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Trump Invites Putin to Washington in the Fall; Source: Cohen Recorded Trump's Discussing Payment to McDougal; Pompeo Asked About White House Invite to Putin. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 20, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:32:43] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Another big question for the president today. Why? Why does he want a second summit with Vladimir Putin even before he tells us, the American people, or most members of his own team what happened at the first? Why issue the invitation as detailed by the White House press secretary on Twitter, on a day your national security team is out in public saying Russia's attacks on the United States continue. Why blind side your director of national intelligence?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You -- Vladimir Putin coming --

COATS: I heard you. Yes, yes.

OK. That's going to be special.


KING: Laughter there. But sources in the intelligence community tell CNN no one knew that Putin announced that was coming. This morning, one official called the lack of a coordinated roll out, quote, pure incompetence.

Incomprehensible is another word that fits. The American side is still trying to sort out the president's Helsinki mess. No one on team Trump for example can offer us any details of what the president may have promised Putin in their private meeting. No one on team Trump sees any evidence Russia is ready to change its beleaguered behavior in Ukraine or Syria. And everyone on team Trump says that Putin directed cyber attacks on the United States continue.

Yet the president who just gave Putin a global stage in Helsinki believes he now warrants an invitation to the cathedral of the very democracy he is attacking. Weak is the global verdict on the president's performance in Helsinki but he sees it very, very differently. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Getting along with President Putin, getting along with Russia is a positive, not a negative. Now, with that being said, if that doesn't work out, I'll be the worst enemy he's ever had. The worst he's ever had, and I think he knows that.

I'll be his worst nightmare. But I actually don't think it will be that way. I actually think we'll have a good relationship.


KING: Let me ask you at the table since the White House won't answer. Why? I mean, usually you would -- Putin is a thug, OK? If you're making progress in Syria. If you're making progress somewhere else, you say look, this is what we have to do.

[12:35:03] Is there any evidence that there's something happening behind the scenes that we haven't been told about yet, that warrants giving Vladimir Putin after you gave him the stage in Helsinki, the Rose Garden, the Oval Office, that picture which is a propaganda, wohooh for the Russians?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: No, absolutely not. I mean, I think looking at this sort of surprise announcement yesterday that he was going to actually invite Putin to the White House and has actually directed John Bolton, his national security advisor to sort of arrange that visit. All I could think was that, you know, what the president has tried to do in the wake of this news conference, this extraordinary news conference in Helsinki is to really double down on what he says is the rationale for the meeting in the first place. That it is a good thing if we can talk to Russia which I think nobody in the foreign policy establishment would argue with that it would be a good thing if we could make some progress on arms control and working together on Syria and all the things that they talked about for about five minutes in that news conference before he pivoted to, you know, Russia meddling and interference and how he didn't actually buy that it had occurred.

That would be a good thing and I think to the degree that he can argue that this is a policy that I want to pursue, I think it was successful in Helsinki and I think it would be successful to follow up on that. I think that's what he's trying to do because otherwise, all people have is two hours and 10 minutes of black time where he is in a room alone with Putin, nobody knows what he has agreed to, the White House -- the administration has refused to brief any one of us who have covered that meeting on what actually happened there.

And so all he can really do is sort of act publicly like this was a big mark of progress and he wants to follow up and keep it going. I mean, I think that's the only kind of argument he has at this point.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Also, you know, the Republicans, the polling that's come out, (INAUDIBLE) that Republicans generally think the summit went fairly well. They approve of what he did, and it's another example of how Trump is shifting what the Republican Party is. I mean, this is the party of Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and he's changing what that party stands for. And that leaves a lot of these Republican senators and congressmen in a pretty difficult spot, the ground is shifting under them. Trump is moving the party, and they think, you know, we see all these comments, more than we've seen I think for any of these other kind of controversies, from the Republican congressmen and senators saying that this is the wrong approach.

But it's not clear that the base of the party thinks it --

KING: That's a great question, but it's also -- there's what you're doing, which is why, why has Putin giving you any evidence he deserves this? Is there any -- did he say something in the private meeting? Maybe he told something to the president in the private meeting the president -- that Russia is going to change it's behavior.

Don't bet more than a half of penny on it around the world. But there's no evidence -- and then the president does this on a day when his national security team is out in public saying this.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: These actions are persistent, they are pervasive, they're meant to undermine democracy on a daily basis.

COATS: They are the ones that are trying to wreak havoc over our election process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Russia still targeting the United States?

KRISTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think we would be foolish to think they're not.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I have great confidence that the Russians will try and undermine western democracy in 2017, 2018, 2019, and for an awfully long time.


KING: I mean, Al Capone just empty the bank, let's give him a key to Fort Knox?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's -- you see the White House, they've been -- or the president's own administration officials have been very staunch in maintaining that it was Russia who attacked the elections, that they're likely going to do it again. The president has been inconsistent at best at his statements that they have meddled in the election. Obviously, we saw him questioned it while he was standing next to the Russian leader on that world stage.

But the president himself has been framing this since he got back as the media's negative coverage of his summit is the problem. Saying essentially that the media wants it to either be a relationship with Putin or a war. But those are not the only two options, you don't have to be at war with them to confront them over attacking our election. The most sacred right you have as an American is to be able to vote for your leader.

And the president is framing it as the media doesn't want this, but simply the standard is pretty low for the president to just simply confront him over this to tell him to knock it off. And the president did not that opportunity when he was explicitly given that opportunity by a reporter. And you heard Dan Coats say yesterday that when Putin comes back this fall, he does not think that he and Trump should meet one-on-one again.

KING: There's no delicate way to make this segue so I'm just going to make and I'm going to return to some of the breaking news we talked about at the top of this show.

The New York Times reporting that the president's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, when still the president's personal attorney and personal fixer, two months before the presidential election in 2016, secretly recorded then candidate Republican nominee Donald Trump, in a discussion about a possible payment, never made but a possible payment to the playmate Karen McDougal who says she had an affair with Donald Trump back in 2006.

Some new reporting from CNN's Gloria Borger and Dana Bash. I just want to read it to you. They just hand it to me.

Rudy Giuliani the president's personal attorney says Trump, he was then candidate Trump had no idea he was being recorded during the discussion.

[12:40:01] He says it took place at the president's office at Trump Tower in September of 2016. So two months before the presidential election. When informed about the tape, the president said, quote, I can't believe Michael would do this to me according to a source familiar with the process. Michael Cohen has other recordings of the president in his records that were seized by the FBI according to Giuliani and a source with knowledge of Cohen's tapes.

Let me stop there and they will continue through the reporting. Rudy Giuliani now on the record saying there are other recordings. He also says in this that the FBI has a recording of the president and his personal attorney Michael Cohen discussing the payment.

And so, I asked earlier Paul Callan, has this been held by the special master? Is this kept as somehow privileged? Rudy Giuliani at least telling our Gloria Borger and Dana Bash that the FBI has it in addition to the fact that there are more. And I think you made the point earlier that I cannot believe Michael would do this with me.

DAVIS: I mean, as Kaitlan noted earlier, the angriest we've seen him, the most sort of out of control inside the White House is when Michael Cohen's office was raided and he, I think, you know, he presented it at the time as, you know, that this man was loyal to me and I'm outraged on his behalf. But I think we could all see and speaking to people around Donald Trump understood that part of the reason he was so angry about that because he recognized what the implications could be for him. And that now these prosecutors -- the FBI had in their possession all of these potentially very damaging information. And we were all speculating before there could be other recordings. Clearly, it seems like there are other recordings and it obviously raised the question in the president's mind of, you know, what does -- even if he doesn't flip, as MJ said earlier, what does Michael Cohen have that could further damage him and could further put him in legal jeopardy as well as obviously political -- under a political --

KING: Right, without a doubt, politically, it's a huge credibility crisis for the president. Are there issues about the timing of the payments or the possible payments that they talked about right there? Again, the president of United States, then the Republican nominee saying, quote, I can't believe Michael would do this to me.

So you look that there. I want to go through this reporting more. There are tapes, other tapes of Cohen and other, quote, powerful individuals that the FBI seized beyond the president that could be embarrassing for people on the tape and for Cohen, according to a source familiar with the tapes, the source said the people are of, quote, significance and consequence.

Now, I don't want to be overly speculative here. Let's be careful but we do know that Cohen also was an attorney for the businessman and big Republican fundraiser, Elliott Broidy. I think I have the name right. Who had a similar deal I think because of Cohen's experience of helping the president, then businessman Trump, came to him to help him to a similar payment to a woman -- another model, playboy model, correct?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And it is not shocking that there would be other recordings out there. We already knew that. I thought the key line from Gloria and Dana's reporting is Giuliani and another source confirming that there are other recordings involving President Trump. That we did not know before with certainty, though I think you could have assumed given Michael Cohen's close relationship with Donald Trump.

But you're absolutely right. As we have reported this out over the last couple of months, the pattern has been that Michael Cohen was often involved in these kinds of dealings. I mean, he has publicly talked about the fact that he was his fixer. He, you know, he went out to try to fix these kinds of problems for Donald Trump. He wanted to make these kinds of, you know, unflattering stories go away.

So I think you're right that there could very well be. And as you noted, the reporting now is that there are recordings of him speaking to other powerful figures. Who knows who they could be.

It could be involving GOP fundraisers and other big names in the Republican Party. It could be with other clients that he had. It could be about other stories that he was trying to conceal on Donald Trump's behalf.

LERER: And what -- I mean, I think stepping back from it, what does also shows you is that, President Trump has his focus on loyalty, is operating in a world without any trust. You have his personal lawyer recording him, secretly recording him.

So you have to think, probably other people were doing that too. Everybody is probably -- may be recording everybody. That's the universe in which he's operating in, and it's a very, very fertile universe if you are Mueller or, you know, New York investigators.

COLLINS: Also, a key line from this reporting from Dana and Gloria is that, Giuliani has known about these tapes for several days and has reviewed the transcripts. So that would lead us to believe the president has known about this for several days now. That they have this recording of him and Michael Cohen discussing the possible payment or the potential payment to this Playboy model. So that really says a lot more about what the president's mindset has been while he was on this whirlwind trip to Europe last week, meeting with all these world leaders, things that were catastrophes in and of themselves because of the president's own comments during interviews.

But now we know that he knew about this when he went into that trip.

KING: And it puts before you number one, the personal credibility issues. Again, if you go back and just do a timeline of the president's explanations, denials, evolutions changing on Stormy Daniels, it is from a stunning, didn't happen, know nothing about it, to reimbursed Michael Cohen for the payments of that.

[12:45:08] Now we have here a secret recording of then candidate, Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump talking to his personal attorney, two months before the elections. So that Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels right before the presidential which will raise both political questions and that's where the legal questions come in.

Was this done -- he's the candidate for president, it's two months before the election, so any money that moves potentially is a campaign finance risk. It also reminds us that the southern district of New York has these recordings.

Robert Mueller is continuing his investigations on other issues. You made the point earlier about where we are in the election year. That there's a lot of we don't knows even as we read a sentence to your point, when informed about the tape, the president said I can't believe Michael would do this with me, Michael Cohen has other recordings of the president in his records that were seized by the FBI according to the FBI's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

LEE: And it's such a telling line into Donald Trump's psyche that he's genuinely surprised that this has come up and sort of blaming it on Michael Cohen as though he had done something. I mean, obviously, these are based on actions that Michael Cohen took some time ago, but he didn't say, you know, here's evidence, I'm going to present these to investigators, they just came up as part of the raid. And, you know, he clearly doesn't know and I think reporters know, that based on everything that we know about Donald Trump and sort of his past, he's not really a good boss, he's not a nice boss.

So when you have someone who has been working with you for so many years and is in such close contact in handling so many different parts of your life, then yes, they are going to be in a position to know these things. And at some point, and that is that point right now for Michael Cohen, these things are no longer under Michael Cohen's control. The information is out there, they're already in the hands of investigators. There's nothing that Michael Cohen can do as far as the documents and the recordings that were already seized.

COLLINS: And there was that great New York Times reporting from Maggie Haberman whenever we were looking at the Cohen-Trump relationship that it show that it wasn't as chummy as people had painted just because they were close. It showed how the president has treated Michael Cohen over the years, going back to coming to his son's bar mitzvah and saying publicly, telling everyone that Michael Cohen call and begged him to show up until he finally did.

Really embarrassing things that the president -- the way the president treated Michael Cohen. And that throughout that campaign when it became clear that the president was going to win, Michael Cohen thought he was going to come into the White House and potentially be the White House counsel. And then he got no job in the White House and then would tell people, oh, I better serve him from the outside. But you could tell he was hurt by that.

So clearly Michael Cohen has been the one who has been certainly not had the power in that relationship. And it's very interesting now that that could be a foil for the president.

DAVIS: Well -- and I mean, this is a pattern with Donald Trump that you see over a period of years where he really demands and expects loyalty from everyone around him, quite over and above what most bosses would expect people to tolerate. But doesn't actually give it back when it's their time to need loyalty from him.

And as MJ pointed out, you know, there comes a point in these relationships where the person is not any longer in control of the information that they have about him, and that is the case with everyone around him pretty much in the senior stuff of West Wing because of the Mueller investigation. So he's in this situation where people around him who had seen how he's operated, who know things that he potentially does not want made public are being asked to testify under oath and tell prosecutors what they know.

And, you know, he is now not in a position of control, even though he has the control in the relationship at the beginning, this is where he finds himself. And the Michael Cohen example is sort of the most vivid example of that for him right now.

KING: But there are others to your point,. And again, the Michael Cohen investigation at least for now, separate from the special counsel investigation, but, yes, the same dynamics in the special counsel investigation. Many people who are in now removed from the Trump orbit. Might still be loyal to the president then they go to these meetings with prosecutors who have all their e-mails, conversations from other people. They have documents, the special counsel has put together timelines of meetings that the people who were at the meetings and organized the meetings say have more information than even they that. So , you're right about that. Once that evidence put is in front of you, it's the truth, it's hard to deny it then. Loyalty tends to fade at those moments.

Up next for us here, back to the other big story in town today, the president's invitation to the Russian president to come to Washington, not sitting well on Capitol Hill.

[12:53:52] KING: Welcome back. Just moments ago, the secretary of state Mike Pompeo at an event in New York asked about the president's dramatic invitation for Vladimir Putin fresh from the Helsinki summit to come to the United States this fall for another summit at the White House. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Secretary, on a question about Russia because that kind of (INAUDIBLE) in Washington (INAUDIBLE). Why is it a good idea for the president to invite Vladimir Putin to the White House? What does the U.S. have to gain from this visit?

POMPEO: Yes. I'm happy that the two leaders of two very important countries are continuing to meet. And if that meeting takes place in Washington, I think it's all to the good.

Those conversations are incredibly important. We have our senior leaders meeting all across the world with people who we have deep disagreements with. It is incredibly value -- valuable to the people of the United States of America that President Putin and President Trump continue to engage in dialogue to resolve the difficulties our countries have faced between each other. I think this makes enormous sense and I'm very hopeful that that meeting will take place this fall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One final question.


[12:55:04] KING: Is he really that hopeful? A long time Russia hawk, who if you look at stylistically, he has learned how to stay in the president's favor. To keep the disagreements in private and be a cheerleader in public. Would that meet the congressman Mike Pompeo test?

DAVIS: I mean, if you look at what the kind of reaction that's coming out of Capitol Hill now, even among some Republicans, I think the answer to that would be no. I'm -- maybe I'm reading too much into his words. I'm intrigued by his use of the word, if that meeting happens, that would be a very good thing.

I mean, one possibility here is that, you know, we all know that President Trump likes to kind of move the news cycle along when it's not going well for him. I think that -- this invitation and the announcement of it on Twitter yesterday was a part of that sort of push on his part on the part of his team to sort of like, let's move past all this controversy of what happened in Helsinki. Let's get people focus on what might happen in the future.

And if politically, this becomes untouchable, if he really cannot sustain any support for meeting with Putin in the fall, he could in spectacular fashion, cancel the meeting. And say, look, how tough I'm being on Russia, I'm canceling the meeting that potentially maybe never was going to exist in the first place.

So I -- I mean, I do think that there is a messaging reason why this is announced that may not necessarily be in line with what's going on behind the scenes as the two national security teams are talking at we're told.

KING: I think you also have the question of whether there will be developments in the Mueller investigation that makes such a meeting even possible. Then you have the Republican blow back.

One of the things we do know is that Mike Pompeo had the same view as Dan Coats post-Helsinki I'm told that the president did not have a good performance on being polite, in Helsinki. Mike Pompeo would never say that publicly, Dan Coats essentially did and has been in saying that, you know, if the president had asked him, he would not have recommended a one-on-one meeting, and he doesn't think that's the way to do it.

We are now told the vice president of the United States, also from Indiana, had a conversation today with the director of national intelligence Dan Coats, a former Indiana senator now in the cabinet. There been some talk in town especially because the president publicly undermined Coats standing there next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki that maybe Coats was looking for the exits. That is one of our questions at the moment, isn't it?

COLLINS: It is. And we've been told that Dan Coats is not going to resign, he plans to stay in his position as long as he can. He put out that statement publically rebuking President Trump after President Trump cited Putin's denials very forcefully at that press conference. But then the president did an interview on Wednesday where he spoke very highly of Dan Coats and called him the expert, said that he was a good guy. But we do know that the president and Dan Coats are not as personally close as the president and Mike Pompeo.

So you heard Dan Coats, he said if the president had asked me, I would not have recommended meeting one-on-one. Well, the president didn't ask him clearly. So, it really shows who the president is listening to inside the West Wing. Mike Pompeo holds a lot more -- carries a lot more weight with the president than Dan Coats does.

Whether or not the president is going to be furious over those remarks that Dan Coats made at the national security forum where he very publicly was questioning the president's judgment to meet one-on-one with Vladimir Putin, not only during that first meeting but to do so again, and to invite him to Washington around the times of the midterms which Mike Pompeo has said the Russians will attack, is certainly up for debate.

This is something where that could be determined by the coverage if it does infuriate the president. If it's all focus on Karen McDougal, that could also change the course of events. A lot of it has to do with what the president's reaction to that is going to be. He could easily let it slide.

LEE: And I thought that was a pretty admirable effort from Pompeo to try to put a positive spin on all this. But obviously as we just saw in the last block, really remarkable scenes sort of back to back, the reactions from the very kinds of people who go into government and they are supposed to never be provocative. They are not supposed to have anything other than a poker face but sort of just openly and publicly saying -- it's almost like they can even try anymore expressing their sort of frustration and confusion about the way that the president is behaving.

KING: And Ambassador Nikki Haley standing there. See if the Trump national security team has said nothing about the Helsinki summit. In the Security Council meetings on Syria, she has essentially called Vladimir Putin accomplice to the murder, the slaughter of the Syrian people including women and children. It's all yours, Secretary Pompeo, you answer that question, she had nothing to say there.

LERER: I mean, look, these are all long time politicians who've been in Washington a long time, been in national security issues for a long time. And now they have to learn how to play politics and do, you know, foreign policy by Donald Trump's rules. And that's a really hard thing to do.

I mean, I know we say this over and over and over again, but the idea that an American president would just toss out a casual invitation to a Russian president is totally unprecedented, right? Like everything is unprecedented now, but this one, normally those kinds of conversations are carefully coordinated and carefully, you know, rolled out and all these kinds of things. It's not something that you just kind of throw out there and then the rest of your administration scrambles to catch up.

KING: At any moment, it's unusual. At the moment when your own team says he continues to attack the democracy of the United States of America, you invite him to the showcase of that democracy, the White House. Odd to be polite.

We're going to continue to follow the breaking news on these secret tapes of the president. Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS today.

And more on the breaking news, Michael Cohen secretly recording the president. Wolf picks up right now.