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Cohen Splits from Legal Team; Sanford Falls in Primary; Corker on Cult-Like Situation; GOP Won't Endorse Stewart; Pompeo Arrives in South Korea. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:24] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this day with us.

A packed hour ahead, beginning with this very important breaking news of interest to the West Wing without a doubt. A source telling CNN, Michael Cohen, the president's long-time fixer and lawyer, has ditched his legal team, just days ahead of a critical court deadline.

Cohen now bringing in new lawyers. Who that is? We don't know at the moment. But what it means for Cohen and potentially for the president, also unclear.

Cohen, we should be clear, has not been charged with a crime. But the decision to get new counsel could indicate charges are coming. A source telling CNN, Cohen has not yet met with prosecutors to speak about a potential deal, and it's unclear whether Cohen or the prosecutors want one.

Let's dissect this breaking news. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Gloria Borger, Phil Mattingly and Michael Zeldin, who, of course, has experience with Robert Mueller on the special counsel investigation.

Gloria, you're part of the new reporting on this. Michael Cohen, they served a warrant on him, an unusual warrant. They took records from his home, from his hotel room, from his office. We know he's under investigation. It started with the special counsel. Was then handed off to prosecutors in New York. Why this move?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's a lot of heat on Michael Cohen, as you -- as you point out. And I've been told that Cohen wanted somebody with New York experience who he's clearly going to face some criminal charges. He wants someone with experience in the southern district of New York. His previous lawyer, Steve Cohen (ph), as you know, was first brought in to shepherd him through congressional hearings. He's a D.C. attorney. And I think that Cohen just decided this was a good time to change.

Does it mean -- does it signal a shift in strategy? It could. We don't know the answer to that. Our source is telling us that Cohen has not met with prosecutors, that this is simply a shift that he feels he's going to need as he faces potential criminal charges in New York. But we don't really know the answer to the question about whether Cohen intends to cut a deal with prosecutors or, by the way, whether prosecutors want him to cut a deal. We just don't know.

KING: And so, let's be careful, since we're in the avenue of we don't know, but we do know this is significant. For somebody -- they've been going over the documents that were seized from his office, from his home, from his hotel room, to try to determine what's privileged and what isn't. The president's lawyers are involved in that because some of these communications are with his client, the president of the United States. And then just days before a key deadline, you tell the judge, I'm switching my lawyers.

You've been on the inside of this process. What does that mean?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's not clear exactly what it means. It could mean a couple of things.

We saw this in Gates. Remember, he we switched lawyers. He picked up Tom Green and that led to a guilty plea and a cooperation agreement. So this may be a predicate for exactly what that was.

Or it could be, as Gloria reports, that he just wanted someone who was local, and that he moved from a Washington, D.C. based lawyer to a New York lawyer.

But to your timing question, it is very unusual. When you have a deadline of tomorrow to produce documents that you're going to assert privilege with respect to which may be the whole basis for your case, it doesn't make sense to me that you would switch the day before, unless there was some fundamental disagreement between the lawyers and their client about how to move forward.

BORGER: And, you know, I fully admit, we could be being spun on this and there could be a disagreement on strategy between lawyers, which would obviously signal a split. We just don't know at this point. All we know is that they've separated, and we're not sure what that means down the road yet.

ZELDIN: We know though -- just one point to this, John. We know from an earlier report, though, that McDermott, Will and Emery, the law firm that is presently representing Cohen, has received payments under FEC guidelines from the Trump Organization, the Trump campaign. And so it may be that there's a fee dispute here if they can no longer receive payments from Trump, where is the money going to come from to pay him? So there's lots of stuff that we don't know.

BORGER: We don't know.

ZELDIN: Moveable parts.

KING: And to the point we don't know whether Michael Cohen is planning a change in his strategy or he just needs new lawyers who maybe have more experience in cases like this in the venue of New York. But we do know, you mentioned Rick Gates, three former Trump campaign aides have flipped and are cooperating. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, George Papadopoulos, who the Trump campaign says is a coffee boy but who had some inside information, and Rick Gates. Three people have flipped. So if you're hearing this news at the Trump White House today, you're worried, is Michael Flynn going to cooperate.

[12:05:06] And let's help with some context on Michael Flynn. For years, more than a decade, the president's lawyer, the president's fixer, knows about the Trump organization, also was, and this is one of the reasons this makes you step back a little bit, central to the payment to Stormy Daniels, and then central to the idea of the White House having to clean up a lie that the president had nothing to do with it, or that the president wasn't involved in the payment. Remember, Michael Cohen paid the money and then we now know -- the White House waited a long time to clear this up -- that he was reimbursed for that money from the president. So if you're in the West Wing today, you hope -- I guess you hope you know a lot more than we know about what's at the core of this.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's no question about that. And, look, if you want to gauge how the president feels about Michael Cohen, watch what he was saying and doing on Twitter and in his public comments in the wake of the FBI raid. He was very clearly upset, very clearly exercised, really questioned the strategy, and the rationale behind the raid itself. And I think it underscores, one, the relationship the two of them have had, but, two, how much Michael Cohen knows and has been directly involved with pretty much every element of President Trump's pre-White House life. And I think that naturally raises concerns.

I think, to what Gloria's reporting states, though, I mean you take a step back and, obviously, the southern district of New York and the FBI of New York's posture here is not a secret to anybody. What they did and how they deployed in terms of the raid, the strategy they've deployed up to this point has made very clear that something is coming, I think, if you talk to legal experts. And so the idea that Michael Cohen would want somebody, a, with ties or knowledge of SDNY and, b, who's ready to fight them, would make sense. I think the big question now becomes, is that what's actually happening here, or is there more --

ZELDIN: Ready to fight or ready to cooperate?

KING: Ready to fight or ready -- we know the president's answer is ready to fight. The president's trademark has been to fight.

To your point, when this happened, when the raid happened, it is very difficult to get a warrant to search an attorney's office. It is even more difficult to get a warrant to show up unannounced, you know, the no-knock warrant. That's when you have to convince a judge you believe somebody is going to destroy evidence or somebody has lied to you in saying they possess something and they won't give it to you. A pretty high bar there.

The president, when this happened, tweeted out attorney-client privilege is dead. He went on to say, attorney-client privilege is now a thing of the past. I have many -- too many lawyers and they are probably wondering when their offices and even homes are going to be raided with everything, including their phones and computers taken. All lawyers are deflated and concerned.

This part of what has been a constant from this president, attack the prosecutors relentlessly.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. And we've seen that just sort of broadly. His, obviously, attacks on Mueller, his idea that there's some sort of deep state that's out to get him as part of the Mueller campaign. I mean he talks there about he has many lawyers, too many lawyers. I mean his main lawyer, his main fixer, as we all know, has been -- has been Michael Cohen.

In covering Donald Trump, we've all dealt with Michael Cohen. He has positioned himself as someone who's very close to Donald Trump, sort of trying to sort of sell his access to Donald Trump. So if you are the White House, I mean you are very worried about this. And you will likely, if you're Donald Trump, kind of go back to this same play of attacking the investigators and attacking the investigation.

BORGER: You know, I can tell you that this raid was -- what I was told was called a game changer to Trump's attorneys, because they were upset about it. I mean they were all set to meet with Mueller's team that afternoon. The raid occurred in the morning. They still met with Mueller's team, but it was not a happy meeting. And the president, as you point out, was really incensed by this. And so now the lawyers are vying to get back on track with team Mueller to figure out about the president's testimony. But this raid on Michael Cohen's office and home really set them back.

KING: And it's interesting. Some -- again, the lawyers know a lot more than we do about this.


KING: So when they speak, we try to, you know, read the tea leaves, if you will.

BORGER: Right.

KING: The president and his team have attacked George Papadopoulos as coffee boy. The president always says -- he talks of Paul Manafort as somebody he passed in a subway stop, you know, once, as opposed to somebody who was key to the convention victory for President Trump, was the campaign chairman, was central to the campaign operations at a very, very important time. But they dismiss him as almost nobody.

Listen to Rudy Giuliani here on ABC when George Stephanopoulos asked the question, are you worried Michael Cohen's going to flip?


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Are you concerned at all that Michael Cohen's going to cooperate with prosecutors? RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: No, I expect that he is going to

cooperate with them. I don't think they'll be happy with him because he doesn't have any incriminating evidence about the president or himself. The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.


KING: Weren't (ph) trashing Michael Cohen when he became a subject of the investigation.

ZELDIN: It's, you know, it -- Rudy Giuliani has to be taken with a grain of salt. The notion that he knows that Michael Cohen is going to plead guilty and is going to cooperate but has nothing to say, you know, is made up. He doesn't have a factual basis for that, unless he's receiving leaks from the U.S. attorney's office, which, you know, is not likely.

KING: I think what we've learned about Rudy so far is he's a TV lawyer at the moment, not a courtroom lawyer at the moment. We'll see. Again, we'll keep track of this development, Michael Cohen now switching his legal team. What does that mean? We'll keep reporting on that.

[12:09:56] Up next for us here, Congressman Mark Sanford about as conservative as they come, but he just lost his Republican primary. His crime? Criticizing the leader of what another prominent Republican today calls the cult of Trump.


KING: Welcome back.

To politics now.

A powerful midterm message delivered last night in a primary night that did a lot more than just pick candidates for the November ballot. Congressman Mark Sanford, soon to be former Congressman Mark Sanford, which makes him exhibit a as Republicans in Washington now debate challenging the president on trade, crossing him on immigration, or schooling him that a few hours in the same room as Kim Jong-un does not make a nuclear arsenal disappear.

Sanford was Tea Party before there was a Tea Party. As a congressman, then South Carolina governor, then congressman again, railing against fellow Republicans who called themselves conservatives but vote routinely for bloated budgets. But he also chastises the president's tweets and his tantrums and he dares to say aloud that the grand old party is now a cult of personality, no longer the home of conservative policy and principles. For that, Sanford lost his primary last night.

[12:15:06] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It may have cost me an election in this case, but I stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president, because I didn't think, at the end of the day, was either concurrent with the promises I made when I first ran for office, or the voices of the very people of the first district that I represent.


KING: Katie Arrington is the winner. She campaigned promising loyalty to the president and won a final hours endorsement tweet as Air Force One was flying back from Singapore.


KATIE ARRINGTON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Joe Cunningham and the D.C. Democrats are the party of Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren. We are the party of President Donald J. Trump. We are the party of Senator Tim Scott. And now, Congressman Katie Arrington.


KING: Joining our conversation, Olivier Knox from Sirius XM, Molly Ball with "Time."

This is a big deal. Mark Sanford is a Republican. Mark Sanford is a conservative. Mark Sanford is to the right of almost everybody. It's pretty hard to find somebody who gets to the right of Mark Sanford when it comes to voting on taxes and spending and balancing budgets. Mark Sanford just got thumped because he dared to stand up to the president.

MATTINGLY: And then said he didn't regret anything that he said, which underscores why he ended up getting thumped.

Look, I think if you look more broadly at the campaign, clearly he was taken by surprise on this. He didn't start his major spend until late. Katie Arrington ran a good, solid race, actually had the backing of some state legislators that had run crosswise with Sanford over the years when he was governor. So there was some help there. It wasn't as clean cut maybe as it appears.

But the reality is this -- and we see it in the polling, you see it when you talk to members on The Hill, you see it when complicated issues come up or, frankly, tweets that you would think would rub somebody the wrong way. President Trump runs the Republican Party, and President Trump's voters are the people that will elect Republicans to the Senate or to the United States Congress. It's why you see Republican leaders have the posture they have. It's why you see Mitch McConnell having the posture to some degree on trade right now on the issue.

The interesting element with Mark Sanford is, to your point, he was to the right of everybody. He is a favorite of the House Freedom Caucuses, one of the closest groups, conservative groups to President Trump, but he never held his tongue. And I know this because I went to him often during debates and after tweets to get his response to them. And, frankly, he paid for it on primary night.

KING: It's interesting. You go back a few years. Mark Sanford and Jeff Flake, two guys who will now be formers, they were sort of the guys on the right poking their own leadership for not sticking to conservative principles. I remember when they thought Newt Gingrich was kind of liberal, maybe a socialist. And now they're gone. They're gone. And listen to Bob Corker, always more of a centrist, from Tennessee, the senator here. Bob Corker's also not running because he had a Trump problem.

Listen to what Senator Corker told our Manu Raju just a short time ago.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We're in a strange place. I mean it's almost, you know, been a -- it's becoming a cultish thing, isn't it? And it's not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be of -- purportedly of the same party.


KING: Cult-like?

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, this is after the whole adult daycare thing. He basically tweeted that, you know, that that's what the situation in the White House was, and the president was, you know, acting like a child.

But he's not running. Flake's not running. All of these people who've decided to speak their minds in terms of Trump are having a tough time. Even somebody like Arrington down in South Carolina, she was originally a Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio Republican. She backed Marco Rubio in 2016. And she's learned, at least in that district, at least in that state of South Carolina, that being vociferously with Trump is a boon to your chances. And, of course, she won and she'll be the next congressman.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: This is also fueled by Bob Corker's efforts to get legislation empowering Congress to roll back President Trump's tariff decisions. He had quite a -- a parathion (ph) on the Senate floor yesterday. He was very, very unhappy with the fact that he was denied a vote. So that's --

KING: Right, because if they took a vote in a private room, almost every Republican would agree with him.


KNOX: This is -- this is --

KING: But they're not going to take a vote in public when it matters because it will P.O. the president.

KNOX: Right. This is -- this is one of the interesting challenges I think here because if they're not going to take a vote, it tells me that they would lose people and that the -- the Republicans might end up siding with enough Democrats to actually try to roll back these tariffs. The trade question is really -- is a really good one because you

actually see attention between supporting the president and local/regional economic interests. So this is why you saw it blocked. But that's part of what's animating Bob Corker here, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. Very, very upset that he did not get his legislation (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Some of it is that. There are personal interests in their trade (ph). But he believes Senator Corker would say that's also a principle issue for the party. But this is Donald Trump's party, without a doubt.

[12:20:03] Now, the president didn't win across the board. His candidate, the South Carolina governor, has to go in a run-off. A lot of people think that's because he was appointed. He took over when Nikki Haley left and voters tend to make you earn it, if you will.

But in Virginia, the Republicans have nominated the guy who was Trump before Trump, and then was a Trump activist in the campaign, Corey Stewart, to run against Tim Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton's running mate as vice president. Corey Gardner, Republican senator from Colorado, who runs the Senatorial Campaign Committee, just said -- just told CNN, the campaign committee will not endorse Corey Stewart.

The president congratulated Corey Stewart. The president says Corey Stewart is great. Senator Gardner saying we have a big map. Right now we're focused on Florida, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana. I don't see Virginia in it. That's picking a fight with the president, isn't it?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Well, I don't think that's his intention. I think he would rather avoid that.

And, look, he is also stating a fact. Almost any candidate who would emerge from this Virginia Republican primary would have had a very tough time against Senator Tim Kaine. The others on the ballot, one was at least as interesting as Corey Stewart, and the other had very little name recognition. So I think that Virginia was not a top priority for Republicans any way.

This is a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. And in a midterm year, when Republicans expect their prospects to be even worse than that, substantially worse than that, it's hard -- it would have been an uphill fight.

But, yes, I mean a lot of Republicans really cringe at the rhetoric and positioning of Corey Stewart, you know, talking about this issue of, is the Republican Party a vehicle for a certain set of beliefs, a certain set of principles, like free trade, like fiscal responsibility, or is it about the leadership of Donald Trump and electing a supportive group of people.

Look, if Republican voters felt like the most important thing was so- called conservative principles, they had a lot of candidates to choose from in 2016. That's clearly not what they prioritized. And you can say, you know, that in a way Trump is exhibiting leadership over the party by moving it in his direction I think would be the nicer way to put it than saying that it's a cult of personality. But that is clearly what the voters want and the question is, you know, how does that play for the rest of the party to have a candidate like Corey Stewart be part -- be representing them. I think in Virginia, where I live, and which I've covered pretty closely, the party feels like that is not a good look and they wish that they could kind of disown this guy.

MATTINGLY: And I think that's a key -- the key, key point of Senator Gardner's position on this, right, is that he knows that whatever Corey Stewart says for the next five months is going to immediately be drawn back to the other candidates in those four or five states that he listed, or key races. I will note, Senator Stewart was one of the first people out -- sorry, Senator Gardner was one of the first people out on Judge Roy Moore, said that -- went the furthest saying they didn't even want him in the conference. So this isn't necessarily a shift in that perspective, but he's looking at this broadly and recognizing what Mr. Stewart would bring to his candidates throughout the next couple months.

KING: We'll discuss this race more another day. But if you're Barbara Comstock, a venerable Republican in the D.C. suburbs, and you think Corey Stewart is going to invite President Trump into Virginia to campaign for you, OK, we're going to have a fun election year. Here we go.

Up next for us here, you can rest easy tonight. The North Korea nuclear threat, gone. That's according to the president. His secretary of state says, it might take a little longer than that.


[12:27:23] KING: Welcome back.

President Trump back at the White House today, already declaring, rest easy, sleep well tonight. On Twitter the president says everybody can feel much safer because, quote, there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Even the president's secretary of state hints that might be a bit premature, at odds with the truth. Secretary Pompeo, Mike, saying today, major disarmament, the timeline for that, two and a half years in the best case scenario.

Pompeo now in South Korea, Seoul, to talk to President Moon Jae-in and the South Korean delegation. Then it's on to Beijing. Significantly, Secretary Pompeo says he does not know when he will meet next with the North Koreans to continue the detailed negotiations.

Our CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson on the ground in Seoul.

Nic, the secretary spoke to reporters on the way into Seoul. What's your biggest takeaway from what he had to say?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think that this -- the idea of denuclearization is going to take two and a half years. He hopes that it will happen. Hopes. And I think you look at that word "hopes," and that -- you have to highlight that, hopes it will happen during the president's first term. He pushed back very strongly on the issue of CVID, complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. The only word in that joint document -- in the document that President Trump and Kim Jong-un signed was the word "complete." Mike Pompeo saying everyone in that room understood that the word "complete" meant irreversible and verifiable. He called it ludicrous even and insulting that people would take it any other way.

I think those are the two -- have to be the two biggest takeaways there. Certainly the message he will be delivering to the South Korean president tomorrow is a detail about that stopping, as President Trump said, of the joint military exercises. His clarification on that, as those will be halted as long as North Korea is engaged in good faith negotiations.

So I think that's an important message that he'll have to deliver here. But the message for the citizens of the United States and the rest of the world is, we're still hoping for the denuclearization, which is still, still a long way off, John.

KING: And, Nic, as Kim Jong-un returns home, what have the North Koreans been told about this summit? And, specifically, have they been told that the goal here is to denuclearize?

ROBERTSON: They're not getting that message. The message that they're getting is, some praise for President Trump and an acknowledgement that President Trump understands the situation from their point of view, that they're pleased to see and happy with the suspension of the -- what they call the provocative joint military exercises.