Return to Transcripts main page


The Trump Effect; President Trump Says Mission Accomplished in North Korea; Michael Cohen Changing Legal Team; Trump: North Korea "No Longer a Nuclear Threat". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Did Michael Cohen just send an SOS to President Trump?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: President Trump's personal lawyer and fixer changing his legal team. Does this signal that he's going to cooperate? Does it signal that he's any more likely to flip?

Stormy Daniels' attorney will be her live to react in just moments.

After one meeting, one handshake, one signature, President Trump says the North Korea nuclear threat is over. Really? Is this his mission accomplished moment?

The Trump effect in full effect in key primary races across the country. Is loyalty to President Trump now trumping conservative principles in the Republican Party?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start with breaking news.

Is the president's fixer about to flip? Now, we don't know the answer. We don't know that to be the case. But there are clearly signs of distress from Michael Cohen, the president's lawyer who was behind that hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and who knows what else.

CNN has learned that Cohen has split from his legal team, according to a source familiar with his actions. Now, whether that is him leaving the legal team or them leaving him, that is unclear. A source tells CNN that Cohen has yet to meet with prosecutors to talk about a potential deal.

And we know Cohen wants a new legal team, one with experience with the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, we're told, the office leading the criminal investigation of Cohen, including when the FBI raided Cohen's home, hotel room and office back in April. Now, as Cohen tries to limit what seized -- prosecutors can see from

that cache of information, there are reports that suggest Cohen might be more inclined to cooperate with the U.S. attorney's office, but as of now there is no indication the U.S. attorney wants or needs his cooperation.

Prosecutors have made it clear in court and from documents submitted to the judge that they feel charges are likely and in all probability coming soon.

Let's bring in Michael Avenatti. He's the attorney representing Stormy Daniels.

Michael, good to see you.

Do you know if Michael Cohen is any more inclined to cooperate with the U.S. attorney?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I don't know for certain, Jake. But, based on my experience, I will tell you this.

There is a common progression here when you have individuals that are in the situation that Michael Cohen is in. And they start off very defiant and then they realize how much a case like this costs to defend.

And, by the way, I estimate that his attorneys were probably soaking him for about a half-a-million dollars a week in connection with this case over the last two months. So that adds up very, very quickly. You could be looking upwards of $3 million or $4 million.

I'm sure Michael Cohen is not happy about paying that money, especially because I think they should have allowed the taint team to conduct the review of the documents and saved him quite a bit -- a lot of money.

But, look, I predicted this a couple of months ago. I said that he would be indicted within in the next 90 days. I think we're at day 58 right now. And I also predicted that ultimately he would flip on the president because he would not be left with a choice.

And I'm going to hold to those predictions, and I think ultimately that is exactly what is going to happen.

TAPPER: What is your understanding of why he and his legal team split?

AVENATTI: Well, my understanding is, is that it has a significant -- there was a significant dispute about the fees that I just referenced, and there was also a dispute relating to the strategy associated with the case.

Here is the issue for Michael Cohen. With each passing day, Jake, his options become potentially more and more limited, because, if Bob Mueller ultimately concludes that a sitting president cannot be indicted -- and I think that he will ultimately conclude that, based on his pedigree and based on his -- how conservative he is just by nature -- Michael Cohen could be left without a chair when the music stops.

What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is, Michael Cohen could be left to face significant jail time with no one to flip on.

TAPPER: "Vanity Fair"'s Gabe Sherman tweeted -- quote -- "Person close to Cohen said he hasn't flipped yet. He is sending up a smoke signal to Trump, I need help" -- unquote.

What do you think of that?

AVENATTI: I think that is possible. I think it is a little late to send up the smoke signal. And I don't think all of the smoke in the world is going to be able to save him.

And I think that ultimately Mr. Trump is going to leave him -- hang him out to dry because he's not known as a guy that is loyal to others, as you well know and has been well-documented.

And, again, I think, ultimately, Michael Cohen is going to be put on an island with very, very few choices.

TAPPER: On Friday, what you called the taint team -- that's the team appointed by the judge that is reviewing this evidence seized from Cohen's office, hotel room and home, looking forward to -- looking through it to see what can be turned over to prosecutors and what doesn't need it be -- does -- and that is going to be on Friday that the taint team makes its decisions.


Does that deadline, you think, have anything to do with this?

AVENATTI: I think it may have something to do with this as it relates to how much money has been spent in such a short period of time.

And I'm sure that Michael Cohen is probably running out of cash and availability. When you are burning a half-a-million dollars in a week potentially in a case like this, again, that adds up very, very quickly.

So, again, I think that the noose is tightening. I think reality is beginning to set in and it is going to continue to set in, in the coming days and weeks.

TAPPER: Well, where do you get the figure from? You say $350,000 to $500,000 a week, you're estimating, is what Michael Cohen is being billed by his now former law firm. Where does that come from?

AVENATTI: Well, based on my experience and knowledge of rates in New York and Los Angeles. And I also understand based on filings and other statements that were made by Mr. Ryan and others on Michael Cohen's legal team relating to how many attorneys they have working on this and how often they were working around the clock, basically full- time. I did the math sitting in the courtroom the last time I was before

Judge Wood. I did the math on a piece of paper and came to the conclusion that that is probably a pretty good estimate of what that burn rate is.

TAPPER: Would you be told if Cohen were in talks, making a deal with prosecutors? Would that be something that you would be informed about?

AVENATTI: Well, I may very well be informed. We have been cooperating with federal prosecutors for a while now.

We have an excellent relationship with them. We communicate with them on a regular basis in connection with their investigation.

TAPPER: All right, Michael Avenatti, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

AVENATTI: Thank you, sir.

TAPPER: We have legal experts, Kim Wehle and Jeffrey Toobern -- Toobin joining me now.

I think I botched both your names.

Let me start.

Jeffrey, what is the significance of him changing -- of Michael Cohen changing his legal team, if any?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It is not clear, because his current legal team could bring him in and have him plead guilty and cooperate.

So it is not like you have to get new lawyers in order to cooperate. It is often the case that when someone switches sides and does decide to cooperate, they switch lawyers. So it is possible that this is a sign of -- but I would like to associate myself with about 50 percent lower of certainty than Michael just expressed.

I don't know what the significance of this is. It is possible it's a sign of cooperation, but it is by no means certain.

TAPPER: Well, he's an advocate. You're an analyst.

TOOBIN: Correct. Correct.

TAPPER: So, of course, a little different.

Kim, do you draw any conclusions about how Michael Cohen might now be seeing the case against him? Do you think this is a matter, as Jeffrey suggested, of getting a team that will enable him to work more closely with the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Well, I think that the firm he has is a very well-established firm with experienced people there.

We did see, as was mentioned, a team of people in the firm going through 3.7 million documents to find -- I think the woman who is in charge of actually reviewing the materials that were retrieved in the execution of the warrant found a couple of hundred that were attorney/client privilege.

So there is a question as to whether all of that was worth it. And, secondly, it doesn't sound like the judge, this judge has had the strongest endorsement of this legal team. She's mentioned at one point in a hearing that they have had misstatements of the law and she has praised the Southern District of New York.

So there are lots of times where, in big cases, whether criminal or civil, at some point there is a strategic decision, listen, we need fresh people. So it could come from either the lawyers, as was mentioned, not getting paid or just deciding this isn't a fit or from Mr. Cohen deciding, little, I need a different approach going forward.

TAPPER: So, Gabe Sherman from "Vanity Fair" says that sources close to Cohen this is about sending a smoke signal to President Trump, SOS, help me out here.

Why not just call President Trump? Obviously, we're in a world now where those kinds of quaint rules, regulations and traditions don't apply where somebody wouldn't make such a call.

TOOBIN: Well, I think even in Trump world, asking -- calling up and asking for a pardon could be a little excessive even in this world.

But Donald Trump knows that Michael Cohen wants a pardon. He knows how much trouble he's in. Let's keep in mind this is a lawyer who had his office searched. You would not get a search warrant for a lawyer's office unless there was something way more than probable cause that he -- that he was guilty of some crime.

But he hasn't been charged with anything yet. And Donald Trump has not suggested -- has not given a pardon yet. I think giving a pardon to Michael Cohen would be politically much more difficult than any of the other pardons he's given so far, just because there is no suggestion that Michael Cohen has any national security, government responsibility.

He's just a private lawyer. It would be seen as very much a self- interested act. But Donald Trump has broken many of the rules we have ascribed to him before and he may break these too.

TAPPER: And, Kim, if you were on the president's legal team right now, what might you be thinking about all of this going on in the Southern District of New York?


Obviously, the preoccupation is Mueller, but this is -- this seems significant as well. WEHLE: Well, I think the -- we should have our eye on what happens

with the president at this point, because even if you were to have the audacity to make a pardon, it wouldn't affect any state crimes that Mr. Cohen might be liable for.

And, remember, he had -- one of his partner in the taxicab business has already been in some legal jeopardy. And so there are implications there. Mr. Trump couldn't help him with that.

So what I'm interested in seeing is, if there is going to be a Cohen plea or some kind of approach with the government, ether the Southern District of New York or the Mueller team, how does Mr. Trump react? Does he continue his all-out assault on the integrity of the Justice Department?

That is the bigger sort of constitutional problem that I think we're facing as a nation, that we don't have someone at the head of the executive branch who is respecting the integrity of the process. And that could trigger, could actually create much more trouble than we're currently in.

TOOBIN: Kim is definitely right that a pardon would not affect a state case.

But I think there is a bit of mythology about the chances of a state prosecution in any of these cases. State attorneys general, especially in New York, do not do many criminal cases. They don't have the resources. They don't have the experience. They don't have the underlying laws.

So I think we need to recognize this case is going to be resolved in federal court one way or another. And a pardon would get Michael Cohen off the hook, period.

TAPPER: All right, Kim and Jeffrey, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Guys, don't worry, President Trump says we can all sleep well tonight, North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. Hmm?

Should we remind President Trump about that George W. Bush mission accomplished moment?

Stay with us.


[16:15:50] TAPPER: President Trump says you all can sleep well tonight because he's solved all of the problems with North Korea, tweeting, quote: There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.

That's just not true. Experts say North Korea may have as much as 60 nuclear weapons in the arsenal. North Korea routinely bragged about testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. mainland.

And as CNN's Michelle Kosinski explains, despite the historic summit, President Trump did not yet get any guarantees from Kim Jong-un.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump capping a historic summit with a victory tweet: Just landed, a long trip but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.

A tweet that may have gone too far.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Well, that would be hyperbole.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA, MINORITY LEADER: The denuclearization has not happened or any prospect that it will.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: No. I think they made some representations about their intention, but this is the beginning I think of a long, long process. We're not at the end of the road, we're at the beginning.

KOSINSKI: And after meeting with the oppressive murderous dictator of North Korea, whom he thanked for his time, it seems President Trump believes their relationship changes the equation and North Korea's long history of nuclear ambition.

Meantime, North Korea state-run media is celebrating Trump suspending joint military exercises with South Korea without even notifying U.S. allies. Trump again tweeting: We save a fortune by not doing war games as long as we're negotiating in good faith which both sides are.

Some analysts call that a giant gift to China and Russia which want to see less U.S. influence in the region. Both have called for a freeze for freeze plan for the U.S. to freeze military exercises and return for North Korea freezing its nuclear program. Something Trump himself said he would definitely not do back in November.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Xi recognizes that a nuclear North Korea is a grave threat to China and we agree that we would not accept a so-called freeze for freeze agreement, like those that have consistently failed in the past.

KOSINSKI: But a "Wall Street Journal" article in January cite sources that suggest it was Russia's Vladimir Putin who gave Trump the idea to go this route, during a conversation they had. And that Trump's Defense Secretary James Mattis and steered the president away from it, at least until now.

Leaving Republicans doing their best to defend that Trump has given these things to Kim Jong-un without getting any clear plan for denuclearization in return.

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think the exercise -- the exercises are important. I would like to see them continue. But perhaps the president believes this is a way to move forward with President Kim.

REPORTER: Do you view Kim Jong-un as a great guy who just wants to do right by his people and no longer poses a threat to the United States?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Look, the status quo was not working with North Korea.


KOSINSKI: Now, it is the task of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to explain all of this to U.S. allies, to talk to South Korea. He's also talking to China. He says talks with North Korea are expected to resume within the next week or so, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much.

So let's talk about it with the panel.

Josh Holmes, obviously, we hope this all leads to a denuclearized North Korea and a denuclearized Korean peninsula. But to say that there's no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea, it's just not true.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, I mean, we're clearly not there yet. And don't know if the president was trying to say -- I mean, obviously if you take his words literally, that is what he's suggesting, but I think he's trying to do is reassure the American people that we are not in the same position that we were in last summer where you had North Korea basically firing off intercontinental ballistic missiles like bottle rockets into the ocean over Japan.

We're not in that situation any longer and I think he's trying to signify to the American people, look, we're making progress here.

TAPPER: So, Kirsten, President Trump said Kim trusts me and I trust him. Is the president hanging his confidence in how this will all end on this personal relationship as opposed to, I don't know, 30 years of history?

[16:20:03] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, it's hard to know exactly what he's trying to do here, because if you look at it, it seems like he gave away a lot and didn't really get anything in return. He's saying that he got something, but there is nothing that's remotely verifiable. There is nothing, there's really nothing. And if you compare it to the -- to the criticisms made about the Iran deal, which actually did have inspections and is actually is a deal that's written down and we don't have that.

We also have legitimized one of the most evil men in the world. And you even have the president saying in interviews when he's confronted about the fact that he runs concentration camps and oppresses his people and is just a truly evil man, where he has to be -- he didn't say tough guy or something like that, why are his people in an uprising?


POWERS: No, they are not. So, he's making excuses for literally one of the worst dictators in the world right now and giving him the thumbs up.

TAPPER: One of the things I wonder about, Josh, is what this means in terms of negotiation. And, you know, we like to play a game on this show called, is there a tweet for it? And yes, there is a tweet for it. 2013, President Trump tweeted, then private citizen Trump: The reason great deal makers do not openly celebrate a deal, especially one that is not complete, is that it shows weakness to the other side, unquote.

Good advice, makes sense, doesn't that point hold here? Isn't his eagerness to herald this deal, doesn't that possibly show some weakness to the North Koreans? We already have the Russian and Chinese now talking about lifting sanctions.

HOLMES: Well, he's got a dual role, right? It's not just the deal. He also has a role with the American people to play about explaining exactly what's going on here and what he's trying to accomplish.

Now, I find it pretty interesting, all of the criticism that he's received from the right and from the left, all from folks who've basically spent the last 25 years that got us to a place where we are on the brink of nuclear war last year.

Now, look, I don't know if this is ultimately going to be successful or not, but it certainly can't be any less successful than we've been up to this point. So, I'm going to give some room.

POWERS: I don't know. Were we really on the brink of nuclear war? I mean, people keep saying this. I think --

HOLMES: I don't know what it looks like if it doesn't look like that.

POWERS: I think that he was -- Kim was doing what he always does, which is he was making provocative statements that were typically ignored because everybody knows he makes provocative statements. The president decided to engage and make provocative statements.

TAPPER: Last year, yes.

POWERS: So whose fault is it if we were, in fact, on the verge -- we probably weren't but if we were whose fault is it?

HOLMES: Don't you think it is fundamentally different when he for the first time was able to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles that have the capability of hitting mainland the United States --

POWERS: Yes, I don't think --

HOLMES: -- for the first time? If you don't react to that, what are you doing?

POWERS: No, you should react to it. I think what we're talking about is how do you react to it and how do you go from that to the verge of nuclear war and it's how the president reacted to it. And I think that -- the fact of the matter is, like Jake said at the beginning, everybody would like to see this problem solved. The problem has not come close to being solved and he gave them

everything they wanted and we didn't get anything in return. I mean, why are we going to stop joint exercises? That's like a football team stopping --

TAPPER: How do you feel about that Josh? The idea that the U.S. is now going to withhold doing this joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

HOLMES: Well, I think we all have these conceptions of things that may or may not be significant at all. The idea that because we're not doing military exercises means we're not military-ready? That's crazy.

POWERS: That's exactly what it means.

HOLMES: No, well, it's just fundamentally not true.

POWERS: That's not what military says. It's literally like if you just stopped having, you know, any kind of preparation -- if you are a football team. We're just not going to practice anymore, we'll just show up at the Super Bowl and do our thing. They are practicing for a reason and the military said they are very important so that they --

HOLMES: Well, it's a funny -- it's pretty interesting question --

POWERS: No, it's a joint --


HOLMES: -- Democrats position everywhere else in the world, right?

POWERS: What's that?

HOLMES: It's interesting, the argument to have -- if that's Democrats' position everywhere else in the world, that you draw down troops from everywhere except Korea.

POWERS: That's not even remotely the same thing. What do you think? Drawing down troops in Afghanistan is the same thing as Korea?

He's not drawing down troops. Let's not muddy the waters.


POWERS: He's basically saying there aren't going to be joint exercises between two militaries that need to be prepared if there's a nuclear war.

HOLMES: I think we're creating a whole bunch of things to make it seem like we're not making progress here. My only point is we are at a situation where anybody can deny was pretty significant last year. There was tensions at an all time high.

We had people in Hawaii going to bomb shelters because of an accidental emergency alarm. Like that was a pretty tense period. No question that where we are right now is a significant amount of progress.

TAPPER: So, everyone stick around. We have more to talk about.

President Trump is embracing a candidate who is figuratively wrapped his campaign in the confederate flag as last night's primary results shows the Trump effect is in full effect.

Stay with us.


[16:29:00] TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead. President Trump throwing his weight behind a Republican candidate for Senate, a candidate that many other Republicans call too extreme.

This morning, Mr. Trump fully embraced Corey Stewart, celebrating Stewart's primary win last night, writing, quote: Congratulations to Corey Stewart for his great victory for senator from Virginia. Don't underestimate Corey, a major chance of winning.

Stewart's nomination has alarmed many Republicans in Virginia and elsewhere. After all, one of his primary opponents, Green Beret combat veteran Nick Freitas had urged Virginians to, quote, reject Corey Stewart's dogwhistling of white supremacists and anti-Semites and racist.

Stewart is known for his championing of confederate symbols and his ties to several unrepentant bigots, including organizers and participants in the Charlottesville rally last year.

Here is Stewart in the 2017 at the so-called Old South Ball.


COREY STEWART (R), VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm proud to be next to the Confederate flag. Over my dead body when I'm governor of Virginia are we ever going to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson.