know exactly how they were put in touch, however. AT&T says that Cohen and Stephenson never met.
One of the unanswered questions here, John, is whether President Trump somehow recommended, hey, go give my lawyer a call, get in touch with my lawyer. No word on whether that happened or not. That's one of the unanswered questions here.
BERMAN: His personal lawyer.
BERMAN: Who, as far as we know, has never represented him in any kind of telecommunications situation.
Look, you got a comment from AT&T about all of this tonight. What did they say?
STELTER: Yes, I just spoke with the head spokesman. The statement here says, when we were contacted by the special counsel's office regarding Michael Cohen, we cooperated fully, providing all information requested in November and December 2017. A few weeks later, our consulting contract with Cohen expired at the end of the year. Since then, we received no additional questions from the special counsel's office and consider the matter closed.
The innocent explanation here is that whenever a new administration takes over, big multinational companies like AT&T have to hire law firms, and lobbying firms and consultants.
[20:10:00] Of course, in this case, AT&T says Cohen did no lobbying work. It is true. In a couple of months, AT&T may own CNN, may own this channel.
But no matter who owns this channel, I think we can safely say this doesn't look good. Even if it was completely innocent, just all about insights and information about Trump, we all know Cohen may get indicted soon. When you play with someone dirty, when you work with someone dirty, some of the dirt gets on your own hands.
BERMAN: Insight and information into the workings of the Trump administration is the AT&T explanation here. A lot of questions about what Michael Cohen provided beyond the insight and information and whether it worked two ways, whether it was to AT&T and also back to the president. That's something the special counsel will have to look into.
Brian Stelter, thanks so much for being with us. I do appreciate it.
BERMAN: As we mentioned, there is a new court filing tonight, a response from Michael Cohen's lawyers.
Joining me now is CNN Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, what are you learning?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Michael Cohen's lawyers, and this is their first response, really, to Michael Avenatti, are filing in court, trying to block Avenatti from representing Stormy Daniels in a New York courtroom. And what they are saying is that he used false information and he disseminated it and he used -- got bank records that were gotten in a very strange way, which they believe to be illegal, and they are saying that as a result of this, Avenatti should not be allowed to practice in New York state in the court.
They're not saying get rid of the Stormy Daniels case, but they are saying that he published information that was either inaccurate or that, Michael Cohen's bank records, and they believe those records may have been gotten illegally.
BERMAN: So, they're firing a cannon, as it were, legally speaking in this courtroom.
BERMAN: However, the actual disputed things are like pinpricks, because they don't dispute all of the information provided in these documents by Michael Avenatti.
BORGER: Right. I mean, the pinpricks you're talking about, that Avenatti got some wrong Michael Cohens here. That he referred to a guy in Tanzania who is not the correct Michael Cohen, somebody in Israel who is not the correct Michael Cohen.
But as for the larger issues, there's no denial, of course, of the things you and Brian were just talking about, about his so-called strategic clients, AT&T, Novartis, et cetera. And also on the Russia issue, what they do is they don't address it directly. What they do is, they quote from Columbus Nova, the company that may have links to the Russian oligarch, and they quote their statement, saying they're 100 percent American and they have absolutely no links to the Russian oligarch, but they do not state that themselves. They just state the company's statement on that.
BERMAN: Nor do they deny that Columbus Nova paid Michael Cohen, which would, again, a key ingredient in all of this.
BORGER: Exactly, exactly.
BERMAN: I want to read what Michael Avenatti tweeted in response to all this. He writes, Mr. Ryan, that's Michael Cohen's lawyer. Mr. Ryan's submission on behalf of Mr. Cohen is baseless, improper and sanctionable. They fail to address, let alone contradict, 99 percent of the statements in what we released. Among other things, they effectively concede the receipt of the $500,000 from those with Russian ties.
So, what do you make of that, Gloria?
BORGER: Well, I mean, what Avenatti is saying is that, you know, the largest issue is the ties to Russia, and he is saying they concede this, and they would argue, his lawyers would argue, absolutely not, we're not conceding it. What we're doing is, we're quoting from the company here, and they are -- you know, they are saying that, you know, their client, Michael Cohen, did strategic consulting for this company and that it had nothing to do with Russians.
But, you know, again, this is now -- takes this to another level. They're going to be brawling in court over this, and you know Michael Avenatti, he does not back down. But Stephen Ryan, who is Michael Cohen's attorney, I think here is really ready for a fight over this, because they believe, as they say in this, that the actual bank records, they have no reason to believe that Mr. Avenatti is in lawful possession of Michael Cohen's bank records.
And that clearly is going to come up in court. How did Avenatti get these bank records?
BERMAN: And he has given no answer, no direct answer yet on that point.
BERMAN: Gloria, I know you had a lot of sources -- you have a lot of sources both on the president's legal team and Michael Cohen's world. You know, in light of all of this, what are you hearing from both camps tonight?
BORGER: Well, look, I think Michael Cohen is obviously having a rough time here. I think there are a lot of people in Michael Cohen's world, and in the world of Donald Trump, I should say, who believe that Michael Cohen, with these lobbying clients, overstated his contacts with the president, once Donald Trump left Trump Tower and left the transition and went into the White House.
[20:15:12] So, you know, I had a source telling me today that Michael Cohen never talked to the president about substance once he got into the White House. Yes, when Michael Cohen worked for him at the Trump Org, sure, but there are lots of questions being raised about how Michael Cohen was representing himself to these clients as somebody who could get to the president and knew things, and, in fact, that's what Novartis said today.
Novartis said, we wanted him to advise us on health care. We had one meeting with him, and oh, by the way, after that meeting, we decided that he wasn't of any use to us, but because of the nature of our contract, we then had to continue paying him $100,000 a month until the contract was over.
BERMAN: It's amazing. One meeting, decided it wasn't going to work out and still paid him for the rest of the year.
BERMAN: It's nice work, if you can get it.
BERMAN: Gloria Borger, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
We're going to dig deeper into the legal issues next.
Also ahead, the White House seems already trying to distance the president from Michael Cohen, his fixer and personal attorney. Really a simply impossible task, if you care about reality.
We'll look at the president's long and winding road with his fixer.
And three American detainees, they're on their way home from North Korea. They just arrived in Alaska a short time ago. The latest on that, and the president's upcoming summit.
[20:20:04] BERMAN: Breaking news tonight: CNN has learned after the election, the president's lawyer, Michael Cohen, pitched himself to potential clients, including the pharmaceutical giant Novartis, for promising access to the White House on health care policy. This comes after Michael Avenatti's report that the shell company Michael Cohen set up received payments from that and other companies, including a company linked to a Russian oligarch.
With me now, former Obama White House ethics czar Norm Eisen, and former federal prosecutor Anne Milgram.
Norm, I want to start with you. You know, Ambassador, look, we know how Washington works here. You know, we know how the swamp works here. But Cohen is pitching himself, as he puts it, the person closest to the president.
Is that just swampy or is it potentially illegal?
NORMAN EISEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: John, thanks for having me. It's swampy, it reeks of swamp gas and it may, depending on how the facts unfold, be illegal.
You know, depending -- we're at the very beginning of this, we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg with the money that poured into Cohen, he has no evident qualifications for any of these contracts. What did he promise people, John? Was he an unregistered lobbyist?
Some of these entities have alleged foreign connections. Was he a foreign agent? Were there quid pro quos that were promised?
In the transition, he was feet away from Donald Trump, what conversations did they have about future government business?
And, John, it's not an isolated Michael Cohen problem. This is a systemic crisis of corruption. Yes, this exists in every administration, in every party, but the Trump gang is taking it to a new level.
It starts with the president. He's taking foreign government cash openly at his properties. I have a lawsuit against him. The judges said we have standing on that, representing D.C. and Maryland. We're going to get into that, and it goes like a cancer throughout the cabinet.
It's what ties together the Pruitt scandal, 11 investigations going on of Pruitt. Zinke, Carson, Shulkin, Price, DeVos, Ross, I mean, it's like the meeting of a mob gang.
And where's the congressional oversight, John? Nowhere. And you know who gets hurt? The American people, who can't pay millions of dollars to get access to the administration. It is outrageous.
BERMAN: On the subject specifically, though, of Michael Cohen, Anne, the ambassador raised a good yes, what is Michael Cohen an expert in? Well, I suppose you could say, Michael Cohen is an expert in Donald Trump.
ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Right.
BERMAN: And that's what Novartis and AT&T were paying for. And if all the information flowed, and, look, you have to sort of squint just the right way to believe it's possible, but if all the information flowed from Michael Cohen to these companies, it wouldn't necessarily be illegal.
MILGRAM: Right, there are questions, and we don't have the answers yet, but was he actually lobbying? Was he setting up meetings with members of the administration? Was he representing a foreign government to lobby or get meetings?
I mean, we know Novartis, the CEO of Novartis did have this dinner with President Trump. We don't know, was that already planned before they hired Michael Cohen?
BERMAN: And Columbus Nova in this case, this company with links to the Russian oligarch, is that a different legal matter than Novartis and AT&T? MILGRAM: So, we don't know, because we really don't understand why
Columbus Nova is paying money to Michael Cohen. With Novartis and AT&T, they both said they paid him for access.
And I agree with the ambassador, I mean, this is -- this is a terrible thing that's been going on in administrations, Democratic and Republican, for years, but people are paying literally to get proximity to the president. So, we know what they were doing. They were very forthright about it.
What we don't know is what Columbus Nova was doing. What makes us all sort of really wonder what was happening is the ties to the Russian oligarch, who has been put on the list, he's been sanctioned by the U.S. government, is not allowed to enter the country because of Russian interference with the election.
BERMAN: What did this Russian oligarch, or what did this company with ties to the Russian oligarch want from this? What does $500,000 get him? Is it just inside information on Donald Trump? Again, it stretches the imagination.
And, Ambassador, just one last question on this specific point. You know, we've seen the swamp before, and you could argue if this is a swampier swamp or not, but the fact that Michael Cohen is selling his access, according to our reporting, as the president's personal lawyer, he's like, hire me, I'm his personal lawyer -- I'm not sure I've quite seen that. Is that ethically permissible within the world of law?
EISEN: John, it's a conflict of interest for the -- for Cohen to be trading on that. I think it raises serious bar questions. Those are the least of Michael Cohen's problems because he is one of those. With Donald Trump, yes, they drained the swamp, and they filled it with the toxic waste of corruption.
[20:25:00] We'll see whether it's legal -- some of the worst corruption in Washington is the legal corruption, as you know. We'll see whether it's legal or illegal. It sure smells --
BERMAN: Robert Mueller -- Bob Mueller is not going to investigate the legal corruption or the swamp. That's not his concern, his concern is the illegality.
And, Anne, just one more point here, you know, Michael Cohen's bank records, you know, his lawyers are fighting back and pushing against Michael Avenatti tonight with this filing, these are not supposed to be public, correct?
MILGRAM: Absolutely. I think Michael Cohen's lawyers make a great point on one thing, which is that we should not be looking at Michael Cohen's bank records. This isn't -- you know, they were clearly gotten either through a government subpoena or through civil litigation, they would have been protected, because that's private personal information. And so, you know, we've all sort of moved to the next conversation about it, but in truth, you know, none of us should be looking at Michael Cohen's personal banking information.
BERMAN: All right. Anne Milgram, Norm Eisen, thanks so much for being here.
So, here we are, and the one person we haven't heard from in depth in all of this, Michael Cohen. Randi Kaye has been looking for him, though. She's outside the hotel where he's staying -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we have been looking for him. We think he's inside here at this hotel on Park Avenue. He returned here about 4:00 p.m. this afternoon. We saw him returning, that was the last we've seen of him. Although earlier in the day, we did catch up with him, we were able to ask him how he's doing, he said he's doing great and he thanked us for asking.
In the meantime tonight, we wanted to take a closer look at how much contact Michael Cohen has had with Donald Trump since Trump became president.
MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: They say I'm Mr. Trump's pit bull, that I'm his right-hand man.
KAYE (voice-over): But if you ask the White House what Michael Cohen is, they're already downplaying his role as just another lawyer.
SANDERS: I'm not aware of specific places where he's representing the president.
KAYE: But despite the appearance, the White House is trying to put some distance between Mr. Cohen and the president, the facts tell a different story.
COHEN: I protect Mr. Trump.
KAYE: Michael Cohen had dinner with President Trump back on March 24th at Mar-a-Lago, the night before Stormy Daniels' interview with Anderson Cooper aired on "60 Minutes."
Weeks before that, on March 4th, Cohen was also at Mar-a-Lago for an event. Cohen is not a member of Mar-a-Lago and would have needed an invite.
On Instagram, Cohen is seen in a photo embracing televangelist Mark Burns, who posted, saying he was happy to see Cohen two days ago at #mar-a-lago.
And more recently, on April 13th, "The New York Times" reported the president called Michael Cohen to, quote, check in, before Cohen appeared in court regarding his office raid.
Again, the White House downplaying the relationship.
HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president has many attorneys, this isn't his only one. KAYE: Michael Cohen's own lawyer painted a picture of a cozy
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a normal attorney-client relationship. This is much more than an attorney-client relationship.
KAYE: And before Trump became president, nearly constant contact between the two men.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Believe me, Michael Cohen got calls at 3:00 in the morning, Michael and I would be at dinner, the boss would be calling all the time.
KAYE: So, has that suddenly all changed after more than a decade of Michael Cohen being at Trump's side? Perhaps there are only two men who know the answer to that.
KAYE: So, Michael Cohen was one of the originals who pushed for Donald Trump to run for president, back in 2011. He started a website called Should Trump Run. Trump didn't, but then again in 2015, he did push for Donald Trump to run.
And as much as the White House has been trying to distance Donald Trump from Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen still feeling very strongly about the president and clearly supports him. He told "Vanity Fair" magazine that I'm the guy that protects the president and his family. I'm the guy who would take a bullet for the president -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Randi Kaye outside the hotel we believe that Michael Cohen is staying in.
Coming up, a detailed look at the company Michael Cohen received about half a million dollars from. It's called Columbus Nova. It's now working hard to distance itself from the Russian oligarch that has long had ties with it.
And later, reaction from Capitol Hill to that, as well as the latest news about the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
[20:32:41] BERMAN: So as we've been discussing there are host of questions tonight centering around a company called Columbus Nova. That is the firm that paid Michael Cohen, the President's personal lawyer nearly half a million dollars, the same one with ties to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
Columbus Nova insist, they are independent from Vekselberg, but a lot of people are raising doubts about that claim. Our Evan Perez joins us with what he's learned. Evan, what can you tell us?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right John. Well, Columbus Nova is a U.S. investment firm and it's one of the companies that paid money after the 2016 election, President Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen. But it now working hard to distance itself from Russian oligarch that it is long had ties to it. And that oligarch is named Viktor Vekselberg. He is a close ally of Vladimir Putin who was placed -- he was placed last month in a sanctions list by the Treasury Department.
CNN reported yesterday that investigators working with special counsel Robert Mueller stopped and questions Vekselberg in a New York area airport this year, about payments that Columbus Nova had made to the President's lawyer. Now Vekselberg and Columbus Nova founder Andrew Intrater are cousins. And sources told us that Intrater was also questioned by investigators.
Now, some of the attention on Columbus Nova is coming because Michael Avenatti the lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels made allegations that says that Mr. Vekselberg and his cousin quote routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through Columbus Nova. Now, Columbus Nova says, that Vekselberg's Russian company its biggest client. But that the company itself is fully owned and operated by U.S. citizens and that it has never had any foreign ownership.
Now, he also says that the oligarch had no role in the American company's decision to hire Michael Cohen. John.
BERMAN: And so this company is previously though portrayed a bit of a closer relationship, haven't they?
PEREZ: That's right. Until recently Columbus Nova included those ties to Renova on its website. But that information has since been remove. An archive, we found an archive copy of Columbus Nova website, and it describes Intrator as a partner of Columbus Nova, and described the American company, that way it says, the U.S. investment vehicle for Renova Group, which is a multinational Zurich base industrial holding. It also says, that Intrator is a former director and current member of the executive board of Renova Group.
[20:35:00] Now, it's the same description John, that Columbus Nova has used on its website for years, you know, in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2007 for instance, Columbus Nova said that it was a quote U.S. based affiliate of Renova Group of Companies. Renova Group has recently as April, listed Columbus Nova as one of the companies on this -- on sort of an umbrella group of companies that it had. Look, a spokesman for Columbus Nova today, told us that the website changes are being made because the ties to Renova are being misunderstood by the media. The spokesman says, that the company is simply trying to make sure that people don't mistake the American company for a subsidiary of the Russia Company. John.
BERMAN: They're only taking this down now though. This --
PEREZ: That's right.
BERMAN: -- did disappear previously, it's because of all of the access and all the information that has come out, correct?
PEREZ: That's correct.
BERMAN: All right, Evan Perez, thanks very much.
A great deal of process here to help us sort things out. We're joined by California Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, the fact that Columbus Nova is now scrubbing its Web site, you know, in an effort to what it calls clarifying its relationship with this Russian oligarch in this investment company Renova. What does it say to you?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening John. You know, that would be evidence that would be considered as potential consciousness of guilt. Every tree in the Trump forest went shaken, has a Russian falling out of it. So, for most Americans, they're probably not surprise, that this deal with Michael Cohen involves the Russian oligarch somebody who has close ties to Vladimir Putin who is at that 2015 dinner, where Michael Flynn prior National Security Adviser for Donald Trump was with Putin, and this oligarch.
And so, you know, the best thing that the President can do with his lawyer being so closely tied to this oligarch, is to just open up the books, show the American people that there is either nothing there or that there's a lot that we should be concerned about. Transparency would serve the country well right now. I'm not holding my breath though.
BERMAN: Just to be clear, with the connect that us fairly here is the President's personal lawyer has ties to an American company which has connections to this Russian oligarch. I do understand your point there. Does it make sense to you that Michael Cohen would accept this money from this company that does have this connection? He did it in 2017 when there are already multiple investigations into the President's campaign and the issue of Russia was already very much out there.
SWALWELL: All right, John, you know, when I was a prosecutor, the cops used to always tell me, sir, we don't catch the smart ones. So, you know, it doesn't again surprise me and who could be so stupid is not a defense that flies. And (INAUDIBLE), so I want to point out with Michael Cohen, there is a pattern here. You know, one of his closest pals is Russian-American Felix Sater and one of the first contacts we saw in our House intelligence investigation was the outreach that Felix Sater made, and October 2015 when Donald Trump was a candidate, Michael Cohen was his lawyer and Felix Sater is suggesting that they build a Trump Tower in Moscow, connect Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and "we can engineer this and elect Donald Trump president".
So, there's long standing ties that Michael Cohen had with the Russians.
BERMAN: So Columbus Nova not the only company that paid Michael Cohen a lot of money, AT&T which is trying to buy Time Warner, our parent company, also paid Michael Cohen. Novartis paid them $1.2 million for apparently a -- you know, advice on how to deal with healthcare. This - this is the swamp. This is Washington. I mean you know a lot of about this. But is that inherently illegal?
SWALWELL: Well, it's the behavior and conduct that President Trump has promised he would get rid off. And so, you know, certainly it doesn't look like its illegal, it certainly questionable and then worth, you know, probing to see just exactly what is going on here. But, you know, the President promised the American people that he'd clean up Washington and that you wouldn't see this type of arrange arrangement.
And, you know, he should I think see this as an opportunity to engage Congress and start to put in, you know, some laws that could get rid of dirty money in politics. That would go a long way in showing that he is too repudiating this.
BERMAN: You mentioned should engage Congress on this. That your colleagues, you know, in the House of the Intelligence Committee, other committees here, any appetite to look into the President's financial issues, specifically, you know, those involved with the President, people like Michael Cohen at this point?
SWALWELL: No, John. And we're shirking that responsibility. And, you know, frankly, the first thing we should do is just unite around, you know, protecting the ballot box going forward. But we also have a duty to make sure that no person is above the law. There's a number of different events that have now come up with this President that are worthy of investigating from his tax returns to potentially cashing in on the Oval Office with his properties and his family. And now this with his personal lawyer.
Again, open up the books Mr. President, if there's nothing to hide, that will be shown. If there is, then you should be held accountable.
BERMAN: We don't know that the President knew anything about this. Do you have any information that the President knew anything about what Michael Cohen was selling in terms of this access?
[20:40:02] SWALWELL: Again, he is the President of the United States, and so perception can be just as worst, is the reality. It's his lawyers, this is not a person who's disconnected from him. And so, again if he want to be trusted by the American people which we want the American president to be, I think he, I think he should fully disclose, you know, these books and let us judge for ourselves.
BERMAN: All right, Congressman Eric Swalwell, thanks so much for being with us.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
BERMAN: Just ahead, more breaking news. The latest on three Americans who were held by the North Korean government, they are now in the air en route to the Washington area. Also, details of the location of the plan summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.
BERMAN: We have breaking news from the Middle East tonight. The day after the United States exited the Iran Nuclear Deal, as many as 20 rockets were fired into Israel from Syria. Israel says, there were fired from the Iranian (INAUDIBLE) force. We're going it have a live report from the Golan Heights, very shortly.
In the meantime the plane carrying those American detainees from North Korea, it stopped in Alaska. You see pictures right there for refueling, it is now wheels up on its way to Joint Base Andrews, and a personal welcome from President Trump.
Our Jim Sciutto joins us now with the details on that. And the location of the planned summit between President Trump and Kim Jong- un. Jim, North Korean media is reported that Kim Jong-un released the detainees at the request of President Trump. What more do we know?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, there appears to be some posturing around this deal. This is all prelude really to this summit between Kim and Trump. And there appears to be an intention here, the North Koreans to grant some credit to the Trump administration for the release of these detainees. And it is true, we know that this was a request for this administration, we know that when Mike Pompeo took of from Washington yesterday, that he left and he told reporters that the intention was to return with those detainees and these are confidence building measures in advance of this summit, this was a key one from the U.S. going in there.
[20:45:06] And this appears to be one that the North Koreans granted to the U.S. You know, in return, you can say in effect, that the U.S. is granting the North Korea this face to face between a U.S. president and the North Koreans leader, something that North Korean leaders have sought for years, have not received and they're getting it now from the Trump administration. So it's transactional in advance of the summit. The question is, what 2happens at the summit on the -- on really the key national security q2uestions, nuclear program, et cetera. You know, what do both sides get out of the meeting when the two leaders actually sit down.
BERMAN: When the two leaders actually sit down and there some new details on that Jim.
SCIUTTO: Well, it appears that the city they're going to choose is Singapore. You know, there have been a lot of discussions of where this would take place. The President himself said in tweets and public comments that he was open to the idea of doing it at the demilitarized zone along the border between North and South Korea. There is some difficulties with that. There was some thought that that might be too much of a win for North Korea to do it there. There was discussion of Mongolia, a place within close proximity to North Korea, because travel for Kim Jong-un far away from North Korea, a challenge from a security perspective.
Also North Korean planes not very reliable can they fly that far. There were discussion of Switzerland as well, because Kim Jong-un is a child that studied there. They seem to have settled on Singapore as a neutral location. The question now is timing, mid to late June, is the timing there, but with the release of these prisoners, what's very key here is that the U.S. got a concession it considers important. Which lays a groundwork then for the two leaders to sit down across from each other.
BERMAN: Certainly removes the key (INAUDIBLE) there and obviously wonderful for the families --
BERMAN: -- of those people they held. Jim Sciutto, thanks so much for being with us.
SCIUTTO: Thank you.
BERMAN: President Trump escalating his war on the media. Threatening to pull network media credentials over what he considers negative news coverage. We'll talk it over with the president of the White House Correspondents' Association and the media critic of the "Baltimore Sun", next.
[20:51:20] BERMAN: President Trump has long been critical of the media. Now he is taking this anger to a new level. Here is what he wrote on Twitter this morning. The fake news is working overtime, just reported that despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy and all things else, 91% of the network news about me is negative. In parenthesis he puts, "fake". Why do we work so hard in working with the media, when it's corrupt? Take away credentials?
Well, now we know how President defines fake news, any negative coverage of him. Asked about that tweet this afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said they are committed to a free press. She also argued the White House is accessible as evidenced by the regular press briefings.
Joining now to discuss, David Zurawik, the media critic for the "Baltimore Sun" and Margaret Talev, president of the White House Correspondents' Association who is also the White House correspondent for Bloomberg and a CNN political analyst reporter with many titles.
You know, look, it is as interesting that the President put in parenthesis "fake", when he associates negative news. He think that negative news is fake, but then Margaret, he add that threat, that threat to revoke media credentials. As president of the White House Correspondents' Association, is it ever OK for the President to take away credentials to journalists who write negative stories?
MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, of course not. And we see no evidence that the White House is making moves in that direction just to be clear. But, you know, as you know, the criticism of the press is one of the President's sort of favorite concedes or moves, and it's often a move the politicians use if they don't like coverage, they don't like critical coverage or they want to change the subject about something.
But what makes this difference is even if it is rhetorical, a threat to make it more difficult for reporters to do their job, to actually establish a barrier toward coverage. And that's why we did end up issuing a statement, because that crosses the line.
BERMAN: It's different than we have heard in some cases in the past. And David, you know, we have heard the negative rhetoric from the President. Let's just listen to some of the times he has threatened the press in the past.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: The "New York Times" is totally dishonest. Totally dishonest. The "Washington Post" gotten a little bit better lately. I took away their press credentials, I should do it with the "Times.
It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write and people should look into it.
The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people.
See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad and sometimes I'll say wow that's going to be a great story and I'll get killed.
BERMAN: So David, is there a way in which the statement today crosses some line that the other attacks did not?
DAVID ZURAWIK, MEDIA CRITIC, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Well, he hasn't done the action yet. So, you know, he hasn't crossed that line. But this is -- you know, this is threatening this is a serious, serious matter. And I mean it's consistent with what he's been doing throughout his presidency. But, you know taking away credentials, we think it cannot happen in way. But we had a case in 2005, 2006 in Maryland where the governor sent a directive to a staff saying that no one could talk to the state house reporter from the "Baltimore Sun" or from a columnist from the "Baltimore Sun".
We went through three, I think two or three levels of appeals all the way to the fourth district court I think in Virginia and they upheld him. They said as long as someone from the "Sun" can cover the state house -- in essence, saying that the executive could determine who covers him or at least who doesn't cover him.
[20:55:04] So, you know, there is some precedent actually if he would take such an action, even in the White House he could for example he might say Jim Acosta I don't want him here. I'll tell you who you can send over from CNN if you want to cover it. This is dangerous stuff, even the rhetoric just, this is the stuff of 30s Germany fascist talk. This is really bad stuff that he even says it. And I'm so glad the White House Correspondents' Association issued some kind of statement today to tell him, look, you walk -- you're walking up to the line. I don't think he cross the line, he walked up to the line.
But, you know, it's going to taking some solidarity to back him off. If he tries this, really I think the White House Correspondents' Association has to rain down holy hell on him and tell him he can't do it. He thinks he can. He came of age as a -- and in dealing with the press in the gutter world of New York tabloid journalism. He doesn't know he's dealing with the high end of the press yet I think and that there's much a higher standard that these people are aspiring to him in terms of coverage.
BERMAN: You know, Margaret I'm sure you're going to taking a page out of the White House handbook and not deal in hypotheticals. But if it were to happen, you know, what do you think the reaction would be among the press corps? And there is a little bit of press to here right when the Obama administration tried to restrict the Fox News reporter from coverage.
TALEV: Yes. No, I think the statement previews the extreme solidarity not just inside the White House press corps but among all First Amendment advocates. And again as this was all going down, the White House correspondents association was working coordinating closely with the White House to actually arrange coverage for tonight return --
TALEV: -- of the Americans held by North Korea. And for upcoming travel. So, as I said, I do believe this is rhetoric. But it is rhetoric that suggests something that's not acceptable at all.
BERMAN: Margaret Talev, David Zurawik, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
TALEV: Thank you.
BERMAN: Up next, our breaking news from Middle East. Israel says Iranian forces have fired rockets into what they consider Israeli territory. We'll have the live report from the Golan Heights when 360, continues.