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Secret Trump-Cohen Recording; Trump on Trade; Senators Slam Farm Bailout. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 25, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:15] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The president and his fixer calmly talking about how to keep a playmate quiet. The recording that exposes another Trump lie and raises some big legal questions.

Plus, a big trade meeting with the European Union as Republicans complain bailouts to farmers take the president's trade policy, in their view, from bad to worse.

And political life in the age of Trump. Secret recordings, tweet storms. A president who says do not believe your own eyes and ears.


QUESTION: Senator, how you doing?

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: About to find out how little I know again today.


KING: We begin the hour with the president's own voice calmly discussing a plan to buy a playmate's silence. Today, the president again wants you to ignore what you see and hear and focus instead on how we know this. What kind of lawyer would tape a client? So sad, the president tweeted early this morning. Why was the tape so abruptly terminated, cut, while I was presumably saying positive things?

We, of course, can presume no such thing because one thing this piece of the conversation we do have, we know exposes is another Trump lie. That tape, as the president calls it, is the secretly recorded conversation between then candidate, Republican nominee Donald Trump, and his former fixer, the attorney Michael Cohen. CNN exclusively obtained the audio last night.


MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: 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 to --


COHEN: And I've spoken to Alan Weiselberg (ph) about how to set the whole thing up with funding.


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


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


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

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE). What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay (INAUDIBLE) --


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




KING: You hear candidate Donald Trump there two months before the election talking about potential payments to buy and bury a story about an alleged nine month affair with a Playboy model. The president, this morning, slamming his long time lawyer. Drudge Report helping out, borrowing this from the mob culture calling Cohen a rat. But in his tweet, the president did not address the tape's content, nor did he dispute its authenticity.

Sol Wisenberg joins us now. He was Ken Starr's number two during the Whitewater investigation.

Saul, this is kind of like picking up a book in the middle. We don't know what happened before. We don't know what happened after. But from this piece of the recording and what context we can derive, do you see evidence of a crime or at least suspicion of a crime?

SOLOMON WISENBERG, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Not really. I mean, from what I understand, no payment was actually made. Keep in mind that President Trump himself, as a candidate, can spend any -- as much money as he wants on the campaign. If the money had been spent, he would have arguably had to report it. But you never even got to that. So I don't think it's a crime, based on what I've seen, or even an attempt or even a conspiracy. However, it's very embarrassing because, as you point out, it shows

that he was already aware of this whole issue in these payments at a time where he has said apparently that he wasn't. And also here's another question. If these stories about these -- about Ms. McDougal and these women are false, as he has said they were false, why is he worrying about paying them?

And keep in mind, this isn't just like a nuisance suit -- settling a nuisance suit because she had already been payed. She had already done the buy and bury with Mr. Pecker, who runs the parent company of "National Enquirer." So the question is, you know, they're paying now Mr. Pecker to get the -- to get the goods so that they can have them in case he gets hit by a truck.

So I think that's kind of the elephant in the room here is that, to me, this shows that the stories are true. I don't know if people care about that given the president's reputation in this area. But I don't see, based on what we have, anything close to a crime. And, by the way, even if it was a crime, as a campaign finance violation, it's relatively minor. Now I've heard people say, oh, it could be bank fraud, it could be money laundering. Well, none of that -- none of that ever happened apparently. So I think he's -- he goes -- he skates on this.

KING: Well, you think he skates on this from a legal perspective.

Well, let's talk more about the culture, if you will. Drudge using the term rat. The president saying, what kind of an attorney would do something like this? Well, this attorney was somebody who was in his employ, not for a couple of days or weeks, but for years and years doing this thing.

[12:05:05] You're a veteran. You've been on both sides of the law. What does it tell you about Michael Cohen that he felt to compelled to record his client, who, at that point, was the Republican nominee for president?

WISENBERG: It was probably his own insurance policy. But I agree with most of the commentators who believe it was terrible for him to do it. Probably unethical for him to do it.

But, keep in mind also, again, according to stories from a few months ago, apparently the president knew that Michael Cohen taped other people's conversations and sometimes apparently Cohen played them for the president and he thought they were funny. Again, that's press accounts. I don't know if it's true. And so there's a little hypocrisy here. But, nevertheless, I think it's terrible and very wrong to tape -- secretly tape a conversation with your client.

But, still, that doesn't change what the tape reveals. And what it reveals is that the president was fully aware of these payments that had been already made and that he was more than happy to make similar payments in order to get the information from Pecker.

KING: Excellent points from Sol Wisenberg. As always, appreciate your insights, especially today. I know you hustled to get into the studio from an event. Sol, appreciate it.

With me in studio here to share their reporting and their insights, "Bloomberg's" Margaret Talev, CNN's Phil Mattingly, Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post," and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson.

Again, you can't -- we can't make conclusions based on parts of the tape. But to the key point Sol Wisenberg makes, let's set aside the issue of, is there a campaign violation. And if there is, is if with AMI or maybe with Michael Cohen, less so than with candidate Trump.

Candidate Trump, through his staff, through Hope Hicks, the spokeswoman for both the Trump organization and the campaign, said we have no knowledge of any of this. That's not an -- you know, there's no gray there. We have no knowledge of any of this. That's in November 2016.

This is the president on tape in September 2016 having knowledge of a lot of this, yes?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": Yes. One hundred percent. And so what it does underscore is the fact, either that the staff when they say nothing has happened doesn't -- is not speaking with authority, or that the president and his team are not being forthcoming about things and, you know, maybe the -- you could argue the president sort of reinforced that point himself when yesterday he said at an event you -- don't believe what you're seeing.

But -- but it also gives some added kind of momentum behind what Robert Mueller is doing because this question of whether or not the president himself needs to be questioned or the question about whether the probe is going too far into too many tentacles, well the answer to that is kind of reinforced if you have here, that's sort of a contradiction between what the White House said earlier and what the tape, you know, appears to show.

KING: Right. And, again, Sol's speaking as a lawyer, but I think he makes a good political -- raises a good political question there. Will this change anybody's views out there? It is striking when you listen to this, and we'll get to Rudy Giuliani in a minute, and he makes these mob analogies. I used to work in Providence, Rhode Island. A kind of a (INAUDIBLE) family a little bit earlier in my career, so I get the mob analogies a little bit.

The -- Rudy Giuliani says that like, oh, yes, it's like the mob. He's talking about the guy who's like the president of the United States, number one. But if you listen to this, again, it sounds like this is the weekly or the monthly, Michael's here to figure out what we have to cover up meeting. That is in and of itself damning to the culture and to the who is Donald Trump?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And I think that's the moment last night while watching this on CNN when you kind of pause and you think, this is the now president of the United States recorded talking about knowing about potential -- like that's insane in the -- in the --

KING: As if it's normal. It's not like, oh, my God --

MATTINGLY: Right. In a normal historical context, this is something that sinks an administration or at least drives coverage for an administration for months, perhaps the entirety of the four years. And I think there's a very robust ability that we move on to a different news cycle in the next 12 hours or 24 hours.

I think when you move back to 37,000-foot level and we heard from Sol and I -- I'm not clear on the legal issues, if there are any at all. But I think the broader issue, and I think this was driving the president you could tell via tweets, when the FBI first raided Michael Cohen's hotel room is what Michael Cohen knows, Michael Cohen's relationship to the president and what it all means from the broader scheme of things. Whether or not there are more tapes with the president, I think that's unclear right now. It's just a matter of, this is an individual who has been by his side and has been dealing with both above side and under side of the business operations for the Trump Organization and the president himself for years. Now we have conclusive evidence that not only does he appear to be turning away from the president, clearly, but he's also putting out tapes as well. And I think that's problematic.

KING: And letting -- and letting Lanny Davis, who is one of his attorneys, Lanny Davis more the media -- speak for the media part of the attorney. I knew Lanny very well back in the Clinton days when he came in during the Lewinsky episode. We'll call it that.

Lanny -- listen, this is the end of the, I will take a bullet for Mr. Trump part of Michael Cohen's life is clearly over when you listen to this.


LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY: It's about lies and truth. Giuliani can't make up the words don't pay. Listen to the tape. The words don't pay are not heard. The word cash. So it's not about cash versus not cash. It's about truth. And the power of the truth is what Michael Cohen now has no matter what Giuliani invents or Mayor Giuliani invents for a president who has been known to lie.


[12:10:22] KING: The question is where are we going I guess I have. A, what is the Southern District of New York looking at? Does any of this spill back into Bob Mueller's land? It was handed off there. But how long does this go on? Is it -- now, if the president's going to attack Michael Cohen today, are we going to have, you know, daily Lanny Davis? Is he going to come and do Michael Avenatti on TV every day? I don't say -- I don't even say it. It's just in the boom, boom of this world.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. it certainly seems -- it seems like that's his purpose, right, to go toe-to-toe with Rudy Giuliani. There he is, you know, going back and forth. It's interesting that he's off the cash versus check comments that he was very much absorbed in last night and now he's talking about this idea of the truth.

You talk about this idea of Cohen. He said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump. Clearly he meant he wouldn't take a bullet for Donald Trump, because that's not -- that's clearly what his stance is right now. It also goes to show how involved in the campaigns day-to-day Michael Cohen was. I mean he's talking about polls. He's talking about some event in Charleston. He's talking about these pastors, whether or not they're still supportive of the president and whether or not the president can still use these particular pastors. So -- because that's been another idea that, oh, he wasn't really part of the campaign. And here it's showing that he really is.

KING: He was a lieutenant to this candidate and president.


KING: And still businessman as well. And that's the nature, if you listen, it's the calmness that strikes me. Get me a Coke. In the middle of these conversations, the president tells an aide, you know, get me a Coke.

Rudy Giuliani, back when this first -- we first knew about these tapes, said nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance. In the big scheme of things, it's powerful, exculpatory evidence. Well, no, it isn't. We don't -- we don't -- again, it's like picking up a book and reading the middle pages. You don't know what happened before. You don't know what happened after. So we should be fair to everybody.

But you can't trust what Rudy Giuliani says. You can't trust what the president says. I'm not sure we can trust what the Cohen side is saying about this either, which is where we are.

But listen to Rudy Giuliani on Fox last night. Listen again to his language. His client is the president of the United States.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I question the strategy of doing this, of trying to make a tape say what it doesn't say, or if putting out a tape in which you're kind of proud of the fact that you're a lawyer taping your client, and then thinking you can cooperate with the government? You know to cooperate with the government, you've got to have credibility. First thing that happens is this guy's going to be disbarred. I mean it's ridiculous. He's a pariah to the legal profession.


KING: Mirror, mirror, on the wall. If you're going to cooperate with the government, you have to have credibility. Well, I guess we can just end the Mueller conversation with the president now. But, I'm sorry, go ahead.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No, there's a number of people that have given different lines to the media versus they may be say -- what they may be saying to Mueller. There's a lot of people who have lied or flipped or changed their story. And so to say that, you know, anybody's pure, I guess, in this whole narrative is a bit of a stretch.

But like you were saying before, I mean it's -- in terms of it being exculpatory, of course not. It's not exculpatory when you planted a very, very large seed of doubt in somebody. The question is, are there other tapes that actually go toward proving, you know, lies that are having more legal weight? Are -- and, you know, also, who's listening? I mean because if Mueller's listening to Cohen talking about certain things that potently matter more to the investigation, that matters. When you're talking to the general American audience, are these Trump supporters that are listening or the people who are already opposed to the president? And has everybody in the middle, are they still listening or are they just kind of tired by this whole story because there's a new fit and start every other hour pretty much in it. So, all of that matters.

KING: And to Giuliani's initial point that nothing in here suggests the president had any knowledge of it in advance. There's nothing in it that suggests he didn't know in terms of how this comes out.

You don't -- again, we only have a couple minutes of the snippet here. But in the parts that we do have, you don't hear the president say, Michael, you know this is a lie. Why would anybody have to pay money --

HENDERSON: Or what are you talking about.

KING: Yes, what we are talking about? He -- it's like he's, you know, this is an update, not a -- this is not a new thing from the pace and the calmness of the conversation.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, it doesn't go towards establishing integrity really.


DEMIRJIAN: Except for the release of the tape is an attempt to.

HENDERSON: Yes, and it's like -- yes.

KING: Right. And here's -- this is Rudy Giuliani tweeting this morning. I ask the question, is this going to go on? Is this going to become hour by hour? And apparently so. If Cohen is telling the truth, why are he and Lanny Davis misrepresenting the language from President Trump? Do not pay by cash -- check. And why are they leaking falsely privileged and confidential information? So much for ethics.

The president waived privilege, number one. The president's legal team waved privilege. So, again, that is a diversion and a non-fact. And we don't know, in defense of what Giuliani is saying there, we can't clean up the language exactly about cash/check. That is inconclusive when you listen to the audio. And everyone's now trying to enhance it and see if you can figure it out.

But now you have a he said/he said. And then within the he said/he said, distortions and distractions. Great.

MATTINGLY: I think one of the more -- yes, it's clearly -- everything's going to be clear as mud for the next couple of weeks.


MATTINGLY: No, I think one of the interesting elements that's occurred over the course of the last couple weeks with Lanny Davis coming on board is, there's no longer a vacuum. It's no longer just Rudy Giuliani's view on everything that's going on. There's now somebody on the other side.

[12:15:07] Does that make -- does that add clarity? No. Clearly it doesn't. But it is a very different ballgame now that you're going to have two sides fighting it out for whatever they view as the truth. Again, I don't -- I'm not sure that brings a better understanding to anybody, but there's now -- Rudy Giuliani is no longer punching against air. He's punching against somebody and I think that's going to definitely change the dynamic in the weeks ahead.

KING: That's an excellent point as we go forward with the legal questions and we know the political environment now has more -- more pugnacious people involved. I guess I'll leave it at that.

Up next for us, President Trump is asking farmers to be patient, but will they stick with him through what could be a lengthy trade war?


KING: Welcome back.

Trade is a giant topic at the White House today as the president spends some time with Republicans mad at his tariffs and now a new farmer bailout plan. And as the president meets with a top European Union official. Tensions are high. But you would never know that reading the president's don't worry be happy tweets about the trade war.

[12:20:07] Quote, negotiations are going very well. Be cool, the president tweeted this morning about trade negotiations. The end result, he says, will be worth it.

That's the day after the administration promised $12 billion to help farmers hurt by the trade war the president himself started. The reaction to the farm bailout decidedly mixed out in the states he's trying to help. "The Omaha Herald" perhaps saying it best, farmers, thanks for aid, but we want trade.

The president decided to impose the tariffs, but his top economic adviser says he is not to blame for the fallout.


LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER: I would argue, don't blame President Trump. I've said this so often. All I'm saying is, this is not of Mr. Trump's own making. This is something that Mr. Trump inherited. Very unfair trading practices. This is a very difficult task. Reform always is. There's a swamp for the world trading system. And he's trying to drain it.


KING: Got it.

The speaker of the House, the majority leader of the Senate, meeting with the president today. They personally, and their members, not happy about this. Most of them. Most of them. Other Republicans lawmakers coming to the White House later today. So you get the political part of it there.

If you're following the markets closely today, GM stock headed for its worst day in seven years, the company says in part because of these trade issues. Fiat Chrysler lowers its profit forecast. The stock is off (ph) 15 percent today. Yesterday Whirlpool stock plunges more than 14 percent after the company lowered its outlook citing skyrocketing steel costs because of tariffs.

But this is -- this is the here and now that has, a, from an economic standpoint, you're watching what happens, b, from a political standpoint, Republicans say, sir, we're on the ballot in these states this year. But the president says it's worth it, it's overdue, hang in there.

Is he going to keep it that?

TALEV: I mean he's got a problem. And it's all of what you just said plus the E.U. visit that you know is happening today and this looming threat of whether or not the president is going to make good and impose extremely large tariffs on particularly German automakers. And so he is now in a position where he's trying to defend himself with an affirmative embrace of the farmers. We saw it at the VFW convention. We're going to see it when he goes to Iowa. You know -- but, increasingly, you're seeing Republican lawmakers and those industries pushing back against it. He's got a real problem.

KING: And it's a problem -- sorry, I just want to put the map up. It's a problem. We're having this conversation in Washington, D.C. It's much more of a problem out there on main street, especially in farming America.

This is a "Bloomberg" map of soybean concentration. Just one of the crops -- just one of the crops hitting. But if you look at that, if we -- if we -- and we're not going to, but if we overlaid a presidential map on that, you'd see a lot of Trump states right there.

Farmers, though, split on this because, again, a lot of farmers supported the president --


KING: And they -- and a lot of farmers would tell you they get it, especially China, bad actor when it comes to international trade. So here's one, Victor Miller (ph), an Iowa farmer, saying, yes,

there's going to be some pain immediately, but that pain endured will lead to a much better future for all of us. So he trusts the president that he's going to work this out.

Or this is Michael Petefish, a Minnesota farmer. It's a Band-Aid on a broken leg. And to be blunt, it seems pretty political and seems like they want to shore up some midterm support. That was -- that last part is about the bailouts --


KING: Which a lot of Republicans say, wait a minute, you start a trade war, including tariffs on China. Now you're going to use deficit spending, money borrowed from China, to bail out the farmers. It's kind of circular and it's certainly not traditional Republican orthodoxy.

HENDERSON : Yes, it's -- right. And it's unclear when China's going to feel the pain and cry uncle or mercy or whatever the phrase is because they have a stockpile of soybeans. They also have other partners that they can trade with, Brazil and Argentina. I believe they can also maybe start relying on corn. So it's not clear how this ends up well for these soybean farmers who are now going to be given what some people call welfare instead of having a crop that's valuable in the way it was last year. So it's unclear how this ends.

But it's also clear that the president yesterday, he seemed to be in a corner in that speech essentially pleading with farmers. There's going to be a little pain ,he says, but stick with me because it will all work out.

KING: He thinks he's right. He has been consistent on this issue. We often beat up on politicians for ducking hard fights. So, in some ways, if the president really believes this, I guess you've got to give him credit for having the resolve to do it. However, will he hold -- will he hold it in the face of this really stiff pressure?

This is Ben Sasse, senator from Nebraska, not a Trump fan, but on this particular issue, he says the president's got it backwards.


SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: When you have tariffs, they're a bad thing. And then you try to solve them with bailouts, another bad thing, you're not heading in a good direction. You're trying to make America 1929 again. And that's not what the people in the state I represent want. We want to feed the world. We want more markets and we want more trade.


KING: We have a broader, deeper, more sustained Republican pushback to the Republican president than I think we've seen on any other issue. The question is, are they going to do anything about it or just keep complaining about it? [12:25:01] MATTINGLY: I think the short answer is, no, they're not

going to do anything about it. The effort that they've had up to this point to actually do something legislatively, and, frankly, take back what the power was initially that belonged in Congress when it came to trade --


MATTINGLY: Is not going to happen any time soon. I think that creates the space right now that the president clearly has.

You make a very crucial point and I think the one that defines why is not going to change his stance. This is always where he's been on trade.

And if you listen to Larry Kudlow, sometimes people chuckle at Larry Kudlow, who's a devout free trader trying to explain where the president is, if you listen closely, he's actually explaining the strategy, one on Capitol Hill that people don't think exists, which is, we believe because of the heft and might of the U.S. economy, we can beat the living hell out of everybody else until they break and we can essentially reassemble trade coalitions or the kind of international trade system as it currently stands. The big problem that you hear on Capitol Hill is, that takes time. $12 billion, not clearly -- not nearly enough to make up that gap in the near term and also there's an election in a couple of months. The president is willing to wait and take that time and see if he can break, in his view, opponents. Republicans on Capitol Hill, even if they're not going to do anything about it, are uncomfortable both ideologically and most certainly politically.

KING: And take the politicians out of it. I heard that Minnesota farmer, Mr. Petefish I believe his name is, on with Poppy Harlow earlier this morning saying, I get it, but a lot of farmers don't have two or three years.


KING: That we can't wait this out two or three years. We will collapse. We will (INAUDIBLE) financially. So it's an interesting one to watch.

And, again, the president did say, he did say we do this. That's true. He also said it would be easy. He also said it would be easy. He said these new trade deals would be easy. We're 18 months in. It hasn't been easy.

Up next for us here, evidence piling up against the Russian agent Maria Butina. Prosecutors telling the judge they have well over, get this, 1 million documents to introduce as evidence.