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Will Michael Cohen Flip?; Will President Trump Damage Western Alliance?; Supreme Court Confirmation Battle Begins. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 10, 2018 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:08]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN on this Tuesday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

President Trump is minutes away from touching down in Brussels for an international gathering of NATO and what is said to be a contentious meeting with our allies.

And just before taking off, the president took fresh aim at NATO members for not meeting targets for defense spending. To be clear, the countries in this alliance are the historic friends of the United States, but it appears the president might be a tad more comfortable in enemy territory.

Yes, the president is meeting with our good friends in the United Kingdom, meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May and the queen, but seems to be looking more forward to his one-on-one with Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: NATO has not treated us fairly. But I think we will work something out. We pay far too much and they pay far too little. But we will work it out.

And all countries will be happy. So, I have NATO. I have the U.K., which is in somewhat turmoil. And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, let's start there on Putin.

Gloria Borger is with me, CNN chief political analyst, and Max Boot, CNN global affairs analyst, is with us as well.

So, Gloria, it's almost like he -- if somebody Twitter -- any minor jab, the president goes sort of nuclear on it. But, for whatever reason, with Putin, it's totally different. If he's asked friend or foe, which he was earlier today, he says competitor.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I don't think the president can get over his anger about the NATO alliance, because he believes we are getting a raw deal. And he's misinformed, obviously. Maybe he's forgotten about people who fought for us after 9/11.

But he can't get over this notion that the alliance is not paying enough money, that American taxpayers are footing the entire bill, et cetera, et cetera. And maybe he feels more comfortable with Putin, because Putin is sort of a strongman, who Trump feels that he can talk to in a way that makes him comfortable, that he feels in a way that he should be the head of NATO, and instead of just another member of NATO.

And maybe with Putin, he feels like it's more mano a mano. I can't figure it out.

BALDWIN: You and I were just talking. I was just handed more tweets from the president just before he's landed down in Brussels.

He's tweeting more, Max, more criticisms toward NATO and his whole bit, which, by the way, we played a clip from him from "LARRY KING" back in the late '80s, when he's been saying basically the same thing about his frustration that other countries have not been paying their fair share.

That sad, Max, looking ahead to Vladimir Putin, it's almost like Putin is the one person Trump doesn't quite feel like he can bully. Is that fair?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it's not just that he doesn't feel like he can bully Putin. Putin is the one person seemingly in the world for whom he never has a negative word.

I mean, if you think about how many other people he has attacked, everybody from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Hillary Clinton, he never attacks of Vladimir Putin, in fact, really never expresses anything but admiration and friendship with Putin, which is deeply disturbing, because Putin is not our friend. He is a guy who is committing war crimes in Ukraine, who is committing war crimes in Syria, who is most likely responsible for the death of a British woman, a mother of three, who was just killed just a few days ago.

This is somebody who interfered in our election to help Donald Trump. And we need a president who will confront this menace, instead of treating him as our friend. And the fact that Trump refuses to see anything bad about Putin is deeply disturbing and very mysterious.

We don't know why that is, but we do know that he has a soft spot for Putin. And you have to wonder about what are the links between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, especially considering the fact that Putin did help Donald Trump get elected?

BALDWIN: Do you think, as he's leaving to go to Brussels and he says the press crew he thinks perhaps Putin will be the easiest of them all, right, looking ahead, Theresa May, the queen, here -- speaking of, here is Air Force One landing there touching down in Brussels. On NATO, does Trump even want this alliance to survive? And do you think our allies think it will because...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Survive Trump?

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: I think they believe it'll survive Trump. But I -- but it's hard to it's hard to know the answer to that question because of his extreme anger, and this sense that the United States is being exploited by our allies.

And Donald Tusk, the president the European Council, tweeted that at president, appreciate your allies. You don't have that many.

I mean, this is dagger in the front, not in the back here. I mean, these people are upset, and they're angry. And Trump doesn't feel like he's a member of the club.

[15:05:06]

And with Putin or even with Kim Jong-un...

BALDWIN: How is he a member of the club with those guys?

BORGER: With Putin?

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: Because he loves authoritarians.

And, as Max points out, there may be other reasons. We just don't know. But I think he's drawn to the authoritarian figures more than he's drawn to somebody like Theresa May or Angela Merkel.

BALDWIN: Speaking of Theresa May, Max, here is the next piece of this puzzle, the United Kingdom, right, his trip, right?

It is currently in turmoil. In the last 48 hours, we have seen the man taxed to negotiate Brexit, David Davis, leave. The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who the president referred to as a friend, resign.

All of this putting Theresa May in an interesting spot, a risky spot. And Trump is heading that way after he leaves Brussels. And I'm just wondering, to you, he makes this comment today it's up to the people whether Theresa May stays or goes.

What's your reaction to that?

BOOT: Well, my reaction is that it looks like the British government may well be blowing up right now, and Donald Trump is going to arrive and start tossing grenades, basically, to help it blow up faster, because he has no sympathy for Prime Minister May, just as he has no sympathy with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He basically doesn't get along with any of our European allies. And he has been sympathetic to Brexit, which I should add has also been a movement that has been encouraged by Russia, just as they work to help elect Donald Trump in the U.S. They also worked to help the Brexit initiative win in the U.K.

And there's a kind of a similar phenomenon. In both cases, you have these right-wing populist agitators who make promises they can't keep. In Donald Trump's case, he promised that he would build a wall and Mexico would pay for it, which was crazy.

And in the case of Brexit, you have people like Boris Johnson and others who were promising that the U.K. could leave the European Union and maintain all the benefits essentially of membership without paying any cost for leaving.

And that was clearly impossible. And Prime Minister May is trying to act in a responsible fashion, but what we're seeing now, as Jim Hightower I think once said, there's nothing in the center of the road but dead armadillos.

There's just no way to be a responsible, centrist Conservative, like Theresa May is trying to be, without incurring the wrath of this kind of rabid right, which is represented by Boris Johnson, and with which Donald Trump is very much in sympathy.

So to the -- British politics is in turmoil, and I think Donald Trump is going to increase the turmoil.

BORGER: Right. He's going to -- he's going to stir the pot.

BALDWIN: He's throwing the grenades before he even gets there.

BORGER: And it's kind of remarkable that an American president would go on foreign soil and stir the pot of another country's political future.

But I think that's exactly what Donald Trump intends to do, because he's feeling pretty great right now. He feels like his economy is doing really well, that he just appointed a new Supreme Court justice that he thinks is going to get confirmed.

He's pretty happy with the way his political picture looks right now. So he's -- he's feeling great. And he's going there. And he's saying, all you people who don't like me, well, guess what? You have got problems and I don't.

BOOT: Yes. I think the frustrating thing about Trump is that he sees all the cost of our alliances and none of the benefits. He doesn't understand that our secret weapon as a superpower is the fact that we have all of these democratic countries all around the world, from Japan to Germany and Poland and many others, who are aligned with us, that they maximize our strength.

He complains that the Europeans don't pay enough for their defense. Well, here's a statistic for you. The U.S. has about 60,000 troops deployed in Europe. The European active-duty military strength is about two million. So they are doing most of their defense.

But the reason we have troops there is not because we want to necessarily just defend our allies. They're really there to defend ourselves, because we under -- past presidents have understood that a Europe whole and free united and strong is a great ally of the United States.

They're our top trade partner. They're our strategic asset. It's in our own interests to stop the advance of Russian aggression, for example. It's not just a favor that we're doing of these countries and we expect them to pay blood money for our troops.

Donald Trump doesn't understand any of that. He sees our allies as a burden, not as the huge benefit that they actually are.

BALDWIN: Max and Gloria, stand by for me.

We're going to stay on these pictures, waiting to see the president step out of Air Force One.

Kaitlan Collins is with this as well. She is there ahead of the president in Brussels.

And so as we talk ahead of this NATO summit about what's to happen there, what are we expecting when he comes face to face with our allies?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, things are about to get interesting.

You saw the president's tweets as he was flying over here on Air Force One. He is setting the tone for a very combative NATO summit, even more aggressive than he was last year, when he surprised these European leaders, these allies of the United States, by lecturing them on defense spending.

[15:10:02]

He's really upped the ante here, doing that even more before he left the White House today, and then the entire trip here. So he really is making clear what he's going to say to these leaders when he sees them face to face here tomorrow.

He's landing tonight. He doesn't have any events, but he will have a string of events in the morning. And a lot of those are going to start out with the pomp and circumstance of it, the pictures, the sit- downs, the meetings, the dinners, things of that nature, before they get into -- down to business meetings.

The president certainly is making clear he is looking for a fight on defense spending here, Brooke. He's not getting all the numbers right on NATO in his tweets. You have seen several changing percentages over the last few days. But the tone of his language is clear. And he made as much obvious when he said that he is looking more forward to sitting down with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. He thinks that will be the easiest meeting compared to sitting down with U.S. allies.

That is a stunning statement, in and of itself, regardless of all the things that the president has said about Putin in the past, because that is someone who meddled in the U.S. election, who took over Crimea, who is accused of being involved in the poisoning of that former Russian spy living in the U.K.

And the president is saying that he thinks that meeting is going to go over than the ones here with the U.S. allies. That is simply a stunning statement. The U.S. allies, these European leaders, are also bracing for a very tough summit. You can tell us there is tension in the air here.

They're concerned this summit is going to be very divisive, Brooke, and that the president is going to go and have a very friendly meeting with Vladimir Putin, where their biggest fear is that the president could make concessions, like he did during that sit-down with the North Korean dictator in Singapore that could lead to scaling back troops in Europe or cancellation of military exercises.

All of those things are on their mind, but, Brooke, right now, but we are watching for is a showdown.

BALDWIN: So, on your note, Kaitlan -- Gloria, let me put this to you, because she mentioned some of the parallels looking back to the Singapore meeting with Kim Jong-un and looking ahead to this Putin meeting in Helsinki.

And so Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, has just apparently said -- here's the president of the United States there in Brussels and the first lady.

Chuck Schumer just said, there is no way that Trump should meet Putin one on one. He said -- and I'm going to quote the senator here saying: "Kim Jong-un took Trump to the cleaners" and that this will be even worse.

Fair concern?

BORGER: Well, I think it is a fair concern. I mean, it isn't -- it isn't a coincidence that the secretary of state, Pompeo, has been back to North Korea.

BALDWIN: Three times, not even meeting Kim Jong-un last time.

BORGER: Right. Exactly.

And don't forget the president likes to have these meetings tete-a- tete without anybody else there to advise him. And we will have to see what occurs in this particular session.

And you see Donald Trump here with NATO. He's like the bull in the china shop here. With Putin, he feels, OK, maybe I can do...

BALDWIN: Two bulls?

BORGER: Yes, two bulls, right, exactly.

Maybe I can cut some deal with him, because it's better to be a friend of Russia than not to be a friend of Russia, as he says. And I think it is -- I think it is worrisome, particularly if you don't have the checks and balances with him in a room, notes not being taken. That's remarkable.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: You just had these Republican members of Congress in Russia, right? I think it was Jim Moran who was quoted in "The Wall Street Journal" saying that the Republicans brought up meddling, and yet the Republicans and the propaganda machine coming out said, no, no, no, that was never discussed.

And if you're sitting in that meeting, and it's just Trump and Putin, how will we ever know?

BORGER: Well, that's right.

And the secretary of state has said that meddling is going to be -- is going to be raised, that election interference is going to be raised. But we need to verify that. We need to figure out what exactly will be raised, because one time when Trump apparently raised it, he said, well, Vladimir Putin denied it. He said it didn't happen.

And then he kind of moved on.

BALDWIN: Right, like case closed.

BORGER: Case closed.

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

Max Boot, what do you think? As we're looking at these pictures here, of the president, just closing it out with you, what do you think the headlines will be, looking ahead to this Putin-Trump summit?

Is it Crimea? Is it Syria? Is it meddling?

BOOT: Well, it's hard to know.

But I very much doubt that Trump is going to confront Putin on his election meddling, on his attempted murder and murder of people in the United Kingdom or any of his other crimes, because that's just not his style.

He is very sympathetic to Putin. And as I watch these pictures, I just do so with this intense sense of unease and angst and foreboding, because this is really a -- could potentially be a make-or-break week for the Western alliance, for American foreign policy, for the post- Cold War order. This could be the most momentous few days in American diplomacy in the 21st century.

BALDWIN: Wow.

BOOT: Because there's a sense that last month the alliance was badly ruptured at the G7 summit in Quebec, with Donald Trump feuding with all of our allies.

[15:15:05]

And if we see the same thing over the next few days, with more potshots from Trump against our friends, and then if he has a very chummy suit-down with Putin and cuts some kind of deal with him that will enhance Russian power, for example, recognizing the Russian annexation of Crimea, that is going to be a very ominous development for NATO.

I mean, I'm not saying NATO is going to expire next week. But there's a limit to how many of these blows this alliance can take. And it's taken decades to build up this transatlantic unity. It's taken hard work by many, many people on both sides, from presidents and prime ministers on down.

And Donald Trump seems determined to unravel all of that as quickly as possible. And we will see to what extent the damage that he does over the next few days. But there's -- I can't imagine any benefit from this trip. The only question in my mind is, how bad is the damage going to be?

BALDWIN: Max Boot, thank you so much.

BOOT: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Gloria Borger, stick with me. I want to ask you about your on Michael Cohen reporting.

Coming up here, inside the mind of President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. CNN is learning his team feels a strong parallel to that of John Dean, the former White House counsel who flipped, eventually told the truth on Richard Nixon. Let's discuss that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:20:25]

BALDWIN: News involving President Trump's former lawyer, fixer, Michael Cohen.

CNN learning that Cohen's team feel there is a strong parallel to John Dean. He was the former White House counsel to Richard Nixon who eventually became the star witness in the Watergate case.

Two sources close to Cohen adding that John Dean eventually stepped up and told the truth, not for his career, fear of going to jail, but because he was telling the truth to do the right thing.

The sources say the same applies for Michael Cohen. It's about doing the right thing, serving yourself and your country.

So, a lot of this, Gloria Borger is reporting, along with our team here at CNN. She's back with us. And Renato Mariotti is joining us, CNN legal analyst, who is also a former federal prosecutor.

And so, Renato, let me just start to you. Your response to Gloria's reporting, this notion that Michael Cohen is not saying he essentially wants to pull a John Dean Johnny and step up and tell the truth?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's interesting.

There are delusions of grandeur here maybe. In another words, Michael Cohen always is a very, I think, self important-guy. He sees himself potentially taking down the president, it sounds like. That's a pretty big a task.

What I would say is, obviously, there are some differences. John Dean's liability, he ultimately was convicted of a felony, but it was obstruction of justice. He was not -- he did not commit crimes separate and apart from the Watergate cover-up, whereas Michael Cohen, at least year based upon the reporting that we have heard and what would happen in the New York courtroom, it appears the prosecutors in New York are building a case on him for his own -- for his own fraud that he committed separate and apart from what he did related to the president.

So it'll be -- I think it's interesting. I suspect that Michael Cohen is facing more serious jail time than John Dean. And I don't think he's doing this purely to do the right thing. I think he's doing this to spend as little time in prison as possible.

BALDWIN: And so, Gloria, he's saying he wants to tell his own truth. One must presume that his truth is different from that of perhaps the Giuliani-Trump truth, none of which any of us know.

BORGER: Right.

And Don Lemon's reporting on John Dean adds to my reporting with Dana Bash, where we heard from our sources that basically Cohen is declaring independence day. That's what I was told. This is his July 4. He has decided to separate himself from the president.

He is no longer going to take a bullet for Donald Trump. And he believes that what the White House is trying to do through Rudy Giuliani is send him a signal, which is, if you tell the truth, you will be OK.

And he is pushing back at that and saying, I'm going to tell my truth, as you put it. So you see now that they are at loggerheads here. Cohen feels left out in the cold, frustrated, et cetera.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But there has to be a part here obviously that he's facing potential charges in the Southern District of New York.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: And that he's probably looking to cut a deal.

BALDWIN: Renato, she said it, facing potential charges in the Southern District of New York.

All of this discussion about a man who has yet to face a single charge.

MARIOTTI: That's right, although I will tell you, when the government -- the FBI raids your house and your office, you're in big trouble.

People who are watching at home don't need me to tell them that. So it makes a lot of sense why Michael Cohen is looking to cut a deal. But I will say that if you are facing fraud charges and the amount of money involved is high enough, you could be looking at several years in prison.

So even with a deal, Michael Cohen still could be heading to prison. He still has very significant liability. And what really matters is, what exactly does he have? What can he offer prosecutors? What has he actually seen and heard that could -- that could be used as evidence in a courtroom?

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

BORGER: We don't know the answer. We don't know.

BALDWIN: We don't know. We don't know yet.

Renato and Gloria, thank you so much.

Coming up next here, battle lines drawn, as the president's choice for the Supreme Court heads to Capitol Hill today to, as he's hoping, woo senators. How Democrats plan to fight Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, despite long odds.

Jake Tapper, he's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:29:13]

BALDWIN: Democrats today, they're sounding the alarm against the president's choice for the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, warning that he would vote against abortion, gun legislation and health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: With Judge Kavanaugh's nomination, the president has put women's reproductive rights and vital health care protections, particularly those that protect families with preexisting conditions, at grave, grave risk. SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: If confirmed, he would be among the most conservative justices in Supreme Court history.

His views are outside the mainstream. And there's every reason to believe he would overturn Roe.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: There are millions of people in our country who have preexisting conditions. I am one of them.