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CUOMO PRIME TIME
Discussion of Cohen Recordings of Trump. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired July 20, 2018 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Good news. We designed CUOMO PRIME TIME to do exactly what Stelter was saying, process the day's events.
Anderson, have a great weekend.
I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.
Secret recordings of President Trump taped by his longtime lawyer and fixer now in the hands of the FBI. Juicy. But why are we learning about them now? That's the real story tonight, and we are all over it.
We also have the good, the bad, and the ugly of what the tapes could mean legally and politically. But here is what I will not do. I won't forget about what happened this week in Helsinki and the new information that has a Republican former intel agent who is now a Congress member saying that he is sure Putin has his hooks into Trump.
It's Friday night. The weekend is calling. But this all matters too much. So let's get after it.
CUOMO: So we got a Trump special delivery on a Friday night. The Cohen tapes. The one Cohen made of a conversation he had with Donald Trump about a payment to a Playboy model who said she had a long love affair with the president.
But the real question is who dropped this weekend bombshell? The DOJ? The Department of Justice? No reason. Cohen? Why? It makes him look bad.
So, who wants them out right now? Who waived legal attorney-client privilege that allowed them to come out just when President Trump needed a change in the conversation, here we are. Tapes that give Trump cover on the story about paying off a playmate and a welcome distraction from what matters much more -- Russia.
This is the stuff of a great debate. Let's have it. Bakari Sellers and Rick Santorum.
Bakari, grab the ball. The timing, too much of a coincidence.
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is a coincidence, but I also think that every single day we're dealing in Trump's America, there is something new happening. What we learned today is, one, Donald Trump's a liar. I think we already knew that. Two, Rudy Giuliani is not the best attorney. And, three, that Michael Cohen is unethical.
CUOMO: How is Trump a liar with what we learned?
SELLERS: Well, we know for a fact because they denied this. Hope Hicks, when she was communications director, she came out and said, she stated from her own lips, that Trump knew nothing about this payment. He knew nothing about Mrs. McDougal. He knew nothing about any payment that was made to her, quote, unquote, hush money. We found out that was not true.
We found out today that Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, they negotiated this. They put this together. They may say it's a reimbursement to the "National Enquirer," but what we do know is that Donald Trump lied about this. His White House lied about this.
And, Chris, let me just say this. We lived through eight years of Barack Obama when the drama that we had with Barack Obama was him ordering honey dijon mustard and wearing tan suits. My question to everyone watching is, what if this was Barack Obama? We have not one playboy playmate but two.
CUOMO: Well, if Trump had his way, we also would have had the president marred on whether or not he was born in this country.
But, Rick Santorum, it seems that team Trump is happy this tape came out. Why?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first off, there was no payment made. I don't know what Bakari is talking about. There was no payment made. There was payment discussed.
And if you're going to make a payment to violate campaign finance rules and if you're going to make a payment to somehow obfuscate the law, you don't say -- Donald Trump at least according to the recording as reported, said, do I write a check? I mean, that's not -- that's not obviously someone trying to hide anything.
So, the reality is that there isn't anything illegal here, and that's why they put it out there. It is, as Rudy Giuliani said, pretty exculpatory to any kind of -- any kind of violation of law.
But, look, it's a man concerned about information getting out prior to an election. I think, you know, it's sort of human nature to be saying, gee, I'd rather not have that information out. But other than that, I don't think there's much of a story here.
CUOMO: You don't think this tape coming out right now was timed accordingly?
SANTORUM: Oh, you know, I don't know.
SANTORUM: I don't think that Donald Trump talking about, even if it's exculpatory, bringing the whole issue up is necessarily a good thing for Donald Trump.
CUOMO: Had to waive privilege for them to get this tape.
SANTORUM: That's you're assuming it came from them.
SELLERS: That's not true --
CUOMO: Hold on, hold on, Bakari. Had to waive privilege because the special master is holding all this evidence and it's up to the parties to decide whether or not they want the government to have it or not. So you have to waive privilege in order for the government to have it. Bakari?
SELLERS: That's not all the way true. There also could have been a third party who was on the phone. That third party, if there was somebody else there, that would have squashed privilege. Michael Cohen from his communications, the special master may have said they destroyed privilege. There may be an exception that this --
CUOMO: Our understanding was these were privileged, and I think it plays to point that team Trump wants this out. They like that this is out.
SELLERS: Well, I think team -- I think team Trump is actually leveling and lobbing a lot of distractions. We saw him tweet about the NFL and Roger Goodell today. We see this new porn star -- excuse me, this new Playboy playmate come out.
And so, you know, I think they want a distraction from the fact he was fundamentally owned by Vladimir Putin earlier this week. But my conversation with Rick and many others is, you know, as individuals, as faith-based voters, as people who supported Donald Trump, to sweep this under the rug where you have another incident of just being purely a liar and purely unethical, I'm not sure when we got to the point where we could turn a blind eye in the United States of America to the president of the United States sullying, soiling, and devaluing the office that he holds.
CUOMO: Well, Rick, so the presumption is that all of this won't matter to faith-based voters, that they'll stay with Trump. Do you agree with that?
SANTORUM: I think the faith-based voters cooked in the fact that the president's personal life is not exemplary or something that they would necessarily want their children to follow. I think that's been pretty well with the Billy Bush tape. I don't think you can get sort of more, you know -- any more evidence out there on that particular issue.
CUOMO: Why doesn't it matter enough for them to weigh their vote differently?
SANTORUM: Because of the consequence of what, at the time, of a Hillary Clinton presidency and its effect on them and their family directly. And I think it's one of those things which is an indirect, just like Bill Clinton's activities in the White House as Democrats looked at it, was an indirect annoyance or problem or ethical lapse, but it didn't directly affect their families. And that's where the policy comes in.
And, look, I don't think it's an easy thing for a lot of families. You have a lot of Never Trumpers in that world because of the character issue. But I think the overwhelming issue to them is the Supreme Court, you know, public policy, abortion, things like that.
CUOMO: You must be right because he got a huge trunk of the evangelical vote --
CUOMO: -- which didn't make sense to people unless you just look at abortion. If you just look at abortion, I guess that's enough.
But, Bakari, here's the political risk here, by the way. Give me your take on this. Look, I get your morality argument about it, but we saw what happened in the election, and we see what happens with the continuing polls. So that is what it is.
But as a political calculation, wanting this tape to come out, they're betting on a piece of a puzzle. What about all the other pieces? What about the other tapes? What about other types of evidence that can come out to these same parties of communications that could give a very different impression?
SELLERS: I honestly think you're giving the 45th president of the United States way too much credit. I'm not sure he's orchestrating this. I'm not sure he's pulling all of these different strings.
I mean, we know he hired Rudy Giuliani. We know he hired Michael Cohen. And neither one of them are exemplars in their particular field. We know that to be a fact after watching this episode unfurl.
CUOMO: Hold on, Bakari. You can criticize how Rudy may be doing his business, but the man has some reputation as a lawyer and a former prosecutor. You got to give Rudy that.
SELLERS: He had that reputation prior -- 20 years ago.
SELLERS: He had that reputation when I was a teenager. We're talking about how he was representing his client today.
CUOMO: Right now. OK. You can criticize it.
SELLERS: Yes, and I think right now is the barometer which we're using. Rudy Giuliani, from the late '80s, early '90s, is not the Rudy Giuliani today.
But set all of that aside, what we have is a political calculation that the president of the United States is making. He wants this to be as muddy as possible. He wants to fight culture wars. He wants to rev up his 35 percent. He wants it to be as if the left and the media and everyone is piling upon him. He wants to be that media superstar, that reality TV show star that he is.
I mean for all of this, I think it was said best in one of Brian Stelter's piece. For all of this, I mean, he should really win an Emmy Award for everything that he's putting forth on the plate for the American people.
But I do have faith that the American people are smarter than this. We saw the president of the United States be owned by a foreign leader earlier this week. We saw him be owned by Vladimir Putin standing side by side, and so, whether or not it's one Playboy playmate or two, whether or not we're talking about NFL players kneeling or not --
SELLERS: -- the president of the United States still has a problem because he did not stand up for the American people when it counted most.
CUOMO: There's no question about that. I mean, look, that's what I'm saying. It's that the timing here, I don't think, is just a coincidence.
Rick, first he tried to blame us, right, and say that we're the real enemy, not Putin, which is just despicable and is something he's going to have to explain to people for some time to come. Then he starts talking about the NFL, and all of a sudden, this tape comes out.
And what is the media not talking about? We're going to on this show tonight. But Russia's first chance to make good on what Trump says is a better future, they start showing off munitions that supposedly they want to help ban.
Then their second chance to be a friend to Trump, what do they do? They stop his move on North Korea at the U.N. yesterday. These are things that aren't getting as much attention. Coincidence?
SANTORUM: Well, look, I don't know. I mean, I think Bakari's points about the other folks who might have access to this information is a valid point.
Could the president be putting this information out? I guess he could be. I don't think necessarily it helps him to have the conversation talk about affairs that he's had.
So, I sort of really question whether that's in his wheelhouse. He has a lot of other things he can distract with other than something as personally, you know, scintillating as this.
CUOMO: You think he should be worried that Michael Cohen, his attorney, his fixer, his friend was recording him because we know there are more tapes. We know that to the extent they were in his office or in his residences, they may well now be in the possession of the federal government.
SANTORUM: Yes, that's actually one of the reasons why I don't think that the president would do this. SELLERS: Exactly.
SANTORUM: Why would he -- why would he release information that there's now tapes? I mean, now, there's going to be a feeding frenzy to try to find out what else that they recorded. So --
CUOMO: You get ahead of it, and this is one of the good ones.
SANTORUM: I don't know. I mean, the fact is if it's -- if there are -- if there is stuff out there and if there is things that Cohen is potentially, you know, going to turn on the president, the last thing you want to do is let the media know --
CUOMO: But if you know it's going to come out anyway, what did we see with Rosenstein and the indictment? He got notified. He was asked if they wanted him to hold it because of Helsinki, and he said, no, put it out now. This is not that dissimilar a tactic.
How it pays off, we will see. But this was a fruitful discussion.
Santorum, Sellers, have a good weekend.
SANTORUM: Thank you, too.
SELLERS: Thank you.
CUOMO: All right. The political implications of the tape and the timing, that's one thing. The legal exposure is quite another. Team Trump says this tape is a home run. Maybe so, but for whom? The facts and factors, next.
CUOMO: All right. There's an old saying. Beware any proof of right doing offered by the person being sought for wrongdoing.
That is the caution on the Cohen tapes. Why? Because all signs point to these tapes coming out with the approval if not the help of team Trump.
Now, why would they do this? Let's take a look at the good and the potential for a gotcha here, all right?
Now, the first good, I'm talking about the tapes and not about Russia, but that's not going to last for long tonight. There's a lot of news on that front that matters more than this in my opinion.
Two, the transcript out there seems to show that Trump had no knowledge of the playmate payment until after the fact. What does that mean? Well, it could mean that Trump didn't set it up, which is one of the allegations.
Third, there's a conversation about buying back rights to the playmate story that could disprove a campaign finance violation. It could show a legitimate transaction instead of that allegation. Number four, Cohen looks shabby for taping his client, and don't be
fooled. The past is dead between Trump and Cohen. This is now a credibility contest, and Trump benefits on this story. Hence, the sourced quote from the president being hurt by this, how could he do this to me?
But here's the flip side, all right? Gotchas. It ain't the only tape. Cohen has others. That means the feds now have lots of similar recordings of Trump and maybe others.
For all the media hype, what's out about the tape, this transcript tells us only a little part at best. How so? Well, what if there's proof that Trump, by tape, document, or testimony, that Trump did know about the payment before? Well then you have a mendacity issue potentially at a minimum, aka, lying.
What if there were communiques about the "National Enquirer" chief David Pecker helping Trump in the election that are not in this one transcript? Now, not in any way to slander Pecker, to this point, there's no credible allegation against him to my mind, but I'm laying it out as a potential gotcha of front-running this tape in the first place. And this idea of setting up a company to buy back all the dirty bits about Trump that AMI, the parent company of "The Enquirer", had.
Well, team Trump says there was no such payment, just a discussion. Is that true? And the deal to re-buy rights through a corporation, it begs explanation. Like how was that OK?
And it could also play as a potential campaign violation. How? Depending on the understanding among the parties. What was it really about? Was this way of papering something over?
We can't tell any of that from this one transcript as it is understood at this time. Then there is this. Trump didn't repay Pecker. That's what team Trump wants you to know.
The proof is that they discussed a payment in the transcript, but there's no proof of that payment being made. First, incomplete information. Just one tape. One piece of potential proof.
Second, how do we know Pecker didn't expect to be repaid, that he thought he was going to get paid back and Trump just rooked him the way he has done with others he's owed money in business? There's that question.
The point is these tapes, I know that they are so salacious, and that's why the media is all over them. But at the bottom, they are more heat than light, and they are surely a distraction from the Russia story. So be aware.
And what we're going to do now is we're going to get past the headlines, and we're going to debate what the tapes mean legally.
The lawyers have arrived. "Cuomo's Court" is in session, next.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: An attorney secretly recording his client. That sounds bad. But the tape seems to show that Trump didn't plan the playmate playoff after a deep and long affair by her account. That's good-ish.
But is it the end of the story legally?
Court is in session. Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti is here, and so is Harvard Law professor and author of "The Case Against Impeaching Trump," the one and only Alan Dershowitz.
Gentlemen, thank you both on a Friday night. I appreciate you being here.
Mariotti, you are bringing the prosecution in this case. When you look at the tapes, they are damning for the president because?
RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Because he's talking to a suspected criminal about matters under which he is under federal investigation for. It's never a good thing when your client is talking to somebody who is under investigation, particularly when it's about the subject matter that the government's investigating. You can spin it all you want, and we've heard more reporting.
CNN has reported there's other tapes, that -- and there's a lot of discussion about what's actually on these tapes. But it's never a good thing.
CUOMO: Fruit of the poisonous tree aside as to a potential ethical violation by one's counsel in making such tapes, it was his lawyer, Alan Dershowitz. He was talking to him. What do you see in the tapes that could be clarifying, if not exonerating?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR EMERITUS: Well, the first question is who leaked the tape. If it was somebody on the Trump team, this could constitute a waiver not only of lawyer-client privilege on this tape, but perhaps on other related tapes.
Ironically, the leading case in the Southern District of New York and in the second circuit is a case that I was involved in, the von Bulow case where I wrote a book in which I disclosed certain material about Claus von Bulow and the other size came in and said you waived the whole privilege, and I retained a lawyer named Michael Mukasey to argue for me and we won the case in the U.S. Court of Appeals saying that you can --
CUOMO: So who do you think leaked it?
DERSHOWITZ: Who do I think leaked it? I don't know -- first of all, I don't know how the Trump team got a hold of it. As far as I know, the only people who should have had the tape are Judge Kimba Wood, the monitor who he appointed, the government officials, and Cohen himself. So, I don't know how the Trump people get a hold of this tape.
There has to be an investigation because leaking of the tape clearly is in violation of a court order. And I just find it hard to believe that the Trump people would risk that kind of a sanction in a situation like this. So I think we have to look elsewhere.
But, look, it's speculation. Anything's possible, and I think today there are good, as you've said so brilliantly, there are good parts and there are bad parts of the tape. If you're a defense lawyer, you don't produce a tape that has any bad parts, and you don't disclose the fact that there may be this tape and other tapes, especially since you don't know exactly what's on it.
CUOMO: Right, but to that point, Professor, everything we know about this transcript is good for Trump. That's why Renato is making the clever argument and saying just the conversation is damning. But, you know --
DERSHOWITZ: That would be short -- that would be short-sighted because we don't know what's on the other tapes.
CUOMO: That's right.
DERSHOWITZ: And this may be the key to getting those other tapes.
CUOMO: But, look, I know it's not a straight legal question, but now you piqued my interest, Professor, which is he's beaten me this way before, Renato, but not tonight. Not on my watch. The idea of who leaked it, why would the DOJ leak this right now? They have no interest in doing it. It doesn't motivate any particular process that's going on.
DERSHOWITZ: I don't think the DOJ --
CUOMO: Why would Cohen do it when he looks bad for having taped his own client and this isn't damning in any way or in any way lifting Cohen's analysis in it?
So who does that leave, Renato?
DERSHOWITZ: You're looking at the wrong --
CUOMO: Hold on a second. I'll give you your chance, professor. Hold on --
DERSHOWITZ: It's an individual --
MARIOTTI: Hold on. I --
CUOMO: Hold on, professor. Let's hear what Renato says. I'll come back to you. I promise. Go ahead.
DERSHOWITZ: Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
CUOMO: He meant it. Go ahead, Renato. MARIOTTI: So, first of all, I would not count out Michael Cohen.
He's done things that make no sense before. I have no idea why he's on television talking to not only, you know, journalists but also, you know, actors and other random people. I mean he's doing a lot of things that make no sense.
So, it wouldn't surprise me if Michael Cohen did anything. You know, you have attorneys willing to tape his client. He certainly is willing to release the tapes. That wouldn't surprise me.
But, you know, as far as the Trump camp goes, I think that they obtained these recordings as part of the process.
MARIOTTI: They were involved in that special master process.
MARIOTTI: So, certainly, they could have leaked tapes too. Maybe they figured it changes the conversation from Helsinki.
CUOMO: Yes, it does, doesn't it?
MARIOTTI: Which I'm sure wasn't polling well for them.
CUOMO: Yes, how about that, professor? Sure does play well as a distraction device right now. Won't on this show. I'm doing plenty on Russia tonight but --
DERSHOWITZ: It would be a serious mistake, short-sighted, political instead of legal. Look, I don't think it's Cohen's lawyer certainly. Lanny Davis is a brilliant, ethical, highly qualified lawyer. I don't think that he would want to put his client in such a negative light.
CUOMO: I agree.
DERSHOWITZ: I think it's an individual. I think it's a person, not an institution. Somebody who thought he'd get some credit or benefit from leaking this to "The New York Times" and other institutions.
So, I don't think we should be looking did the Department of Justice do this? No, of course not. Did the Trump legal team do it? Probably not.
CUOMO: Well, we're not going to get the answer anyway, but I do think the speculation is interesting given the week it's coming up in. You know, just a few days after Helsinki when there's nothing going on in the case to justify this kind of front-running. That's why I found it curious.
But let's look at the substance of what's in there and why the Trump team seems to like it, Renato. Here's what they say that you need to combat for the purposes (AUDIO GAP). The transcript makes it clear that Trump (AUDIO GAP) set it up. (AUDIO GAP) clear that he was thinking about buying back what AMI, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," had through a legitimate corporate entity. So it shows it's not a campaign violation.
And there is no proof that he ever paid back David Pecker even though they have a conversation about it in here, which proves he wasn't paying Pecker back, which means Pecker wasn't doing a donation for him to help his campaign. Assess.
MARIOTTI: Well, it's hard to know in a vacuum. But I would say is this clearly shows at some point in the process he was aware of the payment. The question is, when was he aware, and what did he do at that point?
So it's really hard to say from one limited conversation. It strikes me that this is, you know, we're essentially seeing one -- like one sentence in a conversation.
What I would say is, you know, (AUDIO GAP) what would concern me (AUDIO GAP) you know, what was his knowledge of what Cohen had done regarding the payment. What was his knowledge about potential false statements that Cohen may have made to a financial institution or to others? What did Trump know when he signed disclosure forms to the FEC because he's got potential liability for making a false statement there?
That's what I would be zeroing in on, and I suspect that in the weeks to come, we're going to find out about these other -- supposed other tapes and other information --
MARIOTTI: -- you know, from additional sources.
CUOMO: Professor, you're shaking your head in the negative because?
DERSHOWITZ: Because no good lawyer releases a piece of information like this without knowing the entire context and everything. If it's positive for Trump, then you wait, and you release it later. First of all, you have to know it's positive because it's only a piece of a larger piece of evidence. And I think it would be very, very wrong for a lawyer for Trump to release this --
CUOMO: OK. I'll take -- I accept that point. But on the substance of what is relayed in (AUDIO GAP) point, why do you like what you hear about what's in the transcript if you are defending the president?
DERSHOWITZ: I don't. I don't like it. I don't like the fact that we're revealing that there were tapes. I don't like the fact that there was discussion of payments.
There are some good but, on balance, you wait and see whether you can put the good in a broader context to make it a defense to a potential charge. You don't release evidence piecemeal. That's what the Trump people did do early on before they got their act together.
Now that they got their act together, I just don't think that they would want this piece out piecemeal, even if it gave them a good story for one day. By the way, it only gives them a mixed story for one day, and it may end up biting them in the rear-end.
So, if they released it, it was not good lawyering in my view.
CUOMO: What is your concern about exposure for the president when it comes to the corporate vehicle to re-buy or buy back different types of intellectual property and stories or whatever that AMI, the parent company, had?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, there's no criminal liability there. The potential is political embarrassment. Conceivably, depending on the facts, a violation of some, you know, election law act. But in the end, you know, this story just doesn't help the president. And the more of it that comes out, particularly piecemeal, the worse I think he looks in the court of public opinion.
CUOMO: It's not as bad -- but it's not as bad as what had been happening. It's the one thing I think you have to give a little bit more weight to. This has been an unprecedented week of shame.
DERSHOWITZ: Lawyers fight with the politics -- lawyers fight with the political people all the time. If this happened from the Trump camp -- and I don't think it did -- it was a victory of temporary politics over long-term legal strategy.
CUOMO: Well, but you have to remember who we're dealing with here.
Renato, one last quick point. We now know a little something we didn't know before. The idea of Cohen flipping always seemed very unsatisfying to me. One, there are no charges against him. So, what does he have to flip against him?
What would he have on Trump? We kept asking that. What would he know about Trump? These tapes raise a new question, no?
MARIOTTI: They do. And really the question is what is beyond the tapes? I mean, certainly he could authenticate the tapes. But the question is what did he see, what did he hear he could talk about? It's a very complicated thing to have a former lawyer flip on his client.
There would be a lot of difficult and thorny questions for the DOJ to work on --
DERSHOWITZ: Definitely, definitely.
Renato, Alan Dershowitz, thank you very much. Mariotti and Dershowitz on a Friday night, what could be better? Thank you very much.
So, look, no matter how you want to analyze it, the Cohen tapes have created heat, but they cannot dim the light of what we're seeing with Trump and Putin. The story the White House wants to go away, there are two big updates. We are not going to forget them, next.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right. So, a quick little update. If you were to scan around the channels right now, but don't, because I'm going to tell you something you need to know anyway.
People are going to be saying, oh, it turns out the Trump team waived the privilege on the Cohen tape. They waived the privilege. I told you that. How did I know before it came out? Because that's the business that we're in.
They had to have waived this privilege for someone to be able to leak it out because it would be too damaging otherwise. If you have something that is subject to attorney-client privilege and someone leaks it out, they've got a big problem, especially if that person is Michael Cohen, who is a lawyer. So this idea, well, maybe would Cohen do it never made any sense.
Trump has the privilege on this tape. He's the client. That's who holds the attorney-client privilege. The client does.
They had to waive it for the FBI to get access from it. Why? Because the judge had appointed in the case a special master to look at everything and let the parties decide this is what the judge, the special master thinks is privileged. Now what do you think is privileged? It was going to be a big combination effort and all the teams have been working on it so hard. That's why you haven't heard anything else about the case.
So the news is now what I'm telling you is the Trump team waived privilege on this tape. They gave the FBI access to it, and it is another sign that they were happy to have it out there because they think it works for them. Why? It makes Cohen look bad, distracts from Russia, and gives them a window of possibility about Trump not having any blame on his hands about paying off the playmate, alliteration aside. All right? So, that's that.
Now, lost in all the talk in the tapes and the playmates, don't consume your time with that tonight. Why? Helsinki happened on Monday, and what have we seen since then? The promise of the president that Putin would now play well has been undone by Putin in two different ways.
First, the president said that he would help by controlling dangerous weapons. He started showing off his weapons, Putin did, with videos of things that supposedly he wants to ban. And then the president said, well, he'll help with North Korea. At the United Nations, the first chance that Putin had a chance to show he'd be a friend, he was a foe. He stopped the United States from going after North Korea for their violation of sanctions with petroleum. Why? Because he's not a friend, all right?
So that's what we need to discuss right now. For all the distractions of the tape, Russia matters, and we're going to have a debate right now about what these two developments mean and what the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said, which is really important.
And all of it led to an op-ed today by a guy named Will Hurd. He's a congressman out of Texas. He used to be in the CIA, and he says Putin has his hooks into Trump. What are we going to do?
All right? Let's get after it. We've got Aaron David Miller and Bill Kristol.
Fellows, I have to get that bit of business about the waiving of the privilege out of the way because everyone is going to blow up about it now tonight. It's more proof of a little bit being fed out to people about the Cohen tapes to distract. I ain't buying it.
So, Bill Kristol, politically, what happened on Monday with Helsinki, the follow-through we've seen with Putin's actions and with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said very recently, how big does this play in the negative politically for the president?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It's a very big deal. We'll see how it -- I mean and it's not just like Charlottesville, not to minimize that, but that was the president behaved terribly. Three weeks later, you know, what was to be done? There was no issue for the president to deal with.
This is an ongoing relationship with our perhaps leading adversary, and the president has defied people in his own administration, embarrassed himself in the U.S., been shown up by Putin, raised a huge number of questions about both what Putin might have on him, but also about his own vision of the world and America's place in the world. So this is big in the sense that it continues to play out.
And I'd say being out here in Aspen, talking to several administration officials, there's a kind of loss of confidence in him and loss of ability -- loss of a sense that they can manage the president almost that I don't think we've quite seen before. He's made mistakes. He's done things they didn't like. But they always thought at the end of the day, on the big stuff, they kind of -- there are guardrails.
I really felt this week for the first time the president is just ignoring all the guardrails.
And I got to tell you, ADM, I was in Helsinki. It was embarrassing to see how that went down. And since it happened, the proof has been in the Putin. He's had two chances to show that Trump is right and he'll be a friend, and he showed off his armaments and he blocked the United States at the U.N.
What does that tell you? AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Mr. Trump has
been over-committing and overpromising and somehow has this preternatural ability, he believes, to sway these authoritarian leaders. He did it with Kim in Singapore when he overcommitted and overpromised and he's done it again with Mr. Putin.
On the sanctions issue, Chris, on the petroleum, the Russians hate sanctions, and the Chinese, frankly, blocked it in large part because I think the pressure is off. They want leverage with Kim as he enters these negotiations both with South Korea and the Americans.
So, the notion Vladimir Putin is a friend, even a frenemy, I mean, it's quite clear. Look at what happened in Helsinki. I mean you were there.
A 45-minute press conference in which the president of the United States, the first probably in history -- I mean, Kennedy said that Khrushchev savaged him at the 1961 summit. Well, Putin savaged Trump. The difference is I don't think Trump realized it until he got back on the airplane and he saw the media coverage.
CUOMO: Now, the --
MILLER: A disaster for the United States and a betrayal frankly, Chris, of American interests and values.
CUOMO: Now, the flip side of the argument is Trump saying, Bill, that, look, we need Russia to help us in all these sticky situations, pushing them off, being tough on them hasn't worked. That's why under Obama, you had ISIS thriving. You had problems with Iran. You had problems in the Middle East. You had problems with Korea.
Trump plus Putin can help fix those things. So let's give peace a chance.
KRISTOL: I mean I don't agree with that analysis, but there is a coherent argument you can make for let's call that a dovish Russia policy. If you wanted to pursue that policy, you would have the administration lay the groundwork for it before the meeting. You would have a meeting with Putin where your advisers were with you and where you went through different parts of the world and saw what agreements you could reach, et cetera, et cetera.
So, I don't think that would work. That's where I am in foreign policy, but he didn't do that. For me, out here again and talking to people in Aspen, the 45-minute press conference, as Aaron said, was horrifying, but the two hour-plus one-on-one meeting with no note- taker is really nuts.
I mean, Putin has now been exploiting that already, telling people agreements with made and so forth. Literally, people at the highest levels of our government have no idea what happened. They don't know what to say. They don't know what to instruct our own government to do to prepare.
We're flying blind, and the Russians are just relishing this. So, I think the two-hour private meeting may end up being as damaging or more damaging than the embarrassing 45-minute press conference.
CUOMO: Of course, that assumes we find out anything about the substance of it unless the Kremlin decides to leak it out.
Aaron, the idea of -- look, Trump believes if you play nice with Putin, it's going to help you and he's going to win in the long run. As Bill says, he may not like the analysis, but there is something to the dovish walk.
I don't think that's what was at play in Helsinki. I think that what was in play is much more basic, which is President Trump thinks all this Russia stuff is bad for him, so he wants it to go away no matter how true it is, and that's what he played to in Helsinki. He forgot about the presidency. He forgot about being on the world stage. He forgot about what he was dealing with and just went for what worked for him.
MILLER: I mean, I think that's right. In fact, it may well be that this is the first American president that lacks the capacity to define an American national interest that is somehow untethered from his own political needs, fears, vulnerabilities, and interests.
And nowhere, Chris, is this better demonstrated than his relationship with Putin. I mean, every other leader with whom Mr. Trump has dealt, he has at one point or another flipped on, whether it's Macron or Kim or May or Merkel. Not Mr. Putin.
So, you have to ask yourself the question, and I'm trying to do it fairly and objectively. Why? Why has an American president given the preternatural space to an enemy of the United States? And we haven't even cleared up the chaos and confusion of Helsinki, and we have another summit laid on for the fall. It makes no sense.
So, I'd ask the two of you, is it the Trump file that Mr. Putin has? Some financial transgression, personal transgression?
CUOMO: We don't know, and I'll tell you something else. To answer that question, ADM, you're going to have to give some booze to me and Bill Kristol. I'll tell you that right now. You're not going to get an answer from us right here, right now.
So, let's leave it there. Gentlemen, I have to say, you raise the IQ of this show 25 points just by being on it. Thanks to both of you. I'll see you both again.
MILLER: Take care, Chris, and thanks so much.
CUOMO: All right. With all that happened this week, what matters the most? It's hard to say except for Cillizza. He is here, and he says he has the five big takeaways that matter.
So what do you say? Let's test this non-suit pant-wearing genius.
CUOMO: Five things that matter most this week. Chris Cillizza says he knows them.
What do you got?
CILLIZZA: OK. Chris, you mentioned at the top of the show, we got to find the signal and the noise, right? A lot on Russia this week.
I want to go through five things on Russia and Trump that matter. Let's start number one, make sense. These are not in any order other than the order I thought of them.
Number one, right after the summit, Vladimir Putin gives a long interview with Russian state TV where he goes through what happened in the meeting and he's ebullient. He's thrilled.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says it went better than super. That's important. That tells you how they think it went and how are they going to spin it.
Let's go to number two. Dan Coats is on stage as the Aspen Security Conference in Aspen, Colorado, on Thursday, and is asked about this meeting, this second summit. He not only doesn't know that it happened, it's going to happen, he doesn't know what happened in the first summit. This is the director of national intelligence. It shows you lack of communication they're not talking.
Number three, Donald Trump was supposed to use this week to say yes, Russia meddled in the election. I still won, but Russia meddled. Even when he was trying to fix that problem, Chris, after the Helsinki conference, he said could have been other people also. He cannot, cannot bring himself to say those words. We have seen it over and over.
Number four, there weren't a lot of hand wringing, a lot of private whispers from congressional Republicans. They didn't do all that much when it came to countering Trump. You heard them reaffirm, yes, we think Russia meddled, but they didn't really say Donald Trump needs to apologize. He needs to clarify. A few did here and there, but they were the John McCains, the Jeff Flakes, the Bob Corker --
CUOMO: Right, right.
CILLIZZA: People who were retiring.
Last one, I mentioned it earlier, number five, there is a second summit already on the books. Again, the intelligence community did not know about this, Chris. This came in a tweet from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. That's in the fall in the heart of the 2018 midterms.
CUOMO: Right. Home for the holidays.
CILLIZZA: I mean, that's -- those -- look, there is probably more, but I do think those five things are things we're going to walk away from this week, a week from now, a month from now, maybe a year from now and look back and say, wow, that did matter. CUOMO: Here's my criticism. One, I don't like that my screen is so
small and yours is so big. Can you make him smaller and make me bigger?
CILLIZZA: That was part of my contract.
CUOMO: Second of all, I think your order is terrible on this. I think you identified five great things and the order is terrible. To have that Putin interview as number one before Coats not knowing and Trump not being able to still admit the simple truth about Russian interference, which was really an attack on our democracy, and Congress doing nothing, and the second summit being fifth? I mean, your order is terrible. It demoralizes the whole momentum.
CILLIZZA: Now, let me say, let me -- let me point out that you clearly don't listen to me as I said --
CILLIZZA: -- that they were not in any order. Fair criticism --
CUOMO: Is that an excuse or as an explanation?
CILLIZZA: I like to build up, Chris. It's called creating drama on television. And so, the fifth one was the thing that we are looking forward to. It's very complicated.
CUOMO: OK. Explain it to me later. Like those pants. Show his shoes. Ely, show his shoes. Don't let him get away --
CILLIZZA: No need to show --
CUOMO: All right, all right. Mel doesn't want to show his shoes. She's the boss --
CILLIZZA: Thank you, Mel.
CUOMO: Have a good weekend. Take care, Chris Cillizza.
CILLIZZA: Bye, Chris.
CUOMO: All right. You know what wasn't on the list? The Cohen tapes? And you know why? I'll tell you in a closing argument.
CUOMO: All right. Here's the closing argument. You know what matters the most today about the Cohen tape frenzy? The timing.
This coming out now to distract from Russia. First, Trump tried to blame us, right? And then he started tweeting about the NFL.
And when those pet peeves didn't resonate, out came the Cohen tapes. Who leaked it? Keep it simple. Why did team Trump waive the privilege of this tape, attorney-client privilege and how is it just this tape came out? Look, it helped bury news that Putin did Trump wrong at the U.N.
Thursday, stalled his efforts to cut off oil from North Korea, right after Trump said that Putin would help with North Korea. It dampened the Secretary of State Pompeo saying that Russia is still attacking us right now, something Trump messed up a day earlier and Helsinki was just Monday.
So, here is the point of the argument -- don't be distracted. Not that these Cohen headlines don't matter. They tell us what Cohen may have to offer, motivated by this ominous take from Team Cohen member, attorney Lanny Davis, a close Clinton friend, no irony in this hire by Cohen.
Obviously -- this is what he said -- there is an ongoing investigation and we are sensitive to that. But suffice it to say that when the recording has been widely reported is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen. And any attempt to spin cannot change what is on the tape.
So, the tapes matter, but not as much as what is happening with Russia. And I don't think the timing of the tapes is a mere coincidence. The president, think about this, would rather have his playmate peccadilloes in the air than have Russia on your mind.
So, think about that, but don't fall for it. Don't get distracted from what really matters. We certainly won't.
Thank you for getting it after with me all week from Helsinki to here.
The CNN documentary, "The Trump Show: TV's New Reality" starts right now. Have a great weekend.