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Trump Invites Putin to Washington; FBI Obtains Recording Between Trump and Cohen. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired July 20, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to Friday here and all this breaking news that we're watching at CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Here's what we have in the federal investigation into the president's former attorney. A source tells CNN that the FBI has a recording of a conversation between the president and his loyal confidant, Michael Cohen.
This is a conversation where they reportedly discussed a payment to a former model Playboy who says that she had this 10-month affair with then private citizen Donald Trump.
The president's new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, tells CNN that President Trump had no idea he was being recorded. And to add to it, the source says that when he was actually told about this tape, this is what the president said: "I can't believe Michael would do this to me."
The White House has denied, denied McDougal's claims of this affair. And while this tape was seized in the FBI raids on Cohen's properties, sources say there are a trove of other recordings as well.
So let's start with CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez. Let's start with you there in Aspen.
What do we know about this particular recording?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this was a recording that Michael Cohen did, apparently, talking to the president about a payment to Karen McDougal. This is the former Playboy Playmate who claims that she had an affair with then -- this is Donald Trump as a private citizen, obviously.
This was a discussion that happened before the 2016 election. And so, of course, now this raises a lot of questions. One of the things that it raises is, why did -- why was this a story that was kept out of the public in the 2016 election during the time, the run-up to the 2016 election?
If you remember, this is a payment that ended up not being made allegedly by Michael Cohen or by the president. It was a payment that was made by the publisher of "The National Enquirer." They bought Karen McDougal's story and ended up not using, not publishing the story. She was under an agreement under which she was not allowed to talk about the alleged affair with the now president. So the big question Obviously that this raises is -- from Michael Cohen -- is the fact is that the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, one of the things that they're investigating is whether or not there was any laws broken as part of the these payments that Michael Cohen was allegedly involved in brokering with women who allegedly had these claims against the president.
So that's now part of this investigation. The FBI has this recording that Rudy Giuliani is referring to. It's important to note that the president's legal team has reviewed a transcript of this recorded called or this recorded conversation with -- between Michael Cohen of the president.
And we're told that They think that there's no legal issue here for the president. They don't believe that this IS a conversation that causes any legal problems for the president. But, obviously, this something that we will have to see, because this is still, as you know, an ongoing investigation there in New York.
BALDWIN: Let me pick up with your last point. And, Evan, stay with me. I want you part of this conversation.
Let me also bring in chief political analyst Gloria Borger and Elie Honig. He's a former federal prosecutor for the SDNY. That's the Southern District of New York, which is the district investigating Cohen.
So, Gloria, let me pick up on Evan's last point, right? So we're hearing from Giuliani. They're saying no legal issue with the tape, right? They have looked at the transcript, essentially saying not damning, but it sounds to me like you have a source who says otherwise.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Who says that it is.
Yes, Rudy Giuliani is making the case that this is exculpatory. I have spoken to one source with knowledge of the tape who says that the conversation between Trump and Michael Cohen is not as Rudy Giuliani described, and the source went on to say that, in fact, the tape is not going to be good for Donald Trump, but the source refused to elaborate.
So, Brooke, here we have the tale of the tape, which is that you have Rudy Giuliani saying, this clears my client, and another source with knowledge of the tape saying, not so fast, it doesn't clear your client.
There is a tape somewhere. There is a transcript somewhere. Somebody is going to have to make that judgment.
BALDWIN: Elie, you and I were just chatting, and you were saying -- you were saying you worked mob cases. And in this case, talking about the parallels, right, you always wanted access to the mob boss.
And if you even had a recording of the mob boss, even better for that person's case?
ELIE HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes.
BALDWIN: What are the parallels?
So, the main parallel is you're trying to penetrate a closed, secretive organization, right, whether you're talking about the Trump Organization or the mafia.
And in mob investigations, really, the best piece of evidence you can get is a tape by someone who's in a position of trust, a confidant, a consigliere, as they say, to use the mob language.
And that's because the person that top has the luxury of ruling by giving orders, right? The boss doesn't get his hands dirty. He's not out there committing crimes, but he's telling people.
And if you have tapes, there's no running away from that. And good defense lawyers, the first thing they will do when there's a new arrest will come up to the prosecutor and say, is this a tapes case or not? And if it is a tapes case, they will go, OK, we got a problem. And if it's not, maybe they can fight it.
But Giuliani's doing what every defense lawyer does whenever there's tapes. They say, oh, this is no problem. This is going to clear my guy.
I tend to credit the president's initial reaction, which we just saw, which is, why would he do this to me?
BALDWIN: What does that tell you?
HONIG: It tells me the president's scared.
I mean, right? He trusted Michael Cohen for a long time. And Michael Cohen knows his inside business, knows it, knows all the secrets, knows where the bodies are buried, figuratively. And so he's nervous, and I think he should be.
BALDWIN: Evan Perez, here's my question to you, because so far from the Trump team, from the campaign, when it was "The Wall Street Journal" back in the fall of '16 who broke this story, and they denied that Trump knew anything about this payment, when clearly, based upon this recording, he did.
PEREZ: Right, exactly. They have denied -- and, look, they have denied everything related to any of these claims that have been made, and then it does appear that information then comes -- comes forward that shows that the denials are not quite accurate.
So, look, we will have to see whether or not this is something that prosecutors end up using in this investigation, and they have made clear that they are looking into charging Michael Cohen. We don't know exactly what necessarily those charges will look like, whether they have anything to do with perhaps an election law violation, because obviously if someone made a payment to benefit the president before the election, and that is not -- that's not recorded or that's not reported as a contribution, then -- to the campaign -- then that could be a problem for the president.
We don't know yet whether this is where the prosecutors are going, but you have to start thinking that the Trump legal team is very much aware of that. And that's something that they -- I'm sure they're gaming out as to how this develops, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Gloria, you have talked so much about how it was Cohen's M.O. to record conversations, to have a record or whatever his reasoning was.
BALDWIN: It is apparently a surprise to the president that he was rolling on this particular conversation with then private citizen Donald Trump.
We don't know how many other tapes are out there, but you also have some reporting that there are additional tapes with other, what, powerful people?
BORGER: Right. And that's -- and that's Dana Bash's reporting, which is that there are -- that there are other powerful people, people of consequence, I believe, on these tapes.
And I was told by another source that there are definitely all kinds of tapes out there. So, this is something that Michael Cohen apparently did routinely. It's kind of strange that he would tape the president, then his boss, whom he has always said he would take a bullet for.
But we don't -- we don't know why. And, of course -- and I'm not a lawyer, so let's have the attorney answer this. But are -- these conversations are privileged, right? So Michael Cohen can't really talk about them, or I don't know how that would come up in a trial.
I just don't have any idea.
HONIG: They may be privileged, but not necessarily, right?
There is an attorney-client privilege, but there's two important qualifications. One, it has to be an attorney furnishing advice to his client. And they're going through that review in the Southern District that Judge Jones and Judge Wood are doing, and a tiny percentage of Michael Cohen's documents are actually deemed attorney- client communications.
The other thing is, there's an exception to attorney-client privilege, what we call crime fraud exception. So, yes, attorney-client conversations are usually privileged, but not if they're talking about a crime.
BALDWIN: What about, in your experiences, just going back to your metaphor, not even a metaphor, with your real case scenario with the mob? Why would you have someone tape a mob boss in those examples?
HONIG: So, if the person's already cooperating -- and Cohen was not cooperating at the time.
HONIG: You're trying to build evidence.
Why would Cohen do it on his own?
BALDWIN: That's what I'm getting at.
HONIG: Look, I would presume he knows the kind of people and knew the kind of people he was dealing with, right? He had spent years immersed in this Trump world.
And I would guess he's thinking, I got to protect myself, because you never know which way things are going to go. I'm dealing with people who will just deny, deny, deny. So I need some protection. So I'm going to make these tapes.
BALDWIN: So, where do you see this going next?
HONIG: Well, I think -- I think Michael Cohen has got to decide if he's cooperating with the Southern District.
There's all sorts of indications that he is. And, if he does, then what's going to happen is, the Southern District is going to sit with him. They're going to reserve a conference room or a safe house somewhere and they're going to sit with him for days on end, and they're going to play every one of these tapes and go through every one of these financial documents and every e-mail and say, explain this. What's this? Why did this happen?
So that could just open up all manner of new doors.
Meantime, Gloria, just as we have all been talking about for years, Cohen was this loyal guy, this fixer, take a bullet, everything we have always talked about. Yet here he is under this criminal investigation.
And this is how Trump recently characterized their relationship.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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)
BALDWIN: Now, with this recording, Gloria, first to you, isn't it a tad more difficult for the White House to distance themselves from Michael Cohen?
BORGER: Yes, but they can do what -- they can do whatever they want.
The president says, he's no longer my attorney. Michael Cohen made it very clear to us at CNN and Lanny Davis did, his spokesman, a while ago, saying that Michael -- Michael Cohen is now independent, and Michael Cohen is going his own way.
And in an odd way, in an odd way, now Michael Cohen and his once archenemy, Michael Avenatti, are together on this against Trump. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And it wouldn't surprise me if, at some point, they -- they're on the same page here.
So, the world takes very, very strange turns in this story. And I think we're -- and I think we're just seeing another one. And, by the way, so you have two conflicting stories here. But you do have a document. You do have an audiotape and a transcript.
So somebody -- the truth lies therein. And we ourselves, of course, have not been able to see that transcript or listen to that tape.
BALDWIN: The truth is in the transcripts.
Gloria, Elie, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
And, Evan Perez, thank you as well.
Also, I know you have some new reporting on the plan to have Russian President Vladimir Putin come to the White House this fall, an announcement that took the director of national intelligence by surprise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Say that again.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Vladimir Putin coming...
COATS: Did I hear you? Did I hear you?
MITCHELL: Yes. Yes.
MITCHELL: Yes. (LAUGHTER)
COATS: That's going to be special.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
That was the real-time response when that news came out that the president would have Putin to Washington.
Also, new details that the White House is none too thrilled about Director Coats' comments there at that national security forum in Colorado.
Also, all of this as President Trump is expected to leave the White House in moments on his way to Bedminster, New Jersey, for the weekend. Will he stop and chat with the press about the week that was? We will stand by with cameras rolling.
Stay with me. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: In just a couple of minutes, the president is expected to leave for the weekend for his golf resort in New Jersey.
In his wake, this news that is really baffling, not just the Beltway, but Americans, another meeting with Vladimir Putin, this time in Washington.
It is a head-spinning development, you could say, after four days of nonstop fallout from their first stand-alone summit, which was just on Monday.
Condemned for not immediately supporting his intelligence agencies against Putin, the president is now at odds with top intelligence officials in this country, Dan Coats, for the way he responded after learning about Putin's latest invitation from Trump.
So let's begin there with CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger. She is back. Not letting her go just yet. Michael Allen is with us, who was held high-level positions on the House Intelligence Committee staff and the National Security Council. And Mike Baker, a former CIA operative.
So, Gloria, let me just start with you here. And we got to get straight to the -- Dan Coats on stage in Aspen, where he is reacting in real time. This is the director of national intelligence reacting in real time, learning based upon a tweet that the president has invited Putin to Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.
COATS: Say that again.
MITCHELL: Vladimir Putin coming...
COATS: Did I hear you? Did I hear you?
MITCHELL: Yes. Yes.
COATS: That's going to be special.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So, I just want you to react to that moment.
Again, this is a man who had talked about, like, the red lights flashing, right, with regard to Russia. This is who had gone out and responded to this summit between Putin and Trump on his own.
And now you hear him in real time responding to this notion that Putin is coming to the White House. What did you think?
BORGER: Well, you know how they say no man is an island? I think he's an island.
BALDWIN: Do you?
BORGER: I think he's alone here.
I think Dan Coats did not know. It was clear that his surprise was real. And maybe the White House had been trying to get in touch with him, and he's in Aspen, and they couldn't. I mean, we don't know the whole story.
But the body language and him making a joke about it, because he was clearly so stunned, means that it's not something that he would do or recommend. I mean, don't forget, this is a president -- and he also said in that same interview, by the way, that he would not have recommended that the president meet with Putin with just a translator there.
But he said, that's not my job. And I think in terms of -- and Mike Allen can talk about this -- I think in terms of the intelligence community, I think their heads are spinning, because there's never been anything like this. They haven't been debriefed completely, according to reporting at CNN and elsewhere.
And then to set up another summit immediately after is head- scratching. It makes you wonder if the president is just angry that everybody's angry at him.
BALDWIN: Well, let's ask you, Mike Allen. How fast are those heads spinning?
MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER BUSH NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STAFFER: They were pretty fast.
ALLEN: Look, my impression yesterday was that the president and his communications operation were under tremendous pressure, and they rushed out the door an idea to get everybody to look towards the future, i.e., another Putin summit, rather than dwelling on the disasters of the past week.
But, listen, I don't think this the way to do business. There's a reason we have process, right? It's kind of boring. But there's a reason why we prepare. There's a reason why we have many people in the room. There's a reason why we summarize meetings and make sure they're carrying held, of course, so they don't leak, but also so that the top echelon of the national security leadership knows what happened in the top interactions that the president has around the world.
This a one-on-one. And I don't think that the way they run it, sort of freewheelingly, serves us well in national security.
BALDWIN: There was this thought going into Helsinki, why would the president want to do this one-on-one with just a translator? And there was this thought, all right, maybe it's just total hubris, right, ego. The other was, well, what might Russia truly have on this president?
And, Mike Baker, I was talking to Steve Hall last hour, former CIA, saying, it really may be kompromat. Are you willing to go that far?
MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIONS OFFICER: No, because I think it's all -- it's all speculation.
Look, none of us know, A, what was discussed. None of us know, frankly, how many people now within the administration have been briefed on those discussions. And, hopefully, nobody at this stage of the game is surprised by the lack of process that Mike Allen just referred to.
There should be that process. But what I mean is the dysfunctionality, the lack of information flow in a normal sense, shouldn't shock anybody at this point. You want it to be that way. But, no, I'm not willing to go as far as what Steve Hall -- and I have a lot of respect for him. Great experience.
BALDWIN: Steve Hall. BAKER: But it's all -- again, it's speculation.
Look, they did talk about -- there was reporting and talk about a White House meeting between Putin and Trump back in March, in April of this year.
I will say, objectively, setting aside all the noise and the politics and all the rest of it...
BAKER: Objectively, Dan Coats' reaction was unusual from an individual without much experience, credibility and seniority, in the sense that he almost -- it almost seemed, stepping aside and looking at it, that he was playing it for comedic relief.
BALDWIN: How should he have played it?
BAKER: Well, he should just deadpan and say, OK, yes. There had been talk.
He could have simply said there had been talk about having this meeting. There is much to discuss, let's move on.
But you could also argue that President Trump, when given the opportunity, should have simply said, I have full faith and confidence in the U.S. intel community. We do believe that they continue to engage in this activity, and if they continue, then we will take actions commensurate with the seriousness of it, and then moved on.
BALDWIN: Gloria, to Mike's point, , we know that -- I was talking to Shane Harris of "New York Times" left hour, who was saying a senior White House officials says that it's Coats who's now gone rogue, case in point, right, how we reacted on stage and other examples through the week.
Do you think his job is in jeopardy?
BORGER: Everyone's job is in jeopardy with Donald Trump at some point, at some point or another. So I presume that Coats is as well, because you talk about playing it for comedic relief.
I don't think the president likes being laughed at.
BORGER: So one would -- you have to think that it wasn't received well by the president. And the reporting is that it wasn't received well by his top aides.
Whether that would endanger his job at this particular point is sort of another question, because is so key to all of this. The president the other day said he had faith in Coats, came out finally and said he had faith in the intelligence community.
So to fire Dan Coats now, I think, could be a real political problem for him. But Trump doesn't seem to worry about that. So you would have to -- you would have to say that you can't dismiss that as a possibility.
BALDWIN: Mike Allen, how closely do you think Robert Mueller was paying to that summit this week?
ALLEN: I think he was paying some attention. It sounds like he was otherwise busy.
But Jim Clapper said something on your air yesterday that was fascinating. He said here on CNN that he believes the Trump-Putin conversation was likely recorded, if not by the Russians, then maybe even the Finns, who hosted the meeting, or other foreign intelligence services.
This I don't know if our co-panelist here from the CIA would endorse that, but wow.
BALDWIN: But listening to Dan Coats yesterday, there was a joke about, would the soccer ball be bugged? And Dan Coats was saying no, no, obviously, they'd be checking everything and that no.
But, Mike Baker, would you agree?
BAKER: Well, sure. Yes. Yes. I wouldn't trust Putin or the FSB or the foreign intelligence service as far as I can throw them out a window, frankly.
And the Soviets in years past -- I mean, one time, they had a famous operation. They gave a gift to our ambassador down in Mexico, then hung it in his office. And that was bugged and was designed to obviously pick up transmissions, very sensitive secrets.
They have been doing this for years, I guess is my point.
BALDWIN: So are you saying it could have been bugged?
BAKER: Well, no, I'm saying that we -- well, we have learned our lesson. I have tremendous confidence in my old outfit and other members of the intel come.
BAKER: We know better. So that soccer ball is not sitting anywhere privy to sensitive conversations. I can guarantee you that.
There you go. Take Dan Coats' word for that and all their expertise.
Mike and Mike and Gloria, thank you so much. BORGER: Sure.
BALDWIN: Minutes from now, the president is leaving the White House to head to his New Jersey golf club for the weekend. We will be watching to see if he speaks, stops and speaks with reporters about all of the above that we have been discussing the last hour-and-a- half.
Also, we will take you live to Branson, Missouri, where we are learning just absolutely awful details about the 17 people now killed after that duck boat capsized in a storm.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.