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CNN NEWSROOM

WAPO: Trump in Foul Mood After Manafort, Cohen Convictions; Trump Questions Why America Would Impeach Him When He's Done a Great Job; Stocks to Open Flat as U.S.-China Trade War Escalates; U.S. and China Slap New Tariffs on Each Other. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2018 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm just saying.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: You're right.

BERMAN: I'm just saying.

CAMEROTA: Maybe tomorrow we'll talk about that.

BERMAN: All right. Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow.

Take it away, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour, I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

Loyalty, betrayal and the art of the plea deal. This morning the president trying to distance himself from his former fixer turned flipper Michael Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What Michael Cohen pled to weren't even campaign related. They weren't crimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That's not true, OK? That is not true. Here's what the president says should be illegal, though, Cohen's flip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He made a great deal because he was in another business, totally unrelated to me where I guess there was fraud involved and loans and taxicabs and all sorts of things. Nothing to do with me. So he makes a better deal when he uses me.

I know all about flipping for 30, 40 years. I've been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Cohen, of course, a longtime loyalist of the president's and so was attorney general Jeff Sessions. But he, too, was a target this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The only reason I gave him the job because I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Loyalty a clear theme today and as Republicans grapple with how to handle the fallout from this legal storm, the president has a warning. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'll tell you what, if I ever got impeached I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: OK. Abby Philip is at the White House with more.

It is 2018, not 1984. But walk us through what has happened overnight at the White House. I understand the lights were on pretty late.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. Clearly something is keeping the president up pretty late at night and it is this legal controversy that is encircling him on all fronts.

The president clearly agitated about this situation, especially the one with Michael Cohen, the one that seems to deal with so many of the things that the president has said were off limits, his personal life, his business life. But also now this prospect of impeachment that you just heard him talking about.

He laid into Michael Cohen in that interview with FOX News and even tried to minimize Michael Cohen's role in his life. He at one point called Cohen a part-time employee but on the issue of Paul Manafort, the other legal issue that is on the outskirts of this situation, the president remained coy about a key question -- would he be willing to pardon Manafort? Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AINSLEY EARHARDT, CO-HOST, "FOX AND FRIENDS": Are you considering pardoning Paul Manafort?

TRUMP: I have great respect for what he's done in terms of what he's gone through. You know he worked for Ronald Reagan for years. He worked for Bob dole, I guess his firm worked for John McCain. He worked for many, many people. Many, many years. And I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Well, so much for draining the swamp. It seems very much that President Trump is not at all concerned about those charges Paul Manafort was found guilty of. In fact he later told the FOX News interviewer that one of the reasons he had respect for Manafort was that he didn't flip like Michael Cohen did.

This is clearly something that the president believes is part of a broader conspiracy against him. He even went on to say that he believed his own Justice Department was still under the control of Democrats -- Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House. A lot to get to this morning. Thank you for that reporting.

With me now, Jeffrey Toobin, our chief legal analyst, and Elie Honig, former federal prosecutor.

OK, gentlemen, Jeffrey, to you, the president says to FOX News, quote, "What Michael Cohen pled to weren't crimes." Is there any planet on which that is true?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, not this one. You know, Michael Cohen was advised by some very fine lawyers. He is -- perfectly capable of fighting these charges if he wanted to.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: And also it's worth remembering why we have campaign finance laws in the first place. We have these laws so we know where money comes from in campaigns and we know where it goes, how it's spent. What Cohen did, he says with the -- at the direction of the president, was he lied in both of those, where the money came from and where it went on an extremely consequential subject. Whether the president was providing hush money to these two women.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: That is a crime.

HARLOW: So let's listen to some of what the president is saying now and what he said then about exactly that, about these payments. So here is what was said to FOX about these payments. Let's listen to this exchange first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[09:05:02] AINSLEY EARHARDT, CO-HOST, "FOX AND FRIENDS": Did you know about the payments?

TRUMP: Later on I knew. Later on. But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did and they were not taken out of campaign finance. That's a big thing. That's a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn't come out of the campaign. They came from me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: But it completely contradicts, Elie, what he is heard saying on tape with Michael Cohen. Let's remind people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: When it comes time for the financing which will be --

TRUMP: Listen, what financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay for this --

TRUMP: Pay with cash?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: They're talking about $130,000 payment to keep Stormy Daniels' story secret leading up to the election and the $150,000, that tape is referring to the $150,000 to Karen McDougal about an alleged affair.

I mean, you can't have it both ways.

ELI HONIG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: No. It contradicts the tapes as you pointed out. He's also -- he's cooked either way. If it's an expenditure from his own like he seemed to be saying, it's not reported as Jeff said and there's federal criminal rules against filing false disclosures, and if he got it from somebody else, then it's an unreported and illegal excessive contribution.

But this is what we see from the president over and over again. It's a pattern, it's inadvertently probably admit the criminal conduct, then deny the criminal conduct then step three is deny that the conduct is even a crime at all, and I would say this points out why I think it's so important for Mueller to get the president in a grand jury because he's on every side of every issue and it's impossible to know what is the president's position.

What -- we've got to stick him with something. He can't take all sides of every issue. And that's why I think it's imperative that Mueller gets him into a grand jury or gets him into a room for an interview.

HARLOW: Jeff.

TOOBIN: And remember, too, he said in an interview on Air Force One that he didn't know about the payments at all.

HARLOW: Yes. At all.

TOOBIN: So, I mean, he has been -- he has said many contradictory things about the whole Michael Cohen situation already.

HARLOW: Yes. Can I ask you on that, Jeff? He is playing down campaign finance violations.

TOOBIN: Correct.

HARLOW: I mean, another thing he said this morning is that they're a really little thing. Right? They don't really even matter. But could -- it wouldn't just be here possible that the president made a campaign finance violation. Couldn't there be a conspiracy charge?

TOOBIN: Well, of course there could be, but remember also we are talking about an environment where Justice Department policy says he can't be charged anyway. So this is not really parsing what legal -- what crimes may have been committed. This is discerning whether there are any grounds for impeachment. That is much more a political process than a legal process.

HARLOW: Sure, but that would be included if there is I believe there was conspiracy in Mueller's report to Congress.

TOOBIN: Correct, correct. That is certainly a relevant concern.

HARLOW: Yes.

TOOBIN: And -- but it will be resolved not in a courtroom.

HARLOW: Sure.

TOOBIN: But in the court of public opinion in Congress.

HARLOW: In Congress.

TOOBIN: Yes.

HARLOW: So flipping, Elie. The president said also in this interview this morning, quote, "It's called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal." So twofold question there. Is that just saying in a way that telling the truth should be illegal or, of course, you can flip and you can lie but if you lie initially you've got to stick with that lie?

HONIG: This is a subject that's close to my heart having been a prosecutor not long ago and this is lunacy. Do you know who hates cooperating witnesses most? Jeff knows this. The leaders of criminal organizations, drug traffickers hate cooperating witnesses. Mob bosses, corrupt CEOs and politicians because that's how they get brought down.

And to claim to be the law and order president and yet to be discouraging and even intimidating people from coming forth and giving testimony is outrageous. And I will say this, the president went on to say now they're saying Michael Cohen is a hero and they're going to build a statue. Not at all. Cooperating witnesses are bad people. That's what we say as prosecutors all the time, they're cooperating witnesses for a reason, because they're criminals.

And that's where our jury system kicks in. And we just saw this on the Manafort trial. Juries will evaluate the cooperating witnesses and they'll see them and decide do I believe this person, does the other evidence back them up? And if not, they'll acquit. And if -- but if they credit the cooperator, as I think we just saw largely in Manafort, then they'll convict. But that's the system.

TOOBIN: Elsewhere in the interview he says the Justice Department, with justice in quotes, which is pretty amazing in and of itself.

HARLOW: Yes.

TOOBIN: But, you know, all of us who have been federal prosecutors, the whole structure of how federal prosecutions work is based on the idea of working from the bottom up. Of getting low-level people to cooperate against people above them and that's why federal law enforcement is so successful and we are -- we were -- I mean, I'm not there anymore but that's why we were so good at our jobs is because that structure works.

HARLOW: You were so good at your jobs. So why are you sitting here with me?

TOOBIN: You know, they survived my departure from the legal profession.

HARLOW: Why are you sitting here with me?

On the Justice Department. That Justice Department. OK. And it's interesting that you're hearing other -- you know, other Republicans like Duncan Hunter now in California echoing the president and saying this is now the Democrats' Justice Department, I -- sort of through the looking glass but here is what the president said about Jeff Sessions, he's attorney general, this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[09:10:13] TRUMP: He took the job and then he said, I'm going to recuse myself. I said what kind of a man is this? And by the way, he was on the campaign. You know, the only reason I gave him the job, because I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter. He was on the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: I mean, Jeff --

TOOBIN: Is that how you pick an attorney general? Not because he's qualified, not because he was going to do a good job but the only reason he gave it to him is because he's loyal.

HARLOW: He just said that.

TOOBIN: I was listening, Poppy. Yes.

HARLOW: He just said that. Elie, remind us again who pays Jeff Sessions' salary.

HONIG: Well, the federal government. Yes. HARLOW: Oh, it's not the Trump Org?

HONIG: No, it's not.

HARLOW: Because you would think --

HONIG: Well, and this is Trump's problem. From day one -- he was shocked when he got in office and realized the federal government does not work for me personally, Donald J. Trump, and that -- he's been struggling with that every day since.

HARLOW: Well, he thinks Eric Holder worked for Obama.

HONIG: Exactly. And he said why doesn't my guy protect me?

HARLOW: Protect him, right.

HONIG: Yes. These guys, you know, these attacks on Sessions are far beyond anything I've ever seen in terms of a president undermining and attacking the Department of Justice, and half of me can't believe Sessions stands for it. But half of me also is somewhat I guess grateful because if he did step down you know what would happen. The next AG would be someone who goes in there with a promise to the president of I will take over the Mueller investigation and make sure it gets done, you know, your way.

HARLOW: How -- to that point, how important to, I don't know, democracy and the pillars of American freedom and what we live by is Jeff Sessions right now?

TOOBIN: Goodness. I don't know if I speak to the pillars of American democracy. That's a little grand. I'm not sure that's within my jurisdiction. Look, I mean, he is not -- he's not leaving notwithstanding all these attacks. He is actually following a lot of Donald Trump's policies on immigration.

HARLOW: That's true.

TOOBIN: On limiting voting rights for minorities. I mean, these are the kinds of things that the president wants him to do.

HARLOW: But in terms of staying in his post and not -- you know, for now at least being held in his post and not allowing what Elie mentioned to happen, to be replaced by, I don't know, someone who would carry out the druthers.

TOOBIN: I mean, the question would be, you know, would the Republican Senate confirm anyone? I mean, you know, even some Republicans have some misgivings about this endless trashing of the Justice Department. But look, one of the absolute touchstones of the Trump presidency has been that Republicans in Congress occasionally say a word that is critical but they do Donald Trump's bidding over and over again.

HARLOW: And over again.

TOOBIN: And I suspect that if Sessions were to leave, they would do his bidding and confirm whoever he appoints.

HARLOW: Again. Gentlemen, thank you for being here, Elie and Jeff. Toobs, right? That's what I get to call you now on TV?

TOOBIN: I've been called Toobs since I was 10 years old.

(LAUGHTER)

HARLOW: Thank you, guys.

Ahead for us, the president says the stock market would crash if he were to get impeached. Really? We'll talk about that.

And the trade clash with China revs up overnight. We're talking to a business owner who supports the tariffs and will tell Congress as much tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] HARLOW: So Paul Manafort's conviction and Michael Cohen's guilty pleas seem to be keeping the president up at night. He was awake really late tweeting in the wee hours.

You can see the light on there at the White House just around 1:00 a.m., and that's when the president wrote in all caps, quote, "no collusion, rigged witch-hunt."

Just how much of an impact is all of this, this week, having on the president and his inner circle? That is the focus of a fascinating piece this morning, "The Washington Post".

The co-byline, Josh Dawsey put a blind on, he joins me now from Washington. Good morning --

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning --

HARLOW: It's a great piece, it's a great piece. Let me read you part of it for our viewers. You know, the president invite with in a trillion stance and then this. "Several advisors he spoke to, Trump said, he seemed more frustrated than furious, more sad than screaming."

DAWSEY: Right --

HARLOW: Something different this time, Josh?

DAWSEY: Well, it certainly feels inside the West Wing, that this is different. A number of his advisors were pretty startled when Michael Cohen went to court and said that the president was complacent in a payment that was deemed illegal.

A few minutes later, a Paul Manafort; his former campaign chairman was found guilty of eight felonies in a different courtroom. And it was kind of a one-two punch. But the president has been angry about Cohen than Manafort. As we saw in his interview this morning, he's been pretty praiseworthy of Manafort, but he feels betrayed by Michael Cohen, his long-term all year(ph). He obviously is grieved that Michael Cohen is cooperating with the government as seemingly against him.

And the president is in a pretty dejected spot this week.

HARLOW: I think it's interesting, you spoke to Rudy Giuliani who is on a golf vacation in Scotland as I --

DAWSEY: Wow --

HARLOW: Understand it. But that he said to you, look, we still feel good, we think that --

DAWSEY: Right --

HARLOW: These audio recordings between the president and Cohen will clear the president. Do you know anything else about that?

DAWSEY: Well, the audio recordings certainly shows them talking about it back before the election day which is something the president has denied, so I'm not sure how that clears him.

I do know, though, that the president, you know, has not been charged with a crime here, there's been a lot of folks who have been very -- particularly on the left, have been excited about these developments who have hoped that, you know, this could -- this could bring the president down, you know, his critics on the left --

HARLOW: Yes --

DAWSEY: But he's not been charged with a crime here, and it wasn't in the indictment that, you know, he necessarily did anything wrong, he was just identified as individual one. So what we're still trying to discern, Poppy, is exactly how damaging this news is for the president.

It's never a good day when your lawyer stands up in court and says you are part of a crime. You know, that said --

HARLOW: Right --

[09:20:00] DAWSEY: He could survive this as well just like he said a number of issues where at the time it seemed of consequential importance and --

HARLOW: Sure --

DAWSEY: He moved on.

HARLOW: But here is a way that it makes me wonder if it is different, Josh, for him. I mean, legally putting that aside, right? Because if you --

DAWSEY: Yes -- HARLOW: Ascribe to the, you know, the precedent at least that you

can't indict a sitting president, what about among voters? You quote, I mean, and that I know that I've interviewed for years and that's Dan Everhart, right?

A Republican who made a ton of money in the North Dakota oil boom, who's a huge advocate for the president, he seems to be changing his tune. He told you guys, this Cohen stuff is an earthquake. Cohen admitting that Trump told him to commit a crime.

A lot people in Trump world have been spinning and spinning, how do you spin a fact? This is a hard fact in a formal setting that is unavoidable. I mean, how much of a threat is it to even staunch supporters of the president?

DAWSEY: Well, it will depend on what, you know, the president's supporters do and if any of them peel away. We also quoted Josh Holmes is a respected GOP strategist --

HARLOW: Yes --

DAWSEY: And the piece, who said to me yesterday on the phone, I don't think Trump voters really care that much if he had an affair with Stormy Daniels or is telling the truth about it essentially. I don't think anyone has been banking on him to tell the truth about it.

I think you'll see the GOP establishment will follow the cues of what voters do, and if you see this dragging down his numbers, if you see new revelations on the Mueller probe, if you see Michael Cohen come out with even more damaging facts, I think you could see some slippage.

But I'm not sure among the president's supporters that they're going to see this as, you know, a reason to move away from him. A lot of folks who I talked to in the White House say what if this is baked in? And you have to remember the "Access Hollywood" tape happened last Fall and he was elected president three or four weeks later.

HARLOW: Yes --

DAWSEY: A lot of his voters and supporters don't think he's perfect. They know, they think he is, they like what he's doing on policy, and I'm not sure, but this moves him away.

Now mind you, I think we are at chapter, you know, two or three in the book right now. I think we have a lot to go this Fall and you know, we'll see what else comes out.

HARLOW: Yes, you know, on the issue of impeachment, the president spoke bluntly about it and threats of impeachment this morning on "Fox". Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I guess it's something like high crimes and all. I don't know how you can impeach somebody who's done a great job. I'll tell you what? If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor because without this thinking, you would see -- you would see numbers that you wouldn't believe in reverse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: OK, I suppose that, you know, it depends how you parse that, but it's not about high crimes and misdemeanors, it's not about a great job or how the economy is doing. But is he banking on the belief and the line that James Carville made so famous, it's the economy stupid? Going into the mid-terms, looking at how strong the economy is and saying this is going to matter more than anything?

DAWSEY: Well, there's never lack of self-confidence there. Later in the interview, they said how would you grade yourself and he said A- plus. I think what the president knows intuitively is that impeachment is a political fight, it's not a legal fight.

And how much his base supports him, how much Republicans support him, what his strength looks like nationally, whether Democrats win the chamber, the House in November, one of these issues are political ones and whether, you know, impeachment is a real thing or not, I think it's a political fight.

And he's saying to supporters, look at other things I'm doing for you, you should dismiss all of this other noise. And I think one of the things we wrote in our story today, Poppy is that the president has begun discussing that impeachment with his advisors and saying he thinks Democrats might overreach it if they go after him.

You also saw my colleague Michael Sheath(ph), had a great piece on the front of today's post --

HARLOW: Yes --

DAWSEY: Where he said Nancy Pelosi and others are saying don't mention the word impeachment yet --

HARLOW: Yes, all right, yes --

DAWSEY: We don't think this is an effective talking point among kind of more mainstream Democrats. So I don't know that we're quite to that being fully formed yet and seeing the contours of our debate, I don't think we're there yet.

HARLOW: All right, Josh, fascinating piece, thanks for being with me.

DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: All right, let's quickly check the market just before the opening bell. U.S. stock futures look like they're going to open flat as the trade war intensifies overnight. All of this as the U.S. and China slap retaliatory tariffs on one another, we'll have much more on that ahead.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARLOW: Welcome back. This morning, a fresh round of shots fired

amid growing trade tensions between the U.S. and China, President Trump's latest round of tariffs on Chinese goods kicked in at midnight.

The 25 percent tax on $16 billion worth of Chinese goods. China of course immediately retaliated with a 25 percent tariff on many goods, from meat to auto parts to leather products. And this comes as the two economic super powers sit down again in Washington today for trade talks.

Michael Korchmar is the CEO and owner of a leather supply company that is happy to see these tariffs. He's set to fly out right after this interview to Washington to testify before Congress tomorrow. Thanks for being with me Michael.

MICHAEL KORCHMAR, OWNER & CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, THE LEATHER SPECIALTY COMPANY: Thank you, Poppy, it's a pleasure to be here.

HARLOW: And I should note, you are -- you said about, you know, just a few blocks away from where your grandfather started the company there in Cincinnati, right?

KORCHMAR: That's correct, in 1917.

HARLOW: Wow, this is a true American -- a true American business and a true American success story.