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Prosecutors Could Charge Cohen as Early as This Month; Over 175 Former U.S. Officials Condemns Trump's Brennan Action; First Lady Fights Cyberbullying as Trump Rips Critics; GOP Senate Hopefuls in AZ Fight to Prove They're More Trump-like. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Well, bigger picture wise, I'll say, you know, the politics of this are unpleasant. There's a whiff of swampiness here that there's no -- not nice for the president's party going into a midterm election with the Cohen charges potentially percolating, the Paul Manafort trial and jury deliberation phase, and the president consumed with the special counsel investigation. It's a tough moment for the drain the swamp president when all this is happening. And it's understandable why he's so angry about it all.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Without a doubt. And one of the key questions here as we know these taxi medallion companies that Cohen owns and apparently was using to make the cases on the loans. If it's all about that, it's embarrassing to the president because this is somebody he hired, somebody had very close in, somebody who's with him for years, someone who is involved in his efforts whether it's Karen McDougal or Stormy Daniels. That's embarrassing for the president.

But there also the New York Times report, they're also looking into whether there are any campaign violations -- campaign finance violations in the case of these McDougal and Stormy Daniels. But that would make it more than embarrassing to the president. That would bring it into the president.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: I think if -- and again, this is -- yet again one of these cases where we don't really know what they know. But what is true in Michael Cohen's case is that there are his dealings with the president in the context of the campaign here, and there also his dealings in terms of representing the president and all of his business, you know, interests dating back quite a long time.

And, you know, a lot of times in these sort of federal -- special counsel or special investigator type of investigations, there's the core thing that you begin looking at, Russian interference in elections. And then there's whatever comes out of it.

And so we've seen Mr. Manafort's case, now Mr. Cohen's case that the sorts of tentacles have spread to them. And I think the question for the president is not just in politics but in his entire previous life in business. Does Michael Cohen have information that he wishes to share with those investigators that could alleviate the burden on him that could be dangerous to Mr. Trump's business empire?

KING: And to that point, this is how they put it in the New York Times article. "It is still possible Mr. Cohen may plead guilty rather than face an indictment. He has hinted publicly and has stated explicitly in private that he is eager to tell prosecutor what he knows in exchange for leniency. A cooperation agreement would likely include a provision that Mr. Cohen also provide information to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller who is investigating possible involvement by the Trump campaign in Russia's meddling."

So this is the southern district of New York case, not a Mueller case. But if he becomes a cooperating witness in exchange for leniency, the feds writ large have access to him.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. When you're cooperating with the feds, you're cooperating with the feds. And that means that you're cooperating in the various ongoing investigations and certainly if he knew anything that would be relevant to Mueller's investigation, he would be required to share that, I would think, as part of this agreement. We still don't know if, you know, prosecutors in southern district of New York or if anyone on Mueller's team actually even want to -- want this guy to be a cooperating witness. We don't have an indication of whether they actually need anything from him, whether they think he knows anything relevant that they don't already know.

I think there's still, you know -- there's a question when you get in the case of people like Michael Cohen, is this a credible witness? Is this someone that you can really use going forward in any case you want to make anyway?

KING: And to the point we talked earlier, sometimes Rudy Giuliani when he speaks for the president is trying to make a legal argument. Sometimes he's definitely making a political argument. Michael Cohen is also playing this game a little bit too. He's brought Lanny Davis who helped spin in the Clinton White House back during the Lewinsky investigation. Lanny Davis is now a legal adviser but more a political adviser to Michael Cohen, who says this in Politico today.

"I reached out to my old friend John Dean because of what he went through with Watergate. And I saw some parallels to what Michael Cohen is experiencing. I wanted to gain from John's wisdom. I certainly didn't want to raise expectations that Mr. Cohen has anything like the level of deep involvement and detail (INAUDIBLE) of John Dean had to Nixon White House as a witness to Nixon's crimes, but I did see some similarities and wanted to learn from what John went through."


KING: That is Lanny Davis messing with the president's head.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: I'm totally not making this case that I'm making. But I think people like lower tier of gas lighting. I want to grab something that Margaret said. You talked about representing Donald Trump. And one of the interesting things here is, when was he acting as a lawyer which might entail some protections, and when was he acting just as a fixer? And that's something that we have to watch really closely because right now his argument that he was acting as a lawyer has not held up well in New York.

And so let's see what comes out. We also know he taped the president.

KAPUR: This is the $20 million question with the plea deal as well. I mean, that's a lot of money to be potentially looking at in terms of financial fraud for his, you know, taxi companies. And does Michael Cohen have enough information to be able to skate on charges that could be this serious if he is indicted?

And that's where to Margaret's point, the Trump Organization comes in. There are people who have studied that company very closely and believe they would be legally vulnerable with the southern district of New York if some of this information were to get out there. Michael Cohen is clearly in full cooperation mode. There's no love left to be lost between him and the president.

KING: We'll watch this one play out. Again, often when these things hit the newspapers, it's often a signal from prosecutors, if you're going to cooperate, clock's ticking. Let's see what we do.

TALEV: On board.

KING: Let's see what happens in a day or two ahead.

Up next for us here, former CIA chief gaining support as he feuds with the president.

[12:35:03] But at least one backer of John Brennan's says he does go too far at times.


KING: Topping our political radar today, the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh just moments ago meeting with the top Democrat on the committee that oversees the confirmation process. Senator Diane Feinstein among those demanding the release of more documents from Kavanaugh's tenure in the George Bush White House. He's set to meet with Senators Claire McCaskill and Chuck Schumer, two other Democrats tomorrow.

A speech writer for President Trump who went to a White Nationalist event two years ago no longer works for the White House.

[12:40:00] That word comes after an inquiry last week by CNN's K-File Team about Darren Beattie's attendance, excuse me, at the 2016 Mencken Club conference. Beattie confirms he gave a speech at the even but says, it contain nothing objectionable.

And the feud between President Trump and the former CIA Director John Brennan escalating by the hour it seems. The president tweeting just a short time ago he hopes Brennan sues. That in the wake of having his security clearance revoked by the president. But the president predicting he won't sue.

Meanwhile, 175 former U.S. officials have now added their names to letters denouncing the president's actions, his decision to revoke Brennan's security clearance. The former National Intelligence Director James Clapper is among those who say it is wrong for a president to punish free speech, but Director Clapper offered this caveat.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think, you know, John is sort of like a freight train, and he's going to say what's on his mind. I think, though, that the common denominator among all of us that have been speaking up though is genuine concern about the jeopardy or threats to our institutions and values. And although we may express that in different ways, and I think that's what this really is about, but John and his rhetoric have become, I think, an issue in an of itself.


KING: It is a fascinating subplot to all of this. The big question is, should a president, any president, punish somebody exercising their First Amendment right to free speech, unless they have evidence he's using classified information inappropriately.

But, you do get a lot of cringing from John Brennan's former colleagues in the intelligence community who do think as a paid MSNBC contributor, he's gone too far.

KNOX: Yes, you definitely do. You get a lot of anxiety, a lot of the -- especially the contrast between what he said earlier that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian, and now he's gone the opposite direction now. You do get some cringing but it's outweighed by far with concern about this kind of retaliation.

You know, this is -- and this is part of a thread, you know, the president calling senior intelligence officials Nazis in a speech in early 2017. The president regularly attacking the intelligence community, refusing to accept its findings or vacillating between accepting and not accepting its findings on Russia.

You do see a lot more. And this retaliation -- this final act of retaliation against John Brennan has unsettled a lot of people inside the intelligence community now. And that's part of the message here. Part of the message from some of these senior figures is designed to reach people inside the Justice Department, at the FBI, and the intelligence community to say we are standing with you.

TALEV: That's why you see this letter out now today from 175 people and the sort of preface to the signatures says specifically, we're not saying that we all agree with all or even part of the sort of things that John Brennan has been saying, but it's the principle that matters.

KING: He has the right to say those things.

TALEV: These folks are talking about (INAUDIBLE), one day, whether it's, you know, two years from now or six years from now, there will be a different president of the United States, and what systems, what orders, what processes are left after that? How do we draw the line between politics and public service, between national security and political leverage?

KING: In this environment, that question seems to change almost by the day.

Up next for us here, first lady Melania Trump fights cyberbullying as the president slams his critics online.


[12:47:33] KING: Welcome back. Children often know better than adults. That telling take from the first lady today as Melania Trump again highlighted her campaign against cyber bullying, well aware, of course, that it would also draw attention to her husband's cyberbullying. The first lady here at a summit in Maryland.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Social media is an inventible part of our children's daily lives. It can be used in many positive ways but can also be distractive and harmful when used incorrectly. Let's face it, most children are more aware of the benefits and pitfalls of social media than some adults, but we still need to do all we can to provide them with information and tools for successful and safe online habits.


KING: The irony here, you don't need my help. Beyond obvious. New tweets today, just today slamming ex-CIA Director John Brennan, calling the special counsel Robert Mueller disgraced and discredited. Others in recent days, calling Democrats thugs and the former "Apprentice" sidekick and West Wing aide, Omarosa Manigault Newman a dog. I could go on, but I think the point is well made.

Now, the first lady is a very smart woman, a successful woman. Before she is a model and businesswoman. She knows every time she talks about this subject, a, some people are going to mock her, but, b, everyone is going to bring up her husband's history in the cyberspace. Yet, she continues to do it. Why?

KAPUR: There are two brands of criticism with what the first lady is doing that I've heard. One is the sincerity of it. You know, people are asking, really, you're going to be, you know, mad at cyberbullying when you're married to President Trump. The other is the effectiveness aspect of it. How effective can she be at influencing people not to be cyberbullies? When the argument goes, she can't really make -- have that influence in her own home. KING: Maybe that's what she's trying to say here. Most children are more aware of the benefits of the pitfalls. Maybe she's trying to ask the children to be better examples.

And she's a mother. We get involved in this sometimes. By all accounts, she is fiercely defensive and protective of her son, and she deserves credit for that. But his one, it's just, she knows that this is going to happen every time she does this. But she thinks it's important to keep doing.

TALEV: Yes, she chose the topic. I mean, it's not like you get assigned a topic when you're first lady. She could be talking about literacy. She could be talking about health and physical fitness.

This is her topic by choice. And I think you got to respect that and take it for face value.

[12:50:02] She is not only a defender of her son, but she's integrally involved in his life, in his schooling. She believes in this message.

And what you're asking, what many Americans may be asking is, why is she married to President Trump? How does that marriage work? A great political question asked of many presidential couples and never completely answered, but in this case, I think you have to see it for what it is. It is exactly what it is. It is her sort of trolling her husband on this subject, which she obviously feels strongly about.

KING: This is important to me, so I'm going to do it. And yes, guess what --

TALEV: Because I can.

KING: -- you're going to get thumped for it.

MURRAY: Yes. And you know, look, just because you're first lady doesn't mean that you're an advocate being your own person. Melania Trump is very much her own person. She's made that very clear in their short tenure in the White House so far.

And so I think that she decided on this topic, knowing that she was going to get blowback. She continues to do events knowing she's going to get blowback. It's something that's important to her. I think that's fine.

I think that you're right, that there's a question about the credibility of the messenger, sort of why would people feel like they need to listen to you on this, why would they feel like you have any credibility on this when, you know, she's also been a defender of her husband many times over the course of the campaign and now.

KING: She's always fascinating to keep in touch with. We shall see.

Up next, Arizona all conservative endorsements not created equal. A Republican candidate for Senate gets some help from some very controversial characters.


[12:56:00] KING: Oh, you might call this a Republican Senate hopeful going the extra mile to prove her conservative bonafides with just a week left before her Arizona primary. Or you might call it reprehensible. Kelli Ward launching a bus tour that includes some controversial figures, including Mike Cernovich who peddled the so- called Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Also campaigning with Ward, Congressman Steve King of Iowa, notorious for racist remarks he's made, Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona, he's demanded the release of a far-right activist in Britain. Controversial commentators Eric Bolling and Tomi Lahren. Also will be in the bus tour along with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Cernovich is an alt-right agitator who falsely claimed in 2016 that Democrats were running a child trafficking ring out of a D.C. area pizza place. When pressed on his views, Ward deflected.


KELLI WARD (R), ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: I don't really know what Mike Cernovich's views are. I know he's got an audience, and we want to serve everyone. I mean, Mike Cernovich has an audience that we want to reach. And that includes Republicans, conservatives, liberals, Democrats, people of all ilks.

And so, if he's coming on the bus tour, I think that he'll have a voice and he'll have something that he wants to say. But I know that my campaign is about faith, family, and freedom.


KING: When you give someone a spot on your bus, isn't your campaign about faith, family, freedom as she says but also about wild, reckless, harmful conspiracy theories?

KNOX: This is, on one hand, a very mercenary, right? He's got an audience, and I want that audience. The only quibble I would have here with (INAUDIBLE) is it's not about conservative bonafides. It's about Trumpian bonafides.

KING: Well put.

KNOX: It's very little to do with traditional conservative values, which are more reflected by her slogan than by her guests on the bus.

MURRY: Right. Let's remember Trump also went on the Alex Jones show when he was running for president. They have decided that they're going to go where the audience is, and everyone just look the other way and pretend like we don't really know the audience here might be conspiracy theorists and might be racists, and might be full-on crazy people because it's an audience and we can get those votes.

It is the lowest common denominator in American politics. And Trump did a good job of it.

KING: But there used to be a day where people would say, if that's your view, I don't want your vote. And I certainly don't want you on my bus. Is that, just a great thank you for that because (INAUDIBLE) -- is that where we are in today's Trump party?

KAPUR: Well, you know, precisely the opposite for her. She seems to have calculated that this is her likeliest path to victory in the Republican primary. She's running against Martha McSally who's the favorite in that, got the establishment support. And if she's going to win, she's going to have to find a pretty far-right path, you know, Trumpier than Trump, if you will. Arizona is utterly essential to Democrats hopes to taking back the Senate. Without that and without Nevada, it's impossible to put the pieces together.

KING: All right, Democrats are praying Kelli Ward wins. And here's Martha McSally, who has had her own issues with President Trump but listen to this ad. She's like, no, I'm more Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who will stand with President Trump? Not former Democrat Kelli Ward. Ward supports amnesty.

WARD: People who are here should not have to live in fear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kelli Ward, wrong on illegal immigration, wrong on President Trump.

MARTHA MCSALLY: I'm Martha McSally, and I approve this message.


We live in interesting times.

TALEV: Yes. And if you're a Democrat, you are kind of -- if you're the Democrat, you're looking at this going, OK, I've got a plausible path in what is really a swing state and what is a region where Democrats in other states have been gaining ground.

KING: If Kelli Ward wins that primary, you will see Republican- leaning groups like the Chamber of Commerce and others endorse the Democratic candidate, I'm certain of it.

KAPUR: The Democrats are already probably the favorites to win this Arizona seat in a very Democratic year in a state that's been tilting more and more purple. And yes, the polls have shown that Kelli Ward polls are worse than the Democrat Krysten Sinema and Martha McSally.

KING: One of the many fascinating races to watch. We'll do more trying to get you out there on the campaign trail in the days ahead as we count down 11 weeks now.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. See you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf is back from a little break. He starts right now. Have a great day.