Return to Transcripts main page


Secret Trump-Cohen Tape Sparks Debate; Republicans Moving to Impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 25, 2018 - 21:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: More you. I love it. Can't get enough. Thank you, my friend.

All right, everybody. I'm Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.

We brought you the secret Trump-Cohen tape last night, and now there is a debate raging about who said what and why. Teams Cohen and Trump disagree on a key part. Partisans are, of course, doing what they do worst. Just taking sides.

So let's do something better, all right? Let's get as close as we can. Let's get up. Come on, Ely, you always take a picture of me, never just my chest.

Let's try and get as close to the truth as we can here. This is what we did for you. We enlisted a top forensic expert to do what happens in court cases that hang on audiotapes all the time. They sweeten the audio as they call it, they improve it to try to make sense out of it.

Now, his name is Ed Primeau. Let's take a look at him. He's coming to us from his house where he actually does this work.

Good to see you, Ed.

He's testified as an expert witness in hundreds of cases. He uses all kinds of digital tools to filter out noise. And he's been poring through every millisecond of the tape all day.

He is confident that he knows what the president was saying and what Michael Cohen was saying. We're going to bring him in, of course.

But first, I want to play some of the audio as it was and how he enhanced it for us.

All right. Let's start with the original. OK? This is the original recording we played for you last night, the relevant part.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and I've spoken --

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Give it know and -- COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the

whole thing up with --

TRUMP: So what do we have to pay for this?

COHEN: -- funding.

TRUMP: One fifty?

COHEN: Yes. And it's all the stuff --

Yes. It's all the stuff --

TRUMP: I was thinking about that.

COHEN: All the stuff. Because here you never know where that company -- you never know what he's going to be --

TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct. So I'm all over that that. And I spoke to Allen about it. When it comes time for the financing, which will be --

TRUMP: Wait a second, what financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay him something --

TRUMP: Pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no. I got -- no, no, no.

TRUMP: Check --

COHEN: Hey, Don, how are you?


CUOMO: All right. So, now, it clips and goes to another call. We're going to ask Primo about what his read is on that.

But the part you just heard at the end, that's the most disputed part of the tape. Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, part of the team, says it was Cohen, reportedly he said that Cohen wanted this to be a cash deal for a potential payment to the "National Enquirer's" parent company to keep Karen McDougal's story from going public. Now, he says his position is simply that Trump wanted the deal done right.

Now, Cohen's lawyer says it was the president who suggested to pay in cash. Now, why does that matter? Cash could indicate an intention to hide the transaction. But it could also not mean that.

And we're going to deal with what it could matter and why. But first let's deal with what is, all right? We're going run that portion of this one more time, right? Let's just run it again.

This is the important part. OK? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Wait a sec. What financing?

COHEN: Well, I'll have to pay him something --

TRUMP: Pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no. I got -- no, no, no.

TRUMP: Check --

COHEN: Hey, Don, how are you?


CUOMO: And in the end is the new call. All right. So, who said what?

This is the enhanced version. OK?


TRUMP: Wait a sec. What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay him something --

TRUMP: We'll pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no. I got -- no, no, no.

TRUMP: Check --

COHEN: Hey, Don. How are you?


CUOMO: All right. I'm going to play it for you again. What do you hear the president say?


TRUMP: Wait a sec. What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay him something --

TRUMP: We'll pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no. I got -- no, no, no.

TRUMP: Check --

COHEN: Hey, Don. How are you?

(END AUDIO CLIP) CUOMO: Did you hear the president say we'll pay with cash or did you hear him say do not pay with cash? Does it matter? Yes. But we'll get into that later.

First, let's bring in expert Ed Primeau.

Ed, thank you very much for working on in the way you have. I know you had to drop things to get to this. So thank you.

Let the audience know, how long have you been doing this?

ED PRIMEAU, AUDIO FORENSIC EXPERT: You're welcome, Chris. This is my 34th year as of May this year, 2018.

CUOMO: OK. Thirty-four years in the business. How certain are you about what you believe you hear on this tape?

PRIMEAU: I'm fairly confident, Chris. Sound perception, we all have different abilities of hearing sound and hearing speech the way we perceive it. I was in the room all day today. I enhanced the recording. I listened to the words and I typed them as I heard them.

I didn't know anything about this story prior to starting. So remaining unbiased was a key into the work that I did. And I stand behind what I've transcribed and presented tonight for your show.

CUOMO: OK. We have you on record saying that. What do you think Trump says about cash?

PRIMEAU: I'm hearing the words "so we'll pay with cash" or "so I'll pay with cash." And then Cohen comes back with the "no, no, no" right after that.

CUOMO: All right. So that's how you believe that you hear it. Now, a couple of quick questions here for you. What did you learn from the metadata of the clip -- data in the file and how it was saved?

PRIMEAU: Well, the clip is incomplete. We've got the beginning, I believe, because I can see a start signature at the beginning of this recording. In other words, when the recorder was engaged.

And where the dialogue just abruptly ends and some new conversation comes in, there is a butt splicer, an edit there. Those two pieces are cut together there. And I can clearly see that and I'm certain any other forensic expert with the same qualifications would agree with me.

CUOMO: So, what does that mean to the uninitiated?

PRIMEAU: What I saw -- that means this is not an original, it's not a master, and it is not a complete recording.

CUOMO: It means that their conversation may well have continued beyond that abrupt ending and that other call that comes in.

PRIMEAU: That's a high degree of probability that that's the case, Chris.

CUOMO: And I think that matches common sense at all -- as well. It seems like they're having a conversation and then something happened to the recording. What it is, we don't know and we can't tell from this. It seems to end on the word "check".

Now, another question for you. Well, I guess that answers it, right? The abrupt end, you subscribe of the fact of how it was edited because this isn't an original and it was clipped at the end. That we don't know what that means in terms of content, but in terms of orchestration of putting it together, it's something people should know.

Something interesting about you they should know. You have not been following the news about the tape and who said what and why. Is that true?

PRIMEAU: That's true. I was not in front of a TV. As a matter of fact, I've had a lot of family activity going on in the last week, and I don't think I've had the television on in over a week now.

CUOMO: Now, that is relevant because your ears weren't biased in terms of what you've been told you should be hearing.

PRIMEAU: That's correct.

CUOMO: That's interesting. In terms of what they call in your business a clean palette. You came into this without any kind preconceived --


CUOMO: -- notions.

Now, I want to play it again for the audience. Just the cash part.

Here's the enhanced version of what Primeau provided us.


TRUMP: Wait a sec. What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay him something --

TRUMP: We'll pay with cash.

COHEN: No, no, no, no. I got -- no, no, no.

TRUMP: Check --

COHEN: Hey, Don. How are you?


CUOMO: You're saying that what you hear is the president saying, so, I'll pay cash. And Cohen says, no, no, no. And then the word check. Now, to what the other side says, OK? This is what Primeau says. You

see it on your screen right now. This is how he believes he recognizes the sound.

Rudy Giuliani, I told him what your findings were, and he had a response. And I want to put that up for the audience, please. We had it written up in the interest of fairness.

Dueling experts can come to different conclusions. In context, using cash would make no sense because the transaction is between corporations.

Now, I want to remind you of the transcript as they believe it. Put that up for the audience.

I will get that and we will put it up for you because the key part is that they believe the Trump -- the president says do not pay with cash.

Now, let's be fair. Rudy's right. Dueling experts -- I've been in so many cases and so have you where experts come to different conclusions and the jury has to avail themselves of a lot of argument about context and what makes sense.

Is it fair to argue in this case that someone equally qualified to you, Mr. Primeau, could hear it and say, eh, could be, do not pay with cash.

PRIMEAU: It's fair to say that, Chris. And if you consider the fact that there's two people talking, they're different proximities away from the recorder.

When I listened to this key part of conversation, I can hear the words consistently which I believe President Trump is saying at a certain distance. So, it's the same level. It's the same amplitude.

When you hear Cohen speak, he's a little bit louder and he's more dominant with the conversation. I used a key tool, an iZotope RX 6 called Dialogue Isolate to help me separate those voices and to analyze them. And that's what I base my opinion on, is that analysis.

CUOMO: What do you think that people should take away from this tape? What matters to you most about it?

PRIMEAU: I think what matters to me most is it's incomplete. So we've got the end of a piece of conversation and now I understand why it's important. And I'm very curious what the rest of this tape might have because we seem to hear -- I'm interpreting it as a ckh (ph). I'm not hearing the whole world check although it could be as fast as they're talking could be the word check and the recording completely ends.


CUOMO: And both sides stipulate to that. It's unusual that the sides agree to much in this. But they both stipulate that the word "check" was said. So, we'll give them that. We'll give them that at their reckoning because neither gets benefit from that construction of it.

You also believe you heard the president on this tape say 150 grand, that he knew how much money was being considered before Cohen ever said anything to him about that amount of money. That will be relevant to people because you can't really hear it clearly on the tape. You clean it up for us. And that goes to what he knew and when.

So, Ed Primeau, thank you for spending the time. I appreciate your efforts. It is helpful to us.

PRIMEAU: It's my pleasure, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Now, a few things for you to take away from this. I'm a lawyer. I talk like a lawyer. He's been in trials.

This is not a verdict, OK? There is no case closed here. Even at trial, I cannot tell you how often something that may sound very clear to you doesn't to the ears of different jurors and it gets complicated.

You heard the opinion of an expert as our guest. We always want you -- in fact, on this show we depend on you drawing your own conclusions.

Now, let me tee up the main question. Does this matter to investigators? Should this matter to you for political determinations? Yes. And we will argue why.

In the past 24 hours, we've been able to isolate what should matter in all of this, and I'm going to lay it out for you, next.


CUOMO: All right. Now that we've had a chance to have an audio expert enhance the sound, now you have a better sense I think it's fair to say about who said what. Now we get into the why and what it could mean.

Let's start with Michael Cohen. He could be in trouble. Why? Because the taping is illegal?

No. Not in New York. You've got to check the state where you are. This is a one party consent state, which means the other person doesn't have to know.

Is it because it's illegal to tape a client? No.

Unethical, grounds for disbarment? Possible but unclear. Why? The rules changed in 2001 about what is allowed ethically by the bar. You're going to have to do a case-by-case analysis.

The biggest blow is not legality. It's credibility. This looks bad. And Cohen's sell is that he was doing things for Trump that he now says he wanted protection from.

But you will immediately arrive at a question. Then why did you do them in the first place?

All right. Let's get to Trump. "The New York Times," that reference about unsealing documents related to Trump's divorce from his first wife, Ivana. I want you to pay close attention to Trump's response.

Part one. Play.


COHEN: So we got served from "The New York Times," I told you, to unseal the divorce papers with Ivana. We're fighting it. Kasowitz is going to --

TRUMP: They should never be able to get that.

COHEN: Never, never. Kasowitz says don't ever be able -- they don't have a --

TRUMP: Get me a Coke, please.

COHEN: They don't have a legitimate purpose. So --

TRUMP: A woman that doesn't want them unsealed

COHEN: Correct.


COHEN: Yes, and it's all --

TRUMP: It's been going on for, what?

COHEN: For about two, three weeks now.

TRUMP: All you have to do is delay it for --

COHEN: Even after that, it's not going to ever be opened.


CUOMO: Now, again, thanks to Ed Primeau, our audio expert, it's much more comprehensible now, right?

OK, one side note. Get me a Coke. That's the meme that's blowing up the Internet with all of the impact and import in this tape. Ah, Twitter.

Al right. Now, what did we hear in there? The president said, all you have to do is delay it for, dot, dot, dot. Cohen interjects: even after that, it's not going to be open.

Now, by the way, they were making a sound legal argument. There wasn't a strong case for opening up those divorce papers and it didn't happen.

But the relevance to you is this: state of mind. This is two months before the election. And then candidate Trump was clearly thinking about how to keep things quiet to make it through to the election. Why is that relevant? Well, because of where it takes us.

One of the most important parts of the exchange, where we hear about the company that Cohen discussed creating to buy the rights to the McDougal story from American media.

Let's listen to that. Part two.


COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and spoken --

TRUMP: Give it know and --

COHEN: I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --

COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --

TRUMP: So what do we have to pay for this?

COHEN: -- funding.


CUOMO: So, some names in there. David. Who's that? We believe it's a reference to the AMI boss David Pecker, American Media, that is the owner of the "National Enquirer," the parent company.

Now, first of all, hold the prompter. No allegation or suggestion that Pecker did anything wrong, OK? Sometimes people get some stink on them from being part of this conversation. That is not a point of proof for us on this show.

But we do believe that's who they're talking about. And for every reason of common sense and fact, that is who they were talking about, all right?

Now, the second name is Allen Weisselberg. He is the CFO of the Trump Organization. Why does his name matter?

Well, Cohen said it. And in the context it implied that Trump's company could have been involved in Cohen's hush money efforts. Could have. We don't know for sure. But he does seem like he was talking to him about it.

The legalities. It would be all about money movements on one level. And we know of no transaction that ever actually happened. They're talking about doing it, but we don't believe it was done. The company was set up. And then it was closed down and another one was set up.

And that second one was done for Stormy Daniels. That was a different corporation. But it was set up with the same kind of dynamic, which is why we care about this dynamic because it sheds light on what could be a pattern.

So, now, there's something that's not getting a lot of notice. If this were just about McDougal, why did Cohen say, quote, all the stuff from AMI? Listen to this.


TRUMP: So what do we have to pay for this?

COHEN: -- funding.

TRUMP: One fifty?

COHEN: Yes. And it's all the stuff --

TRUMP: I was thinking about that.

COHEN: All the stuff. Because here you never know where that company -- you never know what he's going to be --

TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.

COHEN: Correct.


CUOMO: Maybe he gets hit by a truck. That's Trump speculating about why they have to be careful to secure what they want.

And what is that? Is it just McDougal? I don't think so. Why? Because he keeps referring to it in the plural, which raises a question. Is there a trove of stuff that had been accumulated to insulate Trump that he wanted and which theoretically is still out there?

Now, another important part of this audio is when Trump says, so what do we got to pay for this? One fifty?

That's a reference to $150,000 that AMI paid McDougal for her story, a fact that Trump appears to remember without prompting. He says the number. Cohen doesn't say it.

So, if that's true, and it is, how is it that just before Election Day, after this recording, right, two months, when the secret deal by the "National Enquirer" to buy the silence of McDougal was uncovered, Trump's campaign said this. Quote: All aspects of this story are totally untrue. We have no knowledge of any of this.

That's what Hope Hicks said at the time. Now, that is inconsistent with what we just heard, and it is important for you to know.

Today, the president refused to answer CNN's repeated questions about our exclusive audio. They then disinvited the reporter who was asking the questions from the next event. They can do that. But it does not make the questions go away. And we're going to take them up in our great debate next.



CUOMO: What does the tape prove? That's a matter of debate.

Reasonably, you could say it proves that Cohen could not be trusted by Trump. But you can also say that now there's a legitimate question about whether or not you can trust the president when it comes to telling the truth. Is it OK that he was coordinating this type of payment as is clear from the tape?

Let's bring in great debaters Ana Navarro and Steve Cortes.

Good to see you both.

Let's start with some sound. Here is Rudy Giuliani making his case of what this means for the president. And that will be butted up to actual dialogue between Trump and Cohen on the same point.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: I agree with you the tape is a little hard to hear, but I assure you that we listened to it numerous, numerous times. And the transcript makes it quite clear at the end that President Trump says, quote, don't pay with cash.



TRUMP: Wait a second, what financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay him something --

TRUMP: We'll pay with cash.

COHEN: We'll have to pay him something --

TRUMP: We'll pay with cash.

COHEN: No --


CUOMO: Ana Navarro, what do you hear, and why does it matter?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Chris, this reminded me so much of that debate earlier this year about Yanny or Laurel. Do you hear Yanny or do you hear Laurel?

Some people definitely heard Yanny. Some people definitely heard Laurel. Look, if you are a defender of Donald Trump, you hear what you want to hear. If you are an opponent of Donald Trump, you clearly hear that he wants to pay cash to bury the story of this playmate. And you put the pieces together.

In and of itself, this tape doesn't prove anything except to prove that there are other tapes. This is just one piece in the very large puzzle that Bob Mueller is putting together.

Look, Michael Cohen, if he recorded one tape, you better believe -- this is like cockroaches, man. Where there is one, there is more. There has got to be more tapes --

CUOMO: Oh, believe me, I'm well aware -- it's about the relevance on each one.

NAVARRO: Exactly.

CUOMO: Let's start with this one. Steve Cortes, let me bump up Ana's vig on this. This tape does prove pretty reasonably that the president wasn't hearing about these efforts to get around the Karen McDougal payment for the first time.

He knows the dollar amount involved. He's familiar with the construction. He's familiar with what Cohen is going to do. He has an opinion about how to do it.

These are all elements we were told by his campaign and by the White House he knew nothing about.

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: From what we heard of that tape, and by the way, that's a carefully edited part, it seems like it. It does. By the way, I agree with Ana.

CUOMO: What do you mean carefully edited?

CORTES: It almost never happens.

Well, how do we know? We hadn't heard the rest of it. We didn't know what preceded --


CUOMO: What else do you have to hear? He knows -- he didn't say what are you talking about, what corporation? Why am I doing this?

CORTES: I'd like to hear -- I'd like to hear all of it.

But here's the thing: listen, I agree with Ana. I -- to me, when I hear it with my ears, it sounds like the president is talking about cash. But, by the way, talking about cash, it always reminds me, I think you and I, Chris, are roughly the same age. I just think of the Wu-Tang Clan and cash rules everything about me. That came out when I was in college.

CUOMO: Strong reference. Steve Cortes raved (ph) by Wu-Tang.

CORTES: I never thought I'd be talking about it in presidential politics. Listen, here's my point. Who cares? How does it matter? If they

talked -- if that's correct, if the president mentioned, the then- president-elect -- or excuse me, candidate mentioned cash and it seems to me he did, so what? I mean, does -- what does that change?

CUOMO: The change is one he didn't know anything about this. Yes, he did know about it. And it shows that he was all in favor of figuring out how to keep this stuff quiet. And that's a political question, not a legal one.


CUOMO: Hold on, Steve. Ana, what's your point?


CUOMO: Hold on. Let's see what Ana says.

NAVARRO: Is there actually anybody in America who believes or believed that Donald Trump did not know about this? Look, there's such a thing as people who don't want to believe the truth.

But really if you look at yourself in the mirror, you know the guy lied. You know he's a liar. He is a pathological liar.

There is no room in newspapers to print all the lies that he says on a daily basis. So is it a surprise to anybody that he lied about an affair with a Playboy bunny after his wife had just given birth?

Color me shocked. This is my face of shock that Donald Trump lied, which is why it doesn't have that much of a political significance.

Now, could it have a legal significance? Hell yes. Just ask John Edwards. But it depends what else there is.

CUOMO: Well, there was no transaction, Ana. And that's going to be a big hole in the potential illegality argument. They never bought the assets back as far as we know. So, it's hard to say this was a campaign finance violation --

NAVARRO: This time.

CUOMO: -- on this one. Stormy Daniels could be something else.

Steve Cortes, you were making a little best a gas face there when Ana was saying everybody thinks he lied. You don't think he lied about Karen McDougal?

CORTES: No. I -- look -- I don't know --


CUOMO: Then you believe that he didn't know anything about it until after it happened?

CORTES: Hold on. CUOMO: Because that's what he told you.

CORTES: To be frank, I don't care. I don't care.

CUOMO: That's a different question.

CORTES: I really don't. I think it's totally irrelevant. And the American people think (ph) it's irrelevant --

CUOMO: Truth is irrelevant?

CORTES: Nobody voted -- no, no, hold on. Nobody voted for Donald Trump believing that they were voting for a saint, believing they were voting for John the Baptist, believing that in the 1980s and '90s and his past life --


CUOMO: That's the bar? John the Baptist, saint, or all this crap that we're hearing about?


CORTES: Nobody believed that and because they didn't --

NAVARRO: Yes, but they also didn't think they were voting for Hugh Hefner.

CORTES: And no laws were broken.

And, by the way, here's the thing too. Here's the flip side of that too. And here's where it becomes really moral is this man has done nothing but project -- protect religious liberty for America in both laws and Supreme Court nominees. So, he has actually been the best friend to Christian America that he could possibly be and that's why --

NAVARRO: Because he has to --

CORTES: -- they're willing to forget past sins and they're not relevant to why they voted for him.

And for you, I think really, honestly, Chris, to dredge up Cohen, who is a reprehensible character, who's somebody who taped a lot of people, at least according to "The Wall Street Journal," including you, surreptitiously, this is a man who really operated like a snake in many ways, including versus the president.

And for us to make a big deal about his actions and to really reveal to the world what was already known, I think, again, any reasonable person who --

CUOMO: Well, let's unpack that real quick as a final point here. I take your point. But even if --

NAVARRO: And, listen, I think that's completely true. The reason that a lot of the Christian right is willing to call this a mulligan and look the other way when they weren't willing to do the same for a Bill Clinton is because of a Gorsuch, because of a Kavanaugh.

CUOMO: True.

NAVARRO: Because Donald Trump is shutting down the rights of LGBTQ.

CUOMO: Right.

NAVARRO: Because he doesn't support or does not recognize Pride Month, because he sides with the baker --

CORTES: What has he done -- what has he done to LGBTQ, by the way?

NAVARRO: All those things make those people happy. Oh, come on. What has he done to LGBTQ?

First thing his administration did was curtail the rights of transgender students in public schools. He doesn't even recognize Pride Month, something that practically every administration has done for years since before Trump.

And you know why he has to do it? Because he's on very thin ice. Number one, because he's full of flaws and full of sins and because -- I mean, yes, nobody thought we were voting for John the Baptist. But did you think you were going to vote for Hugh Hefner?

But also because he knows he's a hypocrite.

CUOMO: All right.

NAVARRO: He's playing evangelical right. He's playing Republican.

CORTES: No, he's not.

NAVARRO: He has a --

CORTES: He's delivering on policy.


CUOMO: He's delivering on what they want.


NAVARRO: Tariffs? Tariffs? Slobbering to Putin?

CUOMO: No, no, no. The promise to get rid of Roe v. Wade, the promise to do those value culture war issues they care about.

But, Steve Cortes, know this: there's a big difference between giving them the policy positions they want and delivering what they used to say they need, which was a man of character, a woman of character, and they used to define it differently than they do today.

Steve Cortes, Ana Navarro, thank you both. Appreciate the debate. All right. We have breaking news tonight. Republicans are moving to

impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. What does this mean to the Russia investigation? Senator Tim Kaine weighs in, next.


CUOMO: All right. So what does this secret Cohen tape tell us about President Trump? How real is tonight's GOP move to impeach Rod Rosenstein? And did the secretary of state allay concerns on Capitol Hill today?

It's a lot to handle. But guess what, Democratic senator from Virginia Tim Kaine is in the center of all of it. So let's get after it.

CUOMO: Senator Tim Kaine, welcome to PRIME TIME.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Chris, good to be with you. Thanks.

CUOMO: Let me get your take on breaking news. Articles of impeachment against acting deputy attorney general or the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. We got a headline here from Congressman Meadows, Congressman Jordan and nine co-sponsors. Articles of impeachment against Rosenstein because he has not been serious about accountability and transparency.

Your reaction?

KAINE: This is a concerted effort by folks to attack those who are investigating the president. You know, Chris, I lived in Honduras, a military dictatorship, 40 years ago. And the regime wants to go after their critics, and that's what these guys are doing.

We've got to protect Rosenstein, protect Mueller, protect the investigation.

And this strong arm tactic is going to be seen by Americans for what it is, a desperate White House getting their quislings up here in Congress to try to do their work for 'em.

CUOMO: First on the merits, do you believe there is no case to be made against Rosenstein for thwarting efforts to get disclosure on different investigations to Congress?

KAINE: Absolutely none. He has been very forthcoming and very scrupulous and fair. And the only reason the House guys are going after him is because they're trying to help the president cover up whatever it is the president is trying to cover up.

CUOMO: Until we get more, let's leave it there. Thank you for your comment.

KAINE: You bet.

CUOMO: Now, the secret tape of President Trump made by his former attorney Michael Cohen, I'm sure you're aware of it by now. Is there anything in it that is news to you?

KAINE: Well, look, I'm not that interested in the president's personal life. But I will say, the thing about the tape that is the most important is it suggests real questions about the president's truthfulness.

His team said right before the election, in November -- late October 2016, that he knew nothing about these allegations or about an attempt to try to cut a deal and get hush money and quiet a story about a relationship he'd had. This tape shows that he knew a lot and the only reason you wouldn't remember that is if you had a lot of conversations like that. Most people would remember a conversation about hush money to somebody who is claiming that they had had an illicit relationship.

And so, that tape I think is very, very damning. And it points out real problems with the president's truthfulness and, of course, Chris, that would extend to many other issues.

CUOMO: Is it still damning even though there was never ultimately any transaction, none of these assets as they were being called, the stuff as Michael Cohen says on the stuff, was ever purchased from American Media as far as we know?

KAINE: If it's the case that there was never any transaction, you know, that would close off one really important inquiry, which is there's some kind of a federal election campaign violation. But it still goes to the president's truthfulness. He and his team claimed before the election in 2016 that they knew nothing about this. Oh, no, this president was deeply involved in very detailed discussions about what should be done.

And so, on the truthfulness question it still raises major, major problems with the president's account of these events.

CUOMO: OK. In terms of truthfulness, let's turn now to the secretary of state, big news today, a big hearing, he took a lot of heat from senators. Were you satisfied with what Secretary of State Pompeo said?

KAINE: No, and on the truthfulness side, look, he may have been truthful and really not known anything. But bottom line, here's what we learned in the testimony today, the administration had sent no one to brief anyone in Congress about the Singapore discussion with Kim Jong-un which was now nearly two months ago.

What learned today from Secretary of State Pompeo is that there is zero evidence to suggest that North Korea has made any commitments towards denuclearization.

CUOMO: And on Helsinki?

KAINE: Now, to Helsinki, move to Helsinki. He was asked repeatedly, he really couldn't explain or wouldn't explain what President Trump and Putin talked about. But here's Chris what really worries me: at Helsinki, he stood up and

took Putin's point of view over our intelligence community. He suggested he might dangle handing over a U.S. ambassador, Ambassador McFaul, suggesting that he could take Russia's position over our diplomatic community.

But now, let's talk about our military. Pompeo acknowledged today that the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford, had not even been briefed about what happened in Helsinki a week after that discussion, while the Russian press and defense ministry have been reporting that military deals were made, the head of our American Joint Chiefs of Staff wasn't even aware of what had been discussed.

CUOMO: But you know what? We'll leave it there. The conversation you guys need to have is with the president. He's the only one who knows his own head.

KAINE: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Not the secretary of state. And I'm sure you can get the access.

Senator Tim Kaine, welcome to PRIME TIME and thank you.

KAINE: Good to be back with you, Chris. Thanks.

CUOMO: And that's not some throwaway line to the Senator. They should go and deal with the president. Enough with the walls. Enough with the partisan bickering.

Go and talk to the man. He's our president. Ask him where his head is. Talk to him. Engage. Find ways to do things for you.

So, now that we have this new form of political expression, which is if you don't like somebody, prosecute them, we're going to debate this GOP offensive against Rod Rosenstein. A far superior legal mind to my own, Republican state attorney general, former, Ken Cuccinelli, is here.

"Cuomo's Court" will be in session.


CUOMO: Simple proposition. Impeach Rosenstein, yes or no? Cuomo versus Cuccinelli, former AG of Virginia.

Here's my position on it. It's a non-starter, not because of the merits of the case but because you don't prosecute your political enemies and that's what this is.

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't agree with that, Chris. Or in "Cuomo's Court", Judge Chris. But the real impetus for this I think is that they don't have any other options.

And as you implicitly noted there, this is not actually a prosecution. Impeachment is different. It hasn't been used much. And frankly, it's fallen into disuse. I don't think it's been used enough.

And here when the house cannot get materials, for instance, they can't get their subpoenas responded to --

CUOMO: They have gotten a ton of materials. They haven't gotten everything they want. Continue.

CUCCINELLI: I don't -- that's right. Yes, I agree with you. I agree with you. But they've been wrestling for some of this for a long time.

And even Paul Ryan, you know, not with respect to impeachment but with respect to the fact that they've been stonewalled, has sided with his fellow House members --

CUOMO: It's not a new beef with the DOJ, Ken Cuccinelli.

CUCCINELLI: Let me finish one point.


CUOMO: I'm just trying to check it along the way. Go ahead.

CUCCINELLI: I think a lot of voters need to see it.

CUOMO: Please.

CUCCINELLI: Is that the House has to go to the Department of Justice to enforce its subpoenas. Well, that's just not tenable here. And we saw this under the Obama administration. Same problem, different administration.

CUOMO: Right. But we didn't impeach there.

CUCCINELLI: So, what do you do? If you're the House, you literally only -- that's true. I actually think it's a more sincere undertaking when it's -- within the same party. This is the House standing up for itself institutionally. They don't have any other options. All they can do is complain publicly.


CUOMO: Well, but that's demonstrably false, right? They, of course, have different options.

CUCCINELLI: It's hard.

CUOMO: They have an option not to do this, to take the information they have even though it's not getting them where they want to be. And just because Rosenstein is supposedly, notionally a Republican, times have changed, my brother. The Republican Party isn't what it was anymore. You got Trump and you got everybody else. And Rosenstein is in the "everybody else" category, even if they're in the same party.

That's why they're doing this. I think it's a dangerous road. I take the other side from you. I think not only do they not do this that often, they should not do it at all.

CUCCINELLI: Well, let's go back to an easier example. Lois Lerner. Why wasn't she impeached? She should have been impeached. Koskinen should have been impeached.

Look, I think the Founders envision this being used a whole lot more than about the 15 or 20 times it's been used in the entire history.

CUOMO: In this current climate, Ken, if we're allowed to have this and this is going to be a prosecution. They're going to go into the committee, unless he marks it privileged, then they're going to go -

CUCCINELLI: Well, look, impeachment is a political undertaking.

CUOMO: It's going to be a trial, though. It's going to take time.

CUCCINELLI: That's what it is.

CUOMO: It's going to be ugly and then it's going to go to the Senate and it's going to die.

And I just don't think it gets us anywhere. It's a fruitless, extra layer on top of a process that everybody says is unnecessary. So, why keep adding more legal process to a legal process that you don't think is necessary?

CUCCINELLI: Well, I think they are looking for ways to actually take action. And their -- you declare that doing nothing is doing something. And I supposed that in the category of --

CUOMO: Litigate the subpoenas.

CUCCINELLI: -- of not to decide is to decide.

CUOMO: Litigate the subpoenas.

CUCCINELLI: The people who litigate that on behalf of the House are the Department of Justice. That's who handles those. That's the ordinary course when there is --

CUOMO: Yes, but you could go outside. I'm saying there are other options. They can come to people like you, Ken, and they get different 10 things.

We're too comfortable prosecuting our enemies right now. It's not good for either side. And it's not good for you and me and for the people who are watching. Ken, we've got to leave it there because of time.

CUCCINELLI: Good to be with you, Chris.

CUOMO: You're a better arguer than I am. I'll give it to you nine times out of 10. Thank you for doing it with me tonight. Ken Cuccinelli.

CUCCINELLI: My pleasure. CUOMO: All right. I have some final thoughts for you tonight on the

Trump-Cohen tape. Some advice that I think is helpful to all of us because we're being tested about what basis we should use to believe things, next.


CUOMO: The truth is also a side. I say it a lot, I know. But that's because I think it's the key to finding common ground.

And common ground is a position of strength, not weakness, because it's the first step of getting something done for you. On the issue of truth, the president said these words yesterday, quote: what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening. He said that after days ago saying that we, journalists, are the enemy of the people.

Now, those two statements taken together are untrue and un-American. And, thankfully, you guys agree, largely. A new poll says that 70 percent of you see the media for what it is, an essential part of our democracy.

Does that mean we're great? Of course not. You are right to criticizing the media for not asking what you think matters, not always covering what matters, not covering it the way you think matters.

And it's fair criticism that we can chase the president almost obsessively because he matters so much. And in that persistence, there can be lack of focus, or even hyper focus. All fair criticism.

So, the Cohen-Trump tape, does it matter? Of course. It represents truth on an important situation.

But so, does the good news that Trump says he's backing off tariffs and maybe won't need to soak you for $12 billion as a make good to farmers, part of his voter base, and who are badly hurt by his tariffs.

But he seems to be doing the right thing with the E.U. That's the truth also. Both matters. Not everything is equal.

And you should call me out or others for not getting the balance, the tone and the tenacity right. I welcome that.

But, please, don't be deceived. Believe your eyes and your ears. The only enemy for us is ignorance. Seek information. Stay open.

The president, I believe, thinks that he benefits from controlling what you believe about him. That's his call.

I'm not telling you what to believe. I work really hard to give you a better sense of what is true and then you decide what to believe.

In a time when people are closed and inconsiderate and indecent, be open. Be aware. If you can do that, it will help all of us, me included, be better. So, thank you. That's the closing argument.

Important note, Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, will be here tomorrow night to make the case to you directly. And that case will be tested. All right?

Thank you for watching us. Thank you for helping us get after it here on CUOMO PRIME TIME.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts right now.