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Stormy Daniels' Lawyer: U.S. Firm Linked To Russian Businessman Paid $500k To Cohen; CNN: Mueller Team Questions Russian Oligarch About Cohen Payments; McConnell Team Taunts Blankenship With Narcos' Reference; V.P. Pence's Brother Greg Wins GOP Primary In Indiana. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:59] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome back. Michael Cohen is back in the news today, facing new questions that somehow, yes, somehow, managed to connect the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels with eye- popping relationships with Russian oligarchs.

CNN has exclusively learned the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has questioned one of the oligarchs, Viktor Vekselberg. The investigation specifically wanting to know about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments that his American affiliate made to Cohen after the 2016 election. Adding to the intrigue, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer always on TV who represents Stormy Daniels. Avenatti says Cohen used the same bank account for the Daniels' payment for a series of payments after the election.

Those payments coming in from that oligarchs company of pharmaceutical giant, the Korea Aerospace company and AT&T. Full disclosure AT&T of course in the process trying to buy CNN's parent company, Time Warner. Avenatti says Cohen was peddling access to the President.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Michael Cohen should not be selling access to the President of the United States. It appears that this may be your typical pay-to-play type scenario, where you have someone close to a politician, in this case, close to the President of the United States, which is highly unusual, selling access, potential access to the President of the United States. I don't believe that Michael Cohen is registered as a lobbyist. I don't believe that he's registered as he should be in order to represent any foreign agents or foreign interests. I mean, this is a big deal.


KING: Now, we should note for the record CNN has not independently verified the authenticity of the documents that Avenatti released to support his claims. Let's try to untangle this, I should say, increasingly complex web, increasingly, increasingly, increasingly.

CNN Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz join us now. Shimon, help us understand why this matters.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, it matters for one reason really, John. And as we've reported that the Mueller team has been looking at foreign influence, Russian influence in the campaign, and an aspect of that is money. Was Russian money flown into the campaign? Was Russian money flowing into any people who perhaps were associated with the President?

And a concern here from what we're told is that Viktor Vekselberg, who has now been sanctioned for interference into the election, has been sanctioned by the U.S., its concern obviously that there is money that may have been exchanged here that may have been given in some way perhaps for influence. And that is why the FBI and the Special Counsel have taken a look at it.

Now, this company in New York, Columbus Nova, which is linked to Viktor Vekselberg, the CEO of his company is a cousin of Viktor Vekselberg. They were seen together at the inauguration, at the Trump inauguration. So all of these sort of links, these coincidences perhaps, have raised some suspicion among investigators. And that's why they started looking at these connections and also at the money that ultimately went to Michael Cohen.

KING: Shimon, one more quick question. When Michael Avenatti goes on TV and says he is suspicious because the same bank account was used to pay Stormy Daniels and the payments that started to came into that account were after the Daniels' payment, that's his conjecture, right? We have no evidence of that, right?

PROKUPECZ: Right. No, it's completely his conjecture. Look, we confirmed certainly that money went to Michael Cohen to the same account that he would use to pay Stormy Daniels the hush money. That much we do know. We know that he knows the person who paid him this money. We know that they have some kind of business arrangement.

But we don't have a lot of our questions have not been answered in terms of what the business relationship was, how do they know each other, when did they meet, those kinds of questions that probably investigators are asking and then probably already know the answers too. We don't have those answers, John.

KING: You're right about the Special Counsel's team looking at to Michael Avenatti help to Michael Cohen in court as well. Shimon, appreciate the reporting. It is just one of these -- you start reading these things and you think this can't be real.

[12:35:03] But the President consistently says no Russian collusion, there is no public evidence of Russian collusion specially involving the President. But how about Russian cozy and how much just plain outright stupidity. If you have Michael Cohen, the President's lawyer, taking money from a company that has a very close relationship with a Russian oligarch after the election, when you know the President and his whole team are under investigation for Russia connections, the gentleman has subsequently been sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department for meddling in the United States election, forgive me, but it raises a lot of questions. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Without a doubt. At best it's a judgment question. But also I think we have to keep in mind the issue of the sanctions. The White House repeatedly slow walked many sanctions. And that the Republicans and Democrats on the Hill were supportive off. So I think that we are just at the very tip of all of this, of understanding all of this.

I mean, Michael Cohen did not come inside the White House. The President did not hire him to come inside. But boy, what were all these corporations paying him for? His company was essential consultants. We know he talked to the President all the time here. To me that is the most fascinating part of this.

I mean, he was obviously doing business as he always did, in the shadows as a fixer. But the rules changed once he was elected. I don't think Michael Cohen back --

KING: And the President said he was going to drain the swamp, insert laughter here. But the President said he's going to drain the swamp. And even if there's nothing about collusion or elections or this is not connected to anything in the campaign (ph), Michael Cohen, $500,000 from Columbus Nova, $400,000 from Novartis, $150,000 from Korea Aerospace, $200,000 from our potential future bosses here at CNN, AT&T. This is selling access, selling influence.

I know the President, therefore, pay me money. Which is, depending on what was done, but is potentially absolutely above the board and legal. It stinks --


KING: -- but it's legal.

HENDERSON: Yes. I think that's right. There's nothing unusual about this people. You know, maybe they'll work on a campaign and they'll set up a consulting chapter because they know people in the administration. And this seems sort of similar to that. I mean, you throw a rock in Washington and you meet somebody, you know, who is a consultant. I mean, that's just how it works. So it doesn't seem to be -- even though bad judgment, that's not a crime.

ZELENY: A lot of party to register for the (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: And that is -- yes. I mean --

ZELENY: He was not a registered lobbyist or whatever.

KING: If you're asking the other end about specific policy, if you're just saying, you know, here's what the President thinks about pharmaceutical companies, or I know the President hates the AT&T-Time Warner merger because of this is that, you know --

ZELENY: The question, what did the President know about this. He does not like his staffers and people in his world to profit off of him. He's been very --

KING: He says that, but does he mean that?

ZELENY: I don't know.

KING: Does he mean that? Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, same business. These guys are in business. They won't come in. Michael Cohen was not invited to the White House. Some others who have been haven't come in because it requires to give up a lot of change.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: There are consultant firms all around Washington, D.C. where, again, people have these relationships and companies pay them big dollars, because they know somebody on the Hill, they know somebody in the White House. And again, unless it's actually paying money to get policy changed, I mean, there's nothing illegal with that and we see this all the time.

I mean, going back just a couple of years, I mean, we were talking about this with Hillary Clinton and people were investigating it on the Hill. Of course, the Hill is not investigating this at least at this point and I definitely wouldn't think they're going to because Republicans don't want to touch this at all.

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: No, but Mueller is. And that to me is the biggest takeaway from this. This didn't happen two weeks ago, this has been going on, the Mueller investigations been looking at this, for months, and we should be cautious again about Michael Avenatti presenting things that he doesn't have evidence for.

That's why I -- What we do know, that facts that we do know, is that Mueller is still looking into things that we don't know about. The public, the press, we don't know about it. And every person in sort of the Trump or Trump friendly orbit who says Mueller has gone astray, he doesn't have anything, this investigation needs to end, we're running up against the one year anniversary of this, I think that drumbeat is getting louder. Well, we find out as we have every few weeks that Mueller knows a lot more than we do, and is looking into a lot more. Maybe nothing comes out of it, but it's certainly worth investigation, as your segment first pointed out, all of the connections that are suspicious.

KING: Oligarch payments to a trusted Trump associate. After the election, his cousin here in the United States making $250,000 in contributions, the inauguration for Trump, $35,000 for Trump victory front, $30,000 for the Republican National Committee, that's (INAUDIBLE) the Special Counsel. Do these Russians and Russian tied people all just love Donald Trump or is there something else afoot here? That is the question quickly.

BADE: I just found it very curious that these Russian oligarchs are even talking to Mueller because they're not going to do that without Putin's (INAUDIBLE). And why would Putin want them to do this? I mean --

KING: In the case of Vekselberg, when his plane landed in the United States, they were there waiting for him. BADE: Well that's --

KING: It's not as act (ph) like he called up to make an appointment.

All right, coming up for us here, a big night of primaries across the country and a big win for the President. That's a controversial candidate. The President didn't like came up short in West Virginia after one of those tweets.


[12:44:10] KING: Welcome back. The establishment wings of both political parties are, for the most part, happy today, each believing it avoided major potholes in last night's primary result. In West Virginia, the race most of us are watching, Republican voters rejected controversial Coal Executive Don Blankenship. Well Democrats in Ohio easily fended off a challenge from the party's left wing in the governor's race.

President Trump is happy calling it a great night, saying that, "The economy is so strong and with Nancy Pelosi wanting to end the big Tax Cuts and Raise Taxes, why wouldn't we win?" That's from the President.

If there's one big takeaway from last night, it was this. Bad year to be a D.C. insider, especially bad year to be a House Republican.

Let's go around the table. Did I make that point about to be a House Republican. The House Republican who is running in that West Virginia three-way race lost. Two House Republicans were running for the Senate nomination in Indiana, lost. The first incumbent went down in North Carolina, a Republican House member, lost. What else?

[12:45:07] BADE: It's going to be a tough year to be a House Republican, no doubt about it. This is just the beginning, and they're going to lose a lot of seats in the midterm election. I mean, just to start with the Indiana race, right? You have Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, these are two pretty prominent Republicans in the House. One was expected to be the next budget chairman. The other one was already in a Demi (ph) leadership position. But then they went home, they both ran for the Senate seat and tried to argue about who loved Trump more.

But one of the lessons from last night was that, you can't just say you love Trump and Trump loves you. It doesn't work. Both of them lost. The other guy you mention, Rob Pittenger of North Carolina, this is someone that GOP leaders kind of knew he was going to go down at some point. A lot of time -- They actually thought he would lose in the general election as opposed to the primary. But again, this is just the beginning for Republicans.

KING: And that seat in North Carolina, Democrats think they have a chance at that now because of the nominee there. The happiest man in Washington, I think even more happy than the President is the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Don Blankenship, that Coal Executive, ran against the, quote/unquote China people, that would be Mitch McConnell's Asian-American wife. He called him cocaine Mitch, race-baiting, others you call what you will with Don Blankenship.

And so after last night, teammate (ph) tweeted out this. "Thanks playing at Don Blankenship." It's a copy cut. There you see Narcos is in Netflix series. Narcos is in Netflix series about drug trafficking, by the way. And you see the Senate Majority Leader -- I guess we're supposed to (INAUDIBLE) some will say, what is he doing, making fun of cocaine? But clearly, very, very happy.

WARREN: Yes. I mean, I think he is -- they're spiking the football on this, because Blankenship was obviously one of these many candidates that Mitch McConnell and Republicans trying to take over and hold on to the Senate over the last several years have been afraid of, that he would have been another Roy Moore. But it did seem a little to me that move -- a little, you know -- act like you've been here before, you know. This guy came in third place and he lost pretty badly. Actually, time for Republicans to move on and just take the win.

KING: Yes, feeling (ph) is out. So one other quick question, will this encourage Republicans to go to the President more often? He tweeted about Don Blankenship. He didn't say vote for this guy. He said don't vote for this guy. Is that going to come up again? Are there more of those primaries out there?

ZELENY: I think you look him up again. And I think it's also a sign that the President is very invested and interested in trying to be helpful to the leadership in the Senate. He and Mitch McConnell have not always had the closest relationship. It's improved dramatically in recent months. He wants to be helpful to hold on to his majority. He'll do anything, even if that means stay away.

KING: Coming up --

BADE: It's one thing for the President to say he embraces you and the candidates to say that they are (INAUDIBLE) for the President. Got to go from the President.

KING: Coming up for us, it's a big anniversary. Are you celebrating at home? Do you remember what it is, one year ago today? Think about it.


[12:52:07] KING: Topping our political radar today, the message worked for the White House and Republicans, just 12 percent of those surveyed in a recent Monmouth University poll say their family has seen great benefits in a growing economy. Nearly a third say they've seen some benefit. About a quarter say they haven't seen much. Finally, 30 percent say the booming economy hasn't helped their family at all.

A top lead attorney well versed in impeachment making his first trip through what's become a revolving door for lawyers at the Trump White House. Emmet Flood starting work today with a packed schedule that includes numerous meetings on the Russia investigation. He, of course, replaces Ty Cobb, who took a more cooperative approach that Robert Mueller team and many expect Flood will now take.

And of course Mueller was only hired after James Comey was fired as FBI Director. President Trump did that exactly one year ago today. Eight days later, Mueller was appointed Special Counsel to investigate Russian election meddling and today that probe still of course hanging over the White House.

Just a short time ago, Comey sending out this tweet thanking the people of the FBI for their, quote, commitment to the truth. Vice President Pence also active on Twitter, congratulating Republicans who won primaries last night, including his older brother, Greg Pence, who's running for a soon to be open House seat in Indiana. It's the same seat Mike Pence held early back in the 2000. And speaking of Hoosier State connections to the Vice President, Jimmy Kimmel's late night audience last night learned about another one.


JIMMY KIMMEL, ABC ANCHOR: Mike Pence was a student at Hanover College while you were there.


KIMMEL: Did you know him?

HARRELSON: I knew him, yes. We were both very religious. It was a Presbyterian college at the time, and I was there on a Presbyterian scholarship, and he was involved with the, you know, church activities. I was actually considering being a minister and then I just kind of went a different way.

KIMMEL: Yes, you did.


KING: Woody. Woody, Woody, Woody. Yes?

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, are we talking about woody?

KING: You talk whatever you want.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes, I mean, he definitely went a different way. I mean, Woody Harrelson to me is always the cheers bar tender in my way. I guess he's played LBJ and all sorts of things. But, yes, he went a different way that includes probably mine altering substances at points.

KING: At points.


KING: And so, one year from the Comey firing he says he's still very active in ROI (ph). He likes to troll on Twitter a little bit.

WARREN: It turns to be maybe one of the most consequential moves of the Trump presidency so far. I mean, that is what set off a chain of events that led to Mueller as you said. And, I mean, this is the world we're living in it's all because the President made this decision to fire James Comey.

ZELENY: And at the time his advisers thought it would be a popular thing, bipartisan, speaking on Capitol Hill. It's probably one of the last pieces of advice that some of those advisers have given the President. They could not have been more wrong about that. It set into everything in motion, you know, that is going on and really hanging over the White House and the President.

[12:55:01] KING: The vice president's brother, Greg, largely avoided reporters during his campaign. If he wins that House seat in November, we're looking forward to that one right up --

BADE: Yes, I'll be the first one to go up there and talk to him. So, let's just hope he's, you know, friendlier with reporters and doesn't do the thing that happened in Montana a couple of months ago.

KING: Excellent point there.

BADE: In terms of taking out of reporter.

HENDERSON: Yes. I remember, yes.

KING: All right, thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS today. Thanks for helping us to deal to that breaking news on top of the program. Wolf starts after this quick break. Have a great day.