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Deadly Duck Boat Accident; FBI Obtains Recording Between Trump and Cohen; Trump's Former Personal Attorney Recorded Trump Discussing Payment to Silence Playboy Model. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 20, 2018 - 16:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: The feds have secret recordings of Donald Trump.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: President Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer recorded him talking about making a payment to silence a Playmate. And we're told there are other recordings in Michael Cohen's stash.

Out of the loop, out of a job? The White House is now at odds with the president's top intelligence officer after his shocked reaction to the Putin invite.

Plus, duck boat horror. The death toll is rising after a tour boat capsizes on a lake, and there are new questions about why the boat was out there at all.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake.

We begin this Friday afternoon with bombshell breaking news. There are tapes. The FBI has a secret recording of President Trump speaking with his one-time fixer, Michael Cohen, about potential payments to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal in late 2016, just months before he was elected.

According to Mr. Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, now, Giuliani describes the recording as exculpatory, but a source close to Cohen says, no, it's not. He describes it as not good for Trump.

Now, the president, I'm told, has no idea or certainly had no idea that Cohen was recording their conversation. And when his attorneys told the president about the tape, he responded -- quote -- "I can't believe Michael would do this to me."

Now, these and other recordings were seized by federal investigators during raids on Cohen's home, hotel and office, according to multiple sources.

McDougal alleges that she carried on and nearly a year-long relationship with Trump back in 2006, right after Trump's son Barron was born. She was never directly paid by Cohen. But federal prosecutors are investigating whether the president violated campaign finance laws with payments to other women claiming affairs with Trump.

CNN's Athena Jones joins me now.

Athena, break it all down for us.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is pretty stunning. And this, as you mentioned, apparently came as a surprise to the president.

It also came as surprised as a surprise to Karen McDougal herself. Her personal lawyer tweeted praise for the MSM, which means mainstream media, for -- quote -- "keeping us all informed."

And this news comes after Cohen tweeted last night, interestingly, about the importance of the free press.


JONES (voice-over): It's tale of the tapes. The stunning revelation that Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney, secretly recorded conversations between them, and not just once, a source familiar telling CNN, when informed of one of the tapes, Trump said -- quote -- "I can't believe Michael would do this to me.:

Trump's current attorney Rudy Giuliani tells CNN one of the conversations, which took place two months before the 2016 presidential election in the then candidate's Trump Tower office, was about payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006, an affair Trump denies.

KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY PLAYMATE: We were together 10 months before I chose to end it. So we saw each other quite frequently.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, dozens of times, you were together?

MCDOUGAL: Many dozens of times, yes.

COOPER: And were intimate?


JONES: Giuliani told "The New York Times" that, in the tape, Trump advises Cohen to pay McDougal by check if he does pay her so that there is a record. Giuliani said the payment was ultimately never made and the tape shows Trump did nothing wrong.

In the end, McDougal reached a separate $150,000 deal for her story with American Media, Inc., the parent company of "The National Enquirer," before the election.

AMI, whose chief, David Pecker, is a close friend of Trump's, never ran the story. McDougal has accused Cohen of secretly taking part in the AMI deal.

Trump's campaign denied any knowledge of the AMI deal in a November 2016 "Wall Street Journal" report on the agreement. The FBI seized the McDougal tape and others during an April raid of Cohen's office, part of the Southern District of New York's criminal investigation into his business dealings, including the $130,000 payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election to keep her quiet an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump that Trump also denies.

COOPER: And you sex with him?


COOPER: You were 27. He was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?


COOPER: Not at all?


JONES: The secret recordings may provide an answer to one of the biggest questions facing the president. Just what does Cohen have on him?

Trump's former fixer...


JONES: ... has sent signals in recent weeks that he is willing to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, although it is not clear what kind of evidence Cohen will be able to provide in that probe.


According to Giuliani, the McDougal tape is the only one of true substance and Trump's attorneys do not believe is a problem for the president.


JONES: Now, prosecutors are looking into whether Cohen's activities violated federal campaign finance laws, among other things.

And while the president's lawyers are saying there's really nothing to see here, I should note there are multiple parties interested in what could be on those tapes. One of them is Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, who is suing both Cohen and Trump -- Dana.

BASH: Coming from all sides. Thank you so much for that report. Appreciate it, Athena.

I also want to add that the source with knowledge at the tape says that the conversation between Trump and Cohen is not, as Rudy Giuliani described, you see that, the source says the tape is not good for Trump, but wouldn't elaborate.

That is a contradiction of what Giuliani said on the record to me and others, that it is exculpatory. I should mention that the president just left for one of his resorts in Bedminster. He sometimes comes over to the press and takes questions. And, surprisingly, today was not one of those days.

You see. Let's listen to the reporters trying. OK, so you get the point. He's waving. He's smiling. He's not answering any questions.

Kirsten, let's start with you. Talk about the big picture significance of what we have seen and heard today about these tapes.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the bigger picture is the fact, if there's one tape, there's probably hundreds of tapes. I mean, we don't even know if he's recording. But why was he recording him in the first place, I think would be the question.

BASH: Yes.

POWERS: And it would suggest, if he's recording this, he's probably recording other things.

And so I think that that wouldn't bode well for -- frankly, for a lot of people. And most people wouldn't want to have all of their business dealings recorded. But, for Trump in particular, because he's in legal trouble, potential legal trouble.

And so what other things are they going to find? So, we can look at this -- in this instance, and we don't really know exactly -- there was some suggestion it was campaign finance problems or whatever. We don't know yet without really knowing what's on the tape and getting some more facts, but we do know that there's potentially a lot more information here.

BASH: So I was told that there are many, many other tapes, even some others with President Trump, but that this was the only one of substance.

We don't know if that is going to be true, of substance with Trump. There are other recordings apparently of other individuals that could be not so great for Cohen and whomever those powerful individuals are.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I just -- on a more broader level, there's all this swirling chaos day to day.

But there is a common thread that goes through all of these scandals. Donald Trump is a president with a lot of secret. He and his allies tells a lot of lies to cover them up. And this applies to his relationship with women, whether it be Stormy Daniels or Karen McDougal. It applies with his personal finances.

It applies with his posture towards Russia. And so we are seeing things that should have been vetted during the campaign. They're being vetted now in a very public, painful way that is going to cause endless turmoil to our country until we get resolution. BASH: Except -- you're right. It's being vetted now, but it's not

like nobody tried in the campaign. You tried. You tried. I mean, reporters tried. And when I say you and you, I mean Republicans who weren't all that thrilled with President Trump, then candidate Trump, being your nominee.

So it's not like this is a news flash that there's all this drama around the president. The difference is pretty significant.


CARPENTER: His willingness to lie has been unprecedented. And that has been the brick wall that I think everyone has run into.

And so now we are going to court cases. We are going to audio, things that must be proven, because they won't be straight on any of these issues.


And here's the thing. Like, the trend line on this is -- and the pattern is so obvious. Every time that we have been assured that a piece of new information isn't -- isn't impactful or as exculpatory, it's turned out not to be true.

And, in fact, it has been damning evidence. Whether that has been a new revelation about a meeting at Trump Tower, whether it's been a revelation out of testimony before a congressional committee or what the SDNY eventually offers out, all of those have been trend lines in the wrong direction.

It keeps getting worse and worse for the president, and it keeps getting closer and closer to the president. That's the real challenge to those that are trying to manage this right now inside the White House.

BASH: Now, Angela, you're an attorney. I want to just drill down a little bit on this Michael Cohen situation, because he is and was the president's attorney.

So, one question now that is being asked among people who are not fans of the president at this point is whether or not, by Rudy Giuliani and the president's legal team talking about the content of these tapes publicly, whether they are giving up the attorney client-privilege that existed before.


And that is significant, in layman's terms, because, if they gave it up, that means we could all have access to these transcripts and tapes, right?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And my understanding is that attorney-client privilege can only be waived by the client.

(CROSSTALK) BASH: In this case, he is the client.

RYE: Right, but his legal counsels is talking, and not the president.

So the president would have to waive it.

BASH: I see. OK.

RYE: The one other point I wanted to go back to very quickly, Amanda, that you addressed is kind of this very secret life he's led that has been aired out before the public.

And the word that came to mind, especially when I think about the Obama administration, is transparency. And all this -- and I really think the country is starting to see why transparency on so many levels really matters.

When you're not transparent, there's danger -- danger to be my word of the day on Jake's show. Yesterday, it was kompromat. And if not that, if nothing else, you find out that people are covering up after covering up and you don't know what all is there.

And to discover this, not just on a national stage, but on an international stage, is so very dangerous.

BASH: I like that you -- there was an allusion there to "The Electric Company," I think, the word of the day.

Let's go to Conjunction Junction. Conjunction Junction. Conjunction Junction, what's your function, because that is another throwback.

Karen McDougal's lawyer tweeted about all of this, the following: "When @realDonaldTrump said we were lying, do you think he met we weren't?"


BASH: That's clever.

But, in all seriousness, I mean, this -- to both of your points, this puts everything that the president has said, as if it already wasn't in question, even more into question.

POWERS: Right.

Well, of course, this is the kind of thing that if this was any other president, the world would be on fire and everybody would be like, oh, my gosh, is he going to survive?


POWERS: Yes, we're like, oh, well, yes, he's lying. He lied about this and he lied about Stormy Daniels. Now he lied about Karen McDougal.

And, yes, the White House that they didn't know about it. And probably what they will come back and say is that I guess maybe the president didn't tell them about it. They always have some sort of excuse.

But it's just -- it's just not surprising. Doesn't mean it's not outrageous. That's the difference. It's still outrageous. It's just not surprising.

BASH: And this is on the heels of Michael Cohen and his attorneys and the president and his attorneys sending messages to one another publicly through Twitter and so forth.

First of all, Michael Cohen has been distancing himself. He scrubbed the president from of his social media and he even tweeted today -- he quoted Walter Cronkite -- "Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy. It is democracy," and so on and so forth.


CARPENTER: Can I just laugh for a second?


CARPENTER: He's talking about respecting freedom of the press while he's actively implicated in a cover-up of silencing a woman's truth.


BASH: But you're also speaking logic.


MADDEN: If you were looking for any evidence that this was somebody that has already flipped or will be getting to flip on the president, going from fake news to quoting Walter Cronkite is like probably the clearest sign.


BASH: I just want to remind everybody, because they are talking, what Rudy Giuliani told me earlier this month about Michael Cohen and what he should and should not be saying.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I do not expect that Michael Cohen is going to lie. I think he's going to tell the truth as best he can, given his recollection. And if he does that, we're home-free.



MADDEN: You know what is amazing?

And we talk about legal strategies. The legal strategy here is defined by the 10-minute news cycle that they're operating in. That was the 10-minute operating -- the 10-minute news cycle that Rudy Giuliani was operating in then.

We will see what he says now. It'll change based on the new pressure and the new news of the day.

RYE: And the new news of the day are these tapes and the fact that Donald Trump has allegedly said he can't believe that Michael has done this to him.

So, again, he feels in some way that he's been victimized, and Rudy Giuliani is going to come to his rescue, as we expect him to do and as he's always done.

I think that there may be something else on the side of Michael Cohen's tweet. And that is he may be saying that the press has it wrong and the press isn't as free as we think because of all the stuff Donald Trump was just...


CARPENTER: Because he's been shutting them down for so many years.


RYE: I'm not I'm not fighting that.


RYE: But I'm saying maybe there's some twisted spin on this Walter Cronkite tweet, which would not surprise us, right?


BASH: All right, everybody, stand by, because, up next, one of the few lawyers in American history who knows a little something about secret recordings and the presidency. The former White House counsel for Richard Nixon joins meet next.

[16:15:01] Plus, new information about the deadly duck boat accident that has now killed 17 people. We have just learned that one woman lost nine members of her family.


BASH: More now on the top story today. The president's former lawyer Michael Cohen has a recording of Donald Trump and him talking about payments to silence a former Playboy model Karen McDougal, and the FBI has its hands on the tapes.

Joining me now is CNN contributor and former White House counsel for Richard Nixon, John Dean.

Thank you so much for joining me.

You were the White House counsel to Nixon leading up to Watergate. You know a thing or two about how a recording can take down a presidency. Different situation right now.

[16:20:03] But still, how big of a deal do you think what we know so far is?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, it depends on what's on the tape, of course. And how many of these tapes there might be. First of all, Dana, I must tell you, I find it ironic we're calling them tapes. I suspect they're digital recordings.

BASH: Yes.

DEAN: But the label has hung on and they're called the Trump tapes so that's good enough for identification purposes. I think if there are more of them this can be very telling evidence, particularly if it is in digital form which is much better than the old analog form.

BASH: Yes, no. The technology improved since the early '70s. On that note, I want to remind people you were in a situation not unlike where Michael Cohen may be heading. You worked at first to fend off prosecutors. The FBI even called you the master manipulator of the Nixon cover up, but then you flipped against Nixon.

What advice given your very specific history do you have right now for Cohen?

DEAN: Well, I, of course, made a decision while still at the White House that we had to end the cover-up and tried to convince Nixon to do so. I have not really intimately familiar with Michael Cohen's comings and goings with Trump and might or might not have done.

But I can tell you that it's -- there's one course that is very easy and that is to tell the truth. It isn't always without consequence and it isn't always pleasant. But it certainly is self satisfying and the easiest route to go, to try to perpetuate lies doesn't work. So, I would counsel him if I were to ever talk to him on how to tell the truth and do it in a way that carries the day.

BASH: And we should point out that that was a very elaborate cover-up in -- during the Watergate. It forced the president you worked for to resign. We don't know what's going on here and we don't know if Michael Cohen has anything at all that could hurt the president in a real legal way, maybe political and in a real legal way.

What -- given your experience on the other side, as well, what is the president's legal team most concerned about right now?

DEAN: Well, I suspect documents that Michael Cohen might have could be of as concern as recordings, just his knowledge in general. While he, Trump, described him as having a minuscule role in his legal affairs, he was around long enough and there long enough to have a pretty good idea of what was going on and how business was conducted.

Now, that isn't the purview of -- necessarily of the special counsel, but it could be within the jurisdiction of the Southern District, so he's actually playing potentially in two forms. My understanding is that it's right now just in the Southern District. But Mr. Mueller might be interested if he -- if his lawyer makes a proffer and he has information that does tell the special counsel something he doesn't know about the Russian connection.

BASH: And really briefly, if you were the White House counsel right now for President Trump, or maybe his personal attorney, in a sentence, how would you advise him?

NIXON: Trump?

BASH: Yes.

DEAN: Well, as White House counsel, your client is the office of the president. As a personal attorney, like Giuliani is, he's out trying to spin the best face he can put on it and as one of your panel mentioned, they tend to defend themselves in ten-minute segment and I think today is probably keep a low profile. And less said, the better.

BASH: John Dean, thank you so much for your insight, and the history that you bring. Appreciate it.

And up next, CNN has new reporting about concerns inside Trump land about the Helsinki summit hurting President Trump's case with the Russia investigation.


[16:28:50] BASH: Michael Cohen's tape recordings may not be the only potential pitfall troubling the president's legal team. One source tells CNN their client's, quote, erratic behavior in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be giving them new pause.

I want to bring in CNN's Gloria Borger who I worked with this reporting on.

And, Gloria, let's start with the things that we're hearing, concerns inside the president's legal team that it could make the president and I say it, I mean, the Helsinki summit and that performance, seem less sympathetic and conceivably embolden Mueller.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. The lawyers were feeling up until the Helsinki summit, that they had the wind at the back, Dana. You know this. They looked at that inspector general report that panned the FBI, they looked at public opinion that was heading in their direction and against the special counsel Mueller, so they were pretty good about where things were going.

And then the president goes to Helsinki and, you know, there's a question according to the sources that you talked to and that I talked to of whether this could be an inflection point of some sort and that perhaps Mueller now might be sort of sitting back. He just did his Russian indictments a week ago today, of 12 Russians.