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Trump's Top Supreme Court Candidates; U.S. Intelligence Contradicts Trump, Says North Korea Maintaining Nuclear Program; Cohen Turning on Trump?. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired July 2, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: It is the top of the hour now. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Brooke Baldwin.
An allegiance with the president possibly crumbling. Michael Cohen, the president's longtime personal attorney and fixer, speaking out for the first time since the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room this past April.
And he is seeming to suggest that he could cut a deal with the government. ABC's interview with Cohen saying -- he said -- quote -- "My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first."
He is also slamming the president's attempts to discredit the overall Russia investigation, saying -- quote -- "I don't like the term witch- hunt." A source close to Trump and Cohen tell CNN that Cohen is speaking out to try to justify why he might turn against the president, not because he dislikes Trump, but because he does not want to be sent to jail and have his family broken apart.
The reason this is so surprising is that Cohen has time and again expressed his unwavering, steadfast loyalty to President Trump.
Joining me now, CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza.
Chris, remind us of this relationship, because folks at home might forget some of the details here. But this goes back more than a decade and extends through all of the president's, both business, but also personal issues.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. That's right, Jim.
And it is an essential relationship to understanding Donald Trump. Pick Ray Donovan, pick Michael Clayton, pick whatever fictional fixer you like, that's essentially the role that Michael Cohen has played for Donald Trump.
Let's go through it. Now, they got to know one another in the early 2000s. There was actually a dispute on a condo board of a Trump-owned property where Cohen stuck up for Trump, and Trump liked that and said he's doing better than my lawyers.
We know he acted as liaison for a number of Trump deals. And this is the thing in relation to the campaign that's most important. He was the guy who set up an LLC called Essential Consultants in Delaware that they used to pay Stormy Daniels, the porn star, $130,000 for her silence in advance of the election.
Remember, Michael Cohen said he initially paid that money himself. Turns out Donald Trump was the root of that money.
But listen to Cohen, the clip here. Listen to Cohen talk about Donald Trump and his loyalty prior to this most recent Stephanopoulos interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: I will use lie legal skills within which to protect Mr. Trump to the best of my ability. I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump. I'm obviously very loyal and very dedicated to Mr. Trump.
But one thing Donald Trump is, he's a compassionate man. He's a man of great intellect, great intuition and great abilities.
He's an amazing negotiator, maybe the best ever in the history of this world. I would say I'm definitely a cheerleader.
He will ultimately -- and I have said this so many times -- he will ultimately go down in history as the greatest president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CILLIZZA: So you can tell there, Jim, you might describe Michael Cohen as Donald Trump's number one fan. And we have got -- he had lunch with Donny Deutsch, a well-known financial guy in New York, in April.
This is what Donny Deutsch said Cohen told him. He says, "I would rather jump out of a building than be disloyal to Donald Trump." That's a big change from April to this weekend with ABC.
SCIUTTO: No question. And I imagine he has been hearing about it from his wife and others.
The president, interestingly, has not tweeted about these new comments from Michael Cohen today. And we have known him to tweet in the past. How are you predicting that he is going to handle this if Cohen does indeed flip, cooperate with prosecutors?
CILLIZZA: First of all, we have known him to tweet in the past is the greatest underestimate in history about the president's tweeting habits, Jim.
CILLIZZA: But, yes, OK, so Donald Trump has tweeted. When there were rumors about him flipping, Donald Trump did tweet. Again, this is in April. It was a two-part tweet. This is the relevant part.
"Most people will flip if the government lets them out of trouble, even did it means lying or making up stories. I don't see Michael doing that." "I don't see Michael doing that."
Don't think that's not an attempt by Donald Trump to send a message, hey, Michael I don't want you, I don't think you should, if you are my guy, you won't do that. Trump has done that, but he's also done the I don't really know the guy argument.
And I think we have sound of Donald Trump distancing himself from Cohen. Play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: How much of your legal work was handled by Michael Cohen?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny little fraction. But Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me -- like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me.
And, you know, from what I see he did absolutely nothing wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CILLIZZA: OK. So he's downplaying it there, Jim, but context matters.
He might do a very well little amount of his overall legal work, but Cohen was absolutely woven into the fabric of Trump world. He was his fixer. He took care of things. There is just no debate about that.
I think that's why Donald Trump has to be nervous, Jim, about the prospect of Michael Cohen flipping -- back to you.
SCIUTTO: Chris Cillizza, thanks very much.
CILLIZZA: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Joining me now to talk more about this, defense attorney Sara Azari.
So, Sara, just to begin here, and forgive me for being cynical when I see lawyers talk about themselves on television and what their actual motivation is, but could Cohen be sending a signal to the president and therefore be fishing for a pardon from the president?
SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Absolutely.
I think he is doing a couple of things. I think he is sending a signal to the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that, hey, I am going to cooperate. My loyalty is not with my former boss. I will do whatever I can to save myself and my family.
He is also sending a signal to Trump that maybe you should pay my legal fees. Maybe you should think of a pardon. I think he is definitely angling a pardon. And it's responsive really to what Chris just mentioned with the tweet that, I don't think Michael will do that.
Here's Michael saying himself that he will go to those lengths if he needs to, to save his family. I think it is very significant. For me, it was actually pretty odd, because, as a lawyer, we don't let our clients go to the media and make a statement like this. It could be used against them.
And certainly to the extent that he has made inconsistent statements previously about the Stormy Daniels payment and other matters, those inconsistencies can also be used to be against him. I feel like he was winging it. I think he is in between counsel. I think his new attorneys are not on board yet, and he is just sort of sending out a message.
SCIUTTO: But let me ask you a question, because that was going to be my next question. Would you ever advise a client to do this?
But we are seeing a lot of this. We're seeing Rudy Giuliani make comments that you wouldn't normally hear from a -- from someone's lawyer. We are seeing the president make comments about ongoing legal proceedings that you wouldn't normally see someone who is of the subject of those proceedings to publicly.
So, you have got a lot of lawyers doing this now. Do you they sense that there is a different kind of environment now, that you can gain some ground by fighting this in the court of public opinion?
AZARI: I think because there has been such a strong case in the court of public opinion that I think those normal boundaries that we have in place and things that are normally not advisable that these clients, or these individuals that are being investigated are sort of going beyond the boundaries of what's normal.
But I also think we are dealing with interesting characters. We're dealing with Donald Trump, who is unhinged. We're dealing with Michael Cohen, who has just been smeared by Michael Avenatti, by Donald Trump distancing himself.
These are not your average clients that the normal rules would apply to.
SCIUTTO: Yes, normal rules, we can just -- let's just forget that phrase forever more.
SCIUTTO: In terms of the president's own legal liability or legal danger here, one of the keys is all these documents and files that were taken from Cohen's office and hotel room, et cetera. More than a million documents, and I assume some in electronic form.
Around 2 percent so far has been deemed possibly privileged. You have got vast majority of it...
SCIUTTO: ... that the court can go through and find some stuff.
SCIUTTO: And presumably there are communications there between the president and Michael Cohen. This exposes the president, possibly.
AZARI: Right. Right.
It sure does. And I understand that the Trump defense team is now reviewing those documents that relate to Donald Trump that are between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, the communications, to determine whether in fact there is a privilege that applies or not, the attorney-client privilege.
And so I anticipate there might also be some litigation around this issue because you have got the special master saying these are not privileged, and, of course, Donald Trump would want everything to be privileged so that it doesn't get used and he doesn't get dragged into this.
It will be interesting to see how much further this investigation will be delayed until these issues with the documentation and the privilege issue is resolved.
SCIUTTO: Take that one to the bank, there may be further litigation on these issues.
SCIUTTO: Sara Azari, criminal defense attorney, thanks very much.
AZARI: Thanks for having me.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next: an incredible survival story, really just incredible here. Twelve boys and their soccer coach were just found alive. This after being trapped inside that dark cave for some nine days. These are the first pictures we have seen of them. And they are thankfully alive. They are going to be out of there soon, we hope.
Plus, U.S. intel says there is no reason to believe that North Korea intends to get rid of its nuclear program, this despite Trump's many suggestions otherwise.
And President Trump says that he has met with four potential picks for the Supreme Court. We are going to break down the front-runners for that newly vacant seat, as CNN sources tell us that the president is increasingly interested in selecting a female nominee.
SCIUTTO: There is breaking news out of Northern Thailand this hour, where more than 12 members -- or all 12 members, rather, of a missing youth soccer team have been found alive.
You are looking at the first dramatic pictures of the very moment those boys were discovered by rescuers after being trapped in a dark, flooded cave for nine days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you? Thirteen? Brilliant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Wow. All of them, all 13 alive, those players and their coach.
Let's get right now to CNN photojournalist Mark Phillips. He's on the scene for us in Thailand.
Mark, what are we learning thousand about the rescue effort? Because now you have the challenge of getting them out of this cave.
MARK PHILLIPS, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST: Yes, Jim, and that's a huge problem at the moment, because, as we believe, the cave is still submerged, and they have to ascertain the health of these boys.
Are they physically fit to actually go back through the cave, dive with the divers and be brought back? Also, they are five kilometers into this cave system. They are a fair way off. So, at the moment, they have sent in a doctor and a nurse who can dive.
And they are going to assess the health of these children before they start bringing them out -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Goodness, five kilometers, three miles into this cave.
Have we learned anything how they managed to survive for nine days? There was questions as to whether you could drink that water that was in there. Do we know what kind of supplies they had with them?
PHILLIPS: Well, that is just very sketchy. We have very little information on that.
We do know that actually the boys went to a shop before going into the cave, but probably bought only snacks, thinking it is a day trip in and out. So they probably had a little bit of food.
As for the water, we don't know. There was concerns that after three days without water, the body gets into quite a bit of trouble. So what water they could drink in there could have made them sick anyway. But looking at that video, the boys are upright, they can talk, they seem very conscious.
They just want to get out of that cave -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: I'm sure they do.
We understand that they are in process of still pumping just millions and millions of gallons of water out of there. Has anyone said to you or others there how many days, hours they expect before they can get the boys out of there?
PHILLIPS: At the moment, there has been a rough estimate of 12 hours. But that's fairly rough.
What they really want to do is to pump enough water out of the cave, so the boys can basically walk out or be carried out, more likely. Over the last couple of days, they have actually increased it. They have been pumping out 1.6 million liters of water per hour, which is a huge amount of water.
But the water is still in these caves. And the water is not stagnant. It's moving. It's fast-moving water. There is a worry that being caught in this water and pulled along is a legitimate problem here. So getting the boys out and back into daylight is going to take a while.
And then once they are back here, straight down to the hospital. They have already started closing off the roads. They know the route. Once they get them out, it's straight down there -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Goodness. Such good news to see them alive in there, not quite well, but alive.
Mark Phillips on the screen for us, and we going to continue to follow the story going forward.
Coming up next, a month after declaring that the nuclear threat from North Korea was finished, U.S. intelligence is now casting doubt on the president's claim as to whether North Korea will actually abandon its weapons program.
Plus, as President Trump says that he has already met with four potential Supreme Court nominees, CNN is learning that he is increasingly intrigued by the possibility of nominating a woman for the court. We are going to discuss the top women on that list right after this.
SCIUTTO: The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency says that North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons program right now, that despite Trump's repeated claims that the threat from North Korea's nuclear weapon program is now gone.
And this comes as researchers say that new satellite images from North Korea show new construction at a missile plant there.
To talk about this, I want to bring in Abraham Denmark. He's director of the Wilson Center's Asia Program. He's also former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia.
Abraham, thanks very much for joining us today.
You look at the news on the heels of the Singapore summit. And I was there at the summit. Of course, the disappointment then was you had Kim and Trump meet, but there was really nothing concrete in that statement that they released. And since then, if you see anything concrete, it is an expansion of North Korea's capabilities, not a retreat.
Is Kim -- is this evidence, I should say, that Kim has deceived President Trump?
ABRAHAM DENMARK, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, it's certainly evidence that Kim Jong-un remains committed to a nuclear program and a missile program.
He gave a speech in January of this year, their version of the State of the Union address, in which he declared North Korea to be a nuclear state, said that they would be transitioning from testing to mass production of their nuclear weapons, of their ballistic missiles.
And at the event in Singapore, Kim Jong-un did not commit to freezing these programs, did not even commit to stopping these programs. So all these reports that we have been seeing, all these news reports about missile production, continuing activity at the nuclear facilities, all of this does not violate any commitment that he made towards President Trump, which to me suggests and really highlights the bad deal that the president got in Singapore.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because I have been following the story closely. And I hear two stories, or two analyses of where North Korea is.
One says that, listen, North Korea is never going to give up its nuclear weapons because for this regime, that's survival, that's really their only way to survive going forward. On the flip side, you do hear a counterargument that the economic pressure is so great for North Korea.
Kim sees this. Kim sees that really he can't survive without economic contact with the outside world, economic growth, et cetera. You study this issue closely. Which is true? Is it somewhere in between? Which is closer to accurate, in your view?
DENMARK: It's an open question and certainly worth testing through negotiation.
Kim Jong-un has said he wants to develop his country economically. He has met with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, three times this year alone, which is a remarkable turnaround in that relationship. But the question is not whether or not Kim Jong-un wants to develop
his economy. That's been true for every North Korean leader since the founding of the country. The question is whether he is willing to give up these nuclear weapons in order to achieve that economic development.
And so far, it seems like Kim Jong-un thinks he can develop some degree of economic prosperity, while maintaining a certain amount of nuclear capability and ballistic missiles.
SCIUTTO: The president has a track record of ignoring intelligence he doesn't like. I mean, we have seen this on Russia's interference in the election, still expressing doubts about that. We saw it when intel agencies said that Iran was cooperating with the nuclear agreement.
You now have U.S. intelligence agencies telling the president something he may not want the hear, that North Korea is proceeding with its program. I mean, is there concern that he moves forward despite those assessments?
DENMARK: Well, that's the purview of the president.
I worked in the intelligence community. What the intelligence community does is to give policy-makers facts and give them their best assessment of what is happening in the world.
And it's really up to the policy-maker to take that information, use it or don't use it, up to them -- is up to them. But the current concern that I have is, if policy becomes increasingly divorced from fact, then the United States has the potential to continue to lose power, lose influence on this issue, and continue to get bad deals like we saw in Singapore.
SCIUTTO: Yes. That's why facts matter. They matter. They really -- they do.
It sounds obvious, but sometimes you have to remind yourself.
Abraham Denmark, thanks very much.
DENMARK: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Just moments ago, President Trump said that he has already met with four potential picks to be the next Supreme Court justice and that he plans to meet with two or three more before he announces his decision one week from today.
We will have a look at some of the front-runners for that empty court seat right after this.